Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Terror disclaimers

Terrorism poses a real and potent threat. In Australia, the announcement of the raising of the terror threat levels by the PM and subsequent public interventions have been accompanied by attempts by politicians and the media to both downplay and assuage community fears and apprehensions. At the first press conference on 12 September, the PM and the AG, George Brandis, emphatically stated that this was not about any one particular community or religion but about crime and tackling criminality. After the Sydney and Brisbane raids last week, police commissioners and ASIO officers made similar statements exhorting the public to refrain from 'stigmatising' 'any one community or faith'. Now, after the assault on two police officers in Melbourne and the death of the teenage assailant, someone who had been apprehended earlier for his threatening actions at a shopping mall (he is said to have brandished the Islamic State flag and made threatening remarks at a mall in Dandenong), the premier of Victoria, Dennis Napthine, and the police commissioner, Ken Lay, have yet again reiterated that the broader community should not 'pass judgment' on 'any one faith group' and should remain calm. I am curious to understand the impulse behind these repeated exhortations and demands. While now a part of the obligatory political posturing that accompanies real and potent terror attacks and threats, why do politicians and officials feel the need to 'warn against racism', to quell any community reactions? Is it because such a reaction (and I am curious about the manner in which discourse and commentary are included in this, that is, the reaction proscribed is not only the kind associated with retaliatory violence, which is highly unlikely, but also that which has to do with public opinion), or 'backlash', is a real possiblity? Do they fear that members of the Australian public might 'blame' Muslims in general in the media? I fear this perception is wide off the mark. I believe people are extremely aware of the nature of the threat; people are conscious of the very specific character of terrorism and fundamentalist activity. Gone are the days of indiscriminate community-bashing. People today are very sensitive and politically conscious and are aware that terrorism is propagated by pockets of extremists with radical views. Truly, there is no need to repeat ad nauseum the inane assertion that Muslims should not be stigmatised. Muslims will not be stigmatised. Specific groups and individuals will. Another very problematic 'gesture' or action that follows these incidents is the 'reaching out' to 'community leaders'. After every such news event, comments will be sought from 'community leaders' and 'representatives', who will invariably condemn the incident in question, and these comments will feature in all media reporting on the case. Firstly, I have a problem with the arrogation or assumption of leadership that this implies - what makes someone a 'community leader' and what kind of authority does this imply? Secondly, I find these obligatory condemnations and 'disclaimers' (for all intents and purposes) very condescending. Yes, the wider public is aware that this is wrong and morally repugnant and that you, like everyone else, deem it so. I don't think it needs to be repeated ad nauseum.  

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