Many Australians want their politicians to be authentic and to speak the truth as they see it. The problem is that others are in denial about reality. Scott Morrison’s reaction to the murder of Pellegrini’s co-owner Sisto Malaspina on Bourke Street in the Melbourne CBD last week, and the reaction by journalist Paul Bongiorno, illustrates the point.
In response to the terrorist attack by Somali-born Australian Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, the Prime Minister said “the greatest threat of religious extremism in this country is the radical and dangerous ideology of extremist Islam”. He added that Muslim religious leaders had a special obligation to “ensure that dangerous teachings and ideologies do not take place here”.
This is the kind of unambiguous statement democratic leaders should be making. However, Morrison was verballed and attacked by Bongiorno on ABC Radio National’s RN Breakfast on Tuesday. Bongiorno is a columnist for left-wing publication The Saturday Paper and a paid political commentator on RN Breakfast.
Initially, Bongiorno told RN Breakfast presenter Fran Kelly that Shire Ali was “a demented and radicalised extremist”. It has not been established that Shire Ali was demented.
Here Bongiorno adopted the familiar leftist approach to Islamist terrorism, which attests that such terrorists suffer from a mental illness. This is grievously unfair to those who live with mental illness, the overwhelming majority of whom do not engage in acts of violence.
Bongiorno’s position was that because one demented and radicalised extremist commits an act of terror “doesn’t mean to say that everyone who adheres to that religion is of the same mind”. No it doesn’t. But the Prime Minister never said it did.
Bongiorno went on to state that contemporary terrorism “is more complicated than blaming one religion”. Again, this is mere verballing. Morrison made it clear that he was blaming “extremist Islam” for the Bourke Street murder and similar attacks, not all Muslims and not Islam as such.
It is true that the overwhelming majority of Muslim Australians are fine and peaceful citizens or residents. It is also true that in the past two decades Islamist extremists have been involved in acts of murder or violence at Endeavour Hills (Melbourne), the Sydney CBD, Parramatta, Brighton (Melbourne), Mill Park (Melbourne) and the Melbourne CBD.
Also, as Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed on Monday, Australia’s security and intelligence and police services have been able to thwart 14 terrorist attempts.
On Thursday, The Australian broke the story that four Sunni Muslim Australians, all of whom are home grown, were convicted recently of conspiracy to launch a terrorist attack in Melbourne on Christmas Day 2016. A ban on the media reporting these convictions was lifted by the Victorian Court of Appeal on Wednesday.
Evidence presented at the trial indicates that, if successful, this would have been the worst such attack in Australian history. The convicted men intended to bomb the area between Federation Square and St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and also attack, with cars and knives, those celebrating Christmas. It would have been a mass murder of the kind that took place in recent years in Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Istanbul, London, Manchester, Nice and Paris.
When John Howard’s Coalition increased Australia’s security awareness in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 and in Bali the following year, the message went out to be “alert but not alarmed”. This message was mocked by some of Howard’s leftist critics. But it worked — with the support of the Labor Party.
Duncan Lewis, director-general of ASIO, has revealed that a young female ASIO operative was alert enough to notice young men purchasing bomb-making chemicals at a late-night chemist shop. Quick work by ASIO plus federal and state police led to the arrest of the conspirators before Christmas Day 2016.
It so happens that Hamza Abbas, Ibrahim Abbas, Abdullah Chaarani and Ahmed Mohamed (who were convicted on November 2) and Shire Ali (who murdered Malaspina on November 9) had an association with the Hume Islamic Youth Centre in the Melbourne suburb of Coolaroo.
As reported by Chip Le Grand in The Australian on Wednesday, Sheik Mohammed Omran (the centre’s spiritual leader) dismissed what he called “the bloody Prime Minister” for calling on Muslim religious leaders to do more to curtail radical Islamism. According to Omran, the police and intelligence services are responsible for not stopping Shire Ali’s attack.
This is an irresponsible statement. It is also counter-productive in that it is not in the interests of the wider Muslim community in Australia for one of its spiritual leaders to give the impression that someone other than the Bourke Street murderer is responsible for his actions.
Shire Ali was on the ASIO watch list along with 400 other Australian citizens or residents. It is virtually impossible for a nation of Australia’s population to monitor the daily activities of all potential terrorists.
In such a climate, it is unprofessional for influential journalists such as Bongiorno to tell Muslim Australians that their Prime Minister believes that all Muslims are of the same mind as Shire Ali. That suggests a discrimination against Islam that does not exist in Australia and ignores the fact many Muslims support Morrison’s strong stance.