Australia is not alone in having a problem with young people wanting to kill other people in the name of their faith. We got frightful warnings of this kind of problem from murderous attacks in Paris and London over many years. People in the West have had to come to grips with what is called home-grown terrorism.
The relevant faith is Islam and its followers are called Muslims. These killings are called acts of terrorism. But none of those labels alters the fact that we are talking about crime – specifically the crime of murder, the most serious crime in our law. We should not allow any of those labels, or their connotations, which will vary greatly depending on the audience, to obscure that we are talking not just of a moral or political issue, but the most serious crime that we know.
In the ordinary course, the parents of a child are responsible for both the welfare and conduct of that child until the child comes of age, whenever that may be. I am talking of moral not legal responsibility, and of a responsibility not just to the child but to others who may be affected by the conduct of the child. Have the parents of these young killers done their duty to bring children up as members of our community? When some of these children want to leave the country to fight elsewhere, when they and their parents know or might fairly be taken to know that their death is almost inevitable, have the parents done enough to provide for the welfare of their children?
In the ordinary course, when some of those who subscribe to a faith want to kill those who do not, the members of the faith as a whole will have to accept some responsibility – at least where there is an identified pattern of conduct of people wishing to kill others because of their religion – that is, the religion of the would be killer. I am speaking now of a responsibility that is morally based but which extends across a community.
If we have a problem, either in ourselves or as a group, the first thing that we have to do is to admit the problem and then accept our responsibility to do something about it.
I am a distant and casual observer, but I have not seen this acknowledgment of a problem of their young would-be killers or an acceptance of responsibility for it from either Muslim parents or religious leaders. Indeed, it has been hard in the past to find a Muslim religious leader who is responsible for anything.
Some of the labels used are unhelpful if not silly. (I will deal at another rime with the problems in the notions of ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’.) We are told Muslims are ‘marginalised’. They need to ask if they can complain of being outside a home if they have not made a decent effort to join in the home.
Some young Muslims are said to have been ‘radicalised’. You cannot excuse murder by saying that some evil demon got into your head and gave you bad ideas. Adolf Hitler got into the heads of the Nazi Party and a large part of the German nation, the first to engage in the annihilation of a race, and the second to follow him in a war that killed fifty million people. Hitler could mesmerise people, but that power, and that history, do not of themselves absolve those who succumbed to his power. And if you want to know what it feels like to be ‘marginalised’, ask a Catholic priest – ask any Christian cleric in this country – or a Catholic parent whose son wants to be an altar boy.
It may be – I do not know – that government and the community may seek to deal with the problem of this kind of serious crime by looking at how these people are got at by those who want to put them to evil, but using a weasel term like ‘radicalisation’ – I do not think ‘extremism’ is any better – might just offer a shield to hide behind to those who are or who should be held responsible. Law enforcement will take its course, but the answer to the real problem must come from within the Muslim community itself.
Take the example of another cause of crimes of violence – drugs. The law and the community as a whole may wish to try to prevent these crimes by seeking to contain drugs, but the use of drugs does not of itself come even close to diminishing the responsibility of the affected criminal in the eye of the law. And if the criminal is not of age, the intervention of drugs does not affect the responsibility of the parents of the criminal for the relevant conduct. One of the first duties of parents nowadays is to do their best to protect their children from contamination by drugs. I know this from personal experience. It is now a paramount duty of Muslim parents to do their best to protect their children from contamination by false prophets.
It is hard to see any answer to this problem until the Muslim community as a whole accepts what most here would see as these facts of life. There is plenty of scope for argument at the edges, but it is very hard to suggest that we might have these problems even though Muslim parents and religious leaders have done their jobs well and have nothing to answer for.
It is wrong to say that every Muslim is tainted by or responsible for the actions of a few murderers. But it is in my view just as wrong to say that the Muslim community as a whole has no responsibility for its part in this problem – at least insofar as these criminals purport to act in the cause of Islam. It is not enough for those in the community to shrug their shoulders, and blame the internet and the gullibility of youth – or to put some anaemic label on the pathway to murder.
In my view, the comments of Hannah Arendt on the political responsibility of nations are analogous to the issues of the moral and social responsibility of communities for the failings of individual members.
Many people today would agree that there is no such thing as collective guilt, or, for that matter, collective innocence, and that if there were, no one person could ever be guilty or innocent. This of course is not to deny that there is such a thing as political responsibility which however exists quite apart from what the individual member of the group has done and therefore can neither be judged in moral terms or brought before a criminal court. Every government assumes political responsibility for the deeds and misdeeds of its predecessor and every nation for the deeds and misdeeds of the past. When Napoleon….said: I shall assume responsibility for everything France ever did…., he was only stating somewhat emphatically one of the basic facts of all political life. It means hardly more, generally speaking, than that every generation, by virtue of being born into a historical continuum, is burdened by the sins of the fathers as it is blessed with the deeds of the ancestors.
We Australians have been two faced on this –we are much quicker to bask in the sun of Bradman standing up to Bodyline than we are to own up to our murder and rape of the first inhabitants, but like it or not, it is a basic fact of political life that the Muslim community will have to account to others for crimes committed in its name by its own people.
If on the other hand, Muslims find that their faith makes it too hard to come to terms with the way that the rest of Australia lives, they should go to a place where they are more at home. There will be a price for that, a heavy one, but Australians are not prepared to pay the equally heavy price of their living with the alternative.
The evidence suggests that while the Muslim community is not doing enough, the problem just gets worse. Islam is not alone in having evil-doers on the fringe. We have ours in the gutter and on the radio, and if you want to talk about people being marginalised and then radicalised, there are plenty of drop-outs out there who are only too willing to accommodate their soul-mates in violence on the other side. We have already had frightening insight into these violent radicals at Cronulla and Bendigo.
We now face the nightmare of the migrant nation of migrants importing violence from their past and bringing out the worst in those who are already here. It is the first duty of government is to keep the peace. Unless this is done, and the problem is resolved, the end outcome is a form of civil war. The courses therefore left open to government unless the Muslim community takes responsibility do not look attractive for anyone.
Finally, another bad word is Islamophobia. A phobia is an irrational fear. The apprehension that is felt across the western world at the killing that is coming out of Islam is anything but irrational. You would have to be bloody mad not to be afraid.