After the terrorist attacks in France, Manchester, London and, most recently, Melbourne, the question of Muslim immigration will be unavoidable for mainstream political parties that want a secure hold on power.
A total ban on Muslim immigration seems unnecessary and potentially counter-productive, but continuing with Muslim immigration as though nothing has changed during the past 40 years is beyond reckless. Will politicians allow Muslim communities to grow larger and stronger, thus increasing the number of potential militant Islamists who could be set off by the right national and international conditions?
That is what citizens around the world have been asking for some years, and what recent terrorist events have now made an issue unavoidable for politicians who wish for credibility.
In Australia, Labor will seal its political irrelevance for years to come as long as two things continue: global terrorism, and the party’s commitment to the spirit and rhetoric of identity politics. Labor can’t control global terrorism, and whether it can control the spirit of identity politics that has for decades shaped it is doubtful.
In response to the London attacks and just before Melbourne’s Brighton terrorist attack Labor leader Bill Shorten said: “I think that the problem in the UK and the Middle East and possibly in Australia is extremism … We’re at war with extremism and that’s what we’ve got to beat.” Even after the Brighton attack, Shorten preferred yesterday to speak vaguely of “all forms of extremism” and “terror”. He forced himself to utter “Islamic terrorism” a couple of times when questioned by reporters. Labor’s takeover by its identity-politics left may see it swept away by the growing political tide gaining momentum with international terrorism.
The “not-Islam-but-extremism-in-general” line is Labor’s attempt to sound substantial on terrorism without violating the first hallowed rule of identity politics: never utter anything, no matter how true, that could perpetuate the oppression of minorities. The sentiment is not without its nobility, but as analysis meant to inform the public, and as a foundation of public policy, it is worthless.
ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis’s refusal to admit a link between terrorist activity in Australia and refugees was troubling for two reasons. First, the facts suggest otherwise — four Australian terrorists, including the perpetrator of the Brighton attack, have been Muslim refugees. Second, the uncompromising tone in which Lewis uttered his remark seems to have been prompted more by the volatile politics of “race” then by the facts as he — we assume — knew them.
Did Lewis seriously think a race riot would have broken out if he had simply stated the facts? The facts are now notorious. The perpetrator of the Brighton terrorist attack was a Somalian Muslim refugee well known to intelligence and the police as a terrorist sympathiser and violent criminal. Australians could be forgiven for thinking the legal system is only a slightly smaller threat to us than the terrorists that courts let loose.
Attempts to deny or not affirm a connection between terrorism and Islam are confused or disingenuous. For example, Muslim and leftist apologists for Islam say there are a billion Muslims in the world but comparatively few terrorists. Or the other chestnut, not all terrorists are Muslim.
These arguments are misguided and easily exposed. For example, should we deny any connection between anti-Semitism and the Holocaust because only a handful of anti-Semites out of millions worldwide participated in it? Or because not every holocaust of the 20th century was committed by anti-Semites?
The relationship between ideas and action is, frankly, mysterious and often unpredictable, but that is no reason to deny any relationship. Indeed, the whole identity politics movement to silence free speech is premised on the conviction that ideas actually lead people to do bad things.
If you want to say that the rhetoric of Donald Trump, Pauline Hanson, and Marine Le Pen might cause hate crimes, then you cannot also deny the relationship between militant Islamic rhetoric and terrorism.
Denying the link between expressions of Islam and terror almost certainly has another understandable motive: avoiding the volatile issue of Muslim immigration.
Western societies cannot control the dynamic militant element in their Muslim communities. Events unfolding overseas can and have set off chain reactions that radicalise and activate countless young men. Radicalisation experts do not know the exact mechanics of it. If knowledge is power then our power to staunch radicalisation is limited indeed.
In Britain about 850 citizens went overseas to fight in Syria. Furthermore, British intelligence officers estimate there are about 23,000 jihadists living in Britain. At least 200 Australians went off to fight with Islamists in Iraq and Syria, and about that same number were stopped by Australian intelligence. That’s at least 400 Australians who wanted to kill, torture and rape innocent men, women and children.
Then there are those who did not try to go and fight with Islamic State but who funded those who did, or who knew they were going and supported them morally. It was recently revealed that a teacher at Punchbowl Public School in Sydney’s western suburbs witnessed young boys bringing Islamic State-style flags to school, and they threatened to behead her because she wore a cross. As jihadists return to Australia and Britain, there will be a hero’s welcome for them among some in their communities.
As people lose faith in the experts’ ability to control Muslim radicalisation the popular demand to shut national borders to Muslims, or at least drastically limit their numbers so as not to increase the size of their militant subsection, will grow stronger. Try as they may, even mainstream politicians will be unable to avoid the question of the future of Muslim immigration. As strange as it sounds, if the worst enemy of good Muslims is militant Muslims, carefully reforming our immigration policy may turn out to be one of the best things the government can do for them in the long term.
This article first appeared in The Australian and has been republished with permission from the author.