A hostage runs towards a police officer outside Lindt cafe where other were being held in central Sydney on December 15, 2014.
Jason Reed /Courtesy Reuters

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Australia has enacted some of the harshest and most extensive antiterror laws in the world. The laws give sweeping powers to security and law enforcement agencies and have reportedly helped thwart several terror plots inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Yet on December 14, Man Haron Monis, a self-proclaimed cleric from Iran whom Australia granted asylum in 1996, managed to take more than a dozen people hostage in a café in downtown Sydney. The siege ended less than 24 hours later when Australian commandos stormed the café; the standoff left Monis and two hostages dead.

Monis’ motivations, and the extent to which he was even inspired by events in the Middle East, remain a matter of speculation; a debate now rages over whether he was a terrorist or merely a mentally disturbed bigot. The siege itself, however, serves as a reminder that even the strictest

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  • JOSEPH CHINYONG LIOW is Senior Fellow and Lee Kuan Yew Chair in Southeast Asia Studies at the Brookings Institution and Dean and Professor of Comparative and International Politics at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
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