This week we witnessed the fourth terrorist attack in the United Kingdom in as many months.
As Muslim worshippers were leaving a gathering to celebrate the breaking of Ramadan fast in Finsbury Park in London’s north, a father-of-four from Wales named Darren Osborne ploughed into the crowd.
One person has so far been confirmed as killed, although it is not clear he was killed as a result of the attack. Ironically, some of the crowd had been tending to him when he had collapsed earlier, putting them in the way of the attacker. Eight people were seriously injured.
These were ordinary, peaceful Londoners coming together in prayer. They were exercising their freedom to worship and to congregate – a vital part of British democracy.
The attack on them was an act of terrorism. There is no question about this. Terrorism is an act of violence committed with a political motive – and this is exactly what this was.
As the General Secretary of Finsbury Park Mosque said just 48 hours before the attack, referring to both Islamist and anti-Islamist extremists:
Both extremists do not represent us, do not represent our communities, do not represent our faiths. They are a tiny minority, a bunch of murderers who only represent hatred, division and racism.
We have reached a worrying point in our ongoing battle against terrorism. We have reached a point where hate breeds hate, and terror breeds terror.
Where an attack by an Islamist terrorist at London Bridge has given rise to harming peaceful Muslims, who had nothing to do with that attack.
Also this week, a young Muslim girl walking to mosque with her friends, 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen, was found dead in a pond in Virginia. In Portland in May, two people were killed while bravely trying to defend Muslim women from verbal attack.
It is a worrying trend.
We must also be on our guard here in Australia. And a particular duty falls upon us, as politicians in concert with other public figures and commentators, to continue speaking the language of peace and not division when it comes to terrorism.
It is why I thought it was so important to defend the comments of Duncan Lewis, the Director-General of ASIO, a few weeks back. In response to clumsy attempts by Senator Pauline Hanson to blame Muslims and refugees for terrorism in this country, Mr Lewis was firm – he made clear that ASIO is not interested in religion. It is interested in individuals with the capacity to commit violent acts.
It is also why I am so proud that Labor this week has decided to oppose changes to citizenship laws proposed by this Parliament’s divider-in-chief, the Minister for Immigration.
These changes revived some of the worst proposals from the Abbott era, and also some of the worst messaging of that era. Speaking of “Australian values” and “Australian patriots” reminds me very forcefully of the sorry days of “Team Australia”. As warm as that phrase might sound, it had nothing to do with togetherness or teamwork. Former Prime Minister Abbott thought he could bolster his own political standing by turning people against each other and making enemies of fellow Australians. He chose to promote a kind of battle mentality of “us versus other”. And it didn’t work. Australians rejected that kind of talk and they ultimately rejected him. The current Prime Minister should remember that.
We must work hard, now, to stop the kind of contagion we have seen in the United Kingdom from happening here. If we speak the language of blame, if we seek to point fingers where it is not deserved, then we will create the kind of division in our society which can prove to be very dangerous.
I am sick of hearing talk that we should “get real” on the threat of Islamist terrorism. Do people who say this seriously think there is no awareness of the threats Australia faces? The threat is all too real. It is just that wiser heads than they realise how important tone of speech and words can be in combating division and the spread of hate. We shouldn’t listen to them.
In the face of pressure we must continue to speak the language of togetherness and harmony. For all our sakes.