Every Australian, and especially the media, need to stop thoughtlessly using Islamist ideology and terminology to describe Islamist terrorism

Instead of mindlessly regurgitating Islamist propaganda, every Australian and particularly the media need to think carefully about the terminology they use. Otherwise Islamist scaremongering among Australia's Muslim community is needlessly bolstered and Australians of all faiths suffer. Unfortunately, sufficient depth of thought is not occurring over much of the media, with time-tested counter-terrorism principles being forgotten or ignored. In some cases, continued use of Islamist terminology also seems to be due to unprofessional reactions when journalists are reminded of this problem. Particularly where the journalist is oddly convinced that their individual opinion on such matters somehow invalidates lessons hard-won over many years by our intelligence and security agencies and our defence force.


Letter to The Australian 
Wednesday, 13 July 2016
(not published)

All wars are ultimately conflicts of will and end when one side gives up. Generally by a combination of both armed force and diplomatic/intellectual persuasion.

In the international conflict with Islamist terrorism - as with any counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism struggle - no democracy should ever legitimise enemy propaganda by sloppily repeating their self-descriptions or ideological terminology.

This is why, for example, the terrorists’ self-reverential term “Islamic State” must always be prefixed by the qualifier “so-called” or used only within inverted commas as in this sentence (but which your newspaper invariably removes).

Not least because it is not an Islamic state, certainly not “the Islamic State” and definitely not an entity that complies with international humanitarian law.

Similarly, journalistic terms must be scrupulously accurate when referring to those agencies that lead our fight with such enemies.

The term “spies” is beloved of sub-editors because it’s a shorter headline but its constant and simplistic use is buttressing, not contradicting, terrorist propaganda.

Such sloppy terminology wrongly emphasises that legitimate surveillance of Islamist extremism by our national security-intelligence (not “spy”) agency is somehow illegitimate or, as the Islamists claim, targeted against all Muslim Australians rather than just the extremist bigots within their faith community.

Similarly, your national security editor, Paul Maley, also needs to stop incorrectly referring to ASIO intelligence officers as “spies” (“ASIO to swap spies with Jakarta”, July 13, p2).

ASIO staff do not include a single “spy” and it is high time the media put the national interest ahead of lazy headlines and other coverage.


Back to Letters: 2016