One of the outstanding national security and government issues of the current western environment is political and religious inspired terrorism. This makes other criminal and violent behavior and its motivations a somewhat lesser evil when measured in the public domain.
Terrorism motivated by Islamist extremism has dominated the international scene since 9/11, creating global aggressive policy responses towards this threat. The root causes of terrorism have been oversimplified for public absorption, and socialised to a fear of Islam, causing extreme division in today’s multicultural societies. However, terrorism is not a new phenomenon; it has been evident as far back as eighteenth century France, where the term, Regime de la Terreur (1793-94), or Reign of Terror originated from (Aly, 2011).
What has happened in the last decade and half that outweighs the previous 300 years of fatalities globally from terrorism? Why does terrorism dominate our political discourse when other violent acts are equally as terrifying? From a societal perspective, the Bourke Street attack could arguably be viewed as worse than terrorism; we all have the potential to be mentally unwell, but do we all have a connection to religious extremism?
The Melbourne, Bourke Street attack on Friday 20th January demonstrates this thinking and raises the serious concern; that the threat of terror on our everyday way of life, has now extended itself to any disturbed person in this country with a vehicle and a frightening purpose. Fearing Islamic extremists should now be equal to fearing mentally unstable people with violent histories or connections. And then knowing which one to fear, and which one not too, will be impossible to distinguish.
Pauline Hanson said in her 2016 debut parliament speech about the Muslim population in Australia that “Radicalisation is happening on our streets, in our suburbs and mosques. Yet, our leaders continue to tell us to be tolerant and embrace the good Muslims. But how should we tell the difference? There is no sign saying 'good Muslim' or 'bad Muslim'. How many lives will be lost or destroyed trying to determine who is good and who is bad?”
The existing ethnicity and religious argument against many Muslims across this country (and globally), in judging their potential to be involved with violence, cannot be included and is irrelevant in determining the mental state of any individual and their propensity to violence which is now a bigger threat on our communities than Islam.
Does it matter anymore what inspires these violent criminals to behave the way they do? We have now witnessed that the end result is just the same with multiple and indiscriminate killings of civilians in noncombatant spaces. Whether it be terrorism or plain and simple violence; the event itself, the explosive aftermath and the devastating mourning will not shape these violent acts any differently for the victim’s families and friends and the immediate community which is affected.
We have now seen a vehicle used intentionally as a deadly weapon to mow people down in Melbourne, where 5 people died as a result, including a 3 month baby, and with growing concern that the death toll will continue with many more in critical condition.
The Bourke Street vehicle attack mimics the headlines that occurred in Nice on Bastille Day in July 2016, killing 84 people and then again in Berlin at the Christmas Market, killing 12 people. And now we can add Melbourne, Australia to this string of deadly assaults on civilians, but with one significant and crucial difference – it was not designed by or for religious extremism and terrorism.
How will Australia respond to this attack on our everyday lives? Will our society cast heavier judgement on those who we believe are mentally unstable, out of fear that they have the potential to be violent? Or will we continue to revert back and evolve the broad socialised conditioning of blaming and fearing Islamic extremism and all its power, to be both direct and indirect?
A Weekend Australian article by Greg Sheridan titled “the hidden connections that mar us all” raised the point that “Islamic State has swung heavily towards the use of vehicles as weapons in a series of appalling terrorist attacks”, suggesting that although the Bourke Street attack has no connection to terrorism - there is still a link to be made. Further to this, that there could be future fatal consequences of indirect terrorist related violence on our communities, whereby now extending the reach that Islamic State has on people of all ethnicities, cultures and religions.
Australia now faces a problematic social issue, in conveying a message that clearly deals with the tragedy and successfully separates the Islamic State connection to avoid further and unnecessary divisive discourse.
Rather, a more constructive focus on the mentally unwell people in this country, the limited mental health services that are on offer, and stress that all motivations and paths to violence are equally as terrifying.
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