22nd May 2017. 11th September 2001. 15th March 2019. 21st April 2019. If I were to go on, this article would be composed solely of the dates on which innocent lives were lost, families ripped apart, children orphaned and communities shattered. The Manchester bombings in the U.K, the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan, the Christ Church mosque shootings in New Zealand and the Sri Lankan Easter bombings that I have listed the dates of above, are examples of acts of terrorism- a terrible method of instilling fear within a population to prove a point or achieve a religious, social, economic or social goal. Amid these horrific acts, panic and confusion arises, and public opinion has become increasingly affected by these events. The perpetrators behind these attacks are being misrepresented by lack of education on what terrorism is, prejudice and propaganda.

The definition of terrorism, as clarified by the UK Terrorism Act 2000, is stated as the following: “The use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public; made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause; and it involves or causes: - serious violence against a person; - serious damage to a property; - a threat to a person's life; - a serious risk to the health and safety of the public; or - serious interference with or disruption to an electronic system.”

This is non-specific of gender, race, ethnicity or religion. Unfortunately, this is where misconceptions are introduced. Attitudes are such today, that acts of terrorism are immediately pinned on a particular faith or race when the root cause of it is extremism.

The Counter Extremism Strategy 2015 defines extremism as the following: “Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect and tolerance for different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.”

It is imperative to understand that extremists are not defined by one particular religion, and nor do all extremists commit acts of terrorism. Extremists can exist within any faith. We tend to be more aware of bigger terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, whom we identify as “Islamic Extremists”. However, it is important to distinguish the Islamic faith, and the peaceful people who are of this faith from the extremists, as they do not in the least share the same objectives or principles.

Ayesha Ahmed, a fellow peer shared her views on the lack of differentiation between the people of a religion and the extremists that exist within.

“It’s unfortunate how the actions of a minority give people the excuse to discriminate against the majority. All terrorism, is terrorism and should never be supported or excused in any way, shape or form.”

The response to the Christ Church mosque shootings demonstrates how the wrong people are being accused. The Daily Mail came under fire for putting out an article that served to humanise more than condemn the shooter. Many details irrelevant to the shooting were included such as “his father died of cancer” as well as descriptions of the killer when he was younger as a “blonde little boy” that seemed to serve to evoke sympathy and act as subtle justification of his actions more than outright condemnation of the acts of murder he committed. Had this been an Islamic extremist, the people of the specified religion are likely to have been accused, as has happened in recent times. There seems to be a differing response according to the faith of the perpetrator which involves all the guiltless people of that faith being held accountable rather than the individual extremist being held solely accountable regardless of their faith. Australian Senator Fraser Anning sparked outrage when, in response to the New Zealand mosque shooting, he said: “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.” He received a global response of criticism for his comments from both the general public and renowned figures including the Prime Minister of Australia himself. Here, the values of extremism are being mistaken to be the values of Islam when this could not be further from the truth.

It is vital to educate youths- those who are at most risk of being exposed to and influenced by extremist propaganda primarily through the internet- about extremism and how its fundamental beliefs deviate greatly from what society considers moral. Shamima Begum, a girl from East London who travelled to Syria to join ISIS at the age of 15, and has now returned to England, insists she was “brainwashed” by online militants and groomers. This experience indicates that action should be taken to prevent radicalisation.

Fingers are being pointed at an innocent faith. Terrorism wins if we allow their brutal acts to divide us. We are fundamentally humans, and what happened at Manchester, Christ Church, in Sri Lanka, and in Manhattan to only name a few of the terrible tragedies that resulted in the loss of many lives as a result of terrorism were ruthless killings of innocent humans by murderers. To sympathise with instead of condemning them is wrong. To blame an entire peaceful faith, because the public is misinformed about the perpetrators is wrong. Terrorism can only be fought if the attitudes of the general public change and we stand united, regardless of faith, ethnicity and religion.

Senator Fraser Anning's response to the criticism he faces can be read by clicking on the link below: https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/genpdf/chamber/hansards/e252d273-2978-453f-86f5-ef9a8b66800f/0040/hansard_frag.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf