Whether ISIS supporters in the West present a systematic ‘threat’ is still an open but worrying question. Given the debacle of the intelligence for war against Iraq, many remain sceptical of the intelligence that is collected and how it is presented, yet these are difficult times and there could be ramifications and repercussions in the UK caused by people who have been to Syria. All the same, governments reacted to the perceived threat of ISIS in an utterly disappointing manner.
The latest disappointment comes from Australia. With 800 police officers, Australian officials raided the homes of numerous Muslims, detaining 15 people and only charging one person over fears of a ‘beheading’ plot (for which no hard evidence has been presented). Whether or not the evidence for the plot is accurate is beside the point: what matters is 800 police officers served 25 warrants and only charged one person. This sends a clear message: Muslims have been, and continue to be ‘suspects’.
The dangerous backlash to these raids has been a spike in anti-Muslim hate crime, many reported by a new group on Facebook called the Islamophobia Register of Australia. A mosque has been desecrated, boys playing football were threatened by an older man, and a young woman was bashed and thrown from a train. All of these incidents happened after the raids. We see similar patterns in Britain; the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby is used as the glue that holds Britain First together, a far-right political group with a strong anti-Muslim agenda.
Ineffective policing – especially the kind that requires 800 officers to serve 25 warrants and leads only to one arrest, or the desperately low hit rates of Section 44 and Schedule 7 searches, arrests, and detentions – is much more than a waste of resources. This is ineffective policing because it in fact increases the incidence of crime by generating a national discourse in which Islamophobic comments are rendered legitimate and justifiable: Almir Colan, of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said to Guardian Australia that ‘we want the prime minister to lower the rhetoric and concentrate on responsible, productive language.’In fact, some of the PM Tony Abbot’s backbenchers have called for a burqa ban in Australia, though he distanced himself from any such policy. Part of the problem is the media itself; in both the UK and Australia, ISIS makes for juicy headlines that inspire fear across populations. The far-right, such as Britain First in the UK and the Australian Defence League, rely on news coverage to justify their claims about Muslims. Just as Britain First supporters speaking about Rotherham replaced the label ‘Asian’ with ‘Muslim’ when describing grooming gangs, ISIS is seen by organisations such as the Australian Defence League as a problem with the nature of Muslims. Holding that argument, then, means that ‘all Muslims’ should no longer be welcome in Australia. Such a situation is ripe for hate crime.
In the UK, police forces and the government are taking far-right hate much more seriously than they did even a few years ago, working far-right groups into the general counter-terrorism strategy. Many police forces are working more diligently on prosecuting anti-Muslim hate crime. At the same time, there is an informational exchange between the likes of right-wing parties in Australia with those in the UK, with sources such as UKIP and the EDL influencing the Australian right and both are plugged in to transatlantic anti-Muslim ideologues such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer (both of whom influenced the terrorist Anders Breivik).
The far-right and racists are exploiting the suffering of untold numbers of people at the hands of ISIS to terrorise and demonise – albeit in a less violent way – the Muslim community in Australia. While it is certain that the police should be able to raid suspected criminals’ homes or workplaces to prevent an attack, it has to be done responsibly and within the limits of the law. Is deploying 800 officers to serve just 25 warrants for a potential murder representative of a reasonable use of force? The use of such force exacerbates tensions between governments and the Muslim community. This kind of action decreases trust in police institutions and ultimately makes it harder to detect and prevent crime when communities live in fear of institutions.
Given the highly politicised nature of anti-Muslim hate and anxieties about ISIS, it is just as important for the police to tread with care and not to use heavy-handed tactics. If that racist had bashed that young woman harder, or threw her off the train at a different time or angle, there could have been a homicide possibly motivated by the environment created by these raids. After the killing of Lee Rigby, there were 35 mosque attacks with the real potential of a threat to the safety of worshippers. Those 800 cops were out raiding and detaining also to prevent one planned murder. How many cops in Australia are dedicated stopping racists from attacking innocents is another legitimate question to ask.