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 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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Episode 3: Understanding terrorism in Indonesia, with Noor Huda Ismail

Noor Huda headshotFor this episode, Andrew spoke to Noor Huda Ismail, an Indonesian author, film-maker, activist, and PhD candidate.

Huda set up several non-government rehabilitation programs for terrorists released from jail in Indonesia, to help prevent them from becoming involved in violent extremism again. He’s now based in Australia, studying the involvement of Indonesians with the “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq.

The episode begins by discussing Noor Huda’s journey into this world. We talk about his teenage years in a boarding school in a central Java that was run by Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Baku Bashir. Sungkar and Bashir were members of an Indonesian jihadist movement called Darul Islam and would become the co-founders of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Several students in this school were recruited into JI, trained in Afghanistan, and later carried out bombings in Indonesia in the early 2000s. But Huda’s life went in a very different direction.

Huda explains how he felt compelled to help tackle terrorism in Indonesia. He was inspired by non-government efforts he saw working in Northern Ireland, and tried to set up similar programs in Indonesia. Not all of these worked, and he explains several of the successes and failures in this episode.

We also talk about the evolution of terrorism in Indonesia, strengths and weaknesses of the state’s counter-terrorism efforts, how the Syrian civil war and the rise of the “Islamic State” has changed the threat, and how he conducts research on this.

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Episode 2: Muslim women and the War on Terror, with Shakira Hussein

Shakira HusseinIn this episode, Kate spoke with Shakira Hussein, a researcher at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute and author of the recently released book From Victims to Suspects: Muslim Women Since 9/11.

We discussed her new book’s main theme – the transformation of Muslim women in the public eye since 9/11, from being helpless victims awaiting rescue, to becoming potential threats to be monitored and kept under control.

The episode covers her research on Muslim women in Pakistan, and how the War on Terror has effected the lives of women there. We then discuss how counter terrorism (CT) and countering violent extremism (CVE) has changed the aid landscape in Pakistan, before discussing recent developments in the Australian government approaches to CVE, including the dilemmas of funding community programs with CT money and the potential that CVE policy-initiatives targeting the Muslim community have for securitising them and further alienating some people.

Finally, we discuss the role of women in terrorist organisations, Western-raised women who have offered themselves as ‘Jihadi Brides’ to the Islamic State, and the way the participation of Muslim women in acts of violent extremism received a greater degree of attention because of the perception of such acts being an aberration of Muslim gender norms.

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