Islamic terrorism has been a hot topic in the Australian media in recent weeks across all spectrums- broadcast, online, and print.
Many headlines and discussions have been focused on Islamic terrorism in Iraq and Syria and how it is a serious threat to Australian society.
What needs to be discussed, which hasn’t been to the extent that it needs to be, is how serious a threat terrorism actually is in Australia and why it is only Islamic terrorism that is seen as dangerous.
Bernard Keane, Crikey’s political editor has recently analysed this in great detail (see here-http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/09/04/the-real-threat-of-terrorism-to-australians-by-the-numbers/), coming up with results that may surprise.
On Twitter he cited the case of Daniel Fing, a 30-year-old male, who is under investigation by police after they found 22 litres of the liquid explosive material TATP, the same chemical used by the London bombers in 2005.
In 2006 Fing went to gaol for four years after bombing his ex-girlfriends partners car.
In August police also found maps at Fing’s property that they have alleged could be in relation to a bomb plot in central Sydney and Newcastle.
Although this story was picked up by many news organisations, you only have to click on to the second results page on Google before you start find articles written about him in 2006.
Basically, the Australian media saw little value in this story recently because he wasn’t a Muslim or Arab, despite authorities finding far more incriminating evidence than any supposed Islamic terrorist had been found with- no maps, no bombs.
Daniel Fing seems to be a troubled individual who despite allegedly having dangerous intentions, probably wouldn’t have been able to cause much harm at all and should not be called a terrorist.
However, when this story is compared to so-called Islamic terrorism in Australia, a massive prejudice against the Muslim community in Australia is revealed.
Both the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the police investigating this case went to length’s to deny that Fing is a terrorist.
Abbott told 612 ABC Radio:
“There are all sorts of people who do all sorts of weird and, at times, pretty dangerous things. But I haven’t been advised of any potential terrorist threat in respect of this particular issue”.
Ken Finch of the NSW Police:
“I can strongly reassure everyone that there are absolutely no links to terrorism, we have no information that anyone or any structure or place is in danger”.
Last week in Sydney and Brisbane at least 800 local police, the Australian Federal Police and ASIO operatives, along with helicopters and bomb-sniffing dogs, raided houses in part of what was called an anti-terror raid.
Fifteen were arrested and only two ended up being charged and for offences involving possession of weapons and ammunition without a license.
Allegedly, one of those arrested had been in contact with Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and there was an imminent threat of a terrorist attack.
Yet even ASIO admitted they had been monitoring this individual since May- what was with the rush last week?
This seemed like an over-reaction and one that was highly politicized- two arrests?
While there is a threat to Australia’s security from so-called Islamic terrorism and should be treated as such, it needs to be kept in perspective how much of a threat it actually is.
Looking at statistics, terrorism has caused minimal harm in Australia and a reasonable person, looking at the facts should be able to deduct that the threat is not severe and never really has been.
Using figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Bernard Keane shows how few deaths have been caused by terrorism compared to other causes.
For terrorism, he uses figures from 1978 to 2014, while for all the other causes, he uses statistics from between 2003 and 2012.
Even with the much larger time frame, terrorism related deaths sit very low on the list- tractor accidents; gastro and even people falling off chairs have caused more deaths.
In the list compiled, terrorism related deaths sit at 14th causing 113, while only deaths in custody for Indigenous Australians, chicken pox and lightening strikes have caused less.
“The vague and trivial threat of being killed by an evil ideological force- un-Western, non-white, non-English speaking, un-Christian- pushes our buttons in a way that far greater threats to our lives- “normal” homicide, domestic violence, preventable diseases and accidents- that kill many, many more Australians and cause persistent economic losses, do not”.
Terrorism, be it Islamic, far white supremacist or so-called lone wolf attacks, should not be trivialized or ignored but it needs to be kept in perspective.
Communities such as the Muslim and Arab ones in Australia should not be vilified as a whole for the actions of some of their members who hold extreme views but which are looked upon disdainfully by most in their communities.
The people who hold these extreme views are a statistical anomaly.
While Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Attorney General George Brandis, police and intelligence officials have been quick to reassure Muslim and Arab communities that their faith is not being picked on, the damage has already been done.
For example- countless headlines that sensationally suggest that many Muslims are extremists, mass terror raids by police (with few tangible results) have had the consequence of Muslims being vilified in public because of their profile or supposed extremism.
It only takes a few headlines, a dog-whistling politician or two (Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and Palmer United Senator Jacqui Lambi) and so-called anti-terror raids for the racists to have a field day reveling in Islamaphobia and ignorance.
News organisations are struggling to sell newspapers and gain audiences- Islamic terrorism related headlines may be able to temporarily fix this, but if it is at the expense of people’s reputations (see here- http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s4096977.htm) and accurate journalism, the industry is in greater trouble than just financial.
Unfortunately, flashy and misleading headlines gain the most attention while well-researched and balanced arguments like Keane’s and the continued call for calm from mainstream Islamic leaders and some politicians, don’t do much for newspaper sales and prime-time ratings.