A Federal Government booklet aimed at preventing radicalisation has provoked public anger for its perceived linking of alternative music and left-wing activism with violent extremism. Michael Keenan, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Terrorism, launched the “Radicalisation Awareness Information Kit” on 21 September, encouraging its use in schools.
A chapter titled “Violent Extremism” contains a case study about a fictitious character named Karen. Having “grown up in a loving family who never participated in activism of any sort”, she moves out of home to attend university, where she becomes “involved in the alternative music scene, student politics and left-wing activism”. She then develops a passion for environmental protest, moving into a forest camp and taking part in illegal activities, such as barricading, spiking trees and sabotaging machinery, leading to numerous arrests for “trespass, damaging property, assault and obstructing police”.
Jonathan La Nauze, a campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, told the ABC, “It sounds like something that’s been dreamt up in the cigar room of the Institute of Public Affairs … To link standing up for the places that we love, standing up for the future of our children, to violence and extremism and terrorism, does nothing to combat a real threat to the safety of people or to respect the very peaceful and very meaningful protests that people engage in from all walks of life to ensure that we have a safe future in this country.”
Meanwhile, Maurie Mulheron, president of the New South Wales Teachers’ Federation, described the kit as “a fairly cynical move by the Federal Government, not to make anyone feel safer, but to engender fear and intolerance.”
The International Association for the Study of Popular Music – Australian and New Zealand (IASPM-ANZ) released an official statement, calling on the Government to “withdraw these materials from schools.” The statement reads, “Our organisation strongly objects to the linking of participation in the alternative music scene to radicalisation of any kind. There is no reputable evidence to suggest that listening to certain types of music leads to particular political outcomes for the audience. Suggesting that young people who listen to certain types of music are in some way more ‘dangerous’ than others is not only insupportable, but can have negative consequences for those young people.”
The case study inspired ridicule on social media, with critics using the hashtag #freekaren to draw attention to their commentary. On 25 September, barrister and human rights activist Julian Burnside tweeted, “It’s heavy-handed government propaganda like that which radicalizes people. Done under Abbott I guess. #FreeKaren”. On the same day, journalist Wendy Harmer tweeted a photo of children on Collaroy Beach holding a “Save Our Beach” sign, accompanied by the quip, “Raising a terrorist cell here in Collaroy”.
Friends of the Earth Australia has established a petition, calling on the Prime Minister to withdraw the Radicalisation Awareness Information Kit.