By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney Australia

[Further to my previous article on the subject published on 16 April on recent bloody incidents.]

Syed Atiq ul Hassan

In the wake of recent tragic events, the distinction between acts of violence and acts of terrorism demands careful consideration. Two harrowing incidents unfolded within a mere span of a week, thrusting the nation into a state of shock, and prompting profound questions about the nature of these atrocities.

The first incident occurred at Westfield shopping centre on 13 April, where Joel Cauchi, a 40-year-old man from Queensland, unleashed a barrage of violence resulting in six fatalities and numerous injuries. Joel’s parents, grappling with the unfathomable horror, attributed his actions to mental illness, revealing a distressing narrative of personal trauma and social isolation. Reports indicate that Joel harboured deep-seated animosity towards women, stemming from his inability to form romantic relationships with any female. The NSW Police Commissioner, Karen Webb, underscored the targeted nature of the attack, emphasizing the assailant’s deliberate focus on women while sparing men. Yet, despite the clear targeting of a specific demographic, the characterization of Joel’s actions as terrorism remains contentious.

Contrastingly, on 16 April, a 15 or 16-year-old teen stormed an Assyrian Orthodox Church in Wakely, wielding violence against a priest and bishop. The swift declaration of this incident as an act of terrorism by Commissioner Webb raises pertinent questions regarding the criteria for such classification. Despite lacking affiliations with any terrorist organization, the assailant’s actions bore hallmarks of religiously motivated violence. However, Commissioner Webb’s assertions lacked specific details regarding the nature of the assailant’s comments, leaving room for conjecture.

The ensuing chaos outside the church, marked by a violent confrontation between law enforcement and enraged locals, underscores the volatile aftermath of such incident. While the community’s outrage is understandable, resorting to violence only exacerbates the trauma inflicted by the initial act. The Premier told the media that this teen was known to police and was released on a good behaviour bond after being caught with a knife at a train station last November. The Premier also confirmed reports the teenager had been found with knife at school in 2020. Despite of these facts of teen’s mental and social attitude, the Premier NSW Chris Minns’ call for religious leaders to quell tensions reflects a broader concern for community cohesion. However, the disproportionate focus on Islamic leaders belies the multifaceted nature of the issue.

Indeed, domestic violence poses a more pervasive threat to Australian society than terrorism, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive societal interventions. Rather than relegating responsibility to religious leaders, a concerted effort involving social and community stakeholders is imperative. By addressing the root causes of violence and fostering a culture of empathy and understanding, we can mitigate the risk of future tragedies and safeguard innocent lives.

In conclusion, the classification of violence as terrorism necessitates careful scrutiny, devoid of preconceived biases or political agendas. Only through collaborative, community-driven initiatives can we hope to stem the tide of violence and foster a safer, more inclusive society for all Australians. [The writer is a Sydney-based journalist, a multicultural community representative, and the winner of the NSW Harmony Award in 2015.]


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