You Can’t Negotiate With Religious Extremists

Terrorism left its calling card in Sydney today. I think we all kind of knew it was coming. We just didn’t know the where?, or the when? Both of those questions were answered when a middle-aged fanatical Jihadist, walked into a busy café, in the heart of the city, around 9 in the morning. He was armed with a sawn off shotgun and proceeded to take more than 20 people hostage. What followed was a siege lasting 17 hours. It ended around 2 am, when heavily armed police stormed the café, after hearing the sound of gunshots coming from inside. Minutes later, three people were dead. The fanatical jihadist hostage taker, and two of his hostages, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 38. Australia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We knew there would be consequences. The Islamic State publicly vowed revenge against innocent people to be chosen at random. But you can’t stop living your life, just because a group of religious crazies threaten you, or want to attack you for the way you choose to live. Nor should we.

Authorities know quite a bit about the Jihadist hostage taker but I don’t want to waste oxygen talking about him to any significant degree. He was Iranian and a Muslim convert. A self styled cleric who was convicted of sending poison pen letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan. He was also on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his wife, who was stabbed and set on fire. He persuaded his girlfriend to kill her.   The self-styled Jihadist also faced 40 sexual assault charges after complaints from seven women who attended one of his ‘spiritual healing sessions.’ The Jihadist likened himself, on his own webpage, to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the police charges against him were laid for “political reasons.” His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month, stating: “I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.” ( Praise be to Allah)

During the siege, this religious fanatic forced his hostages to hold up a black flag, with Arabic writing, against the window of the cafe and record video messages on their mobile phones, listing his demands. The videos were initially posted on YouTube but were immediately removed on the advice of police. Deep down we all knew, right from the very start of this, it was going to end badly. Of course, there will be the inevitable questions: Should this man have been released on bail? Had he been identified as a religious extremist and placed on a watch list? If not? why not? His lawyer described him as a ‘damaged goods individual.’ There will also be scrutiny of how the police handled the siege. We received many public assurances from the New South Wales Police Commissioner, the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister that the police were professionally trained to deal with this type of crisis and we should all have faith that they can bring about a peaceful resolution.

Bring about a peaceful resolution? Are you kidding me? When they said that I began to get very worried. For a start this was not a normal siege by any stretch. Most sieges are an attempt by the hostage taker to achieve some personal advantage. The Jihadist who walked into that café only had two purposes, to die killing innocent people and secondly to create maximum publicity so that when he did, everyone would remember who was responsible and, hopefully, from that time on, live in fear of it happening again. He didn’t care that he would be killed. In fact he was counting on it. You can’t negotiate with people like that. You are wasting your time to even try. But the New South Wales police did try. They didn’t comply with his demands but they tried to negotiate with him. And they waited.

Now I don’t want to sound like some armchair quarterback replaying the calls that were made with the benefit of hindsight. I understand the police had a nightmare on their hands. But I will be honest and say I think it was a serious mistake to wait for the shooting to start before they did any shooting themselves. It might sound harsh but being reactive is too late. The horse has bolted. The hostage taker is already doing what he came to do from the moment he walked into that café. We live in a different world. There are people in it who have no regard for their own life as long as they can take the lives of innocent people. The hostage taker in Sydney made it pretty clear who he represented, and what this was about, right from the start. You don’t negotiate. You wait for an opportunity or, you create an opportunity, to use lethal force against him. You certainly don’t wait until he starts killing people. It’s a harsh lesson that maybe the New South Wales police are about to learn.

Australia’s Draconian Laws

One of the cornerstones of any healthy democracy must be free speech and freedom of the press.

But it seems not in Australia and not anymore. The Abbott Government is charting a course that’s hellbent on stifling both. And, if you are looking for a reason you need go no further than Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden.

They are almost certainly responsible for a set of leaked documents floating around  that appear to suggest corruption involving Australia and some senior Asian politicians. I say appears to be, because the documents have been the subject of a Victorian Supreme Court  gagging order so we don’t really know what’s in them.

But whatever it is the mere public mention of them was enough for the Indonesian President to demand yet another please explain from the Australian Government. And clearly, the Government has had enough of doing embarrassing explanations and apologies to the Indonesians.

Especially after the Snowden revelation that proved Australian spy agencies were listening in on the private telephone conversations of the Indonesian President and his wife.

So now, what the Abbott Government wants to do is well and truly shoot the messenger.

The Government has legislation before parliament that threatens Australian Security Intelligence Organisation leakers with 10 years’ imprisonment.

It also makes it an offence for journalists to report on information they receive from whistleblowers.

Edward Snowden’s lawyer has quite correctly labelled this as “draconian” and “chilling” because it will ‘criminalise a reporter talking to a source.”

Lawyer Jesselyn Radack said : “It’s the most draconian thing I’ve seen and it is completely antithetical to a free and open democratic society … I find it very disturbing that Australia’s entertaining this kind of legislation and that there hasn’t been a greater outcry, especially from the press.”

So what does this legislation actually do?

For a start you will be breaking the law if a person “discloses information … [that] relates to a special intelligence operation.”

And there are no exemptions, meaning it could apply to anyone including journalists, bloggers, lawyers and other members of the public. Anyone who discloses this kind of information faces tough new penalties of up to 10 years’ jail.

Ms Radack makes a crucial point in saying the new laws will essentially give ASIO, the Australian equivalent of the CIA, blanket immunity.

“This particular proposed legislation is drafted so broadly that almost anything could be labelled a special intelligence operation … the definitions are so broad and vague as to make anyone subject to this.”

Former US National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake, who fought the United States Government and won said these proposed laws would result in self-censorship.

“If this passes in its current form without huge changes, it is going to send a very chilling message,” Mr Drake said. “It will create a climate in which people will self-censor. They will opt not to reveal anything. They will opt not to associate with certain individuals. They will opt not to share certain information just on the risk that it might be designated secret or it might be designated something that might reveal an intelligence operation. Well in that kind of an environment guess what? It has its intended effect.”

Australia’s Federal Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has previously said that the new offences were not aimed at journalists.

“It’s not the purpose of this bill to place any constraints at all on freedom of discussion,” he said.

“We are a government that believes very strongly in freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

Yeah. Right.