Australia isn’t taking the national security threat from far-right extremism seriously enough



The Christchurch attack is a clear signal we need to change our approach to both hateful extremism and toxic political discourse in Australia.
David Alexander/AAP

Greg Barton, Deakin University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how these measures are impacting society. Read the rest of the series here.


Until the terror attack in Christchurch in March, the threat of far-right terrorism in Australia was one we knew was coming, but believed was well over the horizon.

The sordid story of the Christchurch attacker – “ordinary Australian” turned hateful bigot turned mass-murdering terrorist – contains some uncomfortable truths for our country, not least of which is the fact that the threat of far-right extremism has arrived in the here and now.

Just as troubling, yet even more challenging because it is so insidious, are the clear links between the Christchurch shooter’s motivations and our mainstream political discourse. Facing up to this threat requires us changing our approach both to hateful extremism and toxic political discourse.

Police and counter-terrorism officials have long been warning us of the rising threat of far-right violent extremism. Over the past decade, this has emerged as the number one terrorist threat in America and a persistent and growing threat in Europe.




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Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


It’s tempting to say that had more resources been committed to tracking and monitoring far-right groups and individuals in Australia, the Christchurch terrorist perhaps could have been stopped.

But even in hindsight, things are not so clear. The Christchurch gunman was a lone actor with no previous history of significant violence, although his involvement in hateful extremism was well-known to family and friends.

This is the particular threat that keeps counter-terrorism experts awake at night, when so-called “cleanskins” (people with ostensibly spotless records) turn into lone-actor terrorists.

We are flying blind on far-right extremism

One clear lesson from Christchurch is that we need to pay more attention to hate speech and hate crimes.

It is true that “shit-posting” is a common occurrence on social media, and among all those people spouting off, it is extremely difficult to see who might become a violent extremist.

But clearly, we don’t understand the world of far-right extremism nearly as well as we should. We need a better way of monitoring and tracking far-right forums, social networks and the links between far-right individuals through their histories of travel and extremist communications.

We also have no centralised, national database of hate incidents. Hate crimes remain under-reported, poorly documented and de-prioritised to low levels of state policing.




Read more:
Right-wing extremism has a long history in Australia


The result is that we are flying blind. We don’t get to see the patterns between far-right groups and internet “shit-posters” because we are not collecting the data.

If we made it a priority at the state and federal level to document hate incidents, whether crimes or not, we would at least have a sense of when and where the problem is growing and who is most significantly involved.

This wouldn’t eliminate the threat of far-right extremism, but it might help stop the next massacre and it would certainly contribute to making Australian society more healthy, welcoming and just.

Anti-immigrant protesters at a Reclaim Australia rally in Sydney in 2015.
David Moir/AAP

A disproportionate focus on Islamist terror threats

The September 11 attacks in America, and subsequent attacks by al-Qaeda in Bali, Madrid, London and elsewhere, triggered an enormous investment in counter-terrorism efforts in Australia.

This had barely begun to abate when the formation of the Islamic State (IS) caliphate in mid-2014 alerted us to the high rates of terror recruitment in Australia and prompted the raising of the national terrorism alert to the penultimate level in September 2014.

An intercepted phone call then triggered Australia’s largest-ever counter-terrorism operation. Shortly afterward, the Islamic State issued a call for random lone-actor attacks around the world and, within days, an 18-year-old launched a knife attack against two police officers in Melbourne.




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These circumstances have led to 82 counter-terrorism laws being enacted in Australia since 2001, and 16 counter-terrorism operations since 2014, almost all of which have been responding to the threat posed by violent Islamist groups like al-Qaeda and IS.

This perception of the increased threat posed by these groups has resulted in a disproportionate investment in counter-terrorism compared with the response to the much greater threat posed by domestic violence.

At the same time, however, very little has been invested in preventative counter-terrorism measures, including countering far-right extremism.

A national discourse bound up in fear

We pride ourselves on being the world’s most successful multicultural society, yet we consistently turn a deaf ear to those who come up against hatred.

Just last month, for example, a new national survey found that 82% of Asian Australians, 81% of Australians of Middle Eastern background and 71% of Indigenous Australians had experienced some form of discrimination.

One reason why we are not yet ready to face up to this problem is that our national political discourse has for decades become bound up with the politics of fear, “othering”, and scapegoating minority communities.

When we demonise “illegal arrivals” and give license to the toxic rhetoric that we are being “swamped by Asians”, as Pauline Hanson put it in the late 1990s, or more recently “flooded by Muslims”, then we are buying into the core element of the narrative of terrorists like the Christchurch gunman.

In his manifesto, the gunman referenced the far-right extremist trope of “the great replacement” –
the fear that white Christian society is being overrun by brown-skinned, non-Christian people who are changing its culture and society irrevocably.

He picked up this idea from parts of Europe where there is strong antagonism to migrants and Muslims. But he referenced it directly from the writings of the Norwegian far-right terrorist who shot dead 69 people and blew up another eight in July 2011.

This same argument featured in the manifesto of the El Paso gunman who murdered 22 people at a Walmart store in Texas last month. In it, he praised the Christchurch shooter and warned of a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas.

These alt-right terrorists are driven in part by a fantasy of going from “zero to hero” in the alt-right internet world and becoming renowned as “warrior defenders”.

White nationalist manifestos are a recurring feature of far-right extremist attacks, like the one in El Paso this year.
Larry W. Smith/EPA

Prioritising far-right extremism

Prior to Christchurch, kicking the can down the road and prioritising other threats to our national security seemed an understandable, if not ideal response.

We now need to face the reality that of 50 terrorism-related deaths in the US last year, almost all involved far-right extremism. (Only one was linked to jihadi terrorism.) This is a pattern that’s been established for decades now. In fact, nearly three-quarters of all terrorist deaths in the US over the past decade have been linked to far-right extremism.

And while there is reason to hope the problem will never become quite so serious in Australia (despite the fact an Australian far-right extremist has murdered 51 people in another country), we need to do what we can now to counter the rise of hate speech and hate crimes – not later.

There are no quick fixes or guaranteed solutions, but these steps will make society better in ways that go far beyond the immediate threat of another terrorist attack.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Finding dignity and grace in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack


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Victims are responding to the Christchurch mosque shooting with bravery and compassion, not anger and hate.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mohamad Abdalla, University of South Australia

Following the tragic attack in Christchurch that killed 50 people as they prayed, I felt compelled to visit the injured in hospital, and meet their family and friends.

I also visited others in their homes, alongside an elder and pioneer of the New Zealand Islamic community, the man who helped establish Al Noor Mosque where most of the victims were killed.

Their stories of survival are moving, sometimes remarkable and often deeply sad.




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But the common thread in their response to the horrific events of March 15 is profound bravery, deep consideration and thoughtfulness, and a complete lack of desire for vengeance.

At the hospital, I met Ahmad, a middle-aged man from an Afghani background. He said he survived because he was buried under the dead bodies that piled up in the mosque. Although he was shot twice in the back and was lucky to survive, he was not angry or resentful.

When asked about his abiding thoughts now he said:

terrorism must not scare us. Racism must not divide us.

I then visited Fuad, another middle-aged man originally from Afghanistan who also escaped death. He had been struck by a bullet in the back and another just missing the back of his head.

His wounds were visible. He told me, with four children, he was just grateful to be alive. Not resentful or vengeful, he was full of praise for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her deep expression of humanity.

Mustafa, a young university student of Turkish heritage, was shot in the legs. One of the bullets exploded in his leg and it is difficult to know the long-term impacts – but he smiles and is cheerful, kind and respectful to the nurses who care for him.

Like the other two, he was not hateful. He said:

We trust in God. Don’t be scared to go to Mosques and schools.

He was quick to point out terrorism would serve its purpose if it made people afraid – our fear is their victory.

Still in shock from seeing the events at Al Noor mosque unfold, Burhan, a Sudanese man in his 60s, stood in the hospital corridor. That Friday at the mosque, he heard the shooting but was not sure if it was real.

He then saw two men shot dead, one on his right and the other behind him.

He ran outside and hid behind a car but could see the shoes of the terrorist as he continued to fire. He watched as a father ran out with his three-year-old daughter in his arms calling out “my daughter!”.

Both had been shot multiple times and both remain in critical care.

A young man in his 20s whom I had met when we completed the hajj pilgrimage last year, witnessed the gunman as he shot that young father and child.

Not unscathed, he too was shot in the hip and shoulder and his father only survived by pretending to be dead.

Without anger and strong in his faith he said:

the Prophets of God were tested more severely.

Down every corridor the message was the same – the survivors urged unity and the strength to resist hatred, racism and vengeance.

At the community centre later that day I met Adnan Ibrahim the father of the youngest of the 50 victims killed at the two mosques. His son, Mucad Ibrahim, was only three years old.

Before he was killed, he had run toward the gunman thinking it was a game.

As Adnan retold the events, everyone became very silent. In deep pain and sorrow, he showed grace and dignity.

Verily we belong to God and to Him we shall return.

His most present thoughts were about the sad condition of humanity, that such things could happen.




Read more:
The psychology of fear and hate, and what each of us can do to stop it


On my way to the carpark, I met Matiullah, a young man under 20 years old. I greeted him and asked if he lost anyone. He told me his father was killed while standing in prayer at the mosque. I embraced him and was struck by his gentleness and calmness.

The community elder Dr Hanif Quazi took me to see Ambreen Nadeem, who lost both her husband and her 21-year-old son, Talha.

Talha was completing an engineering degree. The entire family were planning to visit Pakistan in June and the tickets were booked.

As I met her with her two remaining sons, 17 and seven years old, I was filled with sadness.

Grief lined her dignified face.

And she said:

I pity the killer because his heart was filled with hate, not love.

“Pray for us,” she added quietly. I did.

At a time when we could expect that anger, vengeance and resentment could take hold in a community so demolished by violence, I found the exact opposite.

They were compassionate. They were forgiving. They were humane. And this is what we need right now.The Conversation

Mohamad Abdalla, Founding Director of the Centre for Islamic Thought and Education, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Right-wing extremism has a long history in Australia


Kristy Campion, Charles Sturt University

The first step in coming to terms with the attack in Christchurch is to understand that it has been produced by right wing extremism, both in Australia and internationally.

The problem does not lie with immigration policies. The problem does not lie with the so-called outsiders, such as Muslim communities, who are so often the targets of right wing rage.

In this country, the problem lies with the broader Australian community that ignores or accepts the presence of right wing extremists in its midst, and tolerates the increasingly Islamophobic and anti-immigrant discourse in Australia.

Right wing extremism generally starts with perception (or construction) of a threat that imperils the extremist’s way of life. Groups promoting this idea, like the Antipodean Resistance and the Lads Society, have dominated headlines in Australia in recent years. But they are far from the sum of the extreme right in Australia.

Instead, they are a recent manifestation of a recurring problem that can be traced back decades. Here’s a primer on the history of right wing extremism in Australia.




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What right wing extremism is and what drives it

Right wing extremism is an umbrella term used to describe a complex array of ideologies. The core components are authoritarianism, anti-democracy and exclusionary nationalism.

Fascist, national socialist, white supremacist ideologies – especially those that advocate ethno-states and monocultures – sit firmly within the remit of right wing extremism.

Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and intolerance are fellow travellers: they are characteristics of the ideologies, without actually defining them.

In Australia, right wing extremists tend to position themselves in response to an imagined or constructed threat. Sympathisers believe that society is degenerating, or is at risk of degenerating. Then they externalise this to attribute blame to a target group, such as an ethnic or ideological community.

Right wing extremists foster feelings of peril, and exploit crises to drive narratives that society’s problems are entirely the fault of a target group of outsiders.

They believe the only way to safeguard their society is to remove the threat – often through violence.

The roots of Australian right wing extremism

Historians of the radical right have documented reactionary and radical groups, collectively referred to as the Old Guard, operating in Australia in the 1920s. These groups were concerned about the communist threat, and were driven by the Bolshevik-led Russian revolution in 1917. Although they stockpiled arms, they did not appear to proactively engage in violence.

In the 1930s, members of the Old Guard splintered into a New Guard, and decided to take violent action against communism. They engaged in street fights with Australian communists and trade unionists, disrupted their meetings, and established an alternative employment bureau to try and deter workers from accessing unions.

There was also support for a formal fascist movement. Fascist circles arose in Melbourne in support of Benito Mussolini, and national socialist strongholds formed as early as 1932. Although established independently, they were soon directly administered by the Nazi Party through the Auslands Organisation. Members were considered to be anti-Semitic, fascist and concerned with German/Aryan identity.

Another prominent voice of the extreme right was Alexander Rud Mills. He believed that modern Christianity had degenerated into so-called “Jew-worship”, and the only way to restore it was through a racial interpretation of Odinism (a form of Norse paganism), which he orientated towards Aryan ideals. It is worth noting that the Christchurch perpetrator’s manifesto referenced Valhalla, the hall of fallen heroes in Norse mythology.

Mills was a loud supporter of the Australia First Movement, which promoted the idea that Australia was – and should remain – a white country. In 1941, members in Western Australia were found in possession of plans to assassinate prominent Australians, sabotage vulnerable areas, and drafts of speeches welcoming the Japanese in the event of an invasion.

After the war, these sentiments did not entirely disappear, but were relegated to the political fringe. The Australian League of Rights and its leader, Eric Butler, rose to prominence. In 1946, Butler published The International Jew: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Butler argued that a Zionist Occupation Government existed, and used its wealth to control the governments of the world, including Nazi Germany, in order to enslave various races.




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Attempts to infiltrate mainstream politics

Members of the Australian League of Rights adopted various strategies to subvert democracy. The most significant was “elite penetration”, where members would join mainstream political parties, attempt to subvert their core values and ideas and attain leadership positions.

We saw echoes of this strategy by the Lads Society in 2018, when they infiltrated the Young Nationals conference. It was also supported by the Christchurch perpetrator in his manifesto, when he encouraged fellow travellers to “Lightning Blitz” dominant positions.

Right wing extremism reduced in the sixties, but it nonetheless remained in subcultural networks. In 1964, Nazi materials were still being imported to Australia – including Stormtrooper magazines, and stickers proclaiming “Hitler was right”. There was also the (albeit unsuccessful) formation of the Australia Nationalist Socialist Party – a neo-Nazi party which struggled to attract or retain recruits. Its leaders were found in possession of explosives, detonators, and other weapons, and jailed for unlawful possession in 1964.

In 1968, serious attempts were made to revitalise the radical right, but this time using the democratic process. The National Socialist Party of Australia was reformed, and attempted to foster an Australian-centric style, orientating it away from typical Nazism.

The group, which adopted the Eureka flag and exploited Henry Lawson’s writings, gained some support given their deliberate exploitation of white Australian symbols and anti-communist attitudes. It was rumoured they had a “kill list” of 100 Australians.

Shootings and firebombings

Towards 1976, there were other extreme right groups who did not engage with the democratic process, instead seeking to use violence to effect change. Among them, ASIO monitored Safari 8, the Legion of the Frontiersmen of the Commonwealth, and the Australian Youth Coalition.

Ultimately, they executed no attacks and swiftly disbanded.

The next prominent surge in activity came in the late eighties from the National Action and the Australian Nationalist Movement. Both of these groups persecuted immigrants, homosexuals, and communists – all of whom they believed put white culture in peril. National Action was involved in a number of attacks in Sydney, including a drive-by shooting; while Australian Nationalist Movement launched a prolonged firebombing campaign against Asian businesses in Perth.

While activity appeared to slump after law enforcement clamped down, it persisted in subcultural networks and “skinhead” counterculture. The ideological foundations, especially around racialised identity, was kept alive by groups such as the Southern Cross Hammerskins, Combat 18/Blood and Honour, and the Women of the Southern Legion (a chapter of Women for Aryan Unity).




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The international rise of right wing extremism

In 2009, right wing extremism began to rise around the world, in response to a supposedly existential threat: jihadism, and the broader Muslim community in the West. This was more a response to the threat supposedly posed by immigration to white culture, heritage, and values, than to an actual fear of jihadism.

Groups with international connections, such as the Australian Defence League and Right Wing Resistance, were formed. The rise of Reclaim Australia also saw extremist members of these groups splinter off to form new groups, such as the True Blue Crew and the United Patriots Front.

Phillip Galea, associated with both of these groups, was apprehended on terrorism charges in 2016. The United Patriots Front has given way to the Lads Society. They are joined in this by Antipodean Resistance – an outwardly nationalist socialist group which defines outsiders as left wing groups, Jews, and homosexuals, and condemns interracial couples and supposed sexual promiscuity.

But these groups barely touch the surface of this surge. Australia has hosted a mix of groups on the extreme right in the last decade. This includes the Nationalist Australian Alternative, Proud Boys, Soldiers of Odin, Identity Australia, Australian Traditional, Australian Liberty Alliance, New National Action, the Patriotic Youth League, and more.

The fact that Christchurch attack has been shared and exploited by extreme right wing elements in Australia shows we have a long way to go in confronting this threat.The Conversation

Kristy Campion, Lecturer in Terrorism Studies, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christchurch attack strains Australian-Turkish relations ahead of ANZAC day


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Weeks ahead of the ANZAC commemoration at Gallipoli, serious tensions erupted between Australia and Turkey, after threatening comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.

Scott Morrison on Wednesday called in the Turkish ambassador to give him a tongue lashing. He demanded a withdrawal of the remarks and the taking down of a nationalist video featuring footage of the Australian gunman’s live stream.

The strength of the Prime Minister’s response has an eye to the emotional place of Gallipoli in the Australian narrative. But he also has to be careful not to cause the Turkish government to respond by hampering next month’s ANZAC commemoration.

President Erdoğan, electioneering at Çanakkale, just across from the Gallipoli peninsula, referred to the massacre, saying: “They test us with the messages they give in New Zealand […] We understood that your hatred is alive […] We understood that you begrudge our lives.”

He said: “Your ancestors came. […] Later on, some of them returned back on their feet, some of them in coffins.

“If you will come here with the same intentions, we will be waiting for you. You should have no doubt that we will farewell you just like your grandfathers”.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, visiting Indonesia, on Wednesday highlighted that the gunman was “a non-New Zealander, an outsider”.

Peters also said he thought Erdoğan had not known the full facts but “since he’s been apprised, or informed of the facts, he’s made a very conciliatory statement today […] which would stand in stark contrast to what he said the other day.”

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post Erdoğan has written “all Western leaders must learn from the courage, leadership and sincerity of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to embrace Muslims living in their respective countries”.

Peters, who is going to Turkey this week, said when there he would “set any record straight that needs to be set straight as to what went on”.

Attacking Erdoğan’s original comments, Morrison told a news conference they were “highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment”.

Morrison said he had asked for the remarks to be clarified and withdrawn. “I’ve asked for these comments, particularly their reporting of the misrepresented position of Australia on Turkish television, the state-sponsored broadcaster, to be taken down,” he said.

He would wait for the Turkish government’s response – beyond that “all options are on the table”. Asked what these options were, the Prime Minister would not elaborate.

Morrison said he did not accept as an excuse that “things are said in an electoral context”.

The travel advisory for Turkey is under review. People planning to go to Gallipoli should exercise common sense and await further advice, Morrison said. The present advice is for people to exercise a “high degree of caution”.

Morrison said Erdoğan’s remarks were “offensive, because they insult the memory of our ANZACs and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli, of the promise of Atatürk to the mothers of our ANZACs. So I understand the deep offence Australians would be feeling about this.

“The comments completely misrepresented the Australian and New Zealand governments’ very strong response to the extremist attack, he said. All Australians had condemned it.

“We have reached out to embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand and in Australia, quite to the contrary of the vile assertion that has been made about our response,” Morrison said.

He said he had spoken with Turkish Australian leaders on Wednesday morning. “They have expressed to me their deep disappointment about these comments. They don’t represent the views of Turkish Australians.

“I am not going to single out the comments of one person and ascribe it to a people, whether in Turkey or across Australia. I don’t think it does reflect the views of the Turkish people, or certainly of Turkish Australians,” Morrison said.

He said Foreign Minister Marise Payne would be speaking to her Turkish counterpart.

The Australian ambassador to Turkey was due to speak with Erdoğan’s advisers.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


Greg Barton, Deakin University

When lives are tragically cut short, it is generally easier to explain the “how” than the “why”. This dark reality is all the more felt when tragedy comes at the hands of murderous intent. Explaining how 50 people came to be killed, and almost as many badly injured, in Christchurch’s double massacre of Muslims at prayer is heartbreaking but relatively straightforward.




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As with so many mass murders in recent years, the use of an assault rifle, the ubiquitous AR15, oxymoronically referred to as “the civilian M-16”, explains how one cowardly killer could be so lethal.

It was much the same in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando three years ago, when one gunman shot dead 49 people in a crowded space and, though the motive appears very different, the same sort of military instrument of death lies behind the 58 deaths in Las Vegas a year later. An AR15 was used to shoot dead 11 worshippers in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last October and a similar weapon was used to kill six people in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.

It is a credit to the peaceful nature of New Zealand society that, despite the open availability of weapons like the AR15, the last time there was a mass shooting was in 1997. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rightly identified reform of gun laws as one of the immediate outcomes required in response to this tragedy.

But lax gun laws are arguably the only area in which blame can be laid in New Zealand. Ardern, together with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was also right to refer to this barbaric act of cold-blooded murder of people in prayer as right wing extremist terrorism driven by Islamophobic hatred.

State and federal police in Australia have long warned that, next to the immediate threat posed by Salafi jihadi terrorism, they are most concerned about the steady rise of right-wing extremism. There has been some comfort in the recognition that the most active right wing extremist groups, and there are many, are disorganised, poorly led, and attract but small crowds.

On the face of it, then, right wing extremism in Australia is nowhere near as serious as the neo-Nazi movements of Europe or the various permutations of white supremacy and toxic nationalism that bedevil American politics. In America, it is conservatively estimated that there were 50 deaths due to terrorist attacks in 2018, almost all linked to right-wing extremism.

In 2017, it is calculated that there were 950 attacks on Muslims and mosques in Germany alone. Many of last year’s attacks in America involved a common right wing extremist hatred of Islam, and a targeting of Muslims, joining a long-standing enmity towards Jews.

Almost all recent terrorist attacks have been lone-actor attacks. They are notoriously difficult to predict. Whether inspired by Salafi jihadi Islamist extremism or right wing extremism, lone-actor attacks commonly feature individuals fixated on the deluded dream of going from “zero to hero”.




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One of the main reasons authorities struggle with identifying right wing extremist “nobodies” who post online, before they turn to violence, is that it’s difficult to pick up a clear signal in the noise of a national discourse increasingly dominated by exactly the same narrative elements of mistrust, anxiety, and a blaming of the other.

In Australia, as in Europe and America, mainstream politicians and mainstream media commentators have increasingly toyed with extremist ideas in the pursuit of popularity. Many have openly brandished outrageous ideas that in previous years would have been unsayable in mainstream political discourse or commentary.

Donald Trump can be deservedly singled out for making the unspeakable the new normal in mainstream right wing politics, but he is hardly alone in this. And sadly, for all of the relative civility and stability of Australian politics, we too have now come to normalise the toxic politics of fear.

No-one put it better than The Project host Waleed Aly in saying that Friday’s terrorist attacks, although profoundly disturbing, did not come as a shocking surprise. Anyone who has been paying attention and who really cares about the well-being and security of Australian society has observed the steady growth of right wing extremist and right supremacist ideas in general, and Islamophobia particular.

They have seen the numerous attacks on Muslims and Jews at prayer and worried about the day when the murderous violence that has plagued the northern hemisphere will visit the southern hemisphere. But more than that, they have worried about the singling-out of migrants, and in particular asylum seekers, African youth and Muslims as pawns to be played with in the cynical politics of fear.

Scott Morrison is right to say these problems have been with us for many years. But he would do better to point out that our downward trajectory sharply accelerated after John Howard’s “dark victory” of 2001. The unwinnable election was won on the back of the arrival of asylum seekers on the MV Tampa in August followed by the September 11 attacks, and at the price of John Howard and the Liberal party embracing the white supremacist extremist politics of Pauline Hanson.

Both major parties, it must be said, succumbed to the lure of giving focus groups and pollsters the tough language and inhumane policies the public appeared to demand and reward. We are now beginning to see the true price that we have paid with the demonising of those arriving by boat seeking asylum, or looking too dark-skinned, or appearing too religious.

The result has been such a cacophony of hateful rhetoric that it has been hard for those tasked with spotting the emergence of violent extremism to separate it from all the background noise of extremism.

There are, of course lessons to be learned. Authorities need to do better. We can begin with a national database of hate crimes, with standard definitions and robust data collection. Clearly, we need to pay attention to hateful extremism if we are to prevent violent extremism.

But ultimately, we need to address the permissive political environment that allows such hateful extremism to be promulgated so openly. The onus is on commentators and political leaders alike. They cannot change the past, but they will determine the future.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The psychology of fear and hate, and what each of us can do to stop it



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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has travelled to Christchurch after yesterday’s terror attacks.
NZ Prime Minister’s office, CC BY-SA

Stephen Croucher, Massey University

As an immigrant to New Zealand, I am saddened and outraged by the events in Christchurch. The apparent innocence of New Zealand has been stripped away by acts of cowardice and evil.




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Police remain on high alert and authorities are still responding to events following the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch that took the lives of 50 people and seriously injured many more. Three people have been arrested, and one, an Australian living in New Zealand sporadically, has appeared in court on murder charges.

My research focuses on how members of a majority perceive a growing immigrant population, and what we can all do to keep fear and hatred in check.

Migrants target of hate

The alleged gunman (whom the Conversation has chosen not to name) is a self-identified white supremacist. Before the attacks he posted an 87-page manifesto online. In his manifesto and social media accounts, he refers to the rise of Islam, and to towns and cities being shamed and ruined by migrants.

He posts photos of ammunition, retweets alt-right references and praises other white supremacists. The manifesto includes references to “white genocide,” which is likely a reference to a conspiracy theory embraced by the alt-right and white supremacists that “non-white” migration dilutes white nations.

The gunman’s motivations seem to echo those of other white supremacists who have committed similar atrocities: the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, the Charlottesville attacker, the Charleston church shooter, and attackers in Sweden, Quebec and Norway.

In each of these cases, the attackers voiced hatred toward minorities or immigrants and expressed a belief that their way of life, the “white” way, was being destroyed by these groups who were infiltrating their societies.

Over the past decade, my team has conducted research in India, France, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, analysing how members of the dominant group perceive minorities and immigrant groups. The research has shown that many dominant group members, often white Christians in the countries studied, express fear of immigrants in their nations. In particular, respondents have voiced fear of immigrants changing their cultural, political, and economic way of life.




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Combating fears to reduce hate

Normally such fears are benign and lead only to misunderstanding or lack of interaction. But as we have seen too often, they can lead to prejudice, hatred and much worse.

Recently, such fears have become more visceral with the proliferation of social media platforms. With the use of social media, individuals can easily find others who share their feelings, and therefore not feel alone. The ability to find a community that shares one’s feelings provides a sense of security and validates ones fears and feelings of hate.




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In our increasingly connected world, it’s essential we take steps to combat these fears to reduce the chances of such atrocities happening in the future. First, how families talk about minorities and immigrants is critical. In work that we conducted in Finland, we found prejudicial opinions of Finns toward Russian immigrants are largely shaped during adolescence. It’s incumbent upon parents to be role models for their children and adolescents and to promote tolerance and mutual respect early.

Second, in an increasingly computer-mediated world, it is our shared responsibility to challenge racist and hateful cyber messages. If you see a YouTube clip that you deem abusive or offensive, report it.

Third, the more contact we have with each other and learn about one another, the less likely we are to fear one another. This may sound trite, but the more we know about other groups, the more likely we are to pass that information onto one another and improve overall social cohesion. In turn, we are better able to identify and challenge those bent on dividing society. It is our collective responsibility as diverse societies to recognise our diversity and to face the psychology of hate that would attack our home and us.The Conversation

Stephen Croucher, Professor and Head of School of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why overhauling NZ’s gun and terrorism laws alone can’t stop terrorist attacks



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Grieving members of the public following a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch.
EPA/Martin Hunter, CC BY-SA

John Battersby, Massey University

My research focuses on terrorism in or affecting New Zealand. Until yesterday, my phone didn’t ring that often because few were interested in anything I had to say. Since yesterday, it has not stopped.

There is no understating the horrific nature of the Christchurch tragedy. Forty nine people have been killed, and more than 40 are being treated for injuries at Christchurch hospital.

Three people have been arrested in relation to the mosque shootings. One Australian citizen has appeared in court today charged with murder.

New Zealanders will need to come to terms with this tragedy, vent emotions and frustrations, and they will want to know why this could not be stopped. These are valid questions.

New Zealand is a small country, geographically distant from the rest of the world. It has been happy in the assumption that the violent extremism that has showed itself on multiple occasions on five continents over the last 20 years had never happened here. Many New Zealanders believed that because it hadn’t, it couldn’t.




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Geographic isolation no protection

There was a definite realisation by those in the security sector that this assumption was not safe. The spread of extremism through social media simply obliterates geographical distance and there is really nothing to prevent overseas events being replicated here.

The emphasis was on monitoring and detecting extremism – in whatever form it took. The few arrests for possession and distribution of ISIS related propaganda exhibit that fact. It was not confined – as some commentators have suggested – to just those engaging with violent jihadism.

Another key problem is hindsight. Now that the culmination of a sequence of activities has become so painfully clear, it will be inevitable that several points will be picked out that security sector operators perhaps did see, or could have seen. A retrospective case will be made that therefore they should have seen this coming.

But any sign there was, would have occurred in the context of the day before yesterday. Trying to convince the average New Zealander that anything like this could ever happen here would have been no easy endeavour.

Review of gun and terrorism laws

There will be questions over the resourcing and powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and rightfully so. But we must be mature and evidence-based in the conclusions we take from all this.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a review of gun laws. New Zealand doesn’t have a gun register, but there are an estimated 1.3 million legally owned firearms, with illegal firearms a significant problem.

It is not just the law that needs a review. Gun control, monitoring and enforcement will need to be tightened, but changes need to be considered calmly and focus on the individuals that are not likely to abide by any new law. The vast majority of licensed gun owners are not a problem, but they will need to accept that military-style automatic weapons will likely be banned and a national register will become a reality.

New Zealand’s Terrorism Suppression Act was found wanting in 2007, following the “Urewera raids”. Police relied on the act to spy on and arrest activists who allegedly trained to use semi-automatic weapons in military-style camps in the Urewera forest. Then Solicitor-General David Collins QC described the act as “incoherent and unworkable”. Nothing meaningful has been done with it since.

Social media to blame

New Zealand is a democratic country in which freedom of expression, conscience, religious freedom and free speech are valued. Any legislative change will need to impinge on these as little as possible, but people need to be safe here.




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Regardless of how big and well-resourced security agencies are, overseas experience has shown that individual actors, or small tightly integrated groups can slip through any security filter. It is simply impossible to monitor people’s thoughts, intentions, sayings and social media accounts so closely that every signal that someone might be planning to carry out an attack is seen.

Australian media suggestions of an “intelligence failure” are useful to a point. But the fact that at least one of the Christchurch offenders left Australia a short time ago and was not on any watch-list of concern in Australia, where police and intelligence powers are much more comprehensive, demonstrates this is a very difficult failure to guard against.

This attack was enabled by, and certainly comprised a strong element of, social media. Social media has been wilfully and readily adopted across modern societies. This has happened without much thought being given to its usefulness to organised criminals or extremists to spread their toxic views, or its ready use as a means of sourcing an audience for terror attacks.

As a society perhaps we should take pause to consider the broader implications before rushing to adopt every new piece of communications technology. It’s all very well to ask the security sector what could they have done to stop this attack, when we could ask ourselves the same – what could we have done?The Conversation

John Battersby, Police Teaching Fellow, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the Australian government is failing on countering violent extremism



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Australia has some of the toughest anti-terror laws in the world. But the government isn’t doing enough to prevent extremism at the community level.
David Crosling/AAP

Keiran Hardy, Griffith University

Countering violent extremism (CVE) programs are recognised globally as a critical part of successful counter-terrorism strategies. In addition to anti-terrorism laws and surveillance powers, governments need CVE programs to address the underlying causes of terrorism.

Australia’s counter-terrorism strategy remains focused on prosecuting individuals for offences like being a member of a terrorist organisation or conspiring to plan a terrorist act. Prosecution is a necessary response to terrorism, but it remains a short-term solution.

When it comes to investing in longer-term, community-based approaches to preventing terrorism, my research has found that the federal government is failing. An analysis of federal budget documents suggests that dedicated funding for CVE programs has dried up and grant money is no longer being allocated.

And at the state level, the majority of funding is still being funnelled into policing and prisons, rather than longer-term community solutions.

What are CVE programs?

“Countering violent extremism” is a broad term that refers to strategies for addressing terrorist ideology and radicalisation.

These programs are generally designed to prevent homegrown terrorism and include youth mentoring projects, interfaith sporting activities, police-led intervention programs and efforts to “deradicalise” hardened terrorist prisoners.




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CVE programs have proliferated around the world in recent years. My current research compares Australia’s approach with those in Denmark, Germany, Sweden and other countries in Western Europe. In the Muslim world, countries from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia have also developed similar strategies.

Recognising the importance of community programs

Formally, the federal government recognises community-based approaches to CVE as a crucial component of its counter-terrorism strategy.

The National Counter-Terrorism Plan establishes that the federal government will:

provide oversight and coordination of nationally significant CVE projects to prevent, divert or rehabilitate individuals from violent extremism.

This includes “practical efforts” at the Commonwealth level to “build the resilience of communities to violent extremism”.

Dedicated CVE funding was first included under the attorney-general’s portfolio in the 2010 federal budget. At the time, the Rudd government allocated A$9.7 million to support a “Building Community Resilience” grants program over the following four years.




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The Liberals initially dropped Labor’s CVE funding after taking power in 2013, but later reinstated it in the mid-year outlook. This followed backlash over the failure of the Abbott government to engage appropriately with Muslim communities.

The 2017/18 federal budget allocated A$9.3 million to CVE programs for that financial year, with that amount dropping to A$6.1 million over the forward estimates.

Funding quietly disappears

Since the creation of the new Home Affairs Department last year, it appears the federal government has again backtracked and decided to no longer fund these community-based programs to CVE.

The 2018/19 federal budget allocated A$158 million for what used to be the attorney-general’s National Security and Criminal Justice program. However, the line item dedicated to CVE, which previously funded grants to community and grassroots organisations, was removed.

It is possible that some of this A$158 million is still being allocated to community-based initiatives, but there is no indication this is the case.

The CVE section on the Home Affairs Department’s website links only to Living Safe Together, a community-based grants program introduced by Abbott’s government. The program, however, no longer appears to be active. The grants were all awarded in 2015 and the longest was for an 18-month project. The latest news on the website dates from November 2016.

In a Senate Estimates hearing last year, a representative from the attorney-general’s CVE centre confirmed that the A$1.9 million in grants awarded through the program were designed as one-off payments.

The Department for Social Services, meanwhile, has allocated A$36.6 million to a community resilience fund, but these projects are not designed to address the risks of terrorism.

So, what does this mean in terms of Australia’s commitment to community-based counter-terrorism programs? With dedicated funding now apparently gone, it remains unclear.

State governments trying to fill the void

Fortunately, the states are taking on a more significant role in CVE. However, their investment in community-based approaches remains small compared to funding for counter-terrorism policing and prison de-radicalisation initiatives.

Recently, the NSW government announced A$47 million to increase the capacity of the Goulburn Supermax prison and A$89 million to fund a program to monitor high-risk terrorism-related offenders.

At the same time, just A$12 million in funding was devoted to community-based programs.

Victoria has established a community resilience unit within the Department of Premier and Cabinet and allocated A$14.1 million over two years to CVE programs.




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Yet, the state is allocating A$20.9 million to implement a rash of harsh new anti-terror laws, including allowing police to detain terror suspects for up to four days without a warrant. It’s also investing A$25 million to provide Victorian police with long-range firearms to better respond to terrorist attacks.

Queensland’s latest budget included A$53.8 million over four years to enhance counter-terrorism policing, with no dedicated CVE funding.

The state is investing A$46.7 million to build a new counter-terrorism and community safety centre, which will include firearms ranges and a “life-like scenario village” for police to practise responding to terrorist incidents.

What should the federal government do?

The federal government needs to clarify whether it supports community-based approaches to CVE, and if so, whether it will continue to fund them. One-off payments to grassroots organisations are not adequate to address the underlying causes of terrorism.

Community-based CVE programs are not a silver bullet, nor are they a replacement for law enforcement and intelligence gathering. But even a small amount of money for CVE programs in the next federal budget would signal a commitment to this strategy and allow for new pilot initiatives to be developed. These programs could then be evaluated by researchers to build an evidence-based understanding of their impact and effectiveness, which is currently lacking.

Australia has led the world in creating some of the most rights-infringing legal responses to terrorism. These include ASIO’s questioning and detention warrants, preventative detention orders and powers to strip the citizenship of returned foreign fighters.

It should aim instead to be a world leader in developing innovative, community-based approaches to CVE.The Conversation

Keiran Hardy, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A growing mistrust in democracy is causing extremism and strongman politics to flourish



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As democracy loses favour around the world, support for alternatives, such as strong man governance, continues to rise.
Pixabay

Mark Triffitt, University of Melbourne

Nearly every indicator of a healthy Western democracy is failing globally. Public trust and voter engagement have declined over the past decade in established, core democracies around the world, including in the US, Europe and Australia.

The percentage of Americans who say they “can trust the government always or most of the time” has been below 30% since 2007.

A similar pattern of mistrust can be found in many democracies across Europe, as well.

Young people, in particular, are detaching themselves in droves from active and passive participation in the formal democratic system.

In Australia, public trust and satisfaction in democracy has fallen to record lows over the past 10 years, while a Lowy Institute survey last year found that less than half of Australian voters under the age of 44 preferred democracy over other forms of government.

As democracy’s popularity decreases, support for alternatives, such as polarised and extreme politics and “strongman” governance, continues to rise.

A shift to the extreme

As voters disengage with politics, the character of democracy begins to shift. Democratic systems have moved away from moderated, representational versions of themselves into what might be termed “democratic extremism”.

There is a growing “representativeness gap” in Australian politics, for instance, with major parties organised around narrow, ideologically driven policy and “culture war” debates.




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These parties are increasingly dominated by former political advisers and career party functionaries with comparatively little life experience. This comes at a time when occupational, gender and life-experience diversity is increasing in society at a rapid rate.

The rise of Donald Trump is an example of ‘democratic extremism’.
Pixabay

The election of Donald Trump in the US and the populist forces that underwrote Brexit illustrate the extreme polarisation of politics at the moment, as well.

This “unrepresentative” democracy creates a feedback loop. As the public invests less interest and commitment to democracy, the democratic arena is captured by those with narrow, unrepresentative world views. Growing public disengagement leads to the greater capture of democratic processes by outlier groups and individuals who are hostile to democratic institutions and practices.

The rise of strongman governance

Support for authoritarian-style governance has grown around the world, as it is often seen as more “effective” in addressing real-world problems.

Strongman governments are characterised by a weakening of democratic checks and balances. They are also marked by rhetoric and decision-making that promotes intense nationalism, while undermining core democratic values of tolerance and openness.




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The construction of walls and other physical barriers across democratic Europe in recent years to curtail refugees and “keep Europe Christian” is a potent example of the trend.

Young people are increasingly becoming supporters of these types of strongman and populist governments. They are more open to democracy alternatives, such as military rule, and more likely to express support for authoritarian regimes.

However, these “solutions” often ignore democracy’s values and practices, further eroding its legitimacy and support.

Disruption in democracy

In theory, extremism is weeded out from democracy through its “trimming” system.

Public input flowing into a democratic system – supported by basic democratic values as free speech and freedom of association – “trims” away extreme views and policies.

But as mainstream voters turn off or tune out, democracy’s inherent barriers against extremism are dismantled, as well. This leaves democracy hollowed out and at risk of being hijacked by those at the fringes.

Trust, participation, and support for democracies continues to decrease.

At its core, the values of democracy haven’t changed. Democracy remains the only political ideology designed to protect individual freedom, speech and choice, which can empower the voices of ordinary citizens in extraordinary ways.

The problem lies with the current “delivery system” of democracy, which is organised around the parliaments, mass political parties and periodic elections that emerged in the late-18th and early-19th centuries.

There have been almost no significant reforms to democracy’s delivery around the world for more than a century.

The delivery system of democracy needs reform.
Flikr

Reform challenge of our age

We need to reinvigorate democracy to meet the expectations of citizens as to how 21st-century democracy should engage and perform.

A few years ago, the idea of citizen juries to advise parliaments, diversified political representation, and stronger checks and balances on partisan politics would have struggled to gain public support.

Now, amid growing public recognition that our current configuration of democracy is not working, they are seen as imperative reforms by voters themselves.

The ConversationWithout urgent and strategic democratic renewal, there is the danger that soon there will be little left on which to rebuild.

Mark Triffitt, Lecturer, Public Policy and Political Communications, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Security gets $1.2b, community programs to counter violent extremism $40m – that’s a foolish imbalance



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Police raided several Sydney properties over the weekend in relation to possible terror plots.
AAP/Dean Lewins

Clarke Jones, Australian National University

The arrests and raids in Sydney over the weekend, as well as the 12 so-called “terrorist plots” disrupted by police since September 2014, ought to raise questions over whether Australia’s efforts to counter violent extremism are actually working.

A spending and policy imbalance

Australia has spent more than A$1.2 billion since 2015 on strengthening sharp-end counter-terrorism arrangements such as increasing intelligence and security capabilities. Millions more will be spent when the government’s proposed Department of Home Affairs opens.

Over roughly the same period, only about $40 million has been spent on countering violent extremism and community cohesion programs.

Of this $40 million, only around $2 million was given out in 2015 to 42 of the 97 applicants. This money was to support grassroots organisations to develop new, innovative services to move people away from violent extremism. This funding round was developed to improve Australia’s capability to deliver localised and tailored intervention services.

So, there is a significant imbalance between sharp-end funding and piecemeal, short-term, community-level grants. The money is clearly not being invested wisely or even reaching the right places, such as those at-risk communities willing to engage and desperately seeking funding. Many more terror-related arrests will follow in the foreseeable future as a result.

All the while, it’s been full steam ahead in relation to security, legislation, corrections, police and intelligence. This has come at the expense of community resilience and building up protective mechanisms within vulnerable youth and communities.

From my research with Muslim communities over the past two years, the government’s approach is verging on being counter-productive. It now risks trampling on the basic rights and freedoms of young Muslims, their families and their communities more broadly.

This approach will actually worsen the many underlying issues – such as discrimination, alienation, marginalisation and rejection – that seem to contribute to offending in the first place.

The safety of all Australians should remain a key government priority. And getting the balance right between security and youth and community welfare is difficult. But the government seems hell-bent on pre-crime arrest, prosecution and punishment, while falling short on providing the necessary long-term support for the young vulnerable people it really needs to protect and prevent from engaging in serious anti-social behaviour.

For those from minority communities in particular, the criminal justice system is a very slippery slope. Once in it, the prospects of positive and meaningful futures are slim.

Where Australia’s approach is lacking

As with the UK’s Prevent program, Australia’s approach suffers from multiple, mutually reinforcing structural flaws. Its foreseeable consequence is a serious risk to the wellbeing of young Muslims and Australian multiculturalism more broadly.

Much of the centrepiece of the government’s countering violent extremism strategy rests on the theory of radicalisation and the social engineering of radical views and cultures to become more conservative and “Australian”.

However, for the concept of radicalisation alone, there seems to be very little clarity about the term and the tools that measure it. If such tools are used to help determine the destiny of a young Muslim person, whether it be in a school or criminal justice situation, then these must be made more available for wider peer review – rather than held in secrecy within the government.

For those deemed “radicalised” or on the pathway to radicalisation, there are very few community-based secondary-level intervention programs designed to support them. Nor are there programs they are willing to participate in voluntarily. This is largely because most current programs are led by government and police, which seem to lack a crucial understanding about the many cultural, religious and ethnic nuances required for effective intervention.

Without close community partnerships and community-led approaches, programs will never be able to fully understand the highly complex nature of families and communities.

Getting access to vulnerable youth and their families, and then encouraging them to participate in interventions, requires close and trusted community partnerships. To date, partnerships between government and the more conservative community groups have not been fully developed. This is particularly the case with the more hard-to-reach groups, which have many of the young people requiring support or intervention.

Put together, this has limited the government’s capacity to support and fund communities working with the most at-risk or vulnerable youth.

The government’s position on these communities is that they are too risky to work with. In reality, it is too risky not to work with them.

To make us truly safe – not just from terrorism, but from other serious crimes too – the government needs to go back to basics. Australia should invest a lot more in longer-term community partnerships and develop more preventive measures, such as community-led interventions. These interventions must be developed by those outside the government’s national security apparatus.

The ConversationA major government rethink is required if it is truly going to keep us safe.

Clarke Jones, Research Fellow, Research School of Psychology, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.