Listen: Terrorism and defence expert Professor John Blaxland chats to Stephen O’Doherty.
Banning Muslim immigration and other kneejerk responses will only fuel the fire of terrorism, said an Australian terror expert, in the wake of the latest attacks on London.
Professor John Blaxland, head of the Strategic Defence Studies Centre at Australian National University, spoke to Open House after the London Bridge attack on the weekend that left seven people dead.
He said fear-based responses, like MP Pauline Hanson’s call to “stop Islamic immigration”, and US President Donald Trump’s call for a travel ban, will only ‘feed the dragon’ and increase division and hatred.
“Terrorists want us to overreact, to respond to hate with more hate…That is not going to see us win.”
“[Terrorism] is about trying to generate a reaction from the community that has a political effect,” he said. “We’ve got some people with a half-baked sense of what’s going on, and it’s reinforced by some shock-jocks who have an even less-baked understanding…who are actually fomenting the very problem, [which] the violence-propagators want us to do.”
He said a calm and considered response is essential.
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“We do need to Keep Calm and Carry On,” he said, quoting the now-famous British wartime slogan. “[Terrorists] want us to overreact, to respond to hate with more hate…That is not going to see us win. It’s going to make things worse.”
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We All Have a Part to Play
Prof Blaxland, who is a committed Christian, said Jesus set the example in responding to enemies.
“There’s that great saying ‘what would Jesus do’, and he wouldn’t do the kind of radical, hateful things that some people are proposing ,” he said. “The New Testament talks about the message of Jesus as one of turning the other cheek, and praying for those who persecute you. People forget that’s infused a lot of our culture, a lot of our thinking. That stands in contrast to that of other cultures.”
He believes terrorism needs a community-wide response, and that we all have a role to play. In schools, churches, mosques, and neighbourhoods, we all need to look out for each other, create a cohesive community, and change the hearts of individuals.
Don’t Blame Islam Says Terror Expert
Having looking into the Q’uran, Professor Blaxland points out that Islam is a diverse and fractured religion much like Christianity, and that interpretations of its violent scriptures are wide and varied.
“There are parts of the Islamic scriptures that talk about perpetrating violence against infidels, non-believers…[But] Islam is not a monolith,” he said. “For starters it’s split between Sunni and Shia, slightly akin to the way Christianity was split between Protestantism and Catholicism…with polarised views. But within that, there’s still also quite an extraordinary diversity of views.
“The groups most closely associated with terrorism [take] a fundamentalist, extremist, Islamist view, that is largely associated with a Salafist, Sunni, Wahhabi-linked interpretation of the Q’uran. There’s no question in my view that there is arguably a mandate within Islam to go and proselytise… much like there is in Christianity, to go ‘preach the gospel’. But most believers of Islam, from what I understand…are happy to pursue that path peacefully.“
Tim Costello: Blame ISIS, But Don’t Blame Muslims
Another leader backing the Professor’s view is Tim Costello, the chief advocate of World Vision. He said divisive comments like Pauline Hanson’s are ‘inappropriate’.
He’s just returned from Iraq where he saw the 21 World Vision camps outside Mosul, where World Vision is rescuing people fleeing ISIS. While some of the displaced people in those camps are Christians and Yazidis, most are themselves Muslims. And they hate the literalist, violent interpretation of Islam as much as anyone else does.
“They hate ISIS,” he said. “Muslims have suffered far more at the hands of Al Qaeda and Isis than even we in the west. And therefore, to actually say all refugees are bad, that generalisation is foolish.”