Bren Carlill of AIJAC Responds to Part Two – Axis of Honour

Bren Carlill, responding in comments, to the second in the The Axis series,  makes some very interesting points – not least of which, is that his piece in The Australian was edited so that key information was omitted.

After reading his comment, I think it’s appropriate to retract my implication that he views all Muslims/Arabs as potential terrorists.

While I may not agree with Carlill’s worldview, it does seem that he approaches this issue in good faith. For this reason, I am posting his comment here in full, and thank him for taking the time to write.


Bren Carlill

The Sensible Jew wrote about me thus:

“Bren Carlill of AIJAC, recently wrote in The Australian, about the need to ban Hizbollah’s television station, al Manar.

“In doing so, he tried to link The Lexicon project, the recently foiled terrorist attacks on a Sydney army base, and al Manar. He did this by building on the assumption that Islam is the common thread that menaces the West.

“Of course, he included the caveat that not all Muslims are terrorists, and that was remarkably broad minded of him.

“But Carlill failed to demonstrate exactly how Islam operates as the driving force behind terrorism. He assumes, and assumes we assume, that it is a given.

“He is wrong.

“At least there was a degree of analytic thought behind Carlill’s piece.”

That last sentence was very generous, and I thank you. The rest, however, is codswallop.

My initial reaction to reading this is that your analysis of what I wrote is because of three things – my poor writing skills, which prevented me from getting the point I wanted across; the opinion editor at The Australian, who cut some of (what I thought were) the important bits from my submitted article; and possibly your assumptions about what you think my assumptions are.

Either way, I’m glad you brought them up here, because it allows me to better explain what I meant to convey in the article.

My linking of the three items served only to begin the article. For three different reasons, ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ appeared in the same newspaper articles. Highlighting this was a way to get people to read past the first paragraph. I in no way attempted to build “on the assumption that Islam is the common thread that menaces the West.” To further that point, I was not trying to demonstrate “how Islam operates as the driving force behind terrorism.” Many other people try to make that point. It is not a point that I choose to make or one I believe needs making.

My point of that part of the article where I discussed the Lexicon of Terrorism project, is that if we go to great lengths to avoid describing Muslim terrorists as Muslim in order not to insult or alienate Australia’s various Muslim communities, we remove the possibility of understanding why Muslim terrorists operate.

People become radicalised for all sorts of reasons. There is no one reason why they become so. It is not just because they watch a television station that glorifies terrorism, for instance. And nor is it just because they are annoyed at US and/or Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians. It is a combination of lots of influences – each individual will be influenced to greater or lesser degrees by different influences. These influences can include those I’ve listed. They can also include influential teachers, religious leaders or youth group leaders. They can include alienation from the mainstream culture. (This alienation can be caused by racism, and it can also be caused by communal or social rejection of the mainstream culture – that is, a refusal to be integrated (again, for various possible reasons), which causes alienation. Or it could be a mixture of outward racism and inward rejection of integration.) It could be an individual or communal victimhood mentality – ‘I/we haven’t succeeded because of what they have done to me/us.’

When people become radicalised, they can become politically radicalised or they can become religiously radicalised. Usually, when someone is religiously radicalised – especially when we are discussing Islam, which sees the separation of church and state different from the Christian tradition – politics and religion will overlap and reinforce each other.

People can and do become religiously radicalised and not participate in or support violence. Other people can and do end up either supporting or preparing to participate in violence. If these people are religiously radicalised Muslims, they will be supporting and/or participating in violence both in the name of Allah, but also in the name of what most non-Islamists will see as territorial disputes.

When a Christian becomes religiously radicalised and blows up an abortion clinic, they are acting according to the will of God, as they see it. I see no problem highlighting that when discussing their terrorist actions. If a Christian or anyone else became insulted by me highlighting the espoused Christianity of a violent anti-abortionist, I’d tell them to get over it.

In order not to offend anyone, be they non-Muslim Australians, Muslim Australians or Muslims living in Australia of other citizenships, we can studiously avoid mentioning a terrorist’s ethnicity or religion. However, I think it relevant to a discussion about terrorism or a terrorist movement that we mention and/or discuss a terrorist’s motivations. Only by discussing a terrorist’s motivations can we begin to understand why a person would want to participate in violence against a fellow human. Since violent Islamist terrorists are quite open about wanting to act according to (their perceptions of) the will of Allah, I don’t see why we should avoid talking about it.

Finally, that you wrote, “he included the caveat that not all Muslims are terrorists,” is somewhat nasty. It appears to me that you are implying that I’m suggesting most Muslims are terrorists, or even a substantial amount or whathaveyou. I specifically wrote that Islamists (which can include violent and non-violent people) are a minority of Muslims, and violent Islamists are a minority of Islamists.

It might be of interest that I wrote the following in the article, which was omitted by the editor:

“Instead of dropping these terms, the Lexicon of Terrorism project should encourage media to drop the term ‘moderate Muslim.’

“Labelling a Muslim ‘moderate’ presupposes a number of things. First, that the labeller has enough knowledge of Muslim theology to determine whether someone is moderate or radical.

“Second, it results in a non-Muslim judging who is a ‘good’ Muslim and who is not.

“Third, it can indirectly lead to the assumption that any Muslim not thus described is radical, and to be feared.”

Perhaps if that had have been included, your snide implication that I think most Muslims are terrorists might not have made it into your comments about me.

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Related posts:

  1. Part Two – The Axis of Honour: Honour, Communalism, and Islamist Suicide Terrorism
  2. Part Four – The Axis of Honour: Honour, Modernity, and al Qaeda
  3. Part Six – Axis of Honour Final: Palestinian Suicide Terrorism
  4. The Axis of Honour: Honour, Communalism, and Islamist Suicide Terrorism – Introduction
  5. Part Five – Axis of Honour: Dislocation, Family, and Terror

2 Responses to “Bren Carlill of AIJAC Responds to Part Two – Axis of Honour”

  1. justin says:

    How to describe a terrorist in terms of his (or her occasionally) beliefs, race and background is vexed.

    A practical solution: we all agree that terrorists are ‘radicalised’, or ‘extremist’ so how about always using these specific words to prefix their religion ie. a ‘radicalised Christian blew up an abortion clinic’ …, or an ‘extremist Muslim bombed a market square…’.

    It was only after playing with the Christian example in my mind that I saw the slightly offensive nature of just referring to a terrorist with a uncontextualised religious prefix.

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  2. sensiblejew says:

    hi Justin.

    You’re right.

    I use the term, “Islamist” when describing someone who is motivated by a radical form of political Islam. This is much more specific than referring to a “Muslim” terrorist, and produces a more accurate impression in the public’s mind.

    Otherwise, I agree with you that it is very useful to append “radical” to the religious affiliation of someone who has committed a terrorist act.

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