THIS year was for Australia, as for much of the world, an annus horribilis. The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by Russian-backed rebels and the Sydney siege by Islamist jihadist Man Haron Monis announced to our nation the return of an old foe: totalitarianism.
The Lindt cafe nestles in Martin Place, a cosmopolitan promenade steeped in the story of Australia’s rise as a liberal-democratic nation. At one end sits the General Post Office, rendered sublime by the imagination of immigrant Scottish architect James Barnet in a neoclassical revival of the Italian Renaissance. At the other there’s the Australian Provincial Assurance building, a towering art deco tribute to technology and modernity erected at the dawn of totalitarianism in 1937; it is this that houses the Lindt cafe.
Martin Place is a standing celebration of the Australian story, our civilisation’s love of aesthetic beauty, our embrace of modernity, our legacy of civic freedom. It is guarded by the Cenotaph, whose inscription “Lest we forget” is a melancholic reminder of that old adage: the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Islamic State’s totalitarian ideology is clarified in Dabiq magazine and Flames of War, a documentary that justifies its genocidal barbarity using propaganda concocted by the 1960s communist Left. In socialist and Islamist propaganda, the West is portrayed as an imperialist colonial leviathan that stands between eternally oppressed minorities and the second coming of international socialism. The utopian socialists and Islamists both promise world peace — after their bloody revolutions, of course.
Reality is an enduring irritant in the smooth passage of totalitarian propaganda from its political elite to the masses. The internet has revealed the intimate violence of life in socialist and Islamist states, whose totalitarian ethos descends on the wings of a promise of peace and equality.
North Korea uses the UN to market itself as a champion of peace. Islamists claim to represent a religion of peace. Socialism is sold as the politics of peace. On December 16, as Australians mourned our first victims of Islamic State terror on home soil, the jihadist who terrorised our nation, Monis, could be found on Wikipedia’s list of peace activists, cited as an “Australian Muslim cleric, anti-war activist”. The list includes socialist Noam Chomsky, pedophilia advocate Allen Ginsberg and anarchist Emma Goldman.
In November, members of Britain’s socialist-communist party Left Unity proclaimed that the Islamic State caliphate had “progressive potential” because it opposed “Western-imposed nation-states” in the Middle East. Repeating the ignoble lie that “Western domination” gave rise to Islamic State, Left Unity socialists John Tummon and Mark Anthony France issued a diktat: “The European Left has to acknowledge and accept the widespread call for a caliphate among Muslims” as “an authentic expression of their emancipatory, anti-imperialist aspirations”. They praised the caliphate for its “strong internationalism” while heaping criticism on the West for its dedication to secularism.
Loretta Napoleoni’s widely acclaimed book The Islamist Phoenix also contains a curious admixture of condemning Islamic State violence while praising the terrorist group’s caliphate ambition. It has been endorsed by Chomsky.
Napoleoni, a member of the Spanish Socialist Party think tank Ideas Foundation for Progress, repeats the fallacy that Western intervention in the Middle East has caused Islamic State’s ascendancy. But the story of sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims and Islamist crusades against the West is several centuries old. Islamic State is the latest iteration of ancient imperialist, genocidal jihadism repackaged as a modern youth revolution.
Islamic State’s propaganda machine markets its ruthless ambitions and genocidal brutality as a revolution of the oppressed against the might of the West. Napoleoni reinforces the emerging socialist narrative: “Islamic State’s army is not primarily motivated by money (but) a higher cause: the achievement of the modern caliphate, an ideal Muslim state that transcends … personal wealth.” We are urged to recognise its development as “a sign of modernity”, replacing the nation-building “sport” of self-interested foreign powers and “corrupted local elites”.
It takes dedicated tunnel vision to extract from the resurgence of a pan-state theocratic empire a story of proletariat revolution. But socialists and communists have long regaled the world with lavish revisions of reality.
In his last hours, as he lay siege to peace in Australia, Monis made two demands: to proselytise his cause to the prime minister of a liberal-democratic state and to fly the flag of the Islamic caliphate.
The free world’s answer to totalitarian terror, whatever guise it takes, remains resolute refusal. Our enduring commitment to freedom was illuminated by the unarmed Englishwoman who faced down the machete-wielding murderer of drummer Lee Rigby with four immemorial words: “You will not win.” Not as poetic as lest we forget, perhaps, but forged by the same indomitable spirit of liberty that made Australia and Western civilisation great.
Jennifer Oriel is a political scientist and commentator.