The Debate

Last Rites of ‘Abbottism:’ Australian Bureaucrats’ Internal Security Confusion

A new booklet on countering violent extremism represents the worst of Australian bureaucratic paternalism and ignorance.

Last Rites of ‘Abbottism:’ Australian Bureaucrats’ Internal Security Confusion

Image of a crowd of protesters at the 2012 Sydney Anti-Islamic Film Demonstration.

Credit: Flickr/Jamie Kennedy
The Australian Attorney General’s Department has published a propaganda booklet on countering violent extremism that equates radical thought with a threat to the rights and freedoms of other people. It says:

Radicalization:a process during which an individual’s beliefs move from being relatively mainstream to being supportive of drastic change in society that would have a negative impact on the rights and freedoms of others. 

This booklet has evoked satire around the country under the hashtag “#freekaren” for its use of a fictional case study involving “Karen” which gets close to equating environmental activism with terrorism. Of course that was not the intent, but the only sane conclusion to be drawn about this booklet is that is ideologically tainted. It represents the worst of Australian bureaucratic paternalism and ignorance, while managing to capture rather well, if in soft and glossy tones, the brutish and intolerant conservatism of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The booklet was prepared under his watch.
The booklet has the ridiculous and Orwellian title, “Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization in Australia.” The first goal is laudable, the second part, “countering Radicalization,” is surely a sick joke. The booklet was obviously  composed by a committee of bureaucrats, if one can judge by its repeated inconsistencies and confusion about whether radicalization is morally and politically objectionable.
For example, it cites the suffragette movement as an example of good radicalization but overlooks the fact that many suffragettes had to become criminals to protest their cause. Perhaps the editorial committee for the booklet might have read the 2014 book, The Suffragette Bombers: Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists. The booklet ardently affirms that the commission of a crime in support of a political cause is never justified. Please tell Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. Not to mention Greenpeace.
If this booklet had been submitted as an undergraduate paper at a respectable university in a democracy, the grade would have been “fail” because of its ignorance of essential fact and inability to achieve anything more than a high school level of analytical distinction of key terms. The senior scholars named in the booklet as having informed its presentation need to disassociate themselves from it. The names of several leading scholars who were almost certainly consulted do not appear in the acknowledgements.
This hopeless document betrays the moral confusion of the Abbott government reported on by The Diplomat. It is time for such moral confusion to end. Let ideological contest thrive, and radicalization along with it. Malcolm Turnbull, please burn this booklet.
Once that is done, it might be wise to review other recent speeches of senior bureaucrats in the country who have advocated the supremacy of a confected notion of the common good over rights to freedom of conscience, with one invoking Hegel no less, a philosopher much loved by totalitarian regimes, as a foundation for Australian social order. There are too many ghosts of Hegel in this document.
While government ministers should be free to debate the philosophical foundations of Australian democracy, it seems quite improper for senior bureaucrats to be promoting Hegel’s view of society as the foundation of Australia’s democratic and social order. It sent chills down my spine when I listened to the speech.