The Banality of Terrorism: Sydney’s other Hostage Crisis, of 1984

By Juan Cole | —

IC doesn’t usually cover hostage-taking, since it is an artificial and manipulative criminal act. Any two-bit thug can grab someone off the street and push them into a car, and subsequently kill them. It doesn’t take intelligence or any other admirable quality, just brutishness.

One’s heart goes out to the Sydney hostages. But it is distressing to see the hostage-taker made 10 feet tall by the media and to have Daesh (which is what most Arabs derisively call ISIL or ISIS) invoked. He is likely not mentally well, and he is not evidence of Daesh’s reach. Just that sadists are willing to franchise just like purveyors of hamburgers.

[Update: The hostage taker was Iranian, and clearly just a wack job and career criminal; this guy said he converted to Salafism but that kind of switch is very rare & itself indicative of lone wolfism- would have been ostracized by family.]

In fact, Sydney had another hostage crisis, in 1984, in a bank. A formerly wealthy (secular) Turkish-Australian became unhinged at losing his fortune. Today’s incident is not more important than that one, which few now remember. Both of these hostage-takers were common criminals. Neither is a “terrorist.” Today’s Sydney hostage-taker is not representative of a new activity. He isn’t important, and ordering a black flag won’t make him so. The only one who can bestow recognition on this criminal is the mass media and the press. They shouldn’t do it.

Nor are Australia’s Muslims responsible for this maniac. All white people aren’t responsible for motorcycle gangs or white supremacist groups. No one has ever asked a white person on television, ‘why don’t you condemn the Aryan Nation?'” The mainstream or ‘unmarked’ ethnic identity in a society doesn’t suffer from guilt by association. It is only the minorities who do.

Criminals and gangsters should not be fetishized as “terrorists.” It is just a way for them to inflate their egos. People are violent and sadistic because they are violent and sadistic, not because they have any particular ideology. Sociologist Max Weber posited “elective affinity,” that two phenomena find one another. Maybe sadists and killers are attracted to groups with deviant ideologies that permit wanton violence.

Daesh is just a bunch of gangsters. They are smugglers and human traffickers and mass murderers. It is secondary that they deploy a language of political Islam. The Ku Klux Klan in the US thought of itself as Protestant White Knights. One reviewer of my book, Engaging the Muslim World, complained that I compared the Taliban to the KKK, on the grounds that the latter is a small group. But it wasn’t in American history always a small group. It captured the governorship of Indiana in the 1920s.

Nor is Daesh popular, nor does it find ideological acceptance. Almost nobody in the Middle East likes it, and the tiny percentages who do tell pollsters they approve may not even agree with many of its actions. The Bangalore food company executive who did massive twitter propaganda for Daesh, when presses, admitted he did not agree with all their policies, and allowed how he couldn’t go join up because he had to take care of his parents (didn’t the kids he encouraged to go die in Syria have parents?) A 2012 poll of Iraqi Sunnis found that 75% said religion and state should be separate. They are likely the most secular people in the Middle East. Just because Daesh has taken over Sunni Arab Iraq does not mean they have changed their mind on this issue. They just chose an assertive Sunni group like Daesh over being ruled by equally fundamentalist Shiites.

It is really unfortunate that the magnificent city of Sydney had its peace disturbed by this maniac. But he isn’t important, least of all geopolitically, and shouldn’t be built up otherwise.


Related video:

AP: “Gunman Holding Hostages in Sydney Cafe”

16 Responses

  1. Thankyou for this level-headed dissection of this situation, Juan. As always, I agree with your perspective.

    I was in Sydney’s Royal Botanical gardens- a few hundred metres away from Martin Place- this morning at 10:30, and I did not let this silly event ruin my stroll there with two of my family.

    Frankly, I was more disturbed by the young child this morning who was orphaned; apparently due to a murder-suicide perpetrated by his father.

    I would like to note that many of the journalists and police officers have been very measured in what they’ve said; I was bemused by one journo going on about how police had the area cordoned off and there was no apparent danger beyond the immediate area, at the same time as a blood red banner screamed “terror!” across the bottom of the screen.

    A few hours later, I was at the airport, on my way to Perth and my *only* concern was finding something decent to eat.

    Thanks, Juan.

  2. Please consider that Max Weber’s “elective affinity” of criminal and “fundamentalists” may also apply to the USA’s present state of lawlessness.

  3. And we did not begin a war on right wing terrorism after the Oklahoma City bombing or the nut case who tried to fly into the IRS.

  4. India’s case against the Bangalore food company executive, Shami Witness, might be the first against the net version of a 21st century terrorist. Mehdi Masroor Biswas is just 24 and lived in a rented one bedroom apartment when he was taken into custody. Biswas defended himself and said this: “I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t hurt anyone. I haven’t broken any laws. I haven’t raised any war or any violence against India. I haven’t waged war against the allies of India.”

    “I just said stuff. People follow me, I follow them back and we talk. I ONLY know what IS fighters or sympathizers said in public tweets.”

  5. The Aussie event,was a perpetrated by a madman, he should have been in a mental facility

  6. A decade an a half of our media and conservative politicians banging on about terrorism and radical Islam and when it finally occurs… it’s the random act of a mentally unhinged douchebag on bail for his part in the murder of his ex-wife. An utter non-entity on par with every other murderous ex-husband with impulse control problems.

    It says a lot about the Muslim community of Australia that when they finally give up something for the bigots to hang around their neck it’s a piece of unfocused random violence from a disconnected yahoo and not a directed act of terrorist plot from a committed ideologue.

    I love you guys, stay awesome.

  7. Juan often has good insights, but when he gets it wrong, like here, he goes all-in. It’s almost like a poker-tell: when the general public’s (and mainstream media’s) reaction is right about a topic involving Islam (however rare that may be), Juan’s tone rises and he gets all dismissive and prickly.

    Yes, of course Mohammad Hassan Manteghi Bourjerdi, aka Man Haron Monis, aka ‘Sheikh’ Haron, was not directly affiliated with ISIS.

    But equally obviously he wanted to be, and ISIS leaders (once they learned of him during the seige) encouraged him and other lone-rat attacks. (See the ISIS Twitter responses to it.)

    Equally obvious, when Hakki Bahadir Atahan tried to rob a bank in 1984, it was not in a context of gruesome terrorist incidents being perpetrated on innocent civilians around the world using a religion as an excuse, with the fear of even greater mayhem via alleged bombs.

    I could go on, but you get the idea.

    The Sydney crisis was a major crisis not because of what happened, but because of what was unknown at first, the broader context, and what could happen.

    • Heard the same thinking from some guy named Richard Sorry Excuse For A Human Cheney, as I recall, not so very long ago…

  8. Dear Prof Juan, I agree with all you say, but what a screw up! This needed training like I had – one guy, to negotiate then draw a 45 from concealed and Double Tap so fast before the other guy can blink or squeeze and shoot anyone he is dead – instead of a foootball scrum all shooting at once – wonder who shot the two hostages? So Sad! BW Peter

  9. Australians have been tweeting messages of solidarity with Muslim Australians using #illridewithyou. The hashtag was coined after a young Sydney woman saw another woman on a train take off her head covering, and did a very compassionate thing:

    “In her post she said: “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u.” ”

    link to

    I just finished writing #illridewithyou on the back of a T shirt; I’m going to wear it while I’m cycling to work.

  10. These two people had the courage to give their lives for others.

  11. Another way to look at this is as an elaborate “death by cop” situation. As Dr Cole pointed out, he was a career crim, out on parole and had come once again to the attention of the law. He was masquerading as a self styled “faith healer” and sexual assault charges were about to made, as far as I understand.

    This perhaps is the context in which this act should be understood @Liam, not some fantasy scenario of your own dark imagining, that could, might, may happen that could, might, may be used as propaganda by some other unrelated entity. Where does that level of paranoia end?

    And speaking of propaganda, what of Ruperts wonderfully humanitarian tweet. He, like Daesh, also had no qualms to use this tragedy for his own purposes.

  12. RE:Jack
    I don’t know where you are located but in fact following the OKC bombing the Clintons hustled through a monstrous set of “presumed guilty” discretionary powers which effectively shred most the Bill of Rights.
    link to
    And BTW anybody who still believes the “lone right wing nut” version of OKC hasn’t been paying attention to anything outside of what they are spoon fed by Channel One. The DVD “A Noble Lie” explains this (irrefutable evidence there was advance knowledge of the bombing).
    There was a media frenzy after OKC with the broadest brush blaming everybody from Rush Limbaugh to the NRA. This theme remains on the front burner for the presstitutes, following the mass shooting at Aurora Colorado ABC immediately connected the one arrested with the Tea Party.
    link to

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