Monday, February 9, 2009

Australia's Victoria Fires: Mass-Murdering Muslims, a Media Hoax, or Something Else?

"Muslims Jailed, Suspect Arrested: Terrorism and Australia's Bushfires Burn On"
(February 14, 2009))

"Islamic Website Called for 'Forest Jihad' - But Still No Evidence in Victoria"
(February 9, 2009))

Parts of Australia's Victoria state are still on fire. These bushfires are now Australia's worst national disaster. Or, strictly speaking, more-or-less natural disaster.

Arson, Probably; Mass Murder, Looks Like

Police have very good reason to believe that at least some of the bushfires were deliberately set. That's arson.

And, according to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, mass murder. I'm a little cautious about terms like that, but in this case I think "mass murder" is reasonably accurate. People whose bodies were left in the street of Marysville would almost certainly have been alive today, except for the bushfires.

Australia's Victoria Bushfires: Islamic Terrorists? Muslim Arsonists?

With the death toll climbing toward 200 (173 is the highest number I've read so far), people are getting quite upset. Stress can make people do odd things. And, make odd assumptions.

Last year, with moonbat-crazy rumors adding spice to the American presidential election, I wrote, "... it's been raining nuts under the tree of liberty...." (October 20, 2008)

It looks like some people have taken the few facts that we all have, stirred in their preferred assumptions, and jumped to conclusions that lie on the far side of the reality's borders.
Criminals, Yes; Terrorists, Not necessarily
Australian police have good reason for thinking that at least some of the fires were arson. Repeating from yesterday's post: "Kieran Walshe, the deputy police commissioner for the state, said: 'When you look at the way fires started, you can clearly see it's not possible for a natural ignition to occur.' " (CNN)

The Church Valley fire was deliberately lit, and all burned towns are being treated as crime scenes, I heard on Herald Sun website video.

Marysville, a "picturesque hamlet" in northeast Victoria, has been declared a crime scene. "Police blocked cars from driving into Marysville in northeast Victoria, saying there were still bodies in the streets and the whole town was a crime scene, the national AAP news agency said." (France 24 (February 9, 2009))

People burned to a crisp, and massive destruction of property, make setting the Victoria fires an extremely serious crime. But that alone doesn't make them an act of terror by Muslims.
Muslim Mass Murderers? Islamic Incendiarists? Let's Wait for Evidence
The Victoria fires could be the work of a Muslim: about a 1.5% chance.

Odds that acknowledged members of the following groups in Australia will be the arsonist, everything else being equal, in any given case, are:

Muslim--- 1.5%
Buddhist--- 1.9%
Anglican--- 20.5%
Catholic--- 26.4%

Those percentages show how many people in Australia follow those systems of belief. (CIA Factbook)

At this point, I've seen no published information hinting at any motive for the fires - or indicating that setting them was an act of Islamic terrorism. And, although it's possible that there is an Islamic connection to the Victoria fires, many other motives are also possible. I'm willing to wait until a few more facts come out, before speculating.

Fire as a Terror Weapon? Yes, it's Possible

I've written about the possibility of using wildfires or bushfires as a terror weapon (April 28, 2009). I think it's possible that terrorists - Islamic or otherwise - would deliberately set a fire. But, in this case - as in the Sierra Madre fire last year - there's no evidence than links the fires to the War on Terror.

Australia's Bushfires, Muslim Terrorists, and Assumptions

I don't keep track of people who visit this blog. I do, though, get data about referring sites and search strings.

Since Australia's Victoria fires hit the news, searches like these have been showing up:
  • australia arson islam
  • islam bushfire
  • bushfires muslims
    (more than once)
  • muslim arson australia
    (more than once)
  • bushfires, arsonists, islamic
  • muslim arsonists in australia
  • muslims australia arson
  • victoria bushfire terrorists
I could go on, but you probably see the pattern. It looks like quite a few people assume that Islamic terrorists are behind the Victoria fires. Or, maybe, are looking for bloggers who have made that accusation.

As I wrote before, It's possible that the Victoria fires were set by terrorists who think they're defending Islam. The bushfires could have been set by someone who wanted to collect insurance, get even with a neighbor, or just likes to see things burn.

At least one person came up with what I think is a more imaginative explanation.

The Media and Kevin Rudd are in Cahoots: A Conspiracy Theory

That prolific correspondent, Anonymous, posted a comment on another blog. This Anonymous apparently believes that the Victoria fires may be a media hoax:

"The Age is reporting 76 dead in Victoria today due to the bushfires. I've just gone through the Age coverage of the bushfires and have emerged sceptical. Not one of the 76 has been named. Even people from small towns who say they know people who have died did not give their names.

"This is an extraordinary situation - we KNOW that 76 people are dead, yet not one of them apparently has a name. Is this a media hoax designed to make Australians panic and line up solidly behind Kevin Rudd's 'climate change agenda'?"
(February 8, 2009 3:55 AM)
(comment from "Australia's Victoria State Bushfires: 65+ Dead" (Apathetic Lemming of the North (February 8, 2009))
Media Hoax! Head of Australian Government Implicated!
I think it's reasonable to call this idea, that 'the media' made up what's happened in Victoria, a conspiracy theory. As such things go, this one is rather plausible. Much of what Anonymous says or implies is quite true:
  • The media is a lot of time and effort, covering Victoria's fires
  • Kevin Rudd is Australia's prime minister
    • He does seem to be concerned about the high-profile 'climate change' issue
So far, so good. Even better, the fires are quite a few miles outside Melbourne. The smoke could be explained as part of the media hoax.
Reality Check
Another person posted a comment, mentioning rather pedestrian details. These included:
  • A discrete reference to what intense fires do to a person's appearance, and identifiability
  • The somewhat time-consuming nature of forensic dentistry and DNA tests
  • A custom of informing next-of-kin before releasing the names of deceased persons
(Here in America, the name of someone involved in an accident may not be released for days, if next-of-kin are hard to find. I haven't determined whether or not Australia has a similar custom.)

Another Anonymous, or perhaps the same one, seemed to respond to this injection of common sense rather strongly. Anonymous's next comment, redacted:

"I'm glad all these useless c***s died. F*** them. What did had they done for me lately? Nothing. Burn m*****f****r, burn. Victoria is a sh***y place any way. Full of f*** heads like you."
(February 8, 2009 9:38 AM)
(comment from "Australia's Victoria State Bushfires: 65+ Dead" (Apathetic Lemming of the North (February 8, 2009))

As I discussed in another post, name-calling is not necessarily an effective way of proving a point.

Crime, Common Sense, and the War on Terror

I have little doubt that the massive disaster in Victoria is the result of human action. And, that setting the fires was a criminal act.

Blaming Muslims, Islamic Terrorists, or Islam itself makes about as much sense as Blaming Israel and America for the 9/11 attack. (The idea is that, by supporting the (alleged) Israeli genocide of somebody, America enraged Muslims, and so is to blame for Al Qaeda ramming the World Trade Center.)

At this point. It's possible that the fires were some sort of Muslim plot. I think the odds are that non-Muslims were responsible. But, even if it's proven that distinctly non-Muslim non-terrorists are responsible, and that the media didn't make up all those deaths, I'll be surprised if people who are convinced that the fires (or the 'hoax') are some sort of conspiracy will change their minds.

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Related posts: Related posts, in another blog: In the news:


Brigid said...

So what does the other 49.7% of Australia's population believe?

Brian H. Gill said...

Brigid: You could look it up (follow the link).

According to the 2001 census, Australian's religious beliefs are: Catholic 26.4%; Anglican 20.5%; other Christian 20.5%; Buddhist 1.9;, Muslim 1.5%; other 1.2%; unspecified 12.7%; none 15.3%.

Anonymous said...

Readers should realise that in Victoria one week previously - Islamic Jihadist Nacer Benbrika - a self styled sheik from North Africa but living on social security for the last 19 years inMelbourne, Victoria was jailed for 15 years for leading a terrorist cell.

i.e. You should take into account motivation for assigning probabilities to any group of individuals. e.g. the chances are higher that a previously convicted arsonist is going to set fires than let's say a church going Salvation Army chaplain - or a philanthropically inclined humanist. It is more likely an irate Islamist, feeling no or little sympathy in the strange Western world he finds himself in, surrounded by infidels - and having had his favourite sheik recently jailed - might be more of a candidate than a 90 year old female pensioner on disability benefits.

This article also should be taken into account:

"Islam group urges forest fire jihad

* Josh Gordon
* September 7, 2008

AUSTRALIA has been singled out as a target for "forest jihad" by a group of Islamic extremists urging Muslims to deliberately light bushfires as a weapon of terror.

US intelligence channels earlier this year identified a website calling on Muslims in Australia, the US, Europe and Russia to "start forest fires", claiming "scholars have justified chopping down and burning the infidels' forests when they do the same to our lands".

The website, posted by a group called the Al-Ikhlas Islamic Network, argues in Arabic that lighting fires is an effective form of terrorism justified in Islamic law under the "eye for an eye" doctrine.

The posting — which instructs jihadis to remember "forest jihad" in summer months — says fires cause economic damage and pollution, tie up security agencies and can take months to extinguish so that "this terror will haunt them for an extended period of time".

"Imagine if, after all the losses caused by such an event, a jihadist organisation were to claim responsibility for the forest fires," the website says. "You can hardly begin to imagine the level of fear that would take hold of people in the United States, in Europe, in Russia and in Australia."

With the nation heading into another hot, dry summer, Australian intelligence agencies are treating the possibility that bushfires could be used as a weapon of terrorism as a serious concern.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Federal Government remained "vigilant against such threats", warning that anyone caught lighting a fire as a weapon of terror would feel the wrath of anti-terror laws.

"Any information that suggests a threat to Australia's interests is investigated by relevant agencies as appropriate," Mr McClelland said.

Adam Dolnik, director of research at the University of Wollongong's Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention, said that bushfires (unlike suicide bombing) were generally not considered a glorious type of attack by jihadis, in keeping with a recent decline in the sophistication of terrorist operations.

"With attacks like bushfires, yes, it would be easy. It would be very damaging and we do see a decreasing sophistication as a part of terrorist attacks," Dr Dolnik said.

"In recent years, there have been quite a few attacks averted and it has become more and more difficult for groups to do something effective."

Dr Dolnik said he had observed an increase in traffic on jihadi websites calling for a simplification of terrorist attacks because the more complex operations had been failing. But starting bushfires was still often regarded as less effective than other operations because governments could easily deny terrorism as the cause.

The internet posting by the little-known group claimed the idea of forest fires had been attributed to imprisoned Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Suri. It said Al-Suri had urged terrorists to use sulphuric acid and petrol to start forest fires."

Anonymous said...

We are Praying; Peace, Light, Hope, Love & Courage - God Bless

Australia Wildfires;

There are no words to express the anguish;

Words completely fail to come forth and our heart grieves for the loss of the victims of this terrible tragedy;

We are deeply saddened and share your pain and it is with sadness in my heart that I write these few words; expressing our deepest sympathies and condolences;

Our prayers and thoughts reach out those who have lost their loved ones;

May God’s Blessings give you the strength and courage to overcome this enormous challenge

All of us are praying; Our thoughts are with you

Peace, Light, Hope, Love & Courage

God Bless,


Brian H. Gill said...


Thanks for the insights.

I found out about the 'forest fire jihad' shortly after writing this post.

So, I posted "Islamic Website Called for 'Forest Jihad' - But Still No Evidence in Victoria (February 9, 2009).

The possibility of the Victoria fires being a case of Islamic terrorism is less remote, given this information.

What troubles me most is the apparent reluctance of traditional journalism, to discuss issues like the 'forest fire jihad' website. The information vacuum they produce leaves room for some very wild ideas.

Like the 'media hoax' notion.

Brian H. Gill said...

Vashi Ram Chandi,

Thank you. It's nice to read words of sympathy, compassion, and prayer in connection with this disaster.

People living in Victoria can, I suspect, use all the help they can get - prayers and more mundane support. More, at "Australia's Victoria State Bushfires Update:" (February 8, 2009).

Brian H. Gill said...

Explanation for removal of "daniel" comment:

An identical comment, which also appeared to have

1. No relation to the post

2. A link

appeared on another post in this blog. I'm pretty sure that "daniel" is a bot.

The "daniel" comment read, in its entirety:

daniel said...

If I were to wager a guess at why, I’d say that users don’t “browse” forms. The interaction style users engage in with forms is different, and requires its own study and design best practices.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.