Equivocating over the existence of rightwing extremism will cost Australia dearly

Given Canadian debates over how to “label” different forms of extremism, interesting take on Australia’s shift towards more neutral but yet clear terminology:

Last week Australia’s spy boss sent ripples through the national security community with the announcement that Asio will shift from using “rightwing extremism” and “Islamic extremism” to using “ideological extremism” and “religious extremism”. In his second annual threat assessment, director general Mike Burgess told a Canberra audience that “words matter”, and the old words were no longer fit for purpose.

Words do matter. Burgess’ words in his first public address in 2020 which took aim at the extreme right wing, were lightning bolts in Australia’s post-Christchurch discourse. The organisation’s disclosure that 30-40% of its caseload was associated with these issues gave invaluable context to a public debate that was severely lacking.

While the quick pivot away from these terms took many by surprise, it has not happened in a vacuum. The change is similar to one undertaken by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 2020. Far from signalling the diminishing resolve of the country, Canada took the bold step of listing the Proud Boys on its terror register in February. Likewise, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence published an unclassified memo dated 1 March 2021 which contained similar rhetorical shifts throughout. The memo, which warns more “racially motivated extremist attacks” will “almost certainly” take place in 2021, was in the process of being released to the public when a gunman shot and killed eight Asian Americans in Atlanta.

Following this year’s address, Burgess told Guardian Australia that political pressure did not factor in the organisation’s decision process. But as the director general acknowledges, the organisation doesn’t control or seek to control the way Australia’s leaders in politics and the media discuss these issues and this is where rhetoric plays its most important role.

Source: Equivocating over the existence of rightwing extremism will cost Australia dearly

Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) chief says radical Sunni Islam creates terrorists, not being a refugee | Australia news | The Guardian

Spymasters versus demagogues:

The head of Australia’s spy agency, Duncan Lewis, says people become terrorists because they adhere to a violent interpretation of Sunni Islam, not because they are refugees.

Lewis has come under intense pressure from conservative commentators, including the News Corporation columnist and Sky News broadcaster Andrew Bolt, after his response to questions from the One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, on 26 May about whether there was a connection between terrorism and refugees.

The Asio chief told Hanson at Senate estimates last week he had no evidence of any connection. He said the source of terrorism wasn’t Australia’s refugee program, but “radical Sunni Islam”.

Bolt’s critique was echoed by the former prime minister, Tony Abbott, who suggested Lewis was tiptoeing around the subject. “Asio has to command the confidence of the Australian community, and that’s why you’ve got to be open and upfront about these things,” he told 2GB.

Hanson later told 2GB the response from Lewis at estimates was “not what the Australian public want to hear”.

She was “gobsmacked” by his evidence at estimates.

On Wednesday morning Lewis had a rare public interview with the ABC. He stood by the evidence he gave last week, but provided some more context.

“We have had tens of thousands of refugees come to Australia over the last decade or so and a very few of them have become subjects of interest for Asio and have been involved in terrorist planning,” he said.

“I’m not denying that. I’ve not said that there are no terrorists who have not been refugees or who have not been the sons and daughters of refugees born in this country.

“But the context is very important. The reason they are terrorists is not because they are refugees but because of the violent, extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam that they have adopted.”

Lewis said sons and daughters of refugees were “in the group that have resorted to radicalisation but I think it is very wrong to say that it is because of their refugee status”.

“They are radicalised for different reasons,” he said.

He said he had no intention of appearing contemptuous of Hanson’s line of questioning: “The point I am making is we need to stick to the facts.”

Source: Asio chief says radical Sunni Islam creates terrorists, not being a refugee | Australia news | The Guardian