Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Terrorism: Our Common Struggle

From a Speech to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Melbourne , 27 November, by The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AUSTRALIA [excerpts only, with emphasis added - follow the link for the full transcript]...

...I want to speak this morning about the most serious political struggle facing our country—and in fact—the greatest political struggle facing our generation. And that is the struggle against terrorism and violent extremism.

The ECAJ has made a strong stand on this issue...But I think not enough people in the Australian community realise that the fight against terrorism is our common struggle. Many do not realise that this struggle against violent extremism is a fight to defend the values that we hold dear.

Australians and people of good will around the world value reason, moderation, tolerance and pluralism. We value freedom of speech, religious freedom and freedom from state intimidation.
Against this, terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah exploit the freedoms of our society. The terrorists pervert the tenets of Islam using extreme religious interpretations to justify tactics like killing innocent civilians and suicide bombing. They draw selectively from the writings of Islamists like the Egyptian militant Sayyid Qutb ignoring the authoritative mainstream views of the Islamic world.

....What I’d like Australians to understand is that if we let terrorist values go unchallenged, more and more people, mainly young men, risk being recruited into terrorist causes.

....it will take a concerted campaign from politicians and opinion leaders from all countries to discredit terrorist ideology. We won’t succeed if we are perceived to be weak, or if people think we just don’t care. Silence is not an option; it is a sign of submission.

....The words of Osama Bin Laden, posted on an Islamist website, speak for themselves—and I quote—“death is better than living on this earth with the unbelievers among us.” He goes on to say—and I quote—“fear God, try to please him and do not consult with anyone regarding the killing of those unbelievers.”

....The vast majority of Muslims reject the nihilistic terrorist ideology and condemn their murderous methods. But the terrorist narrative does still seem to strike a chord in many Muslim communities and it does win recruits. This is partly because it masquerades as religious piety – something admired in the Muslim world.

....I’d like to outline three broad ways in which we can challenge the Extremist Islamist world view.
  • First, we need to make very plain the bleak results of this extremist ideology in practice.
    Incredible as it might seem, Afghanistan under the Taliban is held up as an example of the sort of society the extremists would like to establish.... ...The experience of Afghanistan under the Taliban demonstrates so clearly that a radical and uncompromising approach to society is unworkable. It’s also an indication to Muslims everywhere of what life would be like if the extremists achieve their aims.
  • Second,we need to emphasise that there is no conflict between the West and Islam. As I said earlier, this is not a fight against Islam. We need to underline the shared common values and aspirations that Muslims and non-Muslims hold dear. There is more that unites the world’s great religions than sets them apart. ....In our dialogue on common values we must emphasise one very powerful concept ...democracy. .... well developed democratic systems are better able to deliver prosperity, security and personal happiness.
  • The third way to counter the extremist narrative is that we need to be aware that a good part of the debate has to be conducted between Muslims...this is not to say that non-Muslims cannot raise their voices with mainstream Muslims in support of the common values I have talked about this morning. Indeed, we have a right and a duty to do so, given the challenge that extremism poses to the values that underwrite all civilised society.

... let's not pretend there are easy steps ahead. The terrorist threat may well last a generation..... We are at a critical point in the Middle East. The Iraqi Government faces many challenges; democracy in Lebanon is in peril; the Middle East Peace Process is stalled without a credible Palestinian negotiating partner since the election of Hamas and a revolutionary state is acquiring advanced nuclear technology.

These are grave but not unsolvable challenges.....

.....I want to finish today by putting our struggle against terrorism and violent extremism in its proper historical context. The inescapable facts are that terrorist ideology is a totalitarian ideology; it is based on a mindset of subjugation and it cannot be negotiated out of existence or accommodated.

You may know that Osama bin Laden reportedly offered the West a truce. But I see the offer of a truce with al Qaeda in the same vein as Hitler’s offer to Lord Halifax. And history tells us what happened with appeasement.

Like Nazism and Soviet Communism, extremist Islamism is simply the latest totalitarian ideology. And like other extremist political ideologies, it must be confronted and defeated. Totalitarian ideology prospers when good people do little to stop it. Good people must be prepared to stand up and defend our shared values.

Good people who challenge extremist ideology can take comfort from the words of the writer Arthur Koestler, writing about the burning of Berlin’s Reichstag in 1933, an event which gave rise to Nazi Germany. Koestler wrote—and I quote—“We said that if you don't quench those flames at once, they will spread all over the world; you thought we were maniacs.”

As a country and as global community we have to muster the courage to confront extremist ideology and rally behind the common values of tolerance, pluralism, moderation, democratic freedom and liberty under the law.
Thank you.

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