Why I’m Not Drinking The Waleed Aly Kool-Aid

In the wake of the Paris terror attack, there’s a new viral video going around. Featuring Waleed Aly, Australian writer, academic, lawyer and media presenter (in other words, Australia’s answer to Buckaroo Banzai)

The video has been greeted with descriptions like Waleed Aly once again proves he might just be the smartest man on television.

But at the risk of being renamed Buzz Killington, I have a problem with it – a problem already articulated by The Australian’s Chris Kenny.

Aly’s sermon on The Project last night has gone viral, as they say, and to the young and naive and to the forever apologetic Green Left, it offers a comforting message that love will conquer the suicide bomber and the terrorist with an AK-47.

Yet by trumpeting this message at the expense of talking about the ideology of Islamist extremism that permeates the globe and motivates these indiscriminate killings, Aly and others deliver a message that amplifies the propaganda of the ideologues.

Aly’s core element of truth is that the terrorists want to foment division.

But he echoes their logic by suggesting it is the reaction of the broader community that sows division; that hatred somehow comes from our reaction to terrorism rather than the terror itself.

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By suggesting that the broader public in western countries would turn on Muslims, politicians and commentators feed the narrative of Muslim grievance that terrorists use to motivate their followers and recruit extremists.

It is not a huge leap from this sort of mealy-mouthed reaction to the disgraceful response from the Grand Mufti of Australia, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, whose prepared statement in response to the Paris attacks did not clearly denounce the terror but suggested western acts and attitudes had played a role in triggering the bloodshed.

And there are still too many in politics and public debate who take these arguments of Muslim grievance at face value.

These grievances are propaganda devices, not true motivating factors.

The Islamist extremists don’t truly care what happens to Muslims in Australia or France, what happens to Palestinians or what cartoons are published anywhere.

Their aim is absolute: it is to defeat the non-Muslim world, to defeat diversity, plurality, democracy, equality and freedom of expression.

They cannot be satisfied except by conversion and submission to Sharia law under a global caliphate.

Aly knows this. He is a learned and intelligent communicator.

So it is disingenuous for him to talk down the threat of Islamic State.

We know they could be defeated by a ground army; but we also know the world is too cowed to act in that way.

And we know this would not eliminate the extreme ideology motivating Islamists in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

The fact that lone wolf attacks in Western countries might have no direct connection to Islamic State is neither here nor there.

In fact, aside from their slaughter in Syria and Iraq, and their direct involvement in other atrocities, the real horror of this group is that by establishing their so-called caliphate they have provided inspiration to Islamist extremists around the world.

Whether or not the individual terrorists learned their craft from Islamic State, were inspired by them or used their notoriety as a flag of convenience matters little to the people at the end of the weapon or the communities so terrorised.

And to narrow the debate down to Islamic State is also to avoid the real problem of Islamist terrorism that threatens Nigerians under the banner of Boko Harem, Kenyans under the banner of al Shabaab, Indonesians under the banner of Jemmah Islamiah, Afghans under the Taliban, Israelis attacked by Hamas or global travellers who fear al Qa’ida.

Yes, where does Waleed stand on Israelis being attacked by Hamas?

Here is Waleed on the last Gaza war.

As I write this, nearly 600 people – overwhelmingly civilians a third of whom are children – have been killed. By the time this goes to print, that number will be redundant..

If you take your cues from social media, on which this comparison is being relentlessly drawn, the reason is simple: Palestinians are not rich Westerners, and so their lives simply don’t matter. No doubt there’s some truth to this: humans are tribal animals, and we’re as tribal in death as we are in life. But it’s not an entirely satisfactory explanation because it comes from people who would likely exempt themselves from this rule. And yet those same people have almost certainly grieved comparatively little over the thousands of South Sudanese killed in the past six months, or the 1.5 million to have been displaced. Should we conclude they value African lives less than Palestinian ones?

It’s not merely a matter of cultural affinity. Consider the Egyptian press, which has wholeheartedly embraced the Israeli offensive. “Sorry Gazans, I cannot support you until you rid yourselves of Hamas,” wrote Adel Nehaman in Al-Watan. He was comprehensively outdone by Al-Ahram’s Azza Sami who tweeted “Thank you Netanyahu, and God give us more men like you to destroy Hamas”. Then she prayed for the deaths of all “Hamas members, and everyone who loves Hamas”. Meanwhile, television presenter Tawfik Okasha urged Egyptians to “forget Gaza”, adding for colour that “Gazans are not men” because they don’t “revolt against Hamas”. That, presumably includes the hospital patients or the kids playing football on the beach who have been bombed in the past week or so.

This is about as thorough a dehumanisation of Gazans as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Israel’s media doesn’t even come close.

Granted, the gist of this piece is on the relative value we place on the lives of others. But his dismissal of comments vehemently against Hamas are troubling, as is the absence of any condemnation of them. As The Australian’s Gerard Henderson notes:

What’s missing from Waleed Aly’s column this morning is any condemnation of the Sunni Hamas terrorist organisation (which has fired indiscriminately some 2000 missiles into Israel aimed at children, women and men)

Here’s some further troubling talk from Waleed from the same time period, right after the kidnap/murder of the three Israeli boys.

Aly this week did it again, trying on the ABC to play down (or “contextualise”, as academics would say) the kidnapping and murder of three teenaged Israeli hitchhikers, apparently by Hamas gunmen. He’d asked on a Left-wing Israeli academic who, he discovered, would not play ball:

Waleed Aly: So, joining us now is Professor Yossi Shain, who’s the chairman of the Political Science Department at Tel Aviv University. Yossi, thank you very much for speaking to us today. Hamas denies this. Do we actually have any evidence as to who was behind it?

Yossi Shain: Well, of course. The Israeli security forces discovered, in fact, a day after the abduction the guys who committed the crime but they could not locate them…

Waleed Aly: But, is all we have to go on the words of the Israeli security forces?

Yossi Shain: In this business, they are the best words for us, and in fact the people disappeared from their homes. Their family doesn’t know where they are. They are Hamas activists, who were, prior to that, in Israeli jails for committing other crimes. They were released from jail and, so, there is – undoubtedly they disappeared just the day of the abduction…

Waleed Aly: Now, Israel’s a very diverse, sometimes fractured society. Is it fractured at all in its response over this?

Yossi Shain: Not fractured whatsoever. I think this is such a heinous crime. You pick up three kids hitchhiking to go home from schools. You take them to the field and you just, like, kill them. Point blank. Shooting them. And this is, it’s terrifying, unforgivable and any word that I would say has nothing to do with debates in Israel about security, debates about peace with the Palestinians, possibilities of accommodation, etcetera. This is across the board – left, right, centre, north, south. Everybody is mourning because just tell them how senseless killing occurs here, and we are in the Middle East. One should not underestimate the beastiality, the brutality here in this region. I know the people who make this talk. But if you look at Syria, when thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands are murdered and in the border with Lebanon and on the border with Iraq and Jordan, when you have the new jihadists, but they kill their own people. Like dogs, kneel them down and just shoot them. One should not be surprised in this business. And it doesn’t matter whether you are Left or Right…

Waleed Aly: So, it sounds really like what you’re trying to do is create a narrative here that Israel, a nation, the Jewish nation, is surrounded by a collection of Arab nations that are effectively populated by barbarians. Is that your argument?

Yossi Shain: This is not a narrative. I’m not talking about narratives, and I’m not talking about barbarians or not. It’s a reality. The Arabs can self-describe, and the moderates in the Arabs can self-describe. It’s a reality. It’s not a question of narrative. Narrative is a post-modern notion. We’re talking about reality!

Waleed Aly [talking over Shain] Well, what exactly is the reality that you’re describing?

Yossi Shain: We have 10 million – we have 10 million people displaced in Syria. Ten million. Hundreds of thousands of people being murdered. We have murders every day taking place in Iraq and the east of Iraq and in Syria and on the border. We have cases like that every day. There is shelling, constant shelling on the Israeli south. [Gets talked over again] It’s not a question of narrative.

Waleed Aly: Okay, I understand that. Let me ask you this question, then. Is there any understanding in any part of Israeli society that this, these killings, which you correctly described as heinous, are connected to a broader political picture? … For example…

Yossi Shain: Nothing. No. [Starts to answer although Aly keeps on talking over him]

Waleed Aly: Is there any discourse about this being …

Yossi Shain: On the contrary, on the contrary, even Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian…

Waleed Aly: [talking right over Shain] …part of a response to the occupation or is it just about this being… sorry, just let me finish the question – is it just all about this being just an unprovoked act of barbarism.

Yossi Shain: It’s an act of barbarism undoubtedly. There is no, there is no political gain whatsoever once can understand, you know, that you say to yourself, we negotiate on this… But you take three kids and just murder them, I don’t understand what is beyond questioning about a barbaric act. What kind of actions are those?

Waleed Aly: Well, say for example – sorry to interrupt. For example, is there any sense, because I understand these kids were in Hebron. Is that right?

Yossi Shain: No. They were not in Hebron. These kids were travelling from their school in a neighbourhood adjacent to Jerusalem and they were picked up in the neighbourhood and were just on their way from school and hijacking and so on. That’s it. Just like my kids will travel and God forbid will be kidnapped. We had that case before in many cases in Tel Aviv as well. We had, you know, suicide bombings of kids in Tel Aviv and so on. But this is just, you pick up three kids, hijacking from school home, and you just kill them. Now you, you can think that it’s not an act of barbarism or it’s narrative, but this is a reality here that no one can tolerate and no one will tolerate.

Waleed Aly: I’m not expecting you to tolerate it. And I’m not saying it’s anything other than an act of barbarism and I’m not hiding behind any concept of narrative. I’m simply asking questions about whether or not in Israel this is viewed as entirely isolated from the broader political environment. I mean, isn’t there, for example, any conversation in Israel about whether or not this is the killing of settlers as some kind of reprisal.

Yossi Shain: No, I don’t think so. I think no one knows if they’re settlers or not settlers. These are not questions – one kid in this side of the green line, the other on the other side. It doesn’t matter. These people were intending on finding, as their father said, there is a pride to be a jihadist and anyone who kills Jews should be a martyr. Now, when you have such a theology, and I don’t say this is a theology which is pervasive all around, but it’s a theology, you are not selecting them according to their place of residence. You select them just by the sheer fact that they are Jews living in the State of Israel whether they live here or there, whether they live in Tel Aviv, Holon, Haifa and all the other cities of Israel or whether they crossed the line, on the Green Line, hundred meters or two kilometres. It doesn’t matter. When you have such a theology, when you don’t recognise these people as human beings you will kill them just like that… and it’s a theology.

Waleed Aly: We have, of course, many, many Palestinians who were killed in the process. In fact, I think just during the period of the search, five Palestinians were killed. Four hundred were arrested.

Yossi Shain: But beside of all of this issue, there is the question of the theology plus an action that you kidnap kids and you kill them, just like that. This is, this is something that is beyond, not only the pale, not something happening here, but it can happen – one cannot comprehend it as a human being. And indeed, this notion of a lack of humanity, the lack of humanity pervades the Middle East nowadays. When people are killed like dogs by their own brothers, and this is one should not underestimate – it’s a culture of killing. It’s sacred to many people.

Waleed Aly: Okay. There are many things there I don’t have time to pick up now, Yossi, but maybe we’ll speak again sometime and have a broader and deeper conversation about it. But thank you very much for your insights this time around.

Then earlier this year, Waleed got into hot water for this:

The Jewish owner of a gym that teaches counter-terrorism style firearm training to regular people has demanded The Project host Waleed Aly apologise for a ‘racist comment’.

The Channel Ten program broadcast a segment about the IDF Training school’s ‘tactical shooting program’ on Tuesday evening.

The class at the gym in Caulfield, Victoria, in Melbourne’s south-east, teaches people Israeli Army combat techniques to ‘take down terrorists’.

During a panel discussion after the segment was aired, Aly, a Muslim, raised his eyebrows, smiled and asked: ‘If I rocked up with my mates Mustafa and Hamoudi, do you reckon they’d let us train?’

But the Krav Maga program’s founder, Avi Yemini, said a Muslim had been enrolled in that same class and demanded the TV host take back his ‘underhanded’ remarks.

‘Someone on national TV shouldn’t be saying comments like that which is assuming we’re not going to accept a Muslim,’ Mr Yemini told Daily Mail Australia.

‘The funny thing is, the course he was talking about had a Muslim in it. We didn’t say that because it doesn’t matter.

‘It doesn’t matter what religion you are. We do background checks. If you’re an extremist on any level you’re not welcome to our training.

‘He’s making it an issue, which is not OK’.

So, sorry. Until Waleed unequivocally condemns all terrorism, without trying to “contextualize” it or demonize Israel and Israelis, I won’t be getting on the bandwagon.

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David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media