A truthful response by our elected leaders to the siege in Martin Place is crucial to good societal health. Dr Lissa Johnson explains why we got something else.
On Thursday last week, two days after the harrowing hostage crisis in Martin Place came to an end, Criminologist Mark Lauchs from Queensland’s University of Technology explained the difference between that ordeal and an act of terrorism.
In an interview on ABC radio he said, “This is not the same as a terrorist operation… The first thing [terrorists] do is prove they’re bona fide by taking some form of violent action such as showing they will kill someone. This didn’t happen… So we’re not dealing with a classic terrorist situation.”
Despite presumably being familiar with the definition of terrorism, the Prime Minister, on the other hand, called the incident “a brush with terrorism”, echoing headlines in the mainstream press, including the Financial Review.
Lauchs went on to explain, “Terrorism per se is to cause fear in order to extort a political outcome. It is a significant thing from the point of view of what we class as terrorism. He [Man Haron Monis] was after a personal outcome, not a political outcome… He actually has an ego-driven rather than a politically driven agenda.”
Abbott, in contrast, described the event as “politically motivated violence”.
Which was predictable. And understandable.
There is considerable political capital to be gained by exploiting the tragic events of Martin Place in pursuit of fear.
Eighteen months after 9/11, for instance, survivors in New York City were asked whether they had grown “more liberal, more conservative or stayed the same” following the terrorist attacks. Thirty-eight per cent reported becoming more conservative.
In fact, fear has consistently been found to increase conservatism and support for conservative leaders and policies, including but not limited to counter-terrorism measures. Simply evoking images of death, such as a hearse or a chalk outline of a human body, leads people of all political persuasions to more strongly endorse conservative positions on issues as varied as taxation, same sex marriage and stem cell research.
Linking the Martin Place hostage crisis with terrorism, casting a shroud of vulnerability across the nation, will inevitably inflame debilitating anxiety conditions in susceptible individuals, providing a political benefit at enormous individual and social cost.
What is needed instead is an unfailing commitment to the truth of what happened, what it means about and for our society, and an effort to learn from it in an honest way.
To prevent Australians from becoming scarred in the aftermath, we require leadership in making genuine and constructive sense of this awful event.
*Lissa Johnson, http://www.lissajohnson.com.au/ Lissa is a clinical psychologist and practice principal in private practice. Her qualifications are a Bachelor of Behavioural Science with honours in psychology, a Masters degree in clinical psychology and a PhD in psychology. Prior to becoming a psychologist she graduated from a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies with a major in Sociology. … As a clinical psychologist her expertise is in assessing and treating psychological disorders. Since the election of the Abbott Government she has become increasingly concerned that the psychological processes behind public policy in Australia are pathological, with long term adverse consequences for society.