In Bourke Street, Melbourne, 30-year-old, Somali-born Hassan Khalif Shire Ali crashed his vehicle loaded with gas bottles and apparently set it alight, and then stabbed three people one of whom died at the scene1. Shire Ali was shot by police and later died in hospital. Victoria Police have said that Shire Ali became radicalised and was inspired by Islamic State (IS), although it seems unlikely that he had any contact with IS because he was not being monitored, having never been targeted by a Joint Counter Terrorism Team investigation. However, his passport had been cancelled in 2015 because it was suspected that he planned to travel to Syria. It is believed he acted alone, because the attack was “not remotely sophisticated”2.
Shire Ali’s family emigrated from Somalia to Australia, while he was still a child, in the 1990s. He was married and apparently lived with family in Werribee, but had recently moved out because of mental health problems and problems with substance abuse. He had also complained of being chased by ‘unseen people with spears’3.
This is the second tragedy to occur in Bourke Street in the last couple of years. In January 2017, James Gargasoulas drove his car along the footpath on Bourke Street, killing 6 people and injuring 27. Like Shire Ali, Gargasoulas had mental health and substance abuse problems4.
After this latest tragedy, Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews stated that the attack was “evil and terrifying” and condemned it. He thanked police as well as bystanders who courageously stepped in to try to help. Victorian Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy, also denounced the attack, stating “I’ll never accept that violent extremism should be a way of life for a big city like Melbourne”5.
What did Prime Minister Scott Morrison do? He brought out the dog-whistle. He has called on Muslim leaders to take “special responsibility” for stamping out radicalism in their communities, saying they must “call it out for what it is”, and has pointed out that Islamic extremism was the most dangerous form of radicalism in Australia6. This stupidity of Morrison harks back to the Abbott hilarity, where the then Prime Minister similarly berated the Muslim community6. Turnbull was not as stupid, insofar as he realised that the Muslim community was a key ally in the fight against radicalisation. This was reinforced by the director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Duncan Lewis. In 2015, he warned that ASIO relied heavily on assistance from Muslim communities in countering radicalisation, so MPs should moderate their tone, lest they themselves endanger national security7. It seems that Morrison is more concerned about the security of his majority, than that of the nation.
If this is Scott Morrison’s attempt to make some headway in the desperately poor polling, I suspect it will mostly fail. If as has been suggested that it will be an attempt to get the Liberal ‘base’ back, then the base must have deserted to Hanson’s One Notion or the Australian Conservatives, because that is the only demographic to whom this dog-whistling plays well.