The recently released Global Terrorism Index (2016) outlines concerning implications for Western nations including Australia. One of the particularly worrying implications is the increasingly migratory nature of the kind of fury that inspires terrorism in other parts of the world.
The report emphasises the point that in the 21st century, anger does not need a passport. It travels quickly and efficiently so that resentments fuelled by events in, for example, the Middle East, increasingly merge with local frustrations to form a highly combustible rage that has erupted in the streets of Paris, Nice, an Orlando nightclub and other spaces once considered safe.
Although much of this increase in terrorist violence has been inspired by Islamic State – 18 deaths in 2014 caused by IS-affiliated attacks in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries rose to 313 deaths in 2015 – it would be incorrect to credit the group as the sole reason for the growing incidence of terrorism in the West.
Terrorism has been trending upwards globally for over a decade, a development from which Western countries have not been immune, as witnessed by tragedies such as the attacks on the public transport systems in Madrid (2004) and London (2005) – killing 192 and 56 people respectively – the killing of 77 people in Oslo by the right wing extremist Anders Breivik (2011) and, among others, the Boston marathon bombing (2013).
Over this same period, there have also been a series of near misses with a combination of good luck and police and intelligence work avoiding mass casualty attacks in places ranging from Copenhagen to Times Square.
And, of course, Australia has not been immune from this trend, with a series of small-scale terrorist attacks and a few larger scale strikes interrupted by police and security services before being carried out, suggesting that like comparable Western nations, terrorists reside among Australians and public spaces no longer offer protection.
The change in the Australian psyche
Although not on the same scale as attacks in Western Europe and the United States, the attacks in Australia have nevertheless impacted significantly on the national psyche and rendered the threat of terrorism as an organising principle for many aspects of public policy.
In many respects, Australia’s reaction to the threat of terrorism can be explained by the nation’s comparable lack of experience with terrorism. Until the events of 9/11 – when 11 Australians were among the 2,996 people killed – the nation had been relatively immune from the threat.
But since 9/11, Australians have changed the way they think about their safety, about the right of government to pry into their private affairs in the name of security, and in the way they treat people of different faiths and backgrounds. Terrorism, or fear of terrorism, is now firmly embedded within the Australian consciousness and is a fixed part of the political landscape. It now informs Australia’s foreign policy, its willingness as a society to trade away key rights for the dubious promise of ‘safety’, its approach to refugees and asylum seekers, and even local planning laws (witness the long debate over the construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural centre in the small Victorian rural town of Bendigo).
In the wake of these episodes, it is now understood that a terrorist might be the young person at the tram stop, a neighbour’s teenage son, a nephew or niece, or sadly for a growing number of parents even their own children. Yet despite this, many Australians continue to misperceive the nature of the terrorist threat confronting the country.
Grounded in hysteria and an urge to reduce the complex phenomenon of terrorism to clichés and headlines, an informal alliance of politicians and media seem to have become addicted to these irrelevant statements.
In short, what is needed is a calmer approach to discussing the nature of the threat faced by Australia, beginning with the dispelling of three enduring myths.
View the full article at Security Solutions, Media Partner of the Security Exhibition & Conference. Terrorism preparedness is one of the topical subjects being covered in the 2017 ASIAL Conference. With an update from Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch APM of New South Wales Police Force’s Counter Terrorism & Special Tactics Department.
Story credit: Security Solutions
About the author: Dr David Wright-Neville
Dr David Wright-Neville is a Senior Political Risk Analyst at Globe Communications. He can be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org