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Sydney Residents Rally To Head Off Anti-Muslim Violence

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

While Man Haron Monis appears to have acted alone, there are concerns this could spark a rise in anti-Islamic sentiment in Australia. Earlier today, we reached Australian terrorism expert David Kilcullen at his home in northern Virginia. He just returned from Sydney recently and told us Australia faces several challenges when it comes to combating violence that may be inspired by the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS.

DAVID KILCULLEN: This kind of attack is so much easier to mount and so much harder to detect in advance. So I think, unfortunately, this is the new normal. We're going to see more of these kinds of attacks. And it's more a matter of thinking about how do you deal with them and mitigate the negative effects rather than trying to sort of lock society down in order to prevent them? But I think it's also worth pointing out that as Western countries go, Australia is one of the most significant in terms of the numbers of people per head of population that have gone to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.

CORNISH: One response from the Australian government has been to take away the passports of citizens they believe might try to go and fight along ISIS abroad. What's been the response to that?

KILCULLEN: It's been mixed. And we've had some support from some members of the Muslim community for that kind of action. We've also had other members saying, well, we need to be responsible for our own children or our own family members. And it's not a matter for the government. I can say that, you know, we've seen several hundred attempts by people to go to Syria and Iraq, even over the last six months. And there's about 200 plus people now have left the country with the intention of fighting alongside ISIS.

CORNISH: In September, police in Australia conducted an enormous raid to arrest and stop an apparent ISIS-inspired plot to behead random people. What was the response to that? I mean, how did it affect the relationship between the Australian government and the Muslim community?

KILCULLEN: I think, generally, the reaction was fairly muted. There were some people who responded in a very vociferous way to those attacks. One of those people, subsequently, was shot dead by police when he turned up to a meeting with them with a knife and an ISIS flag, obviously planning to carry out some kind of attack. So it was mixed. And I think this is a classic example of - we tend to Orientalize or treat the Muslim community as if they're different from everybody else. And we tend to let the community's own elders stand between them and the rest of society. And that's often the negative in terms of helping people integrate. And I think one of the lessons that Australians are drawing from the is that we have to treat Australian Muslims the same way we treat Australian Catholics and Australian Hindus and Australian Buddhists, just as Australians who have all the rights and obligations of any other Australian.

CORNISH: Generally, for the leadership in Australia, what has been kind of the response to how they're approaching this? Kind of taking proactive approach - right? - with the raid or kind of making other efforts in outreach.

KILCULLEN: Yeah, the Australians have had a pretty good record to date of identifying attacks well in advance and breaking them up. This is different. This is an actual attack that's gone down in a very major location. So there's going to be questions asked in Australia about why this individual, who was known to police before the attack, wasn't under better surveillance.

CORNISH: Online, in response to the siege, there was this kind of moment of unity, I guess. It was a hash tag, #I'llRideWithYou. And it apparently started after a woman on public transportation saw a Muslim woman remove her hijab and urged her to put it back on. What do you make of that response?

KILCULLEN: I think it's pretty typical of the behavior of people in Sydney, actually. The Muslim community in Sydney is very large and has been pretty well-integrated into Australian society. And I think this is a case of people in Sydney kind of standing together to ensure that this attack doesn't disrupt, you know, social relationships and also the functioning of the city.

CORNISH: Australian terrorism expert David Kilcullen. In 2005 and 2006, he served as chief strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the U.S. State Department. Thanks much for talking with us.

KILCULLEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.