Episode 11: A conversation on terrorism in Australia, with Levi West – part 1

levi-west-conversation-headshotIn this episode, Andrew talks with Levi West about terrorism in Australia.

Levi West is the Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University.

This is the first episode for 2017, and has a different format to earlier episodes. Instead of a straight Q & A interview, we’ve gone for a more conversational format, with the host and guest both contributing. This episode presents the first half of the conversation, discussing terrorism in Australia from the 1960s up until 2013.

We discuss the international development of terrorism and its Australian manifestations, demonstrated by some Yugoslav, Ananada Marga, Palestinian, Armenian, far-left and far-right groups that sometimes engaged in small-scale political violence in Australia.

We then discuss transitions that occurred in the 1990s, with high-profile terror attacks such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (by jihadists), the 1995 Tokya subway sarin gas attack (by the Aum Shinrikyo sect), the 1995 Oklahoma bombing (by far-right extremists), and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (by jihadists). These attacks had implications for Australia, particularly with a local jihadist scene emerging, though terrorism rarely featured in political discussion at the time.

We then turn to the post-9/11 environment, as global jihadism became the predominant terrorist threat to Australia, posing a more serious prospect of mass casualty attacks than earlier threats had.

We discuss how jihadism within Australia evolved up until 2013, and how various political developments (such as the seizure or loss of territory), strategic shifts (through the writings of jihadist theoreticians), and counter-terrorism responses (including increased resources and powers for security agencies) shaped the threat.

The impact of the Syrian civil war, the rise of “Islamic State”, and controversies over counter-terrorism powers, are covered in the next episode.

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Episode 10: Countering violent extremism, with Ross Frenett and Vidhya Ramalingam

vidhyaramalingamheadshotFor this episode, Andrew spoke to Vidhya Ramalingam and Ross Frenett about countering violent extremism (CVE), which refers to non-coercive efforts to help prevent involvement in terrorism.

Ross and Vidhya previously worked for organisations such as the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Google Ideas. They recently founded their their own organisation, Moonshot CVE, building on their work with former violent extremists and experiences in the tech sector.rossfrenettheadshot

In the interview, we discuss the concept of countering violent extremism, the value of work and research in this area, but also some of the dilemmas and risks involved.

The interview covers similarities and differences between various types of violent extremist groups, the ways that governments across Europe understand the issue, the rise of far-right violent extremism and the role of women in the Islamic State. We also discussed past projects that Vidhya and Ross have been involved in, their work with former violent extremists, the importance of rigorous evaluation, and more.

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Episode 9: Forensic science and human rights in Afghanistan, with Zabi Mazoori

zabimazooriheadshotFor this episode, Kate interviewed Zabi Mazoori, who coordinates the Afghanistan project for Physicians for Human Rights’ International Forensic Program.

In 2001, he fled persecution by the Taliban and sought asylum in Australia. He returned to Afghanistan to pursue human rights work in 2008.

Zabi Mazoori spent two years working at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, specialising in transitional justice. He also consulted for Physicians for Human Rights, where he facilitated the Paraprofessional Mass Grave Site Team and Basic Human Osteology Training conducted in 2010 at the Afghan National Police Academy. He is also one of the founders of the Afghanistan ForensiceScience Organization and a founding member of the Transitional Justice Coordination Group.

In this episode, Kate and Zabi discussed the development of forensic training in Afghanistan for documenting and preserving evidence in mass grave and massacre exhumations. They discuss how this helps to prosecute perpetrators of violence, some of whom are still in power, and to ensure dignity to victims by enabling proper burials of loved ones.

They also discuss how hymen-examination for virginity-testing emerged as a forensic issue, and how this is a scientifically invalid process. The Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization gained support from the ulama to call for a total ban of such tests.

At the end, Zabi describes major changes that have occurred in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban and highlights gaps in development, particularly in higher education, which Zabi describes as integral to the country’s future development.

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Episode 8: Conflict and Muslim-Christian relations in Papua, with Umar Werfete

Umar WerfeteFor this episode, Kate spoke with Umar Werfete. Umar is a lecturer and a head of research at the State Islamic University of Jayapura in Papua, Indonesia.

He also researches religious issues in Papua in his position within the Division for Research and Development, Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) Papua and is responsible for peace education initiatives and interfaith dialogue in his position within the Division of Peace Education and Interfaith Relations, Council of Papuan Muslims.

We discuss key issues in interfaith relations in Papua today, and how civil society groups work to promote peace between faith communities in Papua when the potential for clashes between Muslim and Christian communities remains high.

We also discuss how developments outside Papua affect interfaith relations, including the ways in which Muslim-Christian relations in Muslim-majority Java affect interfaith relations in the province, as well as the kinds of programs and initiatives that have proven most successful for Umar and his colleagues in reducing conflict among cultural and faith groups in Papua.

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Episode 7: Social media and the Australian Army, with Mick Cook

mick cook picFor this episode, Andrew interviewed Major Mick Cook from the Australian Army.

In recent years the Army has withdrawn from deployments in Afghanistan, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands (but been sent back to Iraq). Its soldiers are having to learn lessons from past conflicts and prepare for whatever future conflicts they may end up in.

But unlike earlier generations, today’s soldiers live and learn in an increasingly digital environment, where social media plays a large role in people’s lives.

Major Mick Cook, who currently serves as the Australian Army’s social media and online engagement manager, has lots to say on this. We discussed:

  • Outreach efforts, such as the official Facebook pages and Twitter accounts run by various Army units, and actions to inform the public about training exercises like the recent Exercise Hamel.
  • Soldiers’ personal use of social media, and initiatives to use various types of online media for intellectual discussion and professional development.
  • How the tactical responsibilities of junior commanders have changed since the World Wars.
  • How some officers are using online outlets such as podcasts, web-based journals and social media to to discuss military theory and practical lessons with other officers and military thinkers, both across Australia and overseas.
  • The need for innovation and entrepreneurship within the Australian Army, and some of the dilemmas involved.
  • Mick’s own military careers, his online projects, and reading interests.

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Episode 6: Gender politics in Indonesian media, with Firly Annisa

Firly Annisa 2 smallerFor this episode Kate interviewed Firly Annisa, an activist and lecturer in Media and Communication at Muhammadiyah University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Firly is also involved with the NGO Rumah Sinema (Cinema House) where she promotes media literacy amongst young people.

We spoke about issues around the portrayal of women in Indonesian media and advertising, and how social stereotypes of gender roles affect the way women see themselves and interact with society.

We also discussed the rising trend of Muslim Middle class consumption, the concurrent rise of Islamic fashion amongst Indonesia’s middle class, and the unrealistic moral and aesthetic pressures this highly visible consumer trend places on Indonesian women – from skin whiteness as an association with ‘Muslim piety,’ to the irony of the commodification of a pious aesthetic by the fashion industry.

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Episode 5: Signals intelligence and counter-terrorism, with David Wells

david_wellsFor this episode, Andrew interviewed former GCHQ employee David Wells about counter-terrorism.

GCHQ is the UK government’s signals intelligence agency, similar to the United States National Security Agency (NSA) or the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). The interview discusses the nature of signals intelligence and its current role in counter-terrorism. We discuss the threats posed by the “Islamic State” and al-Qaeda as well as the difficulties of preventing terrorist attacks like those seen in Brussels and Paris. We also discuss the current terrorist threat to Australia and dilemmas raised by counter-terrorism efforts so far.

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