THIS week ABC TV’s The Drum program is running a let’s-be-comfortable-and-relaxed message about Ebola, the budget deficit, the so-called Islamic State and more besides. But not, of course, climate change, which on most ABC platforms is designated as a continuing crisis with a likely Armageddon consequence.
The advertisement runs the line that The Drum provides “a refreshing perspective” on terrorism and all that. Per courtesy of Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm and the Institute of Public Affairs’ policy director Christopher Berg. Libertarians both.
Many ABC producers and presenters see value in inviting libertarian types on to their programs. Partly because they are controversial. Partly because they criticise Tony Abbott from the right. Certainly the likes of Leyonhjelm and Berg have bagged the Coalition’s anti-terrorism legislation, which enjoys Labor’s broad support, from a right-of-centre libertarian perspective.
Leyonhjelm is depicted on The Drum advertisement as declaring “these people we’re dealing with are dickheads”. Berg then concurs in spades: “That’s spot-on — terrorists are absolute dickheads. I think it’s an important thing to actually say. It brings the whole problem down to earth.”
No, it doesn’t. The Leyonhjelm-Berg analysis is both ahistorical and lightweight. Rather than attempt to understand the belief system of young Islamic State supporters in Australia and overseas, the response of the LDP senator and the IPA policy director is to engage in ridicule.
Yet there is a serious message in such language. The Leyonhjelm-Berg line is that since the likes of Khaled Sharrouf (the Australian man who was filmed in Syria holding a severed head in his hand) are irrational, there is no need to deal with them seriously. Consequently additional anti-terrorism legislation is not only unnecessary but, more seriously, it is an attack on our liberties. The argument is that we are losing freedoms on account of the irrational actions of insignificant madmen.
This year we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. This is probably the greatest disaster of modern history since it contributed to the rise of communist and Nazi totalitarianism in the Soviet Union and Germany respectively. World War II began just after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939.
The spark that initiated the hostilities in 1914 was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. The archduke was the nephew of the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and heir to the throne. He was murdered by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip; the terrorist was just a 19-year-old unknown at the time.
It would be easy to dismiss Princip with reference to some other term of abuse. But, by his personal compass, he acted rationally. And judged by the intended or unintended consequences of his action, Princip warranted being taken seriously.
It’s much the same with other terrorists in the 20th century who created, or attempted to create, undemocratic regimes in Western societies. Most of the early leaders of the Bolsheviks and Nazis were violent and relatively young. It was much the same with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the Baader-Meinhof gang in West Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy and extreme right-wing and left-wing movements in the US.
And it’s much the same with the various Islamist movements that have targeted the West for more than two decades, starting well before the US-led military action in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq by the coalition of the willing (US, Britain, Australia and Poland) in 2003.
The libertarian view of Sharrouf’s murderous behaviour is that he is a dickhead. The left-wing interpretation is that he is mad. This was the position stated by Sharrouf’s former lawyer Adam Houda on Marian Wilkinson’s ABC Four Corners programGangster Jihad: The Story of Khaled Sharrouf last Monday.
Houda’s Twitter feed demonstrates that he is a hostile critic of Britain, the US and Israel as well as of the Abbott government.
Houda, who acted for Sharrouf when he was convicted of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism in the Operation Pendennis trials in 2006, had this to say to Wilkinson: “Khaled Sharrouf is not bad, he’s mad. There’s no less than five psychiatrists that I know who have diagnosed him with very significant mental health issues.”
Houda went on to claim that, because Sharrouf is mad, the anti-terrorism legislation recently introduced by the Abbott government is “based on the actions of madmen”.
But is Sharrouf mad? Peter Moroney, former head of the NSW Police’s counter-terrorism command, has his doubts. He told Wilkinson that Sharrouf “knew how to play the system”. Moroney added that Sharrouf “just had to say he’d been off his meds and he knew he would have the leniency of the court”.
Whatever the accuracy of Moroney’s theory, Sharrouf did get a sentencing discount, following his Operation Pendennis conviction, due to his mental health. For the record, Sharrouf reckons he fooled the psychiatrists and the court.
In any event, Houda’s assertion that Sharrouf is mad cannot stand alone. Sharrouf is but one of 70 Islamic State-aligned Australian Muslims who have headed off to Iraq and Syria to kill Shi’ites, Christians, Jews and other religious minorities.
One of them is Mohamed Elomar, who has also been photographed in the Middle East parading the severed head of a victim. Yet, quite properly, no one on the Four Corners program suggested that Elomar is mad.
The sensible view is that neither man is foolish. They appear to be young, violent revolutionaries doing what some young, violent revolutionaries do: that is, murder, or attempt to murder, those with whom they disagree. However, if the likes of Sharrouf and Elomar happen to be mad, society still needs to be protected from their actions.
There is a reluctance among members of the Western intelligentsia to accept that evil is a reality and the worst example of the human condition. It so happens that some individuals are evil because they choose to be so.
The leftist Houda appears to be in denial on the Sharrouf case. But the position of libertarians Leyonhjelm and Berg is driven by overwhelming naivety.