We were told that it ‘might’ happen.
Then we were told that it ‘could’ happen.
Then we were told it ‘would’ happen.
And, in the end of 2014, it finally ‘did’ happen.
The ‘it’ was an act or acts of terrorism on Australian soil in the 21st Century. We have been on stand-by for such an event ever since 9/11 and Australia’s entry into the ‘war on terror.’
The build-up to the terrorist act in 2014 has taken a while but it began to unravel very quickly. For a country who has been normally far apart from the global trouble, Australia has had its fair share of drama lately. Consider the following events in just since September 2014:
• Australian police conducted early-morning counter-terrorism raids in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne;
• Prime Minister Tony Abbott committed 600 troops to a 40 nation US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS). In return, IS has urged its supporters to kill civilians and soldiers of these nations.
• For the first time since 2002, Australia raised its terrorism alert to ‘High,’ meaning that a terrorist event was likely, though not imminent;
• 18 year old Abdul Numan Haider from Afghanistan was shot dead outside the Narre Warren police station in suburban Melbourne after stabbing two police officers;
• Then, on 15 December Man Haron Monis from Iran, age 50, went to the Lindt Cafe at Martin Place in the heart of Sydney’s central business district -- near Channel 7, the Australian Reserve Bank, plus other major banks - and kept 18 people hostage for 16 hours before police stormed the building and killed Monis. Two hostages, cafe manager Tori Johnson and barrister Katrina Dawson were also killed.
For the ‘laid-back’ ‘lucky country,’ this was a disturbing, unprecedented development, even if it were not totally unexpected.
What can we make of all this?
First, the Martin Place siege was clearly seen as an act of political violence, namely terrorism. While it is common to say that Monis was a ‘lone wolf’ with no known connections with terrorist groups, he got his marching orders when IS called its supporters to attack civilians and soldiers in countries that supported the US-led attack. This includes Australia. In their English-language magazine Dibaq, Islamic State applauded Monis’s actions, as well as of Abdul Numan Haider (did the latter plan to kill and then behead the two policemen that he knifed before he was shot?). Both Monis and Haider supported IS. In fact, just before his final act at Martin Place, Monis converted from Shia (the main branch of Islam in Iran) to Sunni Islam, just as the strongly-Sunni Islamic State would want. Since terrorism is defined as violent criminal activity with political motives, the Sydney siege clearly fits that description.
Dr. Mark Durie gives some insightful comments about the ‘lone wolf’ label:
Also misleading is the widely used term lone wolf, which implies social disengagement and dysfunction, including disconnection with the broader jihadi movement. This very western secular construct overlooks the considerable attention in Islamic jurisprudence to the idea of warfare as an ‘individual obligation’ (fardh al-’ayn), which is incumbent upon Muslims as individuals, even if they are not enlisted in a jihad army.
-- From Broken Hill to Martin Place: Individual Jihad Comes to Australia, 1915 to 2015, http://blog.markdurie.com/2014/12/individual-jihad-comes-to-australia.html Accessed 1 January 2015
Second, the response of the Australian public to the tragedy has been heartwarming, especially the flora tributes and monetary contributions sent to the foundations established by the families of the two slain hostages. At the same time, the Australian public has right to ask questions about the government’s policy - in immigration, social security, and the judicial system. Monis had a history of promoting jihad (he apparently had more Facebook followers (or likes) than the premier of New South Wales Mike Baird). He exploited the legal system, tormented by post the relatives of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, engaged in sexual assault, and was an accused accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Questions can include:
With such a scorecard of criminal activity, why was he out on bail when he committed his terrorist/jihadist act?
When was the last time he was gainfully employed - a decade ago?
Why was he allowed to promote jihad while living off the Australian taxpayer?
Most importantly, why was a man with a lawbreaking background in Iran allowed to stay in Australia in the first place? (Apparently, the Iranians warned the Australia about him before he was granted asylum.)
Third, with the advent and acceleration of globalisation, not only are national economies linked but also national problems become international problems. Jihad is a transnational phenomena. From Nigeria to Mali to Libya to Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, jihad is causing an inter-Muslim world war. Yet it does not remain in these places - just like Ebola, extremist ideologies can spread. Even if jihadist has medieval ideas, their social media skills are 21st Century, and this means the spreading of their ideas is even more rapid.
So even far away Australia is not too far anymore. In essence, the Martin Place siege crossed a line - Australia’s geography, global status, ‘fair go’ reputation, an ‘unaligned’ aligned nation, no longer afford it protection it once enjoyed from the violence that plagues other parts of the world.
Recently, before I led my 24th tour to the holy land, I was asked the understandable question: is it safe to go? People were thinking of the war with Hamas, the rise of the Islamic State, civil war in nearby Syria, continued regional instability, and wondering if it is too risky. To the question ‘is it safe’ my reply is simply this: it is safe enough.
With events that were listed above, is Australia safe? With the Americans giving a travel advisory to the ‘world’s most live-able city,’ Melbourne, is it safe enough? When you consider what happened at Martin Place - Sydney’s sacred secular space, normally light-years away from the world’s trouble spots - is there any place on this troubled planet that is perfectly safe anymore?
For people of Biblical faith, there is an understanding that there is one sure safe place. You can’t get there by car, train, or plane; only by faith. It is described in Psalm 91:1 as the ‘secret place of the Most High’ and the ‘Shadow of the Almighty.’ Once you enter in, you don’t have to worry about being safe enough - you are safe indeed.