Address to Regional Summit to Counter Violent Extremism

  • Speech, E&OE

I'm delighted to have this opportunity to speak about an issue of considerable concern in the context of this most important regional summit.

The Australian Government is committed to playing its role in the global effort to combat violent extremism and to starve terrorist organisations of the funding and support that they need to carry out their deeds.

Internationally, we co-sponsored United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178 which requires all nations to prevent the financing, travel and activities of terrorists.

We are supporting the United Nations global counter-terrorism strategy, which underpins international efforts to address the causes of extremism and terrorism and to strengthen law enforcement, while promoting global cooperation in counter-terrorism.

And through a network of 17 agreements with other countries we are sharing information and intelligence on terrorist ideology and on countering terrorist narratives.

Domestically, we have introduced tough measures to stop radicalised Australians travelling to conflict zones.

I have proscribed key areas where Da'esh is effectively in control – so it is now an offence under Australian law for any Australian to enter, or remain, in Mosul district in Iraq and Al-Raqqa province in Syria without a legitimate purpose.

Over 115 Australian passports have been cancelled to prevent people travelling to Syria and Iraq to join the conflict or to travel onto other destinations. Another 9 passports have been suspended and 14 have been refused.

While these measures are designed to deter individuals who have been radicalised from taking up arms, we know that tackling the drivers of extremism, and combatting the radicalisation process, must be at the heart of our efforts.

We know that radicalisation doesn't occur in a vacuum. It happens to individuals who are part of families, schools, and communities.

Radicalised individuals are husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends and colleagues.

Whether through personal interaction or through social media, radicalisation takes place in a social context – a context that on one hand offers potential support for the spread of terrorist ideologies but also can offer potential opposition to them.

As such, families, friends and communities can be, and are, effective agents in the fight against radicalisation.

One of the first questions I am asked on this topic is what motivates young Australians to leave our safe and tolerant community to join a violent and unforgiving organisation thousands of kilometres away.

As I stated in my recent speech to the Sydney Institute, a book written more than 60 years ago can provide some useful insights.

Eric Hoffer was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983 in recognition of his seminal work "The True Believer: the thoughts on the nature of mass movement."

Hoffer's work focussed on fascism and communism, however he believed the same forces underpinned the psychology of all mass movements and I believe provides some useful analogies.

He argued that people who are frustrated with their lives and who feel they are doomed to inevitable failure despite their best efforts are prime candidates for recruitment as fanatical followers.

Hoffer argues that they find appeal in the concept of surrendering themselves to a greater cause, because that places responsibility for the success of their lives in the hands of others.

He observed that highly ritualised dying and killing downplays concerns among potential recruits about violence, as they see themselves as part of a ceremony, a performance or game.

This is grimly exemplified by the brutal murders by Da'esh, which they publish prolifically, and include beheadings, and crucifixions and mass murders portrayed in a way the makes them part of a ritual.

Hoffer also said: "a proselytizing mass movement must break down all existing group ties if it is to win a significant following. The ideal potential convert is the individual who stands alone..."

We know that Da'esh actively targets individuals it believes are susceptible to its narrative and seeks to convince them that fighting for its self-declared Caliphate is the most important contribution they can possibly make in life.

Da'esh adopts many of the same tactics as online sexual predators, grooming their young targets to not reveal their discussions or their changing beliefs to parents or friends.

The Australian Government, like many others, is helping communities work with individuals at risk of radicalisation.

Through our Living Together Safely program we are pursuing activities that enhance social participation and cohesion, as well as initiatives to intervene with individuals at risk of radicalisation through mentoring, employment and education, youth diversion activities and counselling.

We have amended the Criminal Code to make advocating terrorism an offence and we are challenging the input of extremist propaganda online.

Fighting terrorism is not the sole responsibility of governments, which must work in partnership with religious leaders in discouraging faith-based radicalisation, with community leaders in guiding young people towards more constructive beliefs and ideals and with families.

The majority of people seduced by the siren call of the extremists have been young men, however young women are not immune.

It is estimated that women now account for nearly one-fifth of all foreign fighters among the ranks of Da'esh.

More than 500 of these are believed to have come from Western countries.

Thirty to forty Australian women are known to be either engaging in or supporting terrorist activity in Syria, Iraq and here in Australia.

Women are fighting, joining their foreign fighter husbands or partners, seeking to find partners or are otherwise providing support for terrorist organisations.

Some are joining all-female groupings, like the Al-Khansaa brigade, which imposes Da'esh's brutal and misguided doctrine on other women in Da'esh-controlled areas.

Some women are also responsible for the radicalisation and recruitment of others.

They may do it publicly – espousing the rhetoric of Da'esh, or other extremist groups at a local school, at religious meetings, at community events or through social media.

They may do it privately – at home, amongst family, colleagues or friends, making casual but insidious comments in support of extremists groups and lauding their ambitions, or actively pressuring others to take up arms for the cause.

It defies all comprehension for women to support extremist groups such as Da'esh, given that it is women and girls who are disproportionately affected by the activities of terrorist groups.

In Syria and Iraq, the bombing, fighting, executions and murders have affected enormous numbers of women and girls.

For those who escape death, Da'esh has published instructions on the treatment of sexual slaves, which includes raping and beating women.

So when we look at how we counter the propaganda of extremist groups in our Countering Violent Extremism programs, we must find the right voices to expose the ugly truth about the fear, suffering and trauma these thugs impose on women and children.

Over the years women have played crucial roles in resolving conflict and violence.

In our region, Secretary Teresita "Ging" Deles, the current Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process, has been the driving force in the negotiations between the Philippines Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Secretary Deles has also spearheaded several non-government organisations advocating for women.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, and post-conflict reconstruction. It stresses the importance of their full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

In the same way, women can, and in fact are, playing a crucial role in combatting the radicalisation process.

In Pakistan, there is an inspiring woman called Mossarat Qadeem who has been countering extremism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and other conflict-prone areas of the country.

Ms Qadeem founded Paiman Alumni Trust to carry out this work.

Not only is the organisation run by women, but women are central to its work.

Paiman Alumni Trust works through mothers to reach members of their family who have been radicalised to help rehabilitate them and re-integrate them into society through psycho-social therapy, education, skill building and Islamic education.

It encourages widows, orphans and injured women to talk about the impact of extremism on their lives.

It combats extremism through the socio-economic empowerment of women, helping them earn an income and giving them confidence to play a significant role in social cohesion and building peace within their household and within their communities.

It has built a national coalition of women leaders for combating extremism that advocates for women's full integration into Pakistan's policy discourse on extremism and social cohesion.

Just as we have seen from past conflicts, and our example in Pakistan, women can be, and are, powerful voices against extremist propaganda and the radicalisation of members of their families or communities.

Governments can work to counter the propaganda that terrorist groups are spreading online but we cannot do it alone.

It is those closest to a vulnerable individual – their family and friends – who are likely to be the first ones to see the signs of radicalisation and best placed to notice the changes to their behaviour, the attitudes, the beliefs or the social circle.

A family member is likely to have the trust of a vulnerable young person at risk of radicalisation - a woman likely to have the trust of a person in her local community.

Someone from the same background, faith or socio-economic situation listening to them, is best placed to understand their motivations and to explain where they are being misled or manipulated.

Friends and family may be able to stop the situation getting to the stage where a person packs their bag, buys a plane ticket, buys a gun.

The ability of women and families to act as champions of counter-radicalisation means we must do more to engage women and families and empower them in this role.

This means including women and families in the whole process – in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of our Countering Violent Extremism efforts.

Doing so ensures we benefit from their perspectives and insights across the board and means giving women and families the tools and the techniques to be champions of counter-radicalisation on their own terms.

So they can be innovative and flexible, devising solutions suited to their own local circumstances rather than implementing prescribed activities or projects.

I am hopeful that if we can empower women and families to talk about extremist groups and their activities – to tell the truth about how they prey on vulnerable young people and push them to commit horrific acts and have no regard for the safety or welfare of others.

I think it is vital that we remove any romanticism or idealism about the motives of groups like Da'esh – who are not freedom fighters, not religious warriors – they are criminals, gangs that extort money, murder innocent people and commit crimes including the rape of women and children.

I'm sure that the distinguished panel we have here today will have ideas to share with us on how to make this happen.

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