Hate-filled slogans & the new normal of anger – both make the step to violence easier

Anger and outrage on our streets & university campuses is the new normal. Violence is now a smaller step for young Australians.

Written by

Michael Shoebridge

Anthony Albanese lost control of ‘the voice’ referendum by his failure to lead the community. Now his government has lost control of how chunks of Australian society are reacting to the war in the Middle East.  This time it isn’t about some political debate within the Canberra bubble, it’s about the stability, safety and success of Australia as a country and society.

Stabbings – first in Sydney and now in Perth by radicalised teens driven by extremist views about Hamas, fundamentalist Islam and hatred of Israel are made easier and more likely by the anger and outrage we are seeing on our streets and in our universities. 

The prime minister, his ministers and university leaders are all enabling this to happen by their fence sitting and misreading of the threats.

The Education minister, Jason Clare, showed he didn’t understand the drivers of violence in our community when he said the hateful chant ‘From the River to the Sea’ meant different things to different people. Here he is making an each way bet: ‘I’ve seen people say that those words mean the annihilation of Israel. I’ve seen people say that it means the opposite.”

People can and do say different things. However, “From the River to the Sea” is a Hamas slogan describing that terrorist organisation’s core purpose – annihilating the state of Israel and Israeli people through violence – as they demonstrated with their depraved mass murders on 7 October 2023.  Hamas believe that violence against Israelis, Jews and anyone who supports them is a good thing anywhere in the world. So, they must be basking in the success of their propaganda drive in Australia.

Justin Clare must know this, yet he and other people who should be leading conversations in our communities can’t seem to say so clearly and directly without undercutting their words by pretending everything is relative and contextual.  It isn’t.  Repeating calls for the obliteration of a nation and its people are plain wrong – morally and ethically.

Worse than the ethical confusion, though, failing to condemn those in our community who use these hateful slogans – and the even more extreme who give public support to Hamas terrorists – does something dangerous. It sets a new ground floor in our otherwise peaceful multicultural society that says these damaging outpourings of anger and outrage are okay. And that makes the step from violent words and ugly protests to violent acts shorter and easier.

Young people – young men in particular – in search of meaning in their lives that are exposed to this licenced anger and outrage are more likely to want to take that step beyond this new normal.  That seems to be what we are seeing with the attacks and stabbings now. Protesting and showing hate just isn’t challenging enough anymore. 

ASIO chief Mike Burgess is no doubt right that there is ‘no ongoing threat’ from the particular individuals involved in the Sydney and Perth attacks. Unfortunately, he has also been proven right when back in February 2024 he said “Sunni violent extremism poses the greatest religiously motivated violent extremist threat in Australia.” And the anger and hate-filled slogans we see on university campuses and on our streets is only making this threat greater.

So, the problem that our prime minister and other leaders in our governments, institutions and communities must confront is that they have failed to prevent hateful slogans driving anger and outrage into the hearts and minds of young people across Australia.  By doing so, they have let a genie out of the bottle.  Getting it back in will require more will, political fortitude and ethical courage than we have seen to date.

A version of this article was first published in the Daily Telegraph on Monday 6 May 2024.