Notwithstanding the news coverage of the Christchurch terrorist attacks in New Zealand, where more than 50 innocent victims died as a result of the carnage on 15 March 2019, the elephant in the room remains.
While the mainstream media desperately tried to employ the lone-wolf narrative to describe and sanitise the character of the white Australian accused of the shootings, using nostalgic references to his childhood as an “angelic boy” (Daily Mirror) with “curly hair” (The Sunday Mail), a clear uncomfortable truth became apparent. Brenton Tarrant, 28, from Grafton, NSW, was in many ways just an average Aussie.
There were in fact no real predisposing risk factors for his behaviour, regardless of how vigorously one searched his past, and certainly no hints for the Australian or New Zealand authorities that he could potentially commit such a heinous massacre. Indeed, Tarrant’s description of himself as a “regular white man, from a regular family” who was born in Australia to a “working class, low-income family” certainly does not contradict the views of those who knew him well, including his former employer, gym manager Tracey Gray, who told the ABC that Tarrant was a “model fitness instructor” who liked to help people.
The mere fact that Tarrant was so easily and extremely radicalised therefore begs the questions of why and how. Why did a model Australian citizen suddenly become an infamous international terrorist, and how could his life experiences have led him to believe that his actions were both justifiable and morally sound?
To answer this complex question, we need to first address the unflagging elephant in the room. For decades, Australian politicians and the media have normalised dehumanising discourse when referring to Australian Muslims, who despite contrary belief are far from being a homogenous group. From border safety to security and migration, all crucial national issues have been reduced to Islamophobic and anti-Arab racialised discourse.
In fact, the attacks became so offensively common and rampant that they required the director-general of ASIO, Duncan Lewis, to contact Coalition politicians in 2015 to warn them that their political language risked compromising national security. Lewis’s predecessor, David Irvine, had also warned against marginalising Australian Muslims, who he said were Australia’s greatest defence against violent extremism.
However, it is clear that while national public discourse has focused on holding this very community solely accountable – a community that has played a pivotal role in helping authorities to circumvent terrorist attacks in Australia – little has been done to mitigate the risk of terrorist attacks by right-wing extremists and the rise of white supremacy in the communities most susceptible to their influence.
Indeed, Australia’s dubious security measures are similar to those of Bulgaria, where the former head of security services, Major Pavlin Pavlov, who was alarmed that a character such as Tarrant went undetected in his country, stated that Bulgaria’s poor security measures were due to the fact that his country had focused predominantly on Islamic terrorism and thus failed to adequately monitor far-right terrorism. In fact, political and media discourse in Australia has encouraged the latter and emboldened them through lending legitimacy to their voices in both critical spheres.
The impact this has on social cohesion and violence was raised as a key concern almost four years ago in September 2015, during a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) community meeting in Bexley, NSW. Research conducted following the infamous 2005 Cronulla riots was also cited. It found that Australia’s education system had compromised the country’s social cohesion due to the dehumanisation of the Australian Muslim identity, through its lack of inclusion in the curriculum.
Ironically, the then NSW deputy police commissioner, Nick Kaldas, and Multicultural NSW senior community relations adviser, Malcolm Haddon, who were at the meeting, had no real answer to how the combined effects of Australia’s political and educational systems and media institutions were inciting right-wing fascism and violence on the streets.
This lack of inclusivity in the Australian curriculum of Australia’s most marginalised community group is a significant concern for monocultural regions and suburbs in Australia. In cities such as Grafton, where 89 per cent of people are monolingual and have limited experience with multiculturalism, inhabitants are more strongly influenced by divisive political and media rhetoric.
To put it simply, Australia’s Islamophobic political and media discourse, combined with its lack of an inclusive educational curriculum, has made the country a ripe breeding ground for right-wing extremists and terrorists.
The authors of the research into the social effects of Australia’s educational curriculum, Oubani and Oubani (2014), in fact predicted five years ago that unless our educational system became more inclusive due to the burden imposed on it by Australian politicians and media institutions, then we could anticipate more race riots, social instability and violence.
This lack of inclusion does not just have repercussions for Australia’s social cohesion and for giving a minority group a ‘fair go’, it exacerbates the very risk of turning Australia’s arguably most precious asset and investment – multiculturalism – into a liability.
The plight of our national situation is best represented by the case of Leumeah High School in southwest Sydney, which in 2018 was denounced by the media for daring to request its senior students write an exposition on the social exclusion of Australian Muslims.
A lack of accountability and responsibility in our systems and institutions has meant that our law enforcement services have become burdened with the task of erratically following ambiguous trails of evidence in the hope of keeping us all safe. And as the case of Tarrant has proven, some of the deadliest terrorists are almost impossible to detect.
As terrorist acts often feed off each other, as evidenced by the man who rammed his car into a Brisbane mosque less than 24 hours after the Christchurch attacks and then vowed afterwards to “cull” the Australian Muslim population, it is paramount that we address the growth of right-wing extremism in Australia.
It’s time all Australians take some responsibility for the rise in all types of extremism in our communities, as it is clear from the comments of the director-general of ASIO that the Australian Muslim population has more than contributed its fair share to help keep extremism at bay.
To achieve this crucial national objective though, we must first confront the relentless elephant in the room.
Dalal Oubani is an academic literacy teacher and director of Accelerate Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that assesses the impact of the Australian Curriculum on Australian Society.Do you have an idea for a story?
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