As a student of political science, and as a researcher in intelligence, I am no stranger to the concept, history, and effects of terrorism. It has been widely researched, and in recent years has become a staple in the education of any person with the remotest interest in international affairs. Certainly it is a centerpiece of tertiary education in political sciences. However, being Australian and having been educated in New Zealand, terrorism has always been a remote practice, removed from my everyday life. That changed this week.
I must first admit that I was slightly behind the times when I woke up this morning. As a full time PhD student that also works twenty hours a week and reviews books in her ‘spare time,’ I rarely have enough hours in the day to complete my work AND keep up on current affairs beyond my express area of research. See, my gym session with the trainer this morning was an hour earlier than usual, so I had a little time on my hands afterward; I decided to get a coffee and some breakfast. As is my custom when I have the time to do this, I asked for the paper to read. When it was delivered to me with my glass of orange juice, all I could do was stare.
Terrorist plot foiled, seven arrested, Christmas Day explosions planned. Headlines I’ve seen before, as I’m sure many have. But this time, the plot that was foiled? Was in my city. My home. Several full colour photos dominated the multiple page spread; Flinders St Station, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Federation Square. I was in two of those places just two days ago, and across the street from the other. Doing my Christmas shopping, glaring at the horse-and-buggies, laughing with my sister. My sister, who it occurred to me this morning, had we been in the wrong place at the wrong time, could have been killed. By terrorists. In AUSTRALIA. In Melbourne. In our home city.
Before today, terrorism was a concept I was academically and empathetically very familiar with. I remember 9/11. I remember the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, I remember the London bombing and the Boston bombings. I’ve learned about state terrorism and lone wolf terrorism and terror groups. I’ve learned about the Siccari, I’ve learned about the Inquisition, I’ve learned about the witch hunts, I’ve learned about al Qaeda and we are all learning about ISIS. And while, as an intelligence researcher that focuses on cyberspace, terrorism is not focal to my research, it still influences it. But today, the growing reach of terrorist groups and propaganda was brought into sharp relief by its proximity to ME. To my family.
At the end of the spread in the paper, there was a short piece of absolute drivel espousing fear of Islam as a religion. That we ought to reject and combat the spread of Islam in Australia because it breeds terrorism, that the sword verses of the Qur’ran are proof that Islam is an aggressive religion seeking the downfall of all others. And even in my shock and fear, the addition of this piece absolutely disgusted me. Because all that drivel will accomplish is further fear, and further violence, and further prejudice against a largely peaceful people. Politicians like Pauline Hanson will use this drivel, and other drivel just like it, to arouse fear and hatred against people that do not deserve it simply because it is a rallying point.
Well. I would like to remind the writers of and believers in this drivel of a few things. Terrorism is not new. It is, in fact, a concept with centuries if not millennia of history. And Islam is not the root of terrorism; people are. Hateful people who see fear and violence as the best or only way to make their point known. And those people can be of any religious background, any race. The Russian revolution killed thousands. The French Revolution killed thousands. State violence has killed millions of people, in horrible and violent ways. The use of violence and fear for political or religious ends is not new. To uphold the example of a few as justification for the rejection and persecution of millions of innocent people is, quite frankly, one of the most stupid ideas I have ever heard, and as a student of political science I have heard a great many very stupid ideas.
Terrorism has been brought, literally, to my home. That danger is real. Do I consider that an excuse to treat those with different belief systems than I, in an abominable manner? No.
Why? Because I consider myself a decent human being.
On the page following the spread on the terror plots, there were pictures of Melburnians like myself going about their business, albeit with an increased police presence. Because they, and I, are not going to let a few stupid people dictate the way we live and experience life. I like to think that there remain reasonable, thinking people who will realize that it is individuals to whom we now owe our fear, not to a religion. After all, the Church started the Inquisition, but people of faith still attend Mass. Because it was PEOPLE that undertook the Inquisition in the name of their religion; individuals that made the decisions, that tortured, that murdered, that robbed families of sons and fathers. That utilized fear and violence against a terrified populace in pursuit of a goal set by other PEOPLE.
So I will continue to live as I have. I will take the train to Flinders St Station, and I will walk through Fed Square and past St Paul’s, and I will tell the Muslim woman that her scarf is beautiful. And I’ll be sad that she looks so surprised at that, and then I’ll smile back when she smiles at me. I’ll say thank you when the Sikh gentleman allows me to board the train in front of him, and I will give up my seat on that train for the elderly Jewish man. Because while I understand that religion does matter to some, and that ethnicity matters to others, I believe that it is individuals and their actions that should matter.
Religious persecution has no place here.