20041007 In Hot Pursuit of Terrorist Funds

They can – and patently are – causing dismay, despair and disgust amongst the very community that it seeks to rally. The targeting of humans is obnoxious to Islam and so those who commit acts of terrorism in the misguided claim that they are in some way acting in the interests of, or the defence of, Islam are widely condemned. Far from unifying Muslims behind their cause – whatever it is – they are increasingly isolated. Suddenly, in mostly Muslim countries, there is a backlash against those who would see terrorism – and especially the killing of people – as a legitimate mechanism for raising a cause. And so it is likely that we will see a continuing pattern of small scale attacks designed to demonstrate the ability of the terrorists to strike anywhere at any time but the effects of such on both premises and numbers of people will be small.

All we need to do to realise that the focus has shifted is to consider the press coverage within days of the August 2004 bombing: it was entirely focussed on the story of a young child whose mother was murdered in the attack and whose parentage is in dispute. From a public relations perspective, the new approach provides much more human misery perspective because the story is manageable. How do you choose one victim to feature out of 3,000. But out of nine to focus on a mother and child is simple. So the inability to comprehend the magnitude of the attacks on New York and Washington, made worse by the fact that out of all the millions of column inches written at the time and since lacked any significant focus, the choice of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta at a time when few people would be injured guaranteed press coverage that had memorable impact.

And by being the third recent attack on Australian targets – two within Indonesia – it brought further coverage because, unlike the USA, Australia is seen as a place populated with nice people who like to have a bit of a laugh whilst cracking a tinnie and chucking another prawn on the barbie. It is not seen as having any great plans for world domination and although it has a firm policy against illegal immigration, it is not seen as anti-Muslim.

So by attacking the world’s third nicest people – after Canadians and New Zealanders – the attacks in Bali, KL and Jakarta have had a disproportionate effect. Their PR benefits are multiplied. And having done a big bombing in Bali, every small attack on an Australian target produces newspaper reminders of that capability.

Palestinian terrorism is also in a new phase: from daily attacks a couple of years ago, attacks now are generally far less deadly and they are much, much less frequent. They are more of a gesture to tell Israel that no matter what Israel does, no matter how much Palestinian land it annexes, no matter how many Palestinian homes Israel demolishes daily, no matter how many businesses are destroyed, no matter how many workers are prevented from reaching their employment, no matter how much material for foreign owned factories is piling up in Israeli airports because the authorities keep it there for as much as six months Palestinians still have the capability to strike. And, sick as it is to say it, it keeps the plight of the Palestinians on the news agenda, albeit often negatively, despite the fact that the UN says that Israel has killed three times more Palestinians than Palestinians have killed Israelis. 1

The fact that smaller, cheaper attacks can now be effective has a direct effect on issues relating to funding.