Firstly, the rise and news coverage of terrorism done in the name of Islam. It is best described as the logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, which is Latin for, after this, therefore because of this. This leads to the presumption; Islamic extremists (A) use terrorism (B) to further their cause, therefore Islam (A) is the cause of terrorism (B), therefore removing Muslims (A) from the western world will end terrorism (B).
Secondly, the understanding of what terrorism is meant to achieve has also become warped in our western society. Again we observe the use of post hoc illogic to make terrorism seem as an anti-western tool for non-western countries. Completely ignoring what Brian Jenkins, an expert on terrorism, wrote in 1975, “terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead.”
Therefore the greatest tool for terrorists are fear. Without it they are just a bunch of people killing other people for no apparent reason or goal. Fear is used because they often have limited access to great numbers of combatants and efficient weaponry, so the ability to take control over a government is almost impossible. That is why they need to use fear to convince a government to change and move in the direction they want it to, and to do that they need to spread fear efficiently. That is why it is more effective for terrorist organisations to have more onlookers than dead people.
Terrorism is mostly effective when the terrorists’ goal has been established, and when the fear of an unknown attack has effectively been spread through society.
On 22 May our ideas about terrorism and Islam was again challenged when a British soldier was attacked and killed in Woolwich, a district in London UK. Because the attackers made it clear to those witnessing the attack they did it to send a message to the British army to, as one of the attackers claimed, stop the killing of Muslims.
Admitting that the attack was done in the name of Islam it was quickly concluded it was a terrorist attack. Which some in the media decided to put in their headline. Feeding on both the fear of terrorism and Islam in the western world — in the name of ratings.
The English Defence League swiftly used this as an opportunity to protest, blaming the attack on Islam as a whole. Painting every Muslim, again, as a potential terrorist. A blight on the western society, as they see it, that needs to be removed. Because if Islam is removed from the western society, according to the illogical post hoc conclusion, terrorism will also be removed. Completely ignoring the fact that international terrorism attacks has been in decline since the late 1980s.
In this day of age information can reach around the world within seconds thanks to the Internet. Which is why I decided to investigate if this attack, and reaction from EDL, would also have an impact on Australia. Which I found it would have, after discovering the Australian Defence League, located in Sydney, had planned a protest against Islam on Friday 26 May.
At first there were no mention of a protest by ADL members in Queensland, but after monitoring their Facebook page, a post from Restore Australia emerged. Saying an anti-Islam protest outside Queensland Parliament House in Brisbane on that same day as the ADL protest would happen at 4 pm, urging anyone opposing Islam to come along.
I decided to go there as a journalist a cover the event, to witness how it would unfold on the streets of Brisbane, as they had been urged by the police not to burn the Koran.
When arriving outside Queensland Parliament House on George St, which is a shared entrance for Queensland University of Technology [QUT], the presence of police was difficult to ignore. Earlier QUT had also advised their fellow students to avoid that area. A situation that most might find a bit surreal to happen in a country where the locals see themselves as laid-back and willing to give anyone a fair go.
It is tempting to say that the weather did not side with the anti-Islam protesters that day, as it was cloudy, cold and keeping most people outside a bit damp with random light drizzle. Which is why when the clock turned 4 pm and that no-one had apparently showed up yet, it was first assumed the protest would not happen. It was not until closer to 4.30 pm something started to happen.
A group of three people had arrived with a large banner for the Restore Australia foundation and some signs with anti-Islam scribblings on them. We were told Restore Australia CEO Mike Holt would arrive soon. Before his arrival a group of five had gathered, talking with the media why they do not want Islam in Australia. Making various claims. During that time Mr holt arrived to take part of the protest against, what was referred to as, Islamisation of Australia and introduction of Sharia Law.
Mr Holt said Restore Australia is working for the Australian people to be able to amend the Australian constitution, giving all Australians the right to initiate referendums.
“Then we can stop Islamisation of Australia,” Mr Holt said.
“We don’t want them imposing Sharia Law on Australia.”
The anti-Islam protesters were confronted and outnumbered by a group of students from QUT. At one point the discussion became a bit heated, shouting and swearwords from both sides, but luckily the situation never escalated to violence.
QUT student Ahmed El-Merebi said he studies constitutional law to uphold the constitutional rights in Australia and Sharia Law is only a religious code.
“Sharia Law derives from the law of Jesus, from the law of Moses and from the law of Mohammed,” Mr El-Merebi said.
“It [Islam] was founded upon Christian principles.”
Protester Stuart Boyd said we all came here for a peaceful demonstration and we all want to voice our opinion calmly.
“I am not against muslims, I am against Sharia Law,” Mr Boyd said.
“There is a lot of good people out there.”
Mr El-Merebi and Mr Boyd were there on opposite sides, disagreeing on most things. They did however agree the media might be culpable for inciting unnecessary conflict in society.
“The media holds the key,” Mr Boyd said.
Mr El-Merebi also made the point that we are brainwashed by the media. Which I as a journalist can understand why such harsh criticism is directed at my colleagues. As I pointed out in the beginning, the attack in Woolwich was instantly labeled as a terrorist attack. Which raises the question, when did a random stabbing of one person by two attackers become a terrorist attack?
It might have been one, but before we make that call, let us first wait for the investigators of that case gather the evidence, before we make such a hastily claim. Because all we have now as evidence are two people with dark skin, claiming they are Muslims and killed the British soldier because they accuse the British army of killing Muslims. There are more criteria to be fulfilled before you can attach the terrorist label on someone or an act. For now, all it was, yet still gruesome, a random attack (when this column was written).
This is exactly what the media, us journalists, need to be aware of. Sometimes we need to forget about who can publish something first. Rather focus on who can publish something accurate and factual.
Which is why I have decided to omit the worst things said from the protest, from both sides — those opposing Islam and those defending it. Not because I support censorship, but to avoid putting emphasis on stereotypes. It was a protest where the tension between both parties being there was evident. Enough tension there if a larger crowd were present it would easily provide more courage to each side to antagonise each other to fight with their fists rather than words. But it did not happen — this time.
It is of course tempting to say because of the few anti-Islam protesters there that they lost this round. But in reality, a confrontation like this is very similar to a war. One side will lose, either by force or by being outnumbered. But at the end of the day, in war, there are no winners, only casualties. We were all casualties that day. The anti-Islamists are casualties of fear, those opposing them are casualties of hate and us, the media, are casualties of being spreaders of this fear and hate.
On that day, we all died on the battlefield, only our spirits went home that day, giving the illusion we are still alive.