Combating the Islamic State
What can the government do to counter the threat posed by ISIL extremists? Analysis with David Wroe and Chris Hammer.
Australia’s top spy has launched an impassioned appeal to the nation’s half a million Muslims not to mistake the Abbott government’s counterterrorism push as “fighting Islam”.
Amid simmering fears in the Islamic community about proposed new terrorism laws, ASIO boss David IrvineÂ has given a rare one-on-one interview with a Muslim radio program in which he said he was “utterly outraged” by a recent newspaper headline that talked about “fight[ing] Islam for 100 years”.
“It’s an outrage to my sense of being an Australian that we would claim to be fighting Islam”: ASIO boss David Irvine.Â Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
This imbecile needs to be decommissioned at once.
The interview with community leaderÂ Jamal RifiÂ for the Lakemba-based Voice of IslamÂ radio station underscores counterterrorism agencies’ eagerness to reach out to Muslims as they grapple with the threat posed by dozens of Australian radicals fighting in Syria and Iraq.
“I can say this on behalf of the whole Australian government … We are not fighting Islam, we are fighting terrorism. And they’re two very, very different things,” Mr Irvine said.
“It just doesn’t make sense and frankly it’s an outrage to my sense of being an Australian that we would claim to be fighting Islam.”
He was referring to a recent headline inÂ The AustralianÂ that misquotedÂ former army chiefÂ Peter LeahyÂ as saying, “We’ll fight Islam [for] 100 years”.
Mr Irvine also urged more Muslims to join ASIO and acknowledged the government had more work to do in building bridges with Muslims.
“We in the government may not be as good at [listening to the Muslim community] as we should be and that’s something we also should continue to work on,” he said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott meanwhile stepped up his warnings about the brutal group the Islamic State in the wake of the beheading of American journalist James Foley, saying such atrocities could happen in Western countries includingÂ Australia. He said the Islamic State was “probably the most effective terrorist movement the world has yet seen”.
He also said there was “potential for increased terrorist activity in our region” with the Indonesian group behind the Bali bombing, Jemaah Islamiah, claiming to have linked up with the Islamic State.
On Thursday night, Mr Abbott echoed Mr Irvine in seeking to reassure Muslims that they were not the target of terrorism laws.
“Extremism is the enemy, not Islam,” he said in a speech in Adelaide.
Mr Abbott went on to express hope that the Islamic State’s “slaughter of innocents” might “spur mainstream Islam to become more attuned to individuals’ rights”.
“Perhaps this will turn out to be the moment when Australians come to appreciate that the Muslims among us much more often have our perspectives than those of the protagonists in foreign wars.”
In Mr Irvine’s interview, conducted last week, the ASIO head pleaded with Muslims to talk to the government about their concerns over new terrorism laws – particularly a controversial proposal to declare “no-go zones” such as parts of Iraq and Syria that would force travellers to those regions to prove they are not terrorists.
“I also encourage you to talk to the government, as it is now in the process of looking at these laws – it’s only made an in-principle decision to introduce them … The law hasn’t even been written. It’s an idea.”
Since Mr Irvine’s interview, Mr Abbott has met with Islamic leaders in both Sydney and Melbourne to discuss the new laws, though some groups boycotted the Melbourne meeting, prompting the Prime Minister on Thursday to call the behaviour “self-evidently petty”.
Mr Irvine also urged more Muslims to join ASIO.
“We only understand a community with the help of that community. We will make mistakes and we do make mistakes and … I would actually like more members of the Australian Muslim community working in ASIO. That will help us understand better, but this is an organisation that is designed to protect you and you should be part of it.”
withÂ James Massola