“National security” broadly refers to a nation’s ability to defend itself and protect its citizens.
Historically understood in terms of military strength, the concept has grown to encompass other aspects; for example, the security of energy and natural resources and cyber security. National security is primarily maintained through diplomacy, political and economic stability, effective armed forces, intelligence services and sound legislation.
Reports that an Australian operative in Syria had called on IS followers in Australia to carry out random attacks on Australian citizens prompted the raising of the terror alert from “medium” to “high” and raids on terror suspects that resulted in two arrests.
Australian PM, Tony Abbott, has declared that the government will do whatever is necessary to “keep people safe” but warns that the “delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift”.
The federal government has committed Australian forces to assist international efforts against IS, which include air strikes on known targets and humanitarian aid; the goals being to prevent genocide and block the formation of terror bases in our region. Over $600 million in additional funding has been made available to law enforcement and security agencies such as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
The Foreign Fighters bill has been devised in the knowledge that 60 Australians are currently fighting alongside IS militants and that a further 100 are assisting or financing their ventures. The national security concern is that without appropriate laws in place, Australians participating in these conflicts could return home with a “militarised” mindset as well as the willingness and skills to inflict harm. The legislation, currently being debated in parliament, makes it an offence “to advocate” (incite or encourage) terrorism and to travel to designated “no-go zones” overseas. It is understood that the laws will make it easier for authorities to investigate, arrest and prosecute those supporting foreign conflicts and limit their means of travel.
The overwhelming majority of Australian Muslims are appalled by the violence being wrought in the name of their religion with prominent international Muslim leaders publicly denouncing IS as a “betrayal of faith”. In fact, significant intelligence information about potential Islamic extremists within Australia has come from the 450,000-strong Muslim community. Nevertheless, many Muslims claim they have been victimised and unfairly blamed. Leaders, in response, have called for calm and tolerance. They say it is important that Australians stand united and not allow inflammatory, prejudiced comments to drive a wedge through our society: divisions that could fuel resentment and “play into IS’s hands”.
In response to inflammatory comments from some politicians, others call for political leaders to be more measured in their public statements in order to prevent public panic. For example, some have criticised Abbott for urging people to remain calm and go about their lives normally on the one hand, while publicly commenting: “it is a serious situation when all you need to carry out a terrorist attack is to have a knife, an iPhone and a victim,” on the other.
The new counter-terrorism laws have prompted a great deal of debate, with many wanting to ensure that issues of community protection and individual freedom remain in balance and that there is sufficient oversight to ensure boundaries are not overstepped. Counter terrorism expert Anne-Azza Aly agrees that legal options may be necessary “as long as they don’t impinge on civil liberties” and do not unfairly target Muslims. However, she also calls for programs to address the core problem of why young people are becoming “radicalised in the first place”.
“Response to terror: what sort of nation do we want?” Sydney Morning Herald, September 20
“Muslims are speaking out but no one is listening” The Age, October 1
“The order to kill that triggered Operation Appleby” The Australian, September 19
“Confronting IS: why bombing is doomed to fail” Al Jazeera, September 18
Without doubt, there are people who would do our society harm. But protecting our community also means defending the very freedoms Australians rightly cherish.
The Age 5/10/14