Nelson Groom

The propaganda of jihadists: A war on truth

Image: AAP

Politics will always be rife with fear mongering.

Why?

It offers a distinct advantage: fear – whether rational or ill founded – which gives politicians inequitable power.

Since his election last year, Tony Abbott has been a fervent practitioner of such fear. His target of choice until recently has been the boats. When Abbott likened Australia’s engagement with asylum seekers to a war he inferred we were under attack. It doesn’t take much digging to see how this distorts the truth; seeking asylum is ratified under a legal arrangement to prevent persecution. Australia has been signatory to the United Nations’ Convention Relating to Status of Refugees since 1951.

Fear is typically a camouflage for something more insidious. Abbott’s self-declared “Operation Sovereign Borders” was a warrant to control information. When he purported, “If we were at war we wouldn’t be giving out information that is of use to the enemy,” he masked the measures he was taking with refugees. He has since advocated, “No commenting on water matters.”

Last week we learned why this is the case. Abbott has been towing back boats, something he denied was his policy in Jakarta last year. That a proposed threat could authorise tacit illegal conduct is a testament to the political allure of scare tactics.

Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.

There is catch to this method.

Fear is finite. There is only so long before the rabbit is out of the hat, and indeed before the public expects the threat to be alleviated. By incessantly bragging about “stopping the boats” (something we now know was a porky-pie), Abbott lost his footing for terror. The focus must therefore be diverted elsewhere. To quote the catch-phrase of Saturday Night Live character Roseanne Roseannadanna, “It’s always something; if it is not one thing, it is another.”

Abbott has recently found his new threat. Speaking recently of the conflict in Iraq and Syria he said, “We have stopped illegal boats arriving in Australia, and we are determined to be just as tough in stopping jihadists…We will do everything we humanly can to stop jihadist terrorists coming into this country…The safety of our community is the paramount concern.”

Like the Tamil refugees who chose self-immolation over returning to persecution, the jihadists will seek more extreme means to their end. They will be encouraged to gather support, in turn justifying their proposed threat.

The announcement implies we are suddenly at grave risk. One couldn’t fault his target: the stigma surrounding this group makes them a far better tool for fear than refugees.

Just look at the recent cancellation of Uthman Badar’s speech at Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

The notorious minister of propaganda for the Nazi’s, Joseph Goebbels, once said to “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.” Indeed the current media pack is top-dog in spreading fear. This can be seen lucidly in recent coverage of the Palestine/Israel conflict. There have been myriad articles about how Sydney’s western suburbs are a breeding ground for Palestinian terrorists. Compare this to the vastly negligible coverage of Zionist recruitment groups. The latter have recruited hundreds of Australians into the Israeli Defence Force to battle against jihad. IDF are waging a religious war, and one in which they are killing far more than just their enemy.

Why do they not pose the same threat to Australia?

Because only one of these sides fits the agenda for fear.

Abbott’s singling out of jihadists demonises them over likewise factions.

Fear mongering can transcend merely telling people to be scared; it also works through direct provocation. Abbott’s message on extremists has come in line with another decision from the federal government: no longer referring to East Jerusalem as “occupied.” Federal minister Nick Xenophon was quick to prove this is wholly inaccurate, but it is likely there was more at play here than meets the eye.

One can’t help but wonder whether the change in terminology – which inexorably sparked a souring of Arabic-Australian relations – was intended to aggravate jihadists. At a time when they are hoping to depict this group as Australia’s biggest threat, the Abbott Government removed their mark from the land they are fighting.

It could only trigger one thing. Like the Tamil refugees who chose self-immolation over returning to persecution, the jihadists will seek more extreme means to their end. They will be encouraged to gather support, in turn justifying their proposed threat.

In truth, the proposed threat of this group is imbalanced. If radicals are our biggest risk, why has this never been mentioned in the past? To quote a Guardian article by Paul Farrell, “Australia’s diversity means many citizens have strong views on international conflicts. Australians have fought on the side of non-government forces in East Timor, Sudan, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, among others.” Abbott’s singling out of jihadists demonises them over likewise factions. Most recently, Australians have returned from fighting with radicals in Sri Lanka, free from political scrutiny.

If it’s not about radicalism, then what exactly is the threat? If, in fact, it is a country rampant with ethnic militants – and I’ll be the first to admit that’s a fearsome prospect – shouldn’t every Australian fighting for external armies be barred from returning? Our citizens have served in the past – as in the Spanish Civil war – and received monuments in return. Today, there is ongoing conscription in countries like South Korea and Greece, which lures back young Australians with dual citizenships.

It could be argued that it comes down to national allegiance, but this is equally troublesome. Foreign incursion laws are undetermined in Australia: the Attorney General has the power to decide for whom it is acceptable to fight in every instance. No doubt the campaigns for fear would colour these decisions.

Abbott’s message on jihadists calls us to keep our eyes peeled. The American war on terror should caution how a foreign threat can be used to eclipse domestic activity.

Abbott has already done this with asylum seekers in the past.

It is deeply plausible that jihadist’s are his latest tool.

Nelson Groom

Nelson Groom is a journalist and aspiring author. He also writes for VICE and Junkee and has had short stories published. You can check see more of his work at his blog.

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