On 30 March, the Australian Newspaper offered up the following morsel:

Pack your bags, Julian Burnside, your companion is ready

Julian Burnside on Twitter on Sunday:

Bigotry creates terrorists, by radicalising people who were willing to see hope in everything

Rodger Shanahan (associate professor at the Australian National University’s National Security College, and research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy) replying over several tweets:

Comment from someone not very well travelled nor versed in areas in which he prognosticates. Am sure that the people killed (in) Nairobi mall, Paris, Brussels, New York, Ankara, Istanbul, Bali, Tunis etc were questioning their bigoted past before they were killed. Travel in some hard parts of the world, economy class by foot may expand your rather closed mind. I know your “thing” is to be controversial and eloquent, but some real life experience may temper your strange world view. Possibly. Education is supposed to allow discernment. Tempered by real life experience it is powerful. Alone it is like an empty vessel. Methinks you are an empty vessel railing against things about which you have theoretical learning but nil practical experience.

But Shanahan doesn’t just come bearing criticism, he brings a solution, too:

I would recommend a holiday to real world. Happy to travel with you. Warning: may involve real-life ­experience.

The Australian newspaper saw fit to extract just some of the relevant tweets:  One of mine and all of Rodger Shanahan’s.  Presumably the editorial theory is that, if you strip out the context, you can skew the result.  As in most things, even on Twitter the context can be important.  Here’s how this little non-story developed:

On 27 March at 11.15 am @DanWosHere wrote:

It’s terrorism @JulianBurnside and it is Muslims from refugee backgrounds committing it. End of story

On 27 March at 4.02 pm I responded:

People like you, Miranda Devine &c will radicalise some who may become terrorists. You’re part of the problem

And then at 4.06pm I said:

Bigotry creates terrorists, by radicalising people who were willing to see hope in everything

 

The next day, 28 March, Rodger Shanahan, came in swinging.  (I will confess, I did not see his tweets until the Australian printed them, so the article was not entirely useless).  His contributions went as follows:

7.41 pm:

Comment from someone not very well travelled nor versed in areas in which he prognosticates. Am sure that the people killed (in) …

7.43pm:

Nairobi mall, Paris, Brussels, New York, Ankara, Istanbul, Bali, Tunis etc were questioning their bigoted past before they were killed.

7.43 pm:

Travel in some hard parts of the world, economy class by foot may expand your rather closed mind.

7.46pm:

I know your “thing” is to be controversial and eloquent, but some real life experience may temper your strange world view. Possibly.

7.50 pm:

Education is supposed to allow discernment. Tempered by real life experience it is powerful. Alone it is like an empty vessel.

7.51 pm:

Methinks you are an empty vessel railing against things about which you have theoretical learning but nil practical experience.

I did not respond to Shanahan, because I did not notice his tweets until The Australian put them up this morning.

All in all, it was a fairly standard bit of trolling by Shanahan: abuse without any attempt at argument, although the second tweet suggests that he had misunderstood the point I had made.  I have never suggested that all terrorists are the result of bigotry, merely that bigotry can radicalise some people, thus forming one element in the process which results in them turning to terrorism.

In all of this jollity, there is a serious point to be made, which @DanWosHere exemplifies, and Shanahan leaves completely unanswered. It is a matter of ordinary experience that a person who is treated badly may, eventually, react badly.  If people in the West regularly condemn all Muslims, it is inevitable that some Muslims will begin to feel as though they are seen as the enemy, as though they are hated in the West.  So, for example,  British mosques have been attacked by anti-Muslim groups.  In Australia, the construction of mosques has been violently opposed by some community groups, who were vocal in their condemnation of Muslims.   Donald Trump has, in substance, said that Muslims should be excluded from the USA.  And don’t forget what was said at the start of the Twitter exchange: @DanWosHere “It’s terrorism and it is Muslims from refugee backgrounds committing it. End of story”.

Any group confronted with hostility like this is likely to be offended. As a matter of ordinary human nature, it is easy to understand that some members of that group will react badly.

The strangest part of Shanahan’s response is that it does not appear to draw on his professional credentials, and it does not seem to acknowledge  ordinary human experience.

I do not approve of terrorists, whether Muslim, Red Brigade, Irish separatist or anything else. But I worry about the consequencws of treating one group as if all members of that group presnet a threat to our Society.  What we need to learn is that we are threatened by extremists.  Of course there are Muslim extremists, just as there are extremists who adhere to other ideologies.  We would be making a catastrophic mistake if we treat all Muslims as if they are extremists.

Until Shanahan, or an expert in the field, can show me that I am wrong, I will continue to hold the opinion that being the target of relentless bigotry will drive some people to extremism, and is therefore one cause of  terrorism.

We are being very foolish if we continue to tolerate public abuse of Muslims generally.