The Australian Defence Force & Islam

On Sunday, 9 March 2014, I was given the opportunity present at the First International Symposium on Liberty and Islam in Australia. This was a great conference and the Q Society deserves credit for the work put in to organising a very professional event.

Below is the full text of my speech.


Thank you. First up I would like to thank the Q-Society for organising this important event. It has been fantastic to meet with so many wonderful people over just such a short period of time. I think Debbie, Andrew & Ralf and the entire team deserve the highest praise.

I would also like to thank the previous speakers for their engaging and interesting presentations.

I am very happy to have been asked to present here today, but I must inform you that it almost didn’t happen. My wife gave birth during the week to our 6th child, but he was a little later than expected and I was beginning to think we’d be in hospital over the weekend.

Luckily, both Mum and bub are well and I am here to today.


All our competing and conflicting ideas are engaged in a form of warfare.

In this battle of ideas there is no equilibrium. There is no equality. There is no anti-discrimination.

There are only ideas that are true and ideas that are false.

This law is not cast aside when we talk about religion. In fact, it is heightened because religious ideas go to the very soul of what it is to be human and to the very heart of our existence.

Whether you are an atheist or a believer in God, there is no doubt that ideas about religion are of central importance. These ideas shape all other thoughts and the actions that flow from them.

In fact, it is no surprise that human conflict has so often revolved around religious ideas. These are the most important ideas a person can hold. And we all know that important ideas are worth defending, even dying for.

I am here today to talk about the Australian Defence Force’s understanding of, and approach to, these religious ideas, and the ideas of Islam, in particular.

Some might ask why the Australian military should care about religion at all. Well, it is important for our military to understand religion and religious beliefs if you want it to be able to identify potential threats or work with like-minded allies.

As such, it is my unpleasant duty to inform you that the Australian Defence Force has a fundamentally broken approach to religion. It is an approach shaped partly by the triumph of bureaucratic administration within the military over battlefield considerations, but mostly by plain old political correctness.

As we should all know, those who are politically-correct act from a lack of confidence in their own beliefs and values. As a result, they are forced to accept that the truth is as good as a lie. When militaries start equating truths and lies, disaster occurs. It has always been this way and it has been no different in Iraq and Afghanistan. Political correctness has cost lives on the battlefield and resulted in completely flawed campaign strategies.

The military’s problem with religion starts with an administrative document called Guide to Religion and Belief in the Australian Defence Force. It has a worthy goal of ensuring that the ADF workplace is able to deal with the various religious beliefs of its members.

However, it makes the flawed assumption that all religious ideas are equal and equally worthy. It is an assumption that the ADF did not need to make to ensure that the religious beliefs of its members were catered for. And it has had far-reaching impact outside the domestic workplace that extends to the battlefield.

The first effect of that assumption – that all religions are equal – is that the military, in theory, treats almost all religious ideas like things that can be boxed and put on a shelf labelled “equally respectful silence”.

I am a Catholic and I wear my faith on my sleeve. I detest that notion. Not all religions are equal and as someone who is proud to discuss my faith, I want it to be taken out of its box and tested.

There is an inherent problem in any religion that does not allow this testing and dissection of belief.

Now, before we go on, I want to go back to those neatly laid-out military boxes on the shelf. There’s one for Hinduism, there’s one for Indigenous spirituality, there’s one for Buddhism and so on. But on that shelf, you will find no box for Islam or Christianity. That’s because the box for Islam is sitting on its own, higher shelf, labelled “more worthy of respectful silence”. Meanwhile, the box for Christianity is on a lower shelf called “token respect”.

And that is because while the Australian Defence Force has a policy that all religions are the same, in practise it treats Islam with greater respect and reverence than any other, while it has recently accepted that it is ok to participate in the vilification of Christianity while in uniform.

This higher respect for Islam is not because of anything inherently good that the ADF has identified about Islam. It is simply a function of an ever-increasing desire by the military to be seen as politically correct in all things. And to do that today, it has to play nice with Islam.

I will give some examples of this a little later.

The second effect of the assumption outlined in the ADF’s guide to religious belief – that all religions are the same – is that it has become politically incorrect to be religious and to discuss religion in the workplace. And that includes the religious beliefs of our enemies as well. That’s all well and good when you are selling insurance or dealing with customers and want to get through the workday without causing World War Three.

But the Australian Defence Force is not selling insurance. It has to be prepared to fight World War Three and understand why it is doing so. It has spent the last decade at war with people who fight for their religious beliefs. And part of the problem that comes with fighting people who are motivated by religious belief is that you need to have soldiers equally motivated to oppose them.

Essentially, the Australian Defence Force should be manned by people who are willing to give up their lives for an idea about Australia that is worth defending. The good news is that this belief has not gone from the Australian Defence Force, but it is in a state of confusion at the higher levels. If you can’t discuss your enemy’s religious beliefs, you can’t really gain a firm understanding of why they are wrong or why the beliefs that we hold as Australians – and these are beliefs based on our Christian heritage – are worth fighting for.

Furthermore, those ADF members who provide a religious explanation for things are held to be some kind of weirdos. I know this from personal experience. I don’t take it personally and I have many great mates who are not religious, but I will point out the danger that comes with this view. As a Catholic, I understand why people are motivated to do things based on religious belief, rather than what would seem to be rational on a purely secular level. As an Intelligence Officer, it is a valuable insight to have. A purely secular analysis of the actions of threat groups in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot come to a full understanding of those enemies, their religious beliefs, or the types of actions they consider to be lawful or moral based on them.

At a broad level, I think this explanation has given a brief overview of the problem of the ADF’s general approach to religion. It also raises some very interesting questions about our own society, but it is not the purpose of this convention to solve them today.

Now it is time to get into specifics of the ADF and Islam.

Once again, I have an unpleasant fact to outline: the ADF has a fundamentally flawed understanding of Islam.

Almost the entire contents of the ADF’s intellectual depth and understanding of Islam is contained in its guide to religious belief – two bland, but colourfully-glossy pages of Wikipedia trivia.

It’s worth reading the most ‘meaty’ part:

The word Islam means `to submit to God’ (Allah), and followers of the religion are called Muslims. There are about 340,000 Australian Muslims according to the 2006 census.

Islam originated in Arabia and is based on the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.

Mohammed was delivered the word of Allah from the archangel Gabriel, and this word is now recorded in the Qur’an, Islam’s Holy book.

Muslims believe that Mohammed was as perfect as any human could be, and they live their lives in a way that follows his example by worshiping one God and constructing ethical social order.

So there you have almost the entirety of the Australian military’s formal understanding of Islam.

There is not much else.

It is because of this basic intellectual vacuum that our Army does not understand its enemy.

It is so bad that I can honestly say that we do not know who the enemy is. It’s not because it’s impossible to identify him. It’s because we don’t want to.

Let’s go back to that box on the top shelf called Islam. A big part of the problem is that the only things in it are things that new-age white guys who have never read a Koran want to put in it.

I actually find it a pretty condescending approach to Muslims, who I accept are motivated very often by a desire to do something good. Who are we to tell them what their religion is, and what it is not?

The immediate result of that intellectual vacuum is that Western nations have proven two things:

  • Firstly, it is possible to go to war without being able to define the enemy.
  • Secondly, it is unfortunately not possible to win a war fought on such a shaky basis.

Just look at Iraq. I was one of the last Australians to serve there. All the politicians and military hierarchy were saying the withdrawal of Western military force was based on success. And yet Al Qaeda today controls more of Iraq than it ever did while Western forces were in the country, or while Saddam Hussein was in power.

The Iraq war was a failure because no one can say why we were there, who the enemy was or what the endstate – or mission – was.

We just went and came back. In between a bunch of guys died.

This all occurred because the ADF pretends that it respects Islam. But it doesn’t really respect it. You can’t respect anything you don’t understand.

And the ADF certainly does not understand Islam. For instance, I have never once seen a Koran on an intelligence officer’s desk. The military intelligence school does not teach or lecture on any aspect of the Islamic faith.

There are very few officers who do know what they are talking about when it comes to Islam, although I will give credit to those who do. Some have been very good to me.

But the truth is that the military did not teach me about Islam. Most of my understanding came from private discussions and personal study.

This intellectual vacuum is best demonstrated by a little statistic about the Army’s intellectual powerhouse, the Australian Army Journal. In the last decade it has produced just two articles on the impact of Islamic religious belief on the mindset of our battlefield opponents (not including the obligatory articles that explain why Islamic suicide bombers are not really Muslims).

The Australian Army Journal is produced quarterly and publishes around 100 article per year. It has devoted more space and time to the question of homosexuality and gender roles than Islamic ideology since 2003. I kid you not.

I served as an Intelligence Officer and I also like to call a spade a shovel. It’s criminal negligence for an organisation that has been tasked with the mission of destroying our nation’s enemies to have such little understanding of them.

I am more than happy to make this assessment – I am pointing the finger at my own corps and field of expertise. We have a duty to provide the commander with a detailed understanding of every facet of the enemy, including his religious beliefs. Why? So the commander can identify and exploit weakness and rapidly use brutal, military force to destroy the enemy.

The cause of the problem is political-correctness. It is simply impolite to discuss the Islamic religion in anything but positive terms.

As a result, I have seen Intelligence Officers scramble to make assessments about the enemy that are based on everything but the truth. Poverty, lack of education, long-held grievances of Western imperialism: these are the assessment made as to why our enemy fight us. Islam is not considered at all.

This has cost lives and wasted a decade and a half of war. In a strategic sense, Iraq and Afghanistan are no better for the blood shed by Australian soldiers. This is not to cast any negative judgment on their battlefield exploits. They have fought bravely and performed well in the field. It’s just that their efforts have been wasted by a strategic failure to understand the enemy.

It should come as no surprise that the failure to understand the enemy will not lead to good military outcomes.

Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese strategist wrote what should be basic military common-sense 2,500 years ago:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

It is clear that we do not know our enemy when formal ADF documents tacitly acknowledge the perfection of Mohammad and the desire by good Muslims to follow his example, but there is no ADF document that outlines Mohammad’s life or his actions, or how his example might be put into action today.

In fact, the ADF does Mohammad a great injustice – it fails to recognise his political ruthlessness, military cunning and the success of his brutal use of military force.

Instead the ADF just believes that Mohammad was a nice guy. It is what leads to bland, feel-good statements that Islam is the religion of peace.

And let’s just examine that thought for a second from a military perspective. If that statement was remotely true, every military commander over the last decade would have wielded the Islamic religion like a weapon of mass destruction. Islamic doctrine would have been able to cut through the populace and been the most effective means possible of separating violent ‘extremists’ from the rest of society so that they could be destroyed, either by force, or by reducing their ability to operate in any number of other critical ways.

But there are no campaign plans based on the peaceful tenets of Islam. It’s not because no one has been smart enough to work this out. It’s because peaceful Islamic doctrine does not exist in any of its varied forms.

Furthermore, this politically-correct approach to Islam has not just hurt the efforts of Western militaries in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has actually led them to do things that help the enemy.

For instance, the Australian efforts in Oruzgan Province included building a mosque. We all know that it is only a matter of time now before that mosque is used to teach inherently violent Islamic beliefs, if it has not already done so. One day, in the not too distant future, the imam could well be backed by the Taliban. That mosque is against Australian interests, but it was built to  please Islamic hearts and minds.

On a grander scale, the NATO mission in Afghanistan is to support the Government of Afghanistan. This government has a constitution that is based on Islamic law and teaching, just as the Taliban’s regime was. So the efforts of the last decade and a bit to remove the threat in Afghanistan from Islamic groups has directly led to the creation of an Islamic state. Again, this is not an action that is based on securing our national interest.

And soldiers in the uniform of the Afghan government have proven just as effective at taking the lives of Australian Diggers as the Taliban in the field.

The truth is that any meaningful assessment of the environments in Iraq and Afghanistan would have concluded that long-term success could only come by reducing Islamic influence in those countries, not by propping Islam up. Yet that is what Western nations chose to do.

Unfortunately, I also have to report that the future does not seem to hold out any hope of change. In fact, the military appears to be moving towards policies that will reduce its ability to understand Islam even further.

I can speak about this in a directly personal way.

I was charged with bringing the Defence Force into disrepute last year for stating that the ADF should understand Islamic teachings.

And I am not the only one to have faced this. The military hierarchy confirmed that several soldiers were disciplined for making comments about the violent pro-Osmama bin Ladan riots through Sydney in 2012. Yes, those comments were distasteful. But soldiers are great because they say it as they see it. And who can really blame them for getting a tad upset when they have been off fighting for this country against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and when they come home they find the Islamic community here is praising Osama bin Laden in a violent and very public way in the streets of Australia’s largest city

Now, while I was happy to see the charges against me eventually dropped, the outcome did not improve.

I was also then investigated for racism in a high-level military inquiry as a result of those statements. Ironically, this inquiry was launched at the behest of the Defence Force Gay & Lesbian Information Service. Again, a Defence investigation found that I had no case to answer but that has not stopped the Chief of Army and Chief of Defence Force from taking administrative action to terminate my commission.

Now, in fairness to the Chief of the Defence Force, he has not focused so much on the Islamic side of things. But it is true that he accepts the Chief of Army’s allegations against me and it is also true that the very first piece of evidence the Chief of Army cited against me was a column I wrote on my website that argued that those who hold the same beliefs as the Taliban should not be allowed to become Australian citizens.

Of course, those who know about my fight with the military will know that I have also spoken out against radical social experimentation, such as Defence-funded sex-change operations and uniformed participation in the Mardi Gras, which breaches long-held conventions of military avoidance of political activity.

While that particular battle of mine may not be of interest to some here today, the outcome of it is. During this battle, senior Defence officers wrote that policy now made it acceptable to vilify Christianity at the Mardi Gras, but that Islam was off-limits. If uniformed military personnel participated in an event that vilified Islam they would be, and I quote, “severely dealt with”.

Thus we now have the absurd situation where the ADF protects the religious beliefs of this nation’s enemies, while participating in the vilification of Christianity – the religion that most soldiers identify with.

It should come as no surprise then, that the ADF has also embarked on recruitment campaigns to specifically bring more Muslims into service. Apparently, there are not enough serving this country.

And it is true that the Islamic community’s participation rate in the Australian Defence Force is low. There were 88 Muslims in uniform in mid-2013.

That means that while there is one Australian in uniform for every 400 of us, there is only one Muslim in uniform for about every 6000 Muslims in this country.

The stats are in: the Islamic community is 15 times less patriotic than other Australians.

But this is not because the Islamic community is peaceful. On the contrary, it is invested in war. I think there are now 9 Australians Muslims who have died in Syria, although the number is rising all the time.

On a per capita basis, that is equivalent to the ADF losing over 400 soldiers in Afghanistan.

So while the Islamic community is 15 times less likely to contribute to our nation’s defence, it is 10 times more likely to see its sons die on the battle field than the rest of us. It’s just that when they die, they will be fighting for our enemies.

So Islamic recruitment is not going to be a winning move. It will fail because the flower of Islamic youth in Australia have already signed up for another military force: one that hates Western life, history and culture.

It’s also a policy is fraught with danger. It will one day result in our own incident of ‘workplace violence’, just like that experienced by US military personnel in Fort Hood, where an Islamic officer killed and wounded a large number of his comrades.

The ADF’s embrace of Islam – a religion that it does not understand except in empty platitudes – is indeed concerning.

If you would like to read more about these matters, I have detailed them extensively on my website – I strongly encourage you to drop by, have a read and send through any questions you might have.

But I will leave the last word on this issue to the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, as reported in The Weekend Australian yesterday (March 8-9, 2014).

“Gender equality and racial and religious tolerance was vital to maintaining morale, General Hurley said.

 On the issue of equality generally, he said the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, had an advisor on Islamic issues and more such specialist staff were likely to be taken on as more Muslims joined the Australian Defence Force.”

Thank you.

Author: Bernard Gaynor

Bernard Gaynor is a married father of eight children. He has a background in military intelligence, Arabic language and culture and is an outspoken advocate of conservative and family values.

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