Expose hate-mongers in battle against terror

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2005, 12:00am

There is weary frustration at the latest terrorist incidents in London and the atrocity in Egypt that has claimed at least 88 lives: we are no closer to defeating the motivation or methods of the terrorists.

Britain and other target nations would welcome a practical initiative to strike at an evil that has taken root in their own backyards. The tactics need to be broader than the immediate imposition of security measures more commonly associated with war than peace.

In London, for example, events are testing vows by Britain's leaders that terrorism will not be allowed to change the nation's way of life. After bomb attacks on the Underground and their buses, Londoners are being rallied to get on with life as normal - while acting as the eyes and ears of the huge security operation deployed to protect them.

But the crisis and unpredictable threat must be affecting their lives. Security forces have taken the counterattack on terror onto the city's streets with dire consequences. Last night the first victim of a newly instituted shoot-to-kill policy was found to have been a tragic mistake.

His killing on Friday in the under-siege Underground system is sure to send shockwaves through Britain's already fragile Muslim community. Life in the new London blitz may go on as normally as possible. But while homegrown terrorists continue to hide behind the facade of a normal existence, it could be some time before the final all-clear.

New initiatives can only be welcomed.

One idea worth considering is aggressive action to expose religious hatred and marginalise its influence on susceptible people given that Islamic extremism is winning the hearts and minds of young Muslims deeply disaffected and alienated from life in their adopted country.

The tolerance of multiculturalism in modern Britain is an ally of religious intolerance and extremism: incitement to hatred and violence is easily confined within ethnic and religious communities and often goes unnoticed and unchallenged.

There is an argument to be made that open multicultural societies should not just rest on laws against religious and racist hate-mongering. They should act to uncover it, expose it and root it out.

Hate-mongers are accustomed to getting away with it but, occasionally, their message leaks into the wider community, causing outrage and disgust. They do not like it and often feel compelled to explain themselves. More importantly, publicity damaging to Muslim communities often prompts moderate leaders to stand up and disassociate themselves from extremism.

This kind of pressure will not bring victory overnight in the battle against terrorism. But it could help marginalise its appeal to the vulnerable individuals who are potential suicide bombers.

An unrelated example of how it can work occurred recently in multicultural Sydney, where an extremist Muslim cleric, preaching to a crowded mosque, sought to portray the attackers in a gang rape case, all Muslims, as the real victims - because they were tormented beyond endurance by the immodesty of the western mode of female dress. A worshipper who secretly recorded his remarks gave the tape to the media. In the ensuing uproar the cleric was forced to defend and explain himself on talkback radio and moderate Muslim leaders publicly repudiated his views.

There is also a case for more scrutiny of the views of people who 'excuse' terrorist outrages as 'understandable' in the context of one grievance or another, be it the Iraq occupation, imperialism or whatever. As former American State Department spokesman James Rubin said, in an open society this 'erases the distinction between legitimate dissent and terrorism'.

Relentless exposure of the message of hatred behind terrorism would send an unambiguous message of its own: there can be no compromise with terrorists.