THE JAILING IN EGYPT of Australian journalist (and Al-Jazeera reporter) Peter Greste is an outrage; this indecent act by a Muslim regime against the free press is to be deplored, yet it stands as the latest pointer to fundamentalist Islam flexing its muscles against dissidents, factions within its ranks, and toward the West. Condemnation is mandatory, but it is incumbent on the free world to recognise the growing danger of the Middle East.
I intend to keep my remarks circumspect on this issue; not because of any particular sensitivity or reticence about discussing issues with the brutal face of Islam at their core, but simply because I don’t think the jailing of Peter Greste is the end of the issue by any stretch, and I think we’ll be discussing it again soon enough.
I will however admit to an aversion to covering issues involving Islam that has seen such matters avoided here; ever since a piece almost three years ago advocating the deportation of fundamentalist Muslims in Sydney who rioted — and I’m not even going to repost the link — that article stands as the most-read, by a country mile, of anything I have posted on this site since it started.
I understand there is a great deal of angst and anger in Australia (and elsewhere) over the apparent rise of Islam and I am very reluctant to stoke that; yet even discussion of such fraught matters in the calmest and most even fashion is enough to set passions and tempers alight, and the objective of this column is to provide a conversation forum over political matters, not to act as a lightning rod for religiously based (and/or bigoted) abuse.
Today, however, we will just have to run the gauntlet.
We take a lot for granted in Australia, and it frustrates me enormously that at times, those who take the greatest liberties with the freedom this country confers on its people are those whose words and deeds stand the greatest prospect of irretrievably compromising it.
I am singling out the hardcore Left, with its advocacy of open borders, its calls for “tolerance” of customs and creeds utterly alien to and at odds with the Western democratic society Australia is, and its penchant for running around the world lecturing others on the “moral” shortcomings of their ways — even going so far, as
Communist Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon did, as to deploy this dubious practice in the face of the military junta running Sri Lanka. And for good measure — just to really tempt fate, as if her stupidity in doing so weren’t enough to compromise her safety — the Senator didn’t even bother to get her visa arrangements sorted out properly before she arrived in Colombo to do it.
I begin my remarks thus for the simple reason that in stark contrast to such idiocy, the single most important cornerstone on which democracy rests is the freedom of the press, and its ability to report without fear or favour; it’s freedom that has been censored and regulated out of existence in scores of countries, and it’s a freedom the Left has recently had its go at emasculating in Australia as well.
Fortunately, the Gillard government’s media “reforms” were abandoned by Parliament, but for a country as free as Australia to have come as close as a vote of 76 Senators to fatally compromising this basic tenet of a democratic society is a stark illustration of just how delicately poised freedom really is, even in a great and robust democracy such as ours.
It is particularly sickening, therefore, to have learnt last night that Australian journalist Peter Greste — a correspondent working for the Qatar-based Arab news network Al-Jazeera — was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in Egypt on charges of producing false news to “defame Egypt.”
According to the charges, Greste — along with colleagues also sentenced to imprisonment — were alleged to have “aided terrorists” and “endangered national security.”
I will admit that I have followed the Greste matter only loosely since his arrest in December: not through lack of interest or sympathy, but simply because this year (as readers know) has been extremely busy for me away from this column, with matters of business obviously having to take precedence over what is, in the end, an extra-curricular activity.
But I have followed it closely enough to know there is a deep wrong that has been visited upon Greste and his colleagues, who have been spoken of across the (free) world as having been jailed for simply doing their job: reporting the news, investigating the facts of matters they were in Egypt to report on, and conveying those findings to their audience.
Instead, they have been accused of plotting with the Muslim Brotherhood — a radical organisation behind Egypt’s deposed former President Mohamed Morsi — and jailed.
The sentiments expressed on all sides in Australia in the ensuing hours has been singular in its unity, and correct in its message: that journalism is not a crime, and that every avenue possible must be explored and exhausted to undo what is not just an outrage against Greste and his colleagues, but a spiritual attack on a pillar of the freedom our way of life is predicated on.
I note that the ALP under Bill Shorten has pledged bipartisanship in this enterprise; it must observe this pledge in its deeds, and politicians, opinion leaders and other prominent figures across the spectrum in this country ought desist from internecine, petty political muck-slinging on this issue: the sobering truth is that what has happened to Greste would have occurred irrespective of who sat in government. It is best the politicians get on with doing something constructive about it, rather than bickering about who might be to blame or who could make a better fist of what.
For the Greens, it is an opportunity to display some maturity and some decency.
But as unpalatable as this may be — or as awkward a time as it is to raise it — I think one of the reflections that has to be shared on this event is that it’s a very big signpost to what is increasingly growing into a very big problem: namely, the radicalisation of fundamentalist Islam in its heartland, and the danger it poses to free societies around the world.
Whatever else may have motivated the obscenity of Greste’s jailing, the “charges” themselves all but concede the fact they are rooted in the struggle between competing, religiously based factions for control of Egypt — and, by extension, for the kind of fundamentalist Islamic society that emerges under the tutelage of whichever of these is ultimately triumphant.
This is a relevant — and increasingly unavoidable — consideration when viewed against what is happening elsewhere in the Islamic world.
In Afghanistan, the hardline, aggressive Taliban movement — which harboured and nourished Muslim terrorists in their jihad against the West — stands on the brink of reclaiming control of its country, barely a decade after being driven from power by US forces in retaliation for its part in the atrocities committed on American soil on 11 September 2001.
In Iraq and in Syria, the so-called ISIS movement has all but achieved the dissolution of those countries in its quest to create a radical, fundamentalist Islamic state, with the objective its borders will then expand, consuming — and converting — everything before them.
Any opposition, as the storyline goes, will simply be erased from existence.
The aspect of ISIS’ activities that made me sit up straight was the arrest of the Iraqi judge who condemned former dictator Saddam Hussein to death for crimes against humanity: the judge was tortured for two days and then executed, according to the best available reports. As a symbol, it is difficult to find anything more powerful, or more ominous as a signal of this murderous movement’s intent.
But the problem is bigger than even that.
Pakistan — a Muslim state supposedly allied to the US, despite mountains of anecdotal and hard evidence to suggest it is anything but — already has nuclear arms; there is ample evidence to show that at the very minimum Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia have all variously either sought to acquire these or remain actively committed to doing so, and some of these countries are no friends to the free world.
Iran — whose Islamic rulers are sworn to destroy the USA in a religious jihad — is troubled by the emergence of ISIS, and is said to now be ready to co-operate with the US after years of obfuscation over its own nuclear weapons aspirations. But the motivation is not to be a responsible world citizen: it’s simply to protect its own interests against the quagmire quickly developing in its own back yard; its feud with Uncle Sam might be deferred, but it isn’t being abandoned.
For years, there have been suggestions that Saudi Arabia would become a hotbed of radical Islamic terrorism if the House of Saud were to be overthrown. And elsewhere in the Middle East, smaller, pro-Western countries such as Jordan are being lined up by ISIS to be overrun and subsumed into the radical Muslim state it seeks to create and to perpetuate.
Already we have seen Australian citizens with dual nationality travel to some of these regions to fight; Foreign minister Julie Bishop is to be commended for announcing their Australian passports are to be cancelled, preventing them from returning to Australia.
Of course, such an action deals with the symptom, not the disease; that — to be sure — will continue to fester and spread. And it goes without saying that I haven’t included everything here that belongs on a long list of pretty frightening geopolitical items.
But all of this makes it very easy to see why incidents such as the Muslim riots in Sydney in 2012, or even the uproar in the Victorian city of Bendigo last week when the construction of a mosque was approved by the local city council, provoke such extreme passions among those who are not Islamic, are not necessarily what the Left likes to brand as bigots, but who see what is happening elsewhere in the world and do not wish to see it replicated here.
And these problems, to be sure, are common to the Western democracies of Europe, Britain, the US and Canada: all places in which even 20 years ago there were few or no Muslim communities to speak of, and which all now house Muslim communities that are exploding in size — with great uncertainty and anguish over whether the religion-based horrors unfolding in the Middle East could ever happen in their own countries.
To be emphatic, the problem isn’t with moderate Islam, and a great many decent people are unfairly tarnished with the brush their radicalised brethren — no pun intended — have thrust into the hands of those who “hate Muslims” for no better reason than they feel they can.
But what is happening in the Middle East is truly a cause for alarm.
And with Egypt squarely in the middle of this mess — literally — it is an inescapable consideration in making comment on what has happened to Peter Greste overnight, Melbourne time.
Yes, it is an indecency against free speech and an outrage that should be met with the fiercest of counterpunches, up to and including any and all diplomatic options open to our government, and if that includes measures such as trade embargoes and sanctions if they may assist in securing Greste’s release, then so be it.
But as I said, there is a bigger problem here: the rapidly growing problem of radical, fundamentalist Islam, and the threat it may ultimately pose to the very existence of our way of life.
If there’s one bit of good to come of these events, perhaps it’s that Australians might soberly, and rationally, start to properly discuss an issue over which any kind of dissent has almost been legislated (and “anti-discriminated”) out of existence.
At some point, the issue is going to have to be confronted. And with the Middle East a powderkeg at risk of exploding — with a high-profile Australian in the middle of it, and the imminent and unsavoury prospect of a united, radical Islamic state expanding well beyond the bounds of the Middle East — it might as well be confronted now.