JCCV – sanitised terrorism would be counter-productive

August 12, 2009 by J-Wire Staff
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The Jewish Community Council of Victoria has slammed the State’s Police “Lexicon of Terror” project stating that the sanitising of language to appease the Muslim community would not reduce radicalisation.The Council’s President, John Searle, has written to the Counter Terrorism Unit of the Victorian Police to express the Council’s viewpoint that “the real clash in today’s world is not between civilisations but within each civilisation or religion”.

J-Wire publishes John Searle’s letter in the interest of community awareness….

I write on behalf of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), the peak body of Victorian Jewry, regarding Victoria Police’s ‘Lexicon of Terror’ project. You already

are acquainted with our correspondence on this issue with then Chief Commissioner

Christine Nixon (6 November 2008 and 23 December 2008) and with Assistant

Commissioner Stephen Fontana (20 July 2009). You also conducted an interview

with JCCV executive director Geoffrey Zygier on 12 June 2009. I thank you for the

opportunity to provide further material.

The tragic reality of modern life is that literally a day no longer passes without a

terrorist attack somewhere in the world. Recent terrorist events, particularly last

month’s bombings of Jakarta hotels which killed Australians as well as persons of

other nationalities, and last week’s allegations of a plot to attack the Holsworthy

Army Base, bring danger closer to home and make the need for action even more


The JCCV is far from alone in regarding contemporary terrorism as the greatest

immediate danger facing the Western world and its values today. While some are

reluctant to say so – and Muslim theology and the directives of its religious leaders

are sometimes contradictory – it is an inescapable fact that this terrorism is almost

entirely carried out by persons purporting to act in the name of Islam.

That the Australian Government recognises this is apparent. To take one proof, as of

May 2009 it had proscribed seventeen terrorist organisations. All except one are

Islamist in nature (and even the secular exception, the Kurdistan Workers Party

(PKK), has utilised Sunni Islamic beliefs to mobilise support).

As part of a strategy to combat extremism, Victoria Police with the support of the

Federal Government, has undertaken this project looking at the ‘Lexicon of Terror’.

While this project is still in progress, comments made by Assistant Commissioner

Fontana and Australia’s Attorney General Robert McClelland, suggest that the

‘Lexicon of Terror’ project will likely recommend that the language around terror be

sanitised, avoiding all possible reference to Muslims in the belief that this will reduce

their alienation and hence their radicalisation.

In the JCCV’s opinion – and that of many learned experts on terror – this would be

an ill-considered and likely counter-productive outcome. There is widespread

disagreement on what makes a terrorist. Mooted causes include indoctrination,

alienation, poverty, anger at the West for its military action against Islamic countries,

hatred of the West for its values, doctrinal differences, individual pathology, personal

tragedy and more. For every theory there are both exceptions to the rule and

countering views, hence making both proactive and reactive approaches all the more


However one fact almost always emerges from the uncertainty about what motivates

terrorist behaviour. Whatever the true reason may be, it is invariably couched in

theological language, at its simplest “I commit this act because it is Allah’s will”.

Western governments and other institutions cannot counter this belief, certainly not

in Islamic countries, nor in the West where faith-based schools and home teaching

can facilitate hatred of the host society.

Only Muslims themselves with the requisite will and inclination can turn the tide in

the war against terror. However they can not and will not do so if they do not

acknowledge that they have this power. And a ‘Lexicon of Terror’ that infantilises and

absolves Muslims of responsibility by creating a generic, overly careful and politically

correct language will doom us all to failure.

The various elements that constitute the terrorist movement proudly proclaim

Islamism as their motivator. If Government, its institutions, the media and other

moulders of opinion, and most importantly, the mainstream Muslim community do

not take them at their word and clearly state that a particular interpretation of Islam

lies at the root of terror (and that there are alternatives), then it will be impossible to

move followers of Islam to a more moderate view of the world.

The Victorian Jewish community believes that the real clash in today’s world is not

between civilisations as some contend, but within each civilisation or religion, a clash

between the forces of extremism and those of moderation and acceptance of

diversity. We must give the moderates the tools to fight the former. While this means

clearly recognising that moderate and mainstream Muslims are both in the majority

and are allies of democrats in this war, this must be done without denying the

motivation and actions of the minority who give Islam and Muslims a bad name. In

short, the application of a form of censorship to the way in which terrorist acts are

reported or referred, so that the underlying motivation for such acts is in effect denied, will not achieve the desired outcomes. It is far more important that we all

work together to empower the moderate Muslim community to speak out against the

perpetrators of these acts.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Please note

that I would be very pleased to discuss this with you in person; feel free to contact

me via the JCCV office if you wish to do so. Finally I have attached for your

information a recent article, ‘Muslims must tackle theology of hate’ by Professor

Abdullah Saeed (The Australian, 7 August 2009) which both eloquently states the

case for the Muslim majority assuming responsibility for its own situation and

nominates practical ways to do so.

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