Do you like listening to alternative music? Have you attended a protest for the environment? Congratulations! According to the Radicalisation Awareness Kit produced by the Australian government, you could be on your way to becoming a violent extremist.
Contained in a booklet titled Preventing Violent Extremism and Radicalisation in Australia, released last Monday, is the story of Karen, listed in the section titled “Violent Extremism”. It tells how after moving out of home to attend university she “became involved in the alternative music scene, student politics and left-wing activism”. [Cue dramatic music.]
Next thing you know “Karen attended an environmental protest with some of her friends. It was exhilarating, fun and she felt like she was doing the ‘right thing’ for society.” It wasn't long before she dropped out of uni, joined a forest blockade and started locking on.
“There was no intent to harm people but inevitably fighting broke out between protesters and loggers.” Finally, “Karen was arrested on numerous occasions for trespass, damaging property, assault and obstructing police”.
Understandably, the comparison between environmental activism and violent extremism provoked outrage. “It sounds like something that’s been dreamt up in the cigar room of the Institute of Public Affairs”. Jonathan La Nauze from the Australian Conservation Foundation told the ABC: “There’s no resemblance to the way people in Australia feel about their environment and the need to stand up to protect it.”
It also seems to fit in with the government's own ideology of demonising environmental protest and conflating legitimate protests with extremist actions.
To illustrate its point, the booklet features some images of protest. For example, on page 4 above the headline “What is radicalisation?” is a picture of a protest against shark culling. On page 12, above the headline “Issue-based violence” is a group of people signing a banner. This is hardly illustrative of extremist protests.
Teachers were also concerned about the content of the booklet. NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron told ABC news: “I think it's a fairly cynical move by the federal government not to make anyone feel safer but to engender fear and intolerance ...”
Indeed, the recent case of Ahmed Mohamed in the US, 14-year-old Muslim Texan high-school student who was arrested and had his constitutional rights violated because teachers at the school believed his electronics project was a bomb, shows where oversimplifying the issues and the use of divisive profiling can lead.
By reading this booklet you could be forgiven for thinking that all is hunky dory with the environment. But when the government is leading the charge against environmental campaigning and in favour of more coalmines, unconventional gas wells and nuclear waste dumps it makes the linking environmental activism and extremism all the more sinister.
From its beginning, Green Left Weekly was a project to bring the environmental movements together with the progressive movements for social change. We continue to provide grassroots coverage of those movements and to challenge the real extremists — those within the government who believe climate change is "crap" and that legitimate protest needs to be stifled.
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