WE have seen two
so-called extremist books censored by government authorities and calls
for similar material to be banned from shops, libraries and
By banning such books, Attorney-General
Philip Ruddock says the "vulnerable and impressionable" will be
protected from ideas that might lead them towards terrorism or
Implicit in the banning of such books is that they are so
dangerously intoxicating they represent a grave threat to our security.
That if people are allowed to read this literature they might somehow
metamorphose into terrorists or potential terrorists.
But we should be cautious of banning books that we might consider
offensive or disturbing because we are effectively trying to ban ideas.
This can be counter-productive and as can be seen from the two
banned texts, what constitutes dangerous literature is highly
Defence of Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan were written by a Palestinian cleric, Sheik Abdullah Azzam.
They deal with the issue of what the author described as a defensive jihad against a foreign invader.
That foreign invader is not Australia. And it is not the United States. It is the former Soviet Union.
These books, banned by our overly anxious Government, were written
to recruit young Muslims to join the American-funded and co-ordinated
jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan.
For the most part, the books refer to texts written centuries before
with regard to events such as the Mongol sacking of Baghdad.
The problem, it seems, is that the arguments that once served
American foreign policy well in the 1980s might today be used to
justify resistance to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
While such books might have made a valued contribution to the war
against communism in the 1980s, today they are deemed extremist.
But banning comes at some cost. Let us assume that these books
contain extremist ideas that form the ideological foundations for
contemporary Muslim terrorism.
If we are to properly defeat what is essentially a perverted
understanding of Islam, it is not enough to simply argue these ideas
are bad because the Government says so.
These ideas must be comprehensively debunked and refuted. And Muslim
leaders, scholars and intellectuals have been doing just this for more
than 1000 years.
T HIS is the only means by which people will be dissuaded from
adopting these ideas. Yet by banning these books the Government is now
denying the community an opportunity to do so.
Without access to this material, it is impossible for us to
understand the ideas, articles and justifications being used by the
If we, as a community, cannot understand the religious arguments
being offered for suicide bombings, it is impossible for us to refute
If the intent is to stop the spread of extremist ideas, banning books is a misguided approach to the problem.
The offending books and books and articles of far more noxious content are freely available on the internet.
The Government might be able to exorcise these ideas from public
bookstores, libraries and universities, but it cannot stop people
accessing them online.
People will continue to read them but may interpret the absence of any public response as validating them.
Nobody is disputing that there is hateful, extremist literature available and that people can be misled.
However, as with other bad ideas such as communism, nazism, or
virulent anti-Muslim literature, the best way to deal with it is
through social pressure and reasoned response.
We do not fear a resurgence of nazism because Mein Kampf is available in libraries.
This is because we understand there is a wealth of material
available in the public domain that responds to the arguments of the
Nazis and comprehensively demolishes their ideology.
There is no reason to think this cannot continue to be the case with extremist Islamic literature.
Amir Butler is co-convener of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network
Herald Sun, 11 August 2006