Unite against extremism

The last week has brought shocking news of murder and mayhem by terrorists and the criminally insane in various parts of the world. Here in the Philippines, the beheading of the second Canadian hostage, Robert Hall, by the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu was indeed a devastating development. In the United Kingdom, the brutal murder of Labor MP Jo Cox, who had campaigned against exiting the European Union, was impossible to comprehend.  In Orlando, the massacre of 49 people at a gay night club brought most of us to a new level of disbelief and outrage.

One thing the perpetrators of these terrible crimes have in common is the extremist nature of their views, so much so that they were motivated to take human life seemingly to make a political statement. We can speculate about what has driven them to this point and any number of reasons might be posited – poverty, dispossession, repression, ideology, lack of education, serious mental illness. But only a small minority of people who experience these travails resort to such violent actions, so I am not sure that any provide a convincing rationale.  

The events of the last week nonetheless serve as a chilling reminder of the consequences of unchecked extremist violence in the midst of our otherwise peaceful lives.  I, like many others, have felt despair and helplessness at what can be done to tackle this most pernicious of problems. There are no magic solutions, no quick fixes, but we have to believe that there are steps we can take together as nations and individuals to uphold our common values.

Australia has certainly not been immune from violent incidents. Following the worst massacre in our modern history at Port Arthur in 1996 at which 35 people were killed by a single gunman, the Government took decisive action. It introduced a licensing and registration system and banned semi-automatic assault weapons, curtailing access to the type of weapon that was used in Orlando. The new gun regime involved an amnesty for those handing in illegal weapons and a gun buy-back scheme for those who had purchased them legally.  This action took great political courage on the part of the Prime Minister of the time, John Howard, and deeply divided some of his key constituencies.  However, Australia has not had a mass casualty gun event since these steps were taken.  

I acknowledge that things are somewhat more complex in the Southern Philippines where the Government faces an armed insurgency.  The Aquino Administration has been resolute in its efforts to tackle the insurgency. The incoming Duterte Administration has promised to be no less vigorous.  Australia stands side by side with the Philippines in its efforts to counter terrorism and to bring lasting peace to this country. None of us should underestimate the magnitude of this task.  We are working with local and international players in Mindanao to counter violent extremism.  It is essential that young people see a hopeful future for themselves so that they do not fall prey to extremist sentiments. Our development program is focused on increasing educational attainment, greater economic empowerment and building good governance.  

Fostering interfaith understanding is another critical element in building our resilience against extremist dogma. I saw a great example of this recently at a Filipino Peacewomen event, where women from all religions and creeds are working together in pursuit of peace, some in the face of real personal danger. Political leadership is also important in this space.  This week Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull became the first Australian PM to host an Iftar meal with Australian Muslims to break the Ramadan fast.  

These developments afford me some reassurance that we are not indeed helpless in the face of violence and that our shared values will prevail. Yet still I feel the need to do something on an individual level which is more meaningful than simply changing my Facebook profile picture to acknowledge the latest terrible incident. So the Australian Embassy will march in the Metro Manila Pride March this weekend to remember those who were gunned down in Orlando and to support equality everywhere for the LGBTI community.  Join us!

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(Amanda Gorely is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines.  Follow her on Twitter @AusAmbPH.)

Source http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2016/06/23/1595780/unite-against-extremism


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