You would definitely have heard of the shooting of police finance staffer Curtis Cheng by fifteen year old Farhad Jabar at Parramatta police station last week. It’s been headline news for the last five days straight. It’s attracted commentary from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Opposition Leader, the NSW Premier and the highest state police officials. And it’s been declared ‘terrorism’. Major raids, conducted to and for sensational effect, have followed.
What you may not be aware of, however, is that there have been numerous incidents in recent times similar or worse to the Parramatta shooting as far as objective facts go. They were treated very differently. They were not declared ‘terrorism’, got nowhere near as much coverage and did not attract any extraordinary attention from political or security officials. They were treated as routine crimes, routine police matters with routine media coverage for such crimes. No raids followed. You may not have even heard of them.
Here is a list of ten such incidents from the last 15 months.
1. Clayfield shooting, Oct 2015: a man shot another in the back in Clayfield Shopping centre, Brisbane, in broad daylight before fleeing. The victim was confronted outside the Red Rooster franchise in the shopping centre by three men when one of them shot him in the back and ran off. Terrified staff of nearby shops hid inside their shops.
2. Woman shot in head at Gold Coast McDonald’s, Sep 2015. A 57-yr old man whom she knew walked in the restaurant with a gun threatening onlookers with it, went to her, put an arm around her and shot her to the shock and horror of those present.
3. Steve Hodge shot dead by police after he ‘lunged’ at two police officers with a butcher’s knife, Warners Bay, NSW, Sep 2015. The disgruntled postal worker — with a history of mental illness — was sent home sick from work before he returned with a machete. According to the police account, he rushed at them with a large knife so they shot him dead.
4. Alex Kuskoff shot dead by police after a five hour siege in rural South Australia, Sep 2015. He made threats over phone to kill a number of people and allegedly shot at police when they came.
5. Saif Jouda murdered in his Sydney home, April 2015. It took 23-yr old Saif Jouda two years to get the visa needed to move from Palestine to Australia to be with his fiancee. Three months after he finally arrived, he was shot a number of times after he answered the door to his Horsley Park home on April 23.
6. Gold Coast police shooting, Nov 2014. A man, in his 30s, was shot dead by police in Southport after he allegedly rushed at officers with a knife. This came one day after a 51-year-old man was killed when police shot him several times in the chest at Tewantin on the Sunshine Coast. He allegedly lunged at them with a knife or a pole.
7. Inala siege, Sep 2014. 42-yr old Shaun Kumeroa was holed up in his car armed with a gun at Inala, Brisbane for four hours holding police at bay. As officers approached the address, he brandished a firearm, according to police. Aerial footage showed him leap suddenly from the car and point a gun at police, who fired several shots at him and killed him.
8. Gunman fired at police in Central QLD, Sep 2014. Armed with a high-powered rifle, a man in his 20s was on the run south-west of Rockhampton. He had been threatening people with a gun, which led to a police pursuit of a four-wheel drive in Mount Morgan. He later fired shots at police and lit a bushfire that has damaged multiple houses and caravans.
9. Lockhart Shootings, Sep 2014: a mother and her three children shot dead in Lockhart, NSW, most likely by their father, before killing himself. Kim Hunt, 41, and her children Fletcher, 10, Mia, 8, and Phoebe, 6, were found dead on their property, killed by gunshot. The body of 44-year-old Geoff Hunt was found a day later in a nearby dam with a gun beside his body.
10. Kerang shooting, Aug 2014. Armed with a shotgun, farmer Greg Murray blasted two shots indiscriminately into the home of his former partner, Sonya Gray, in Kerang, Victoria. Six children were inside. He shot at Mrs Gray and her husband, hospitalizing them but failing to kill them. He then drove to his dairy farm 33km outside town, killed his current partner, then himself.
Each one of these incidents is no doubt horrifying. Each one spread fear in the community in which it occurred. Some led to the injury or death of innocent people. Some were attacks on police officers.
So what makes the Parramatta shooting so different? Why was it not treated like any of the above? Why was it classified as ‘terrorism’ to the exclusion of the likes of these crimes, and why did this classification start occurring within hours of the incident? Why did it become a national issue on which even the Prime Minister must provide a commentary?
The fact that differentiates the coverage and paraphernalia around the Parramatta shooting from others like those above is that its perpetrator was Muslim, thus allowing government and media to subsume it within their broader and jaded ‘war on terror’ narrative. This is a subjective and political differentiation, coming not from the nature or details of the act itself, but from how it is portrayed by those who yield power and influence, primarily government and media.
It may be retorted that the actions of a young Muslim male wielding a gun and killing an adult unknown to him is precisely what sets this apart, and that there is good reason for its remarkable treatment. However, therein itself lies the problem: a culture of exclusive scrutiny and suspicion has been developed around the Muslim citizen in Australia unlike that for any other community.
Thus we have something of a vicious cycle: the Muslim is ‘rightly’ to be regarded with extra caution and suspicion because it is likely his ‘political motives’ drove him to do this, and yet, in reality, it is this very faux, politically expedient paranoia and the hysteria it generates that leads to the very understandable anger and discontent felt by many young Muslims.
Crimes like the above demonstrate that it is not the facts of the Parramatta case that set it apart; it is rather the identity of the perpetrator. An identity that has been problematised, constructed as a national security threat and consistently the subject of political wrangling. For those who contribute to this – from policy-makers, media, academics, and commentators – to then sit back and demand answers of an already traumatised community is to escape their own culpability in this vicious cycle, especially when their actions contribute to the massive frustration and angst in that community.
They are guilty not only of oppressing a particular community through specifically targeted measures, but also of creating unnecessary fear and hysteria in broader society, further exacerbating the problem.
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