Islamism Wants to Tear Down Our Social Fabric

By Chris Kenny, Current Affairs commentator on Sky News Australia and columnist for The Australian Newspaper

In Western liberal democracies, some of our greatest strengths also turn out to be obvious weaknesses. Our openness, plurality and tolerance leave us vulnerable to the people and ideologies that would do us harm – ideologues will use our tolerance to promote intolerance and exploit our electoral politics to undermine democracy. Islamism aims to undermine the very idea of Australia. As they do in the Middle East, Europe, the UK, Africa and elsewhere, Islamists work assiduously to delegitimise democracy, secularism and pluralism, and work towards the long-term goal of imposing their fundamentalist ideology. We cannot tolerate it. We must expose and attack it, and work to eradicate it from our society. The most confronting display of Islamist hatred and ambition of recent times came on a street in Sydney’s southwestern suburb of Lakemba, the epicentre of the city’s Sunni Muslim community, on October 8 last year. While families in Israel were still trying to find out if their loved ones were alive, dead, injured or kidnapped during the October 7 Hamas atrocities, a Sydney cleric was celebrating.

“My brothers, my sisters, I’m smiling. I’m smiling and I’m happy,” proclaimed Sheik Ibrahim Dadoun to a crowd that included women and children. “I’m elated. It’s a day of courage, it’s a day of pride, it’s a day of victory. This is the day we’ve been waiting for.” A placard declared “The Khalifa will be the true response”. On a suburban street promoting a caliphate – Islamic rule under sharia law – Islamists aspire to this not just in the Middle East but globally. The following night, the infamous pro-Palestinian anti-Israel crowd descended on the Opera House, either threatening to gas the Jews or find them, take your pick. They also condemned Australia. This is Islamism in our country. And it has used the pro-Palestinian protest movement, even hijacked it, to attack this country, preach anti-Semitic bile, and promote its extreme agenda.

Most Muslims are not Islamists, and most of the people who suffer from the actions of Islamists are Muslims – Palestinians in Gaza, women in Iran, or Afghans under their recurrent Taliban regime. But Islamism is active in this country, and not only when it metastasises into violent terrorism. Nine Media journalists have linked the Islamist group Hizbut-Tahrir to the University of Sydney pro-Palestinian protests and the broader “Stand for Palestine” movement. Sheik Daduoun is revealed as a key figure for Hizb ut-Tahrir and has been involved in the university encampment. In January, the UK banned Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist group. It is also banned in many Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Yet it operates legally in Australia, because while it promotes Islamism it publicly eschews violence (just how you impose a global caliphate and sharia law through peaceful means is anyone’s guess).

The UK ban came into force because of the sort of hate-preaching we saw after October 7. According to the UK authorities, these celebrations and invocations amount to incitements to terrorist violence, and the Coalition is calling for a similar ruling and proscription here. In the UK, some argue banning Hitzb ut-Tahrir is not the right response, that it will drive the Islamists underground and fuel radicalisation. It needs to be carefully considered in Australia, but I lean towards proscription because celebrating the slaughter of innocents must equate to endorsing violence. Either way we need a broader public discussion about Islamism, and denunciation from our political leaders. We need police, bureaucrats, voters and university students to understand the goals of Islamism and how they are incompatible with our national values of democracy, personal liberty and the rule of law.

It is easy to oppose violent extremism. Contesting the goals of professed non-violent Islamism requires more nuance but is equally important. Just look at how Hizb ut-Tahrir has fanned the flames of hatred at Sydney University yet has helped ensure the Muslim Students Association now gets to have some input into the university’s financial partnerships. This is insidious Islamist influence peddled by non-violent means. As the UK Policy Exchange explains the challenge: “It cannot be emphasised enough that in talking about Islamism – a socio-political ideology with a distinct history and trajectory – we are not talking about Islam, the religion.” It goes on to say the religion is a great monotheistic faith that comes in many forms, most of which are compatible with liberal democratic norms. “Islamism, by contrast,” it says, “is the ideologised, politically purposeful and activist form of the faith.”

UK radicalisation expert Paul Stott has a pithy definition: “An Islamist aims to enforce an Islamic ideology upon the political and cultural base of society.” For the Brookings Institution, Shadi Hamid and Rashid Dar set Islamism apart from other political or religious movements: “Modern liberal sensibilities shy away from enshrining a privileged position to any one religion, out of fear of placing constraints on individual freedom – yet the point of Islamism is to advocate for a privileged social and political role for Islamic belief.” This is an ideology that is not only at odds with our national institutions and values, but hostile to them. Our leaders need to openly oppose it, authorities need to comprehend it, and we need to be able to call it out without demonising all Muslims, most of whom understand the threats of this movement better than non-Muslims.

Muslim community leaders told me this week that Hizb ut-Tahrir is well known and avoided by most in their communities. They say it has little support but is capable of cleverly assembling crowds, such as it did on October 8, when many who turned up might have considered the speeches as more radical than they expected or would endorse. I am not so certain. The numbers at some protests, their tone, and the lack of Muslim leadership speaking out against openly anti-Semitic chants and actions all signal that more needs to be done. We need political leaders explaining and criticising Islamism, partly to smooth the path for Muslim community leaders to do the same. Demographics and activism in Europe and the UK are having a tangible effect on political representation. This was made clear in the British local elections last month when Muslim voters supported anti-Israel candidates and some victories were welcomed with chants of “Allahu Akbar!”

There is no doubt the Albanese government’s weakness on Israel and domestic anti-Semitism, as well as its forward-leaning stance on Palestinian statehood, are dictated, at least in part, by the electoral demographics in a few largely Muslim seats in southwestern Sydney. It is supplemented by a desire to match the Greens in inner-city seats. This week, Labor senator Fatima Payman voted against her government’s Palestinian position without sanction. This is timidity from Albanese – special treatment for a Muslim view – and the repercussions for party unity and discipline could be dire. The essence of our country, any successful country for that matter, is an idea. We are not defined by our continent, our flora and fauna, or our people – diverse and unique as they are. Australia exists because of the idea that we should populate, develop and nurture this place under our idea of democracy, rule of law, and personal liberty. There is no shame in calling out those who aim to destroy this idea and impose a theocracy – in fact, surely it is our duty to thwart them.

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