Nice of them to let us know they’re still as ludicrous and evil as ever

Issue 
A radical environmentalist plots her next extremist act.

If you are reading this, you are clearly at high risk of “radicalisation” — a budding violent extremist probably only a few Triple J Hottest 100 tracks away from blowing up Parliament House, or at least picketing the offices of a classic FM station.

You might have came across this radical extremist rag from a dodgy-looking bloke who emerged from an alley saying: “Psst … you want a copy of Green Left Weekly or some MP3s of some real alternative shit? I got some full on folk punk protest stuff on here, plus a few leaflets for the upcoming anti-shark culling protest if you are after the really heavy shit…”

The government’s Preventing Violent Extremism and Radicalisation in Australia “awareness kit”, which it sent to schools, has been widely mocked — not least for the absurd “case study” of “Karen” who went from “alternative music” to environmental extremism.

But this is just the most ridiculous part of a sinister publication. Its attempt to demonise environmental activism is worrying, but the main target is the Muslim community — where the demonisation is far less cartoonish and more a lived experience in fear and bigotry.

To grasp how little this “awareness kit” has to do with combating violence or national security, consider the fact that it was never even meant to be sent to schools. Its main authors had no idea that would happen: one did not know until the Guardian told them.

It was pulled together as a guide for “professionals in communities”. Professor Gary Bouma, who is quoted extensively throughout, has repudiated the final document.

It was twisted to be a school “awareness kit” — and promptly leaked to the Murdoch press, which obliged with screaming headlines. It was a cheap political stunt that had as much to do with genuine concern for “national security” as Tony Abbott has in not destabilising Malcolm Turnbull.

Even Karen’s now world-famous story was severely twisted. A study author said Karen was a “well-known case study” who was “an example of someone who in fact did not radicalise”. Yet, she is highlighted in the section on “violent extremism”.

This sleight of hand, in which “radicalisation” and “violent extremism” are used interchangeably, occurs throughout.

The “Living Safe Together” website, tied to the kit, includes defending controversial government policies, such as towards Syria, to combat “radical” ideas.

This is ironic considering bombing another country might be considered to be a somewhat extreme and violent act, but presumably only by those yet to be re-educa … engaged in a respectful dialogue aimed at preventing extremist conclusions like war breeds terrorism.

Also ironic is that Professor Pete Lentini, who worked on the project, said its authors had intended “radical” as a neutral, technical term, referring to “a change in belief structure”.

“I actually think, thank god for radicals, things like the suffragette movement, anti-slavery, and so on,” he told the Guardian. “And I actually got interested in the study of politics through alternative music.”

Especially disturbing is the brochure’s constant counter-posing of “radicalisation” with the “mainstream” — as though the very act of holding a different idea is a matter of grave suspicion.

Should anyone you know actually give voice to such views that fall outside the existing consensus, well, the brochure kindly provides the Terrorism Hotline at the back.

How do you actually achieve any progress if anyone with views differing from the currently accepted wisdom is to be treated like a defendant in a medieval witch trial? After all, witch trials, slavery and 1980s hairstyles were all once entirely “mainstream”.

The answer, presumably, is that even posing such a question requires an organised intervention that involves being locked in a room with only old Andrew Bolt columns to read until you capitulate.

The reasons for the government’s political stunt are pretty obvious.

Dedicated to dismantling the social safety net, stripping back hard-won working conditions and determined to turn the whole nation into an open-cut coalmine, “national security” is one of the only issues on which the Coalition feels it can connect with voters.

This makes it all the more stunning that, on the back of the Border Farce debacle a few weeks back, they managed to screw it up so severely once again.

Still, I suppose it was good of the justice minister and minister assisting the PM on counter terrorism, Michael Keenan, to prove that despite all the recent shake-ups, Tony Abbott’s spirit of sinister incompetence lives on.

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