Saturday 1 December 2018

The Abbott Government response to Islamic State and Ebola: a moral panic?

The Abbott Government response to Islamic State and Ebola: a moral panic?


Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology 2018 Conference December 2018

It is a long tradition of the Hobbesian realist view of politics that the most important duty of a government is the ‘protection of their citizens’. Since 2001 a dominant mantra in Australian federal politics has been protection of the community from ‘threats to national security’. However, is the response proportionate and necessary to the risk posed or is it a moral panic?

During 2014 two global events emerged which were potential threats to international peace and security: the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East and the Ebola pandemic in East Africa. Both would see an international military coalition assembled in response. Australia would become the second largest contributor to the former and belatedly subcontract a response in the latter.

Based upon the theory of moral panics and the nationalism perspectives of imagined communities and ethnic moralizers this research explores the manner in which the Abbott Government (2013-2015) portrayed these issues. A discourse analysis model adapted from James Gee’s ‘Discourse analysis toolkit’ is utalised.   It is suggested that despite there being a significant threat, some of the characteristics of a moral panic eventuated.

The importance of this research rests in the almost universal agreement of terrorism scholars that one of the aims of terrorism is to cause a government to overreact and hence undermine its legitimacy. Descending into a moral panic based policy response would achieve such an aim resulting in ‘policy blowback’ consequently weakening rather than strengthening national security.
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