The persistence of global terrorism and violent extremism presents an ongoing threat to human security and national security. This threat, with the right policy response can be effectively mitigated or reduced. The Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) policy was developed in response to ongoing threats of home-grown terrorism, or risk of potential individuals in Australia becoming violent or extremist. This research utilises Carol Bacchi’s ‘What’s the problem represented to be?’ (2009) framework to analyse the representation of the issue, the underlying assumptions that have shaped the issue, how it came to be, and the resulting effects of the PVE. This analysis focuses on the assumption that the community is both where the problem arises due to a lack of social cohesion, and therefore where the solution is assumed to be.
What’s the ‘problem’ represented to be?
The Australian policy for preventing violent extremism and radicalization (PVE) portrays an issue surrounding a breakdown of social cohesion through diminishment of Australian values (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015, pg. 3). Although violent extremism is a global issue, the Australia government constructs a certain representation of the problem based on the way the issue is thought about and the surrounding values (Bacchi, 2009). The issue focused on within the policy is the evolution of violent extremism within Australian communities, however the problem represented (Bacchi, 2009) is that it is the responsibility of the entire Australian community to strengthen the community in order to prevent marginalisation, and to mobilize themselves to become more aware of potential individuals that may become violent extremists. The first paragraph of the PVE) specifically describes accepting diversity and promoting social cohesion as a challenge (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015, pg. 3). This is further highlighted by the inclusion of case studies of certain individuals or members of the community. These case studies attempt to highlight the fact that the lack of social cohesion and disengagement from the community can lead to acts of radicalisation (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015, pg. 5, pg. 11). Furthermore, the policy takes an educational stance and to address the contextual circumstances from which violent extremism can evolve and how the Australian community can identify these circumstances or signs of potential extremist behaviour and prevent their evolution (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015). These contexts are community-focused and claim that Australian society can lead to being more vulnerable and inclined to participate in violent extremist behaviour.
What assumptions underpin this/these representation/s of the ‘problem’?
Within the many assumptions surrounding the PVE policy, there are two that stand out to be the key drivers in the policy as a response. The first lies around the rise of extremism being dependent on the surrounding social cohesion. This assumes that acceptance of diversity and social cohesiveness will not give rise to any potentially violent radical individuals. The PVE describes diversity to be an Australian value, and that we need to be inclusive of this diversity in order to prevent violent extremism. In addition to this, there is a binary assumed that is one of a coherent community versus the individuals detached from the community body. From this, the language of describing the community as a whole group compared with the language of the individual, presents the stronger, more resilient and privileged side of the binary to be the community. This demonstrates the high value placed on the community both as the problem and the solution to the issue.
The other assumption underlying the policy is that the community is the mechanism for fixing the problem and that it is in the best position to take action against the problem, not the government, which is parallel to a neoliberal ideology (Cahill, 2010) and a communitarian approach that pushes for the communal responsibility of community members in addressing social and political issues (Mclelland, 2006). By using education as the policy tool, it is showing that through educating the community, it is empowering people to be able to manage radical individuals. This idea that educating or telling people what to do is right, stems from the strict father model of ideology (Lakeoff, 2004) in that based on the correct set of values, the community should do whatever the father says. Anne Aly argues that policy responses such as the PVE rest on the false assumption that individuals or communities are more vulnerable to violence and extremism because they are politically and socially marginalized. The PVE tries to address these issues of resilience and social harmonization, however other root causes of extremism need to be explored. The problem is represented to be one of violent extremism developing from within the community. The community, or individuals within the community, are the source of the anxiety and therefore the problem, and in the case of the PVE, the community is also the source of the solution.
How have this/these representation/s of the ‘problem’ come about?
Carol Bacchi (2009) highlights the importance of being able to identify certain key events or decisions in history that have had an impact on the policy development today. Australia’s policy development regarding terrorism has been closely aligned with that of the United States (U.S). Since the 2001 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks in the U.S, the U.S government developed a policy plan titled the War on Terror, aimed at mobilising the world to combat global terrorism. Australia’s close relationship with the U.S could be reason for terrorism being high on Australia’s foreign policy agenda, as per Maddison and Denniss’ analysis (2013). Traditionally, issues of linking terrorism and ethnic diversity have been quite aggressive and portrayed to be a patriotic issue (Chopra, 2015). The PVE represents a shift in this conservative thinking to an issue not of specifically religious clash, but one of social cohesion in general. Anne Aly described the War on Terror to be a perpetual state of awareness and mobilisation. The PVE represents a shift in frame from the government as the ‘fixer’ of the problem, to the community members becoming mobilised and claiming them to be in the best position to be the ‘fixer’ (Aly, 2014). The PVE policy is an extension of this mobilisation; urging people in the community to be aware of potential individuals in their community that could become violent extremists.
The PVE’s focus on the community and the preservation of Australian values illustrate that ‘social cohesion’, ‘harmonisation’ (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015, pg. 3, 10) and traditional Australian values are of peak priority, hence the development of the PVE policy. The notion of social cohesion is ambiguous and ill-defined, however traces could be made back to the shift in approach made by the United Kingdom and broader Europe after the 2005 London bombings and the 2001 9/11 attacks in the United States, prompting an evolutionary shift in policy response (Harris-Hogan, Barelle & Zammit, 2016).
Power – influences and silences
The research informing the PVE policy was conducted by the Global Terrorism and Research Centre at Monash University in Victoria. With the focus of the policy being on education and providing education to the community to be able to respond to the problem, it is fitting that the information and research informing the policy was carried out by a prominent, influential education institution. However, the inclusion of certain information, statistics and anecdotal case studies is central to the political agenda, and was incorporated due the alignment with the political values and ideology of the current government. For example, the current Australian government carries a neoliberal communitarian ideology which places high value on the collective responsibility of the community in addressing certain issues (Mclelland, 2006). The PVE frames the issue in the same way (Lakoff, 2004). Framing the issue to be a problem related to the community evokes a sense of responsibility and mobilisation in the community members and puts the policy solution in the hands of them.
The case studies included in the PVE (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015, pp. 5, 11, 14, 19) present an array of members of the community from various parts of socio-economy. These community members that have encountered extremism highlight the representation of the policy; that it could happen to any member of the community, regardless of ethnicity or religion, and it arose due to a lack of engagement with their families and communities. These cases crystallised and dominated the problem representation and assumption; that a lack of community engagement and social cohesion is the cause of these people become violent and extreme.
There were a number of community members that were consulted as a part of the PVE development. A quote from Emeritus Professor Gary Bouma from Monash University (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015, pp. 5), a credible member of the educational and religious sector, is included. His view also concludes that violent extremism stems from feeling cut off from the larger community (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015 pp. 5). He also states that prevention is largely at the hands of the entire community. This view aligns with and further reinforces the PVE’s problem representation which is why it was included. The fact that he is the only prominent religious community member that is consulted only highlights those that were silenced. By representing the problem as one of social cohesion, and then not including consultations from diverse members of society truly shows whose opinion is more valued. By restricting the scope of consultation when formulating a policy, the scope of the policy options for outcome are automatically narrowed also (Curtain, 2006). Many members of the community such as Samier Dandan (2015) expressed their agitation with not being consulted in light of the PVE policy release and claim that it is ‘marked by a dismissal of research and recommendations from the Muslim Community’ (Dandan, 2015).
Silencing or lack of consultation represents a restriction on the way that we can think about the policy (Bacchi, 2009). One of the groups left unconsulted were the teachers and schools that were to be trained to identify signs of radicalisation (Nadim, 2016). This alternative account shows us the way the policy representation has limited our thinking about the policy, but also how the policy representation is inadequate in representing all views. In addition to these views being ignored, we can look at the German de-radicalisation model ‘Hayat’ (Hayat Germany, 2011), which offers counselling services to those that are becoming radicalised. This problem representation offers a mental health account and considers radicalisation to be an issue of mental health and that those affected need help. In the PVE there is no mention of mental health being a factor that could lead to radicalisation, although Gary Bouma (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015, pp.5) discusses disengagement and feelings of not being cared about, which suggests a person may be experiencing poor mental health. Comparing these contexts suggests that there are cultural or political influences that have led to the Australian government thinking about extremism in this way. This could simply be influenced by Australia’s foreign relations with Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States, who initially led the focus-shift to more passive approaches that focused on cohesion and harmony (Harris-Hogan, Barelle & Zammit, 2016).
What are the effects?
The language of the PVE puts forward a specific way of thinking about the problem and discusses only part of the potential solution. ‘A breakdown in social cohesion can lead to a breakdown in community resilience’ (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015, pp. 3). This statement immediately puts forward that the only way to think about this issue is through the frame of social cohesion (Lakoff, 2014). The language throughout the policy evokes a sense of responsibility in the reader; ‘once someone is involved in violent extremism, it is important to help them leave or disengage from violent influences as soon as possible’ (Attorney-General’s Department, 2015, pp. 17). This discursive effect places responsibility of the community member to act as the first point of response and to act immediately. Most importantly, this sort of discourse persuades the reader be aware, mobilise themselves, and to respond in a specific way to the issue.
Policy making has the effect to divide groups that then become subjects of a particular policy and places those subjects within them (Bacchi, 2009). These dividing practices make the targeted group responsible for the problem. An example of a subjectified group within the PVE policy is the role of the educators or teachers, which under this policy are being trained to notice signs of extremism (Nadim, 2016). This shifts the context of school as a safe educational institute, to one of law enforcement and surveillance. In addition to schools and teachers being subjected to this kind of responsibility, the young Muslim community is now subjected to significant scrutiny in another aspect of the community. The creation of the binary community and the individual is somewhat hopeful in that it represents the community to be a lot bigger than the potential individual which would overpower the potentially extremist individual. These subjectification effects again reiterate the PVE’s assumption that the problem and therefore power and solution lies within the community to combat radicalisation.
Although the PVE is still in early stages, speculation can be made about what sort of lived effects will become of the assumptions and problem representation of the PVE. Bacchi (2009) argues that every problem representation impacts groups unevenly. This can be observed in looking the effects one each stakeholder. For instance, the overarching lived effect of the PVE is that the entire Australian community is now a body of securitisation and law enforcement. This is because the PVE has been formulated on an assumption that claims that the problem is within the community and a lack of cohesion within the community is the cause of the problem. If the problem is within the community, then so must be the response. This could lead to community members such as teachers or community leaders feeling a sense of guilt if they do not act within accordance. If blame is being placed onto the community and they are not acting, the blame perpetuates. For the children in the community, their school is no longer a beacon of safety and free of judgement, but a setting of scrutiny and insecurity.
The combination of discursive, subjectification and lived effects that are outlined highlight the way the issue has been represented in a very restrictive way in that all of these effects limit the possible problem identifications and outcomes. This is exemplified in the silencing and lack of consultation with groups that acknowledge the broader circumstances and causes of radicalisation. This knowledge has been ‘excluded’ as has other ‘widely accepted research from the discussions about how to tackle radicalisation’ (Dandan, 2015). Furthermore, as Dandan states, by securitising the community we are automatically ignoring the broader socio-political issues that contribute to radicalisation (Dandan, 2015). These effects are also creating a sense of insecurity in community members by placing full responsibility onto the community, the ‘lack of leadership at the national level is affecting how safe Victorian multicultural communities feel ‘on the ground’ (ECCV, 2015, pp. 2).
Through analysis using Bacchi’s (2009) framework, the effectiveness of the PVE in addressing the violent extremism appropriately, is limited. Measures of policy effectiveness depends on judgements of value and critique (McConnell, 2010). Concerns on its effectiveness were promptly articulated by members of the community who had been subjectified as a result of the PVE policy. A main concern was issues of funding and its efficacy in addressing surrounding issues of extremism such as systematic racism, cultural differences, Western assimilation and mental health. Many groups claimed that they had not seen any result in the supposed increase in funding (Bachelard, 2015) and that the program was counter-productive in that ‘those advising the government on the development of such policies are also those who will receive millions of dollars in grants to run these programs’ (Nadim, 2016). The term social cohesion is ambiguous and confusing, and often can be interchanged with issues around assimilation into other societies, as expressed by the EVVC (2015). The attribution of responsibility onto the community does not appropriately reflect who or what is to blame for violent extremism. In addition to this, extremism, cohesion, community and other vague terms add to the limitation of the PVE policy to be definitive, focused and produce tangible programs and outcomes (Harris-Hogan, Barelle & Zammit, 2016).
The experiences of the community after the development of the PVE as a response to violent extremism will be severely dichotomised. By resting on assumptions that the problem lies within the community as a result of lack of social cohesion is narrow and tries to ignore the broader social, economic, political and global issues that are the true causes and factors contributing to violent extremism in Australia. This analysis found that by placing full responsibility on the community to mobilise themselves is ineffective and only creates an insecure environment where people are feel unsafe and more polarised than ever. This is ironic and counter-productive considering the overall pursuit of social cohesion and harmony as a preventative to violent extremism, ambiguous as those concepts are. ‘The problem of Muslim radicalisation needs to be put into perspective, reduced not abetted, and addressed honestly and sincerely with a resolution not expediency in mind.’ (Rane, 2015). This is where a more comprehensive and inclusive approach needs to be developed that appropriately engages with and acknowledges all social, political and cultural issues.
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