These freedoms have been hard won over centuries of fighting, conflict and resolving religious conflicts. We also live in a democracy. To us, democracy and 'freedom' are one and the same; but a short perusal of the 'facts' will show that some democracies have freedoms similar to ours; but some do not.
We also live in a society based on the Judeo-Christian tradition, but even though it may not be written in our Constitution, in practice we have separated all our governance from all our religious practices (and we have enshrined the right for our citizens to practice any religion, as long as they obey the secular Laws of the Land). However, in our modern world, there are democracies whose citizens cover all the World's major religions – including Islam – and not all Christian-based democracies afford their citizens the same freedoms that we have (Zimbabwe and Fiji are two current examples).
Because of these complications, in this reflection, Mark Tronson talks about 'freedoms' in our society, and not refer to the general fraught term 'democracy'.
Although there have been many 'home grown' acts of terrorism in various countries, these seem to have been instigated by individuals with a 'grudge'. We feel threatened at the present time because of recent acts of co-ordinated terrorism that are squarely aimed at our free Western culture. We are naturally more frightened of 'the unknown' than those within our own culture, and the terrorists play on this emotion – one of their aims is to create 'terror' in order for the society to collapse: the loss of life may not be their prime objective.
The first step in combatting this fear, thinks M V Tronson, is to learn about others' views so we know what they are thinking and why. The second step, as Thomas Jefferson has reported to have said, is to be vigilant.
Recently, the young Nigerian Muslim, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who became radicalised and attempted to bring down an international flight from Holland to Detroit on Christmas Day, has brought focus again onto two recent books that tell the story from the points of view of young Muslim men – one in Australia and one in England – about how they were targeted by these radical fundamentalist Muslim organisations.
"The Islamist" is an autobiographical journey of a young man, Ed Husain, born in England to a family originally from Pakistan, who became radicalised by association with Islamist extremists. In his book, he tells the story of how this happened, and how he eventually denounced radicalism and Islam.
He explains that those wanting to bring down the very system that allows them to engage in the political process do so on an ideological basis, that once in power, the long-term aim is to destroy that very system of freedom. As a guest writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, Ed Hussain summarised his thoughts again. ("The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left" (03 May 2007) by Ed Husain is published by Penguin Paperback)
There are fundamentalist Muslim people who interpret Muslim teachings to such an extreme that they reject the modern development of city/state governments, including our current Western political systems and those that are being developed by Muslim countries.
In their interpretation, religion and government are not separate; and they also see it as their mission to convert the whole world to Islam. Their current activities seem to have been precipitated by their perception that America's incursions into the Middle East (starting with what we see as the liberation of Kuwait) are acts of aggression against Islam.
Because in their view, religion and politics are the same, they view their aggression against Westerns societies as a religious one – they talk about countering the attacks by the 'Nations of the Crusades' (Some of these differences in attitudes are explained in yet another book, "The Crisis of Islam – Holy War and Unholy Terror" (2003) by Bernard Lewis published by Phoenix Paperback).
These groups are called 'Islamist'. But note, this is 'not' the same as the term 'Islam' in that it does 'not' refer to the majority of Muslims who peacefully practise one of the many variations of the religion generally called Islam. Although the meaning has shifted, as often occurs with use of language, the current usage refers to a 'supporter or advocate of Islamic fundamentalism'.
Irfan Yusuf, an Australian-born lawyer, tells a similar story in an interview on ABC National Radio ("Life Matters" program) on January 13th, 2010.
(He also documents his story in his book: "Once Were Radicals: my years as a teenage Islamo Fascist" by Irfan Yusuf, published by Allen and Unwin)
In the chapter 'Return to England' in his book, Ed Husain provides a very detailed account of how innocuous organisational names functioned as fronts with much nastier aims. Of more concern is the challenge to our hard-won free society, with its system of its smooth functioning with its unwritten rules of fair play, honesty and neighbourly behaviour.
These Islamist organisations have used the young people who have been raised in the free Western societies, and who are thus familiar with the workings of the political and social systems and who speak the language without an accent. They therefore will not attract attention as a 'stranger' would, when taking rules and regulations to their breaking point, and also to use the 'repressed minority' sentiments and regulations to advantage 'over and against' the general population in a host of both private and public situations.
This is the affront, says M V Tronson, that makes free democratic societies so vulnerable to the radical agenda. It highlights the challenges for all free societies, not just in the West but for those that are trying to develop more equitable systems (such as the brave Afghan police and security personnel in Kabul who averted the worst of the recent Taliban attacks, on the day the new parliamentarians were being sworn in.)
Paul Sheehan writing in the Sydney Morning Herald also tackles this issue on the basis that those wanting to infiltrate secular, free Governments (whether in Kabul or Iran; America or London) and replace them with Islamic laws, also want to destroy the Western ideologies.
There seems to be several ways forward in Mark Tronson's view. They all need to be implemented as appropriate, and all need to work together.
The first reaction of individuals is vigilance. People are learning to look for 'suspicious' behaviour. Without this becoming a paranoid 'dob in your neighbour' activity, it can have ongoing benefits. On 9/11, there was another plane that apparently was destined for the White House. On that plane, passengers received mobile phone calls about planes flying into the Twin Towers, and those passengers overcame the terrorists and bravely and selflessly stopped this plane flying into a building (although, as we know, it inevitably crashed). Since then, there have been many anecdotes of passengers overcoming people who behave suspiciously on planes. Never again will potential hostages sit quietly and acquiesce to the demands of terrorists.
Another approach is a political reprise. France has taken legislative steps that equates Muslim head wear to stating a political agenda (as Turkey's Attaturk did in the 1920's – banning the Hijab in any public place – including schools, universities and parliament). The Swiss have spoken in a referendum to ban Islamic worship centre Minarets. In Australia a Judge has taken the extraordinary step of describing a Muslim spokesperson with words that would in the public sphere be libellous.
Another possible solution is a social one - to work with Muslim populations groups which, in western societies, have developed social welfare and worship agendas. Muslim moderate communities have it within their own hands to 'ensure a separation' of religious and political agendas when living in western democracies, and to live by the rules of the free societies in which they live.
As an example, so much of Australia's legal system carries with it vestiges from the Bible. For example, 1 Samuel 30 verse 24, David establishes that those who stay behind with "the stuff" get an equal portion of the booty to those who were at the front. This kind of scenario is likewise seen in our divorce laws that the spouse who kept the home fires going and raised the children gets an equal portion.
A more global and long-lasting solution is to ensure that our economy and intellectualism are strong, and that all in our society are able to take advantage of the jobs market and education and that no-one is marginalised to the extent that they can hold a grudge. All comers, including Muslim people and their families can therefore likewise enjoy these privileges that are common to western liberalism and be part of ongoing intellectual pursuits that allows free thought and expression without fear of threat to their person, families or their lives.