Wednesday, July 22, 2015

CRIKEY: News Corp encouraged Zaky Mallah’s extremism: judge

News Corp is in no place to take the moral high ground on giving Zaky Mallah a media platform, write lawyer and author Irfan Yusuf and senior lecturer at UNSW Helen Pringle. 

Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph front page screamed: “TERROR VISION”. The question was posed:
How dare the taxpayer funded ABC allow this man to spout his bile on national TV?.
A picture showed a smiling Zaky Mallah holding a gun.

On page 4, under the infantile headline “SYRIAL AGITATOR”, a heavily edited chronology of Mallah’s life is provided: employment history, overseas trips and alleged involvement with Syrian resistance groups fighting both Assad and Daesh (otherwise known as Islamic State or ISIS). There’s a brief mention of the New South Wales Supreme Court acquitting Mallah “of terrorism-related charges”. Not much more on that topic. We wondered why.

We went back to the April 21, 2005, judgment of Justice James Wood. We now know why News Corp and some other Australian media outlets would not be keen on publicising its contents.

In 2002, Mallah’s passport application had been refused. He appeared on A Current Affair as well as on Alan Jones’ radio program. Paragraph 13 of the 2005 judgment speaks of Mallah as
... beginning to enjoy, if not to crave, the media attention, which was providing him with an interest or cause in an otherwise unfulfilling or empty life.
Media outlets happily entertained his craving,
... particularly with The Australian, and The Daily Telegraph but also with several television stations.
Paragraph 14 describes how in late 2003 Mallah
... showed, or sold, to the journalists copies of some of the documents which police had earlier seized, as well as some photographs of himself in dramatic poses, holding a knife, and wearing the kind of garb that, it seems, he considered appropriate for a would-be terrorist or suicide bomber.
Gosh. News Corp and commercial TV journos appear to have bought photos of Mallah in dangerous poses. Perhaps looking like a suicide bomber. Or like a younger Man Monis. Surely responsible scribes wouldn’t just sit on this. Surely they’d think going to the cops might be an idea. Let’s wait and see. Wood says in paragraph 15:
In the weekend edition of The Australian of November 22-23 [2003], he featured in an article on the front page entitled ‘Tortured World of an Angry Young Man’. It contained some of the photographs that he had supplied, and extracted portions of his manifesto or final message. Reference was made to his grievances and prior arrest [on firearms charges], and the article concluded with some observations as to his potential dangerousness and vulnerability to manipulation, noting that ‘without urgent help, Zak Mallah, Islam and his problems make a deadly cocktail’ ...
The transactions then went further. Paragraph 20:
At the same time as these discussions [with an anti-terror command agent posing as a journalist, between 28 October and November 3, 2003] were taking place, the Prisoner was also in contact with journalists from The Australian, and The Daily Telegraph and possibly also Channel 9, with a view to obtaining further coverage and the sale of photographs or the video.

Did News Corp and/or Channel Nine pay Mallah any money? Mallah certainly needed it. Paragraph 25:
[T]he Prisoner was in straightened financial circumstances, and living in a Housing Commission flat, without any substantial means of income.
Mallah, in fact, claimed that he had discussions with the government agent in order to be paid a sum of money. Wood was scathing about the behaviour of journalists and editors in contact with Mallah at this time. Paragraph 34:
Had real fears been entertained as to his potential dangerousness, then the preferable course surely would have been to pass any relevant information concerning him, to the appropriate policing and security agencies. Had he been dismissed as an attention seeker, of no moment, then there surely would have been no occasion to give him the extensive public exposure which he obviously enjoyed and indeed craved.
Dob him in as a dangerous threat or ignore him as an attention-seeker. Unless you just wanted to manufacture false hysteria about terrorism and minorities. Paragraph 37:
[P]lacing a person such as the Prisoner into the public spotlight is not only likely to encourage him to embark on even more outrageous and extravagant behaviour but, perhaps more importantly, it risks unnecessarily heightening the existing public concerns about terrorist activity as well as encouraging or fanning divisive and discriminatory views among some members of the community.
There’s more to this than simply irresponsible journalism. Our security could have been at stake. And breaches of the law might have taken place. Paragraph 35:
[H]ad the Prisoner’s plan in this case been genuine, the journalists dealing with him, and indeed any police officer doing so without a controlled operations certificate, risked committing offences themselves, under the widely crafted terrorism laws, for example, under s 101.4 or 101.5 of the Criminal Code if they obtained possession of, or collected, documents connected with the preparation for a terrorist act by him; or under s 103.1 if they paid monies to him and were reckless as to whether they might be used by him to facilitate or engage in such an act.
Had Mallah actually committed a real attack with real people dying, then The Australian, the tabloids, Channel Nine and other media outlets might have found themselves on trial for terrorism offences for their actions in facilitating such an attack. No amount of hysterical front-page headlines would save the scribes from the anger of readers and advertisers.

When you point the finger at your competitors, chances are three fingers will be pointing straight back at you. The actions of News Corp in 2002 and 2003 not only gave Zaky Mallah a media platform but perhaps also payments worth more than a ride on a shuttle bus. After Mallah was sentenced in 2005, Vanda Carson in The Australian of April 22, 2005, drew attention to Wood’s warnings on media involvement and coverage of Mallah’s actions. She inaccurately, if ingeniously, wrote:
A senior judge has admitted intelligence agencies would never have picked up Sydney terror suspect Zaky Mallah without the interest of the media.
Wood’s implication, however, was that without the media’s actions, Mallah might have been committed for nuisance at most. Not for terror — for which he was, at any rate, acquitted — and not on a “technicality”, but because, Wood noted, “the Crown failed” to make its case.

One need not agree with everything Wood has to say. But for some media outlets to suggest the ABC was helping out Islamic State by giving an Australian citizen (for now, at least) a voice is downright hypocrisy.

First published in Crikey on 25 June 2015.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

OPINION: An uncomfortable intersection of political interests

On Sunday, thousands of fair dinkum real Aussies will gather at rallies across Australia, raising the Australian flag and shouting slogans. Among the places they'll gather is the central Queensland coastal town of Mackay. Coalition federal MP George Christensen will be speaking. On behalf of Prime Minister Tony Abbott? Reading a message from the PM? Who knows.

A previous Reclaim Australia Rally in Melbourne some months back was characterised by the presence of some, er, interesting people engaging in interesting conduct. A fair few neo-Nazis sporting visible swastika tattoos on shaved heads and/or wearing swastika T-shirts and carrying Aussie flags joined the parade. They were jostling and shouting slogans and carrying placards saying "Abbott! No halal certification" and "No Shariah law!" I doubt even Zaky Mallah would do that sort of thing in an ABC studio.
Christensen certainly has more testicular fortitude than Abbott's frontbenchers who have been ordered not to appear on a certain ABC show whose ratings have gone through the roof. Brisbane's Courier Mail reports Christensen declaring he will defy even the PM's orders and attend the rally.

Reading through the 24 pillars of the Reclaim Australia manifesto, I couldn't help but wonder why Abbott would object. There is a call for ...
... [t]he right to exile or deport traitors ...
... which I guess is akin to Abbott's original call for people engaging in terror-like activities to be stripped of their Australian citizenship even if it was their only one.

Where will Indigenous Australians fit in an Australia reclaimed by the far-right white reclaimers? "Equality at Law", screams pillar No. 3, "No more 'cultural considerations'". That should make Andrew Bolt very happy.

The ideology of Reclaim has a distinctly supremacist feel to it. But in case you thought it was fringe, the reclaimers are singing from virtually the same rhetorical and policy songbook as the federal Coalition on cultural and security matters. Despite trumpeting separation of religion and state, Reclaim's manifesto mentions Christian values and rights numerous more times. How often have we heard Abbott and his ministers lecture us on how Australia has a Christian heritage?

It's true that Coalition MPs tend not to jostle and shout slogans and sport swastika tattoos. But as a former federal Liberal candidate, it pains me to say that in so many ways the more contentious political beliefs on issues like culture and citizenship promoted by the Coalition are effectively the same as those of the far right.

It's hard to say who is influencing who. Certainly the Coalition strategy in the 2001 Tampa election was to destroy Pauline Hanson by mimicking her rhetoric on asylum-seekers. Howard would frequently speak of integration and wasn't too fond of multiculturalism.

Ironically, Tony Abbott held the opposite view. He regarded multiculturalism as a fundamentally sound and inherently conservative social policy. Abbott was one of the few frontbenchers who refused to join the chorus of Muslim-phobic and migrant-phobic hysteria around issues of citizenship and national security. In addresses to various audiences, Abbott recalled what it was like for him and fellow Catholics during previous decades when Catholics were demonised.

Abbott is a victim of the far-right. A former staffer of his walked out to join Pauline Hanson. Abbott and his allies worked hard to ensure One Nation was made accountable for financial irregularities. There was little indication in Abbott's quite brilliant manifesto Battlelines that he would go in an extreme direction. True, he did see Australia as within a broader Anglosphere of nations. But his policy platform did not include stripping people of citizenship for spraying graffiti on public buildings.

If Abbott does give the order to the federal member for Dawson not to attend this rally, it will sound almost hypocritical. I have never seen Tony Jones and the Q&A panel and audience wear swastika T-shirts. There has been no jostling or arrests made, nor are racist slogans tolerated. If Abbott doesn't stop Christensen from attending the Mackay rally, it will show he regards far-right white supremacist extremism as being less troublesome than some kid sporting a marijuana cap and suggesting a minister's rhetoric is pushing Muslim kids to join Islamic State.

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that events overseas appear to have radicalised the conservative side of politics in Australia than they have local Muslims. Today we see far-right lunatics and their Coalition friends using IS as an excuse to beat their chests. Sikh temples are being attacked as the chest-beaters are happy to attack anything or anyone they deem Muslim. Only God knows what Asian Australians will experience should China decide do more than build islands in the South China Sea.

This all shows that discussions (or lack thereof) on national security in Australia are rarely conducted in a sensible manner. Phillip Adams recently wrote in the Weekend Australian:
The current liturgy chanted in unison by ministers prime and junior in the Gregorian manner, including Stop the Boats and Death Cult. They are not designed to encourage discussion but to end it. To drown out doubt, debate, calibration, nuance and context.
The results of repetitious paranoid Coalition rhetoric, channelled through ridiculously rabid columnists and shock jocks, will be seen this Sunday. Hopefully it won't be too ugly.

Irfan Yusuf is PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. First published in the Canberra Times on 17 July 2015.

OPINION: Belligerent and unhelpful: that's our Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Soon a huge chunk of the Australian population will be eligible to be stripped of their citizenship. Tony Abbott announced
[t]he government will strip Australian citizenship from dual nationals who engage in terrorism.
If you're a dual national convicted of ...
... certain specified terrorism-related offences ...
... you automatically lose your Australian citizenship. Feel safer?

The proposals have been debated for some time now. The electorate has been primed about the dangers of terrorism on an almost daily basis by the Prime Minister, by blaring headlines and screeching columns of tabloid columnists and shock jocks. The other day an angry kid named Zaky Mallah appeared on an ABC TV talk show and declared the government's policies were pushing Muslims to join Islamic State. Abbott doubtless couldn't believe his luck.

Some weeks back, Abbott hosted a Regional Countering Violent Extremism summit. Delegates included government ministers from countries other than Indonesia, civil society actors, CVE "practitioners" and academics. One British-based practitioner I spoke to described Mr Abbott's language as
... belligerent and unhelpful.
Abbott made out that IS was coming to get us all. Yet delegates were often busy discussing how to deal with far-right extremism of the kind that frequently attacks Muslims and other minorities in places like Germany, Greece and Britain. Australia also has a problem with far-right extremism which has included numerous violent rallies by groups such as "Reclaim Australia". Abbott's silence about this violent extremism is almost deafening.

Far-right extremists have repeatedly damaged mosques and Sikh temples. They have physically assaulted and spat on women wearing scarves, stalked and videoed them and uploaded video of them on to social media. Women suffer disproportionately from this kind of not-so-domestic violence as they do violence in the home.

Perhaps this is what Canberra Muslim community broadcaster Diana Abdel-Rahman meant when she told The Australian
Let me tell you the level of racism, it is absolutely horrific … This is not the Australia that I know and I grew up in.
Diana is not your typical victim of racism. Were it not for her hijab, she could pass for any fair-skinned Anglo-Australian public servant. Her radio station, whose volunteers once included yours truly, insists on only playing English-language programs featuring North American, Australian and British accents.

So when this Brisbane-born Aussie mum hears a London-born PM telling her to join Team Australia, to "get with the program" and condemn IS terrorism "more often and mean it", you can imagine her frustration. Diana's relatives in Lebanon have more to lose from IS. Numerous friends have told me stories of young Lebanese Sunni and Alawi girls in places like Tripoli being kidnapped by IS thugs. Yet still Lebanon opens its doors to Syrian refugees, as does Turkey and Jordan. UNHCR estimates Lebanon houses around 1.3 million Syrian refugees. You won't hear Lebanon's PM saying "nope nope nope".

Still, does this rhetoric from the PM and his ministry really reek of racism? The rightward shift of Australian society has created a strong resentment toward allegations of racism, which tend to be thrown in the "political correctness" bin. At best, we prefer to fight prejudice with token or symbolic measures.

Kevin Rudd has said sorry, so the continuing injustice of the NT Intervention which is exempt from the Racial Discrimination Act rarely makes news. Rosie Batty can be awarded Australian of the Year but her calls to treat domestic violence as "domestic terrorism" fell on deaf ears in Parliament. In this environment, crying racism may not be the best strategy. Maybe remind people of civil liberties, of democracy and Australian values, the stuff that affects everyone. As John Howard often said:
The things that unite us are more important than those which divide us.
Which is all very good for Mr Howard to say. He's a bloke. He doesn't wear a headscarf as a religious obligation. If he converted to Islam (or Judaism or Sikhism for that matter), the only difference he'd have to the average non-hipster would be facial hair.

He doesn't know what it's like to be assaulted, spat at, to have a scarf ripped off his head or have far-right goons stalking him. And notwithstanding Howard's age, he'd probably have much less of a problem getting a legal job than a woman in a hijab with a superior CV to his.

Terrorism rhetoric hits many Muslim women harder because it's mixed with calls for banning burqas which many Australians cannot differentiate from a simple scarf. Considering the often unreported violent experiences of women, there is a definite stench of anti-female and anti-Muslim bigotry which religious spokespersons and politicians often forget.

Abbott may get his desired terror laws. He may look tough on terror and win an election. But if his Team Australia is built on lack of social cohesion and his rhetoric triggers a violent far-right responses, the security he delivers will soon become a mirage.

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD Candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University. First published in the Canberra Times on 24 June 2015.

Monday, July 20, 2015

CRIKEY: What really went on at Brandis’ terror talkfest

The bluster of stuffy ministers was all the cameras showed. What you may have missed was the diligent, entrepreneurial work of savvy hackers. 

Nestled in a quiet corner of Walsh Bay in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a row of old grey-brown buildings that look like something out of the Great Depression. One of these has two doors that occasionally open to allow well-dressed persons to enter or leave. Once the doors shut, the building is camouflaged among its neighbours. This is the Pier One Hotel. You could drive past it a few hundred times and hardly notice it was there.

But if you approached it during the second half of last week, you’d find the place overrun with people in NSW and Federal Police uniforms and those scary 007-style earpiece thingies. Take a walk inside (if you could get past the strict security), and you’d find plenty of blokes (and the odd female) in serious suits gathered for an important symposium.

And indeed they were. For this was Australia’s Regional Summit to Counter Violent Extremism. Or CVE, as it’s now referred to. Not quite an acronym, but less confusing than ISIS or ISIL or IS or Daesh.

Also present were lots of camera crews, journalists, backbenchers, a few ministers and the Prime Minister. And zero Indonesian politicians. If you stood outside and relied on the daily papers, you’d think the entire summit was about building massive walls around civilisation to keep the IS hordes out.. But if you managed to attend any of the workshops or spoke to the delegates or were even just a fly on the wall, the message would have been a bit garbled.

The real point of the conference was diverting vulnerable young people from IS. As we all know, millions of Australian Muslim kiddies are slipping out of their Lakemba homes to join Caliph Ibrahim without first seeking written permission from the Attorney-General.

Young people are very vulnerable, especially on social media. IS uses Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media to attract young people to its message. These young people might then head off to Iraq or Syria to join the caliphate. Or these young people might do something nasty back home.

In case you hadn’t noticed, it was all about young people. People of the same age bracket as, say, my nephews or Tony Abbott’s daughters. Young people who didn’t address any workshops or seminars, whose opinions weren’t sought on why they might be tempted to join “the Death Cult” (and no, I’m not talking about the heavy metal band from Zurich). Young people who were almost completely absent from the conference. Almost.

Huddled in a quiet room was a small group engaged in the HackAbout project. Yes, it was partnered with the Attorney-General’s Department and the US State Department. Yes, two of the organisers were former US State Department staffers. But this wasn’t about governments. Rather it was about young people harnessing their energy, expertise and passion to find innovative ways to counter the narratives of violent extremists. All violent extremists.

(Among the older participants was a former white supremacist who was, in fact, part of the winning team. Another of them was yours truly, who has had some experience with what some may call “Islamofascism”).

The theory behind the “hackathon” was to create a product that would combat violent extremism and bigotry. Why both? Because they are, effectively, two sides of the same coin. Because they feed off each other.

The participant hackers (or hacks, if you like) included uni students with gaming, graphic design and IT experience. The elder statesmen and stateswomen included Anne Aly of Curtin University and two entrepreneurial types from the US, one of whom founded the world’s largest online directory of halal restaurants. Eat your heart out, Cory Bernardi.

The result of three days of effort was four products, including an app and a game. At this stage, two products will be incubated for further development.

The four groups made a business case for their product to summit delegates. The presentations were also streamed to a global audience who also voted for the winning product. My group’s idea came third, and I take full responsibility for none of it. The winning group, led by Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who works as a FIFO mechanical engineer on oil rigs, came up with a product called Pentor. You might think it’s a new anti-depressant, but actually it’s an app that operates like Tinder, except you’re searching for a mentor and not someone to engage in horizontal folk dancing.

And what did I learn from my HackAbout experience? Well for starters, never engage in such activity when on your second round of antibiotics. But more importantly, I am an old man getting older. I have a lot to learn from those younger than I, and so do out politicians. Because while the delegates were giving speeches, the young folk were developing strategies and products that were tailored for young people to help them shape their lives, without reaching out to violent extremists. No homes were raided. No passports cancelled. No control orders were necessary.

First published in Crikey on 16 June 2015.

OPINION: Why is Bronwyn Bishop meddling in matters that don't concern her?

In case you hadn't noticed, Canberra is not the capital of Britain . We do speak something resembling English, and our beloved Prime Minister was born in London. Australia shares many similarities with Mother England in our major institutions – the common law, a parliamentary democracy and a strong commitment to winning the Ashes.

Our lower house of Parliament is called the House of Representatives. The idea of referring to average Aussies as "Commons" isn't something the drafters of our constitution were too fond of. We also don't have Lords in our country, nor are Senators seen as Lords. And please, nobody mention Knights and Dames.

Our House of Representatives has a Speaker who presides over all meetings of the House. Unlike in the British House of Commons, our Speaker isn't so independent that she has to leave her political party and still needs to contest elections. Bronwyn Bishop remains the Member for Mackellar on Sydney's Northern Beaches, her seat next door to that of Tony Abbott's seat of Warringah. In his preselection speech, Abbott famously asked delegates to
... place an Abbott next to a Bishop.
The Speaker can also attend party meetings. But that's about it. The Speaker is supposed to be impartial, to speak for the House and the whole House. And the House is the place where the executive, the ministers of the Crown, are to be made accountable. That can happen during Question Time but it can also happen in committees.

The Commonwealth produced a colourful booklet entitled The Speaker of the House of Representatives 2nd Edition in 2008. You can find on page 5 of that booklet the following statement:
... the Speaker is the servant of the House and not of the Crown/executive.
If the executive is making decisions or attempting to implement policies which are the subject of heated debate, it is not the Speaker's role to act as a spokesman for the executive or to defend the proposed decision or policy.

The Abbott government doesn't need Bronwyn Bishop to defend its policies on national television, whether on Q&A or elsewhere. It is not Bronwyn Bishop's role to tell us how wonderful the executive are in developing aged care or national security policies. Currently this role is one the ALP and the Greens are fulfilling quite nicely, thank you very much.

So why did Bronwyn so quickly jump in to defend the contentious policies of the executive in the face of criticism from the government's handpicked former National Security Monitor and the Human Rights Commissioner? Why meddle in matters that didn't concern her?

Ian Hancock's 2007 book The Liberals: The NSW Division 1945-2000 mentions Bishop's period as state president of the NSW Liberals In 1985, succeeding John Valder.
Like Valder, Bronwyn Bishop was an interventionist state president; unlike him, she imposed no limits on her interventionism. No president had ever before occupied an office in the secretariat, and not one of her predecessors had treated the job as full time … Bishop was both a chairman of the board and a managing director. Virtually no matter was too trivial to escape her attention.
Bishop appointed Graeme Starr as state director. Starr's assessment of Bishop?
The distinguishing feature of her presidency was the endemic factionalism which brought the party to its lowest point in history.
Division and unnecessary intervention are not exactly the features one would expect from a Speaker of the House. Nor would one expect the Speaker to lecture a statutory officer to resign and run for office. If this is the quality of our elected representatives, our Human Rights Commissioner should remain where she is.

Gillian Triggs isn't the only person to be subjected to ridiculous attacks. Even someone as insignificant as yours truly was described by Bishop in September 2005 under parliamentary privilege as a
... Muslim activist known for his offensive behaviour to women.
She continued:
... I totally refute his statements but, as he has not resorted to bomb throwing, I guess we can handle his accusation.
A few days later, word of my behaviour to women spread far and wide and I was invited to become a White Ribbon Day Ambassador campaigning to eliminate violence against women. ASIO hasn't yet contacted me about throwing bombs. 

And speaking of women, a month earlier Bronwyn Bishop had this to say on the National Interest program on Radio National: 

Now this morning on a debate with a Muslim lady, she said she felt free being a Muslim, and I would simply say that in Nazi Germany, Nazis felt free and comfortable. That is not the sort of definition of freedom that I want for my country. 

Ms Bishop was, on that occasion, defending her great contribution to national security – calling for the banning of girls wearing headscarves in state schools. Despite periods in both Houses of Parliament, Ms Bishop's parliamentary career has been anything but stellar. She has never held a cabinet position. At best, she was a junior minister in the Howard government for the first two terms before being dropped. 

And now Ms Bishop may have the honour of being remembered as the House of Representatives' most partisan and partial Speaker. 

Irfan Yusuf is PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University. First published in the Canberra Times on 19 June 2015.

Friday, July 17, 2015

OPINION: Citizenship focus misses wider security issue

My road to Australian citizenship was long and hard. First I had to be born. Then I spent five months in a rather swish place called Karachi, then known for its trendy art deco cinemas and funky dance parties. Then I landed in northern Sydney, where I stayed until gaining something resembling a memory.

There was no citizenship ceremony. I did, however, attend the passport office to collect my passport. My father pulled me up to the counter, a task I doubt he could repeat now. He held the pen in my hand but I wasn't used to holding one. There were people waiting behind us in the queue, but my 4-year-old brain needed more time to ponder the subtleties of signatures. My father removed the pen from my hand and my butt from the counter, and I let out a God-Almighty sook. The passport arrived. On the signature line were typed the words "unable to sign".

So many of us have to be born here or come at a young age. We use our passport as ID when we lose our wallet. We use it to take holidays to Bali where many misbehave and harass the locals before returning with few memories.

But the idea of losing our citizenship just never comes to mind. Regardless of what crime we might commit, inside or outside Australia, there are courts waiting to try us and prisons to accommodate us. You can be an ex-student of Duntroon like Julian Knight (of Hoddle Street massacre infamy). You could be part of a paedophile ring, terrorising young boys at a Ballarat school or in the alleys of Yogyakarta.

Your actions can destroy the lives of entire communities, leading to suicides and broken lives. But as far as some 40 Coalition backbenchers are concerned, you are welcome to keep your citizenship. Your heinous crimes can terrorise generations. You can be a lone wolf paedophile or a mass murderer, as long as you aren't a terrorist.

Parliament's 'enthusiasm' for new anti-terrorism laws 

Because as we all know, terrorism is a major threat to our nation's security. No, I am not being sarcastic here. We have to acknowledge that there is a good chance someone could slip out of the country to a war zone and then slip back in after committing horrific crimes. A brainwashed kid with bombs strapped to his chest and unleash a blast that will kill and maim.

Let's remember that the first victim of the July 7, 2005 London bombing to be buried was a 20-year-old bank clerk of Bangladeshi heritage. Her name was Shahara Islam. The surname says it all.

The idea of stripping citizenship from people is being debated at a time when, in the popular imagination, terrorism is about al-Qaeda and the self-styled Islamic State. Foreign fighters have left and returned, but those fighting for Kurdish or other groups are largely ignored. Reports are now reaching us of non-ISIL parties, including Christian groups, engaging in such gruesome acts as beheadings.

Our politicians are always on the lookout for good excuses to expand the anti-terror laws to encompass more actions and more groups. As the learned authors of Inside Australia's Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials note:
… Parliament's enthusiasm for enacting new anti-terrorism laws has not been matched by its attention to their maintenance and refinement. Indeed, it is undeniable that Australian governments have found it much more palatable to increase rather than limit or remove national security measures, tending to ignore reviews which recommend the latter course. The result has been a steady ratcheting up of the power of the state when it comes to the prevention of terrorism.

Matters of national security 

Terrorism is seen as an advanced form of criminal activity, even if its outcomes can be just as easily carried out by those with no political or religious inclination.

The government's discussion paper, entitled Australian Citizenship Your Right, Your Responsibility, states:
Citizens who become involved in terrorism are rejecting Australian values and commitment to a safe and harmonious society.

I doubt the paedophile priests in Ballarat were showing much commitment to Australian values. The numerous victims who tragically took their own lives and the families and parishes must feel quite terrorised at this time.

The paper continues:
Support for, or involvement in, politically motivated violence is not acceptable to Australians.
Indeed no Sinn Fein meetings were ever held in Sydney or Melbourne. No Australians ever followed the lead of men like Eric Blair (who is better known by his pen-name George Orwell) to fight in the Spanish Civil War. And no mosques or Liberal Party branches ever hosted representatives of the Afghan Mujahideen fighting the Soviets.

And national security? Recently I spoke to an Australian friend who works as a journalist in East Asia. "How goes it there?" I asked her. "It's fabulous. I've got a front row seat to World War III in the South China Sea. Most of Australia's shipping passes through here. America and China are almost ready to go. How are things down there? Is Abbott still scaring everyone about terrorists?"

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin Unversity. First published in the Canberra Times on 1 June 2015.

OPINION: Tony Abbott getting it wrong on the Rohingya

Something is very rotten in the state of Myanmar. By any measure and any definition, a tiny ethnic minority of Myanmar is the subject of genocide. This is not something recent, even if it has been largely ignored by Western governments and media. It has been going on for more than a decade.

Something is also very rotten in the Commonwealth of Australia. Our nation is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. Previous Australian governments have cited the convention to provide refugees from across the world, from Bosnia Herzegovina to Vietnam and Cambodia to China to parts of the Middle East. Some have come by boat, others by plane. But since the Keating government introduced mandatory detention of asylum seekers, the rot has set in.

So who are the Rohingya? And why, as Tony Abbott has so eloquently put it, can't they

... come through the front door and not through the back door?

Quite simply, as is the case for most refugees, pretty much all doors are shut. No queues are established for them to stand in a neat line. Other ethnic groups (such as the Karen and Shan) have also been persecuted by Myanmar's military junta, some even taking up arms to protect themselves.

The Rohingya live mainly in the Rakhine state of western Myanmar, a region they have called home for centuries. Though numbering barely one million, they have been stateless since they were collectively stripped of their citizenship in a 1982 citizenship law that recognised 135 ethnic groups. Since then they have been driven out of their homes and forced into virtual concentration camps and small villages where they are deprived of medical care.

But don't take my word for it. In April 2013, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing Myanmar's sort-of civilian government of "crimes against humanity" and "ethnic cleansing". Some 200 people were killed in one incident in which Rakhine Buddhists attacked Rohingyas with state authorities standing back. The report mentioned attacks in some 13 townships. The dead were buried in mass graves.

When they are not being burned alive and raped, ethnic Rohingya are being driven from their homes into enclaves at the mercy of religious chauvinists led by a highly organised Buddhist movement. Just about every respectable human rights body has documented this.

These people are regarded as "Bengalis" by the Myanmar government and hence are denied citizenship despite their ancestors living in the area for centuries. Bangladesh (literally "home of Bengalis") regards the Rohingya as Burmese. Some Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh as stateless persons. Unlike Australia, Bangladesh hardly has the resources to permanently settle them.

Conditions in the camps are atrocious. Aid workers from Doctors Without Borders and the UN High Commission for Refugees have been detained by authorities. The camps are squalid and disease-ridden.

Among those at the forefront of anti-Rohingya rage in Myanmar civil society are Buddhist monks like Ashin Wirathu, who describes himself as the "Burmese bin Laden" and uses the same rhetoric as used by the likes of Fox News presenters and our own Reclaim Australia.

Not even Myanmar's otherwise brave opposition leader Nobel Prize Winner Aung Sang Suu Kyi has much to say in defence of the Rohingya. And neighbouring countries, keen to cash in on Myanmar's liberalised market, are too busy imagining the dollars and rupiah and ringgit.

So the Rohingya have no army and no policy force to protect them. Their sources of humanitarian aid are harassed by local authorities. They are constantly attacked by religious fanatics. There is no queue for these people to jump. No country in the region wants them. Even the governments of allegedly Islamic countries have little pity for them, offering little more than some kind of temporary protection.

They are to today's south-east Asia what European Jews were to Europe during the 1930s and '40s. The numbers were much larger in Europe, and the history of Christian persecution of European Jewry was much longer and more brutal. But the ideology was much the same. Even the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, part of the US Holocaust Museum, warned that the Rohingya were a
... population at grave risk for additional mass atrocities and even genocide.
Their fact-finding mission in March found
... early warning signs of genocide.
Genocide. In our own backyard.

But Tony Abbott simply refuses to allow any Rohingya to settle here. Nope nope nope. It sounds as tacky as the old Rosella advert. "Not Reffos again". No No No. "Not Mozlems again". No no no. 

We're often told that being sympathetic is a leftwing fetish. Those of us (like me) who see ourselves as more right than left (or indeed than wrong) feel we have to be tough on boat people. When pressured to show some compassion, we talk about nasty people smugglers. And it's true that they are nasty.

But as conservative American writer and humourist P.J. O'Rourke says, we are the ones who miss out when we close the door on the desperate. As he told his Q&A audience in 2009:

You know, my people came over to the United States in a completely disorganised way. Doubtless by way of people smugglers [...] I really believe in immigration ... Let them in. Let them in. These people are assets. [O]ne or two of them might not be, but you can sort them out later ... Oh, I think conservatives are getting this wrong all over the world, I really do. 

Tony, you're getting it wrong. Close the doors? Lock the gates? Miss out on good future citizens? Showing less humanity than a country with no hesitation to execute our reformed smugglers? Nope. Nope. Nope. ​

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation Deakin University. This was first published in the Canberra Times on 22 May 2015.

OPINION: Dr Tareq Kamleh IS video reaction makes draining the 'extremist swamp' harder

The Death Cult. Perhaps Tony Abbott's most memorable description of Da'esh (also known as Islamic State ISIS, and ISIL). An appropriate description for an organisation whose volunteers and recruits revel in posting on social media photos of themselves holding up decapitated heads. As if they are playing out their own version of Abu Ghraib.

Da'esh is a group whose brutality has even led them to be condemned by al-Qaeda, the terror outfit from which they broke away. Like al-Qaeda, Da'esh has had no hesitation in murdering Shia Muslims, Kurdish Muslims as well as religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. But unlike al-Qaeda, Da'esh wants to be seen establishing a fully functioning state, a place to which believers in its novel form of Islam may wish to migrate and build a new life.

Such a state cannot be established in territory populated with bearded blokes holding up index fingers and/or decapitated heads, deceased "martyrs" and/or kuffar (non-believers) and teenage girls in burqas boasting about luxury cars.

Which makes Dr Tareq Kamleh's 15-minute video perhaps the most effective piece of IS propaganda to date. Kamleh comes across as calm, softly spoken, competent. He uses minimal Arabic religious terms. His face isn't covered with a bushy unkempt beard (the trademark of many a firebrand). He looks like a reformed ladies' man, the kind of well-groomed guy who would impress many a parent were he to come and ask for their daughter's hand or appear at their front door to take her on a date. 

Dr Kamleh isn't speaking from a war zone. Far from living in a death cult, he's in a hospital bringing new life into the new caliphate. The video almost looks like an invitation from a prospective employer to work.
Come and join us. It's nice here. Lots of facilities. All we need is professional people like yourself. I'll see you soon.
The response from political leaders, pundits and religious spokespersons will be predictable. Conservative pundits will move slowly toward their preferred "I told you so" position. They will complain that allegedly chronic political correctness is stopping them from warning Australians about the desperate need to answer "the Muslim question".

Prominent self-appointed spokesmen (and I use the gendered​ sense deliberately) will remind us that Muslims are victims, the subject of discrimination, vilification, increased surveillance and victimisation.

Seriously, in what way was this young doctor who allegedly spent much of his spare time drinking and sleeping around (as if he was the only young Australian professional to do so) the subject of victimisation? Like any other young doctor working long shifts in regional hospitals hundreds of miles from home, Dr Kamleh would have found plenty to entertain himself in Mackay or Perth.

This young doctor was hardly a victim. Yet the Muslim spokesmen will find some of their message – at least as far as vilification is concerned – confirmed by a fair few politicians. The Prime Minister will repeat his talk of draining extremist swamps, an image that reminds this writer of Saddam Hussein's 1993 draining the marshes to destroy the lives of Iraqi Shia Arabs.

And how ridiculous did South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill​ sound when he told The Australian that he was
absolutely" concerned about doctors joining IS and that "We will assist the commonwealth in identifying people that fall into this category and to make sure they don't infect other South Australians with their ideology.
And how exactly will he do this? Will the University of Adelaide Medical School run deradicalisation courses? Will Federal Police be sent to watch over paediatricians at work? Does it really boil down to ideology?

What I am about to write may be a bit difficult for Muslim spokespersons, pundits and politicians to stomach. The fact is that we really don't have much of an idea why young people with plenty of opportunities head off to Raqqa or other territory controlled by Da'esh. We have also put very little money into researching why a tiny group of people take that path.

Let's just say there are 200 Australian Muslims in IS territory at the moment. There are about 400,000 Muslims in Australia. So a grand total of 0.05 per cent of Muslims have joined the "Death Cult". Now Australia's population is just over 23 million. By my calculations, IS recruits are 0.00087 per cent. That's a rather shallow extremist swamp to drain.

But let's just say there is a massive risk of doctors, lawyers, accountants etc lining up to fly to the Islamic Republic of Da'eshistan. How will we find out what their motivation is? By waiting until they appear on a well-produced video, condemning them for joining the biggest threat to civilisation since World War II (as Julie Bishop recently described IS) and cancelling their passports so they can never return and we can never find out why they left Australia and then left IS?

If we are going to defeat IS in Australia (or rather, if it doesn't implode due to lack of demand among local Muslims), our solutions must be based on solid research. By that, I don't mean speculation or theorising. I mean talking to Muslims on the ground. It is a task self-appointed Muslim leaders have never done. And due to lack of funding, academics have found it hard to do.

If the threat from home-grown Islamist terrorism is as big as we are left to believe, let us address it on the basis of facts and evidence.

In conclusion, why did Dr Tareq Kamleh leave behind the alcohol and the girlfriends and the surf? I have no idea. And unless your name is Tareq Kamleh and you are sitting in Raqqa​, chances are you don't either.

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 29 April 2015.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

OPINION: Bishop's mission to Iran raises more questions than it answers

What a crazy few weeks leading up to Anzac Day period it's been. We've had Reclaim Australia holding rallies in most major cities calling for jihad against halal vegemite. We've had hundreds of police swoop on a bunch of kids accused of plotting to kill more police, giving The Daily Telegraph an opportunity to report of "a devastating new terror threat planned for its most revered day", with one columnist reminding us: 

Oh, Islam. How the left so cravenly folds when that particular grievance card hits the table.

By now we should be convinced the Diggers went to Gallipoli to fight 100 per cent  halal-certified terrorists and their leftist allies, who are now threatening our Prime Minister's right to down a pint of beer in one go. Surely it's time to ban the burqa.

Which raises the question. What on earth was our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, doing dressed in what looked like an Emirates uniform? Why did she have to wear that thing on her head? And why, of all places, in the home of beady-eyed mad mullahs and ayatollahs that is Tehran? Couldn't she have appeared bare-headed, in solidarity with millions of Iranian women who hate being forced to wear it? True, our Julie would prefer not to be labelled a feminist, but what about human rights?

Yes? What about it? Julie's mission wasn't to lecture the bearded, turbaned President Rouhani about human rights. Or about trade or halal meat. The mission, as far as the Abbott government was concerned, was dealing with nasty not-so-white Iranian asylum seekers and quite-often-white foreign fighters. Ms Bishop was in Tehran - almost completely covered - to talk about Iran taking back refugee fish that her colleague Peter Dutton rejects.

The Iranians must be scratching their heads wondering what took her so long. It has been three months since a man Tehran insisted was a fraudulent travel agent posing as a Shiite cleric walked into the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place and murdered two Australians in cold blood. Iranian prosecutors wanted Monis on charges of defrauding his customers. Australia granted Monis asylum.
Liberal pollsters will be disappointed Iran refuses to be involved in forced repatriation of failed asylum seekers, many of whom are found to be economic refugees. Perhaps they might be less hesitant to return if sanctions are lifted and Iran's economy opens up to the rest of the world. We can then sell Tehran 100 per cent halal certified coal.

What surely must surprise anyone born around 1970 or earlier is how quickly all this has happened. Not long ago Iran was regarded by many in Australia as the Great Satan. The 1979 Islamic Revolution removed a pro-Western monarch from power. The first Islamic Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini, was regarded as a supporter of terrorist groups in Lebanon who engaged in suicide bombings and kidnappings of Westerners. He established strong relations with more radical Arab leaders including Syria's Hafez al-Assaad.

It wasn't long ago that Israel's embarrassingly hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. Pro-Israel lobby groups worked overtime to convince politicians (including our own) that Iran is evil. Iran's holocaust cartoon competitions weren't helping the cause. And a few days before Ms Bishop's arrival, an Army Day military parade in Tehran featured a truck with a huge sign loudly proclaiming "Death to Israel".

But thanks to the moronic antics of the "Coalition of the Willing" (which included Australia) in invading Iraq and overthrowing the brutal Saddam Hussein, and thanks to an incompetent sectarian government we are propping up, Iran is now the most powerful non-Arab player in Iraq. We need Iran more than Iran needs us. It is surely George W. Bush's greatest nightmare that the United States' Deputy Sheriff is now looking to one part of the Axis of Evil for help.

So what's in it for Iran? Increased international respectability. Access to more Iranian dissidents perhaps. And for Australia? A willing partner in solving our asylum woes. Intelligence to fight Islamic State of perhaps better quality than the intelligence used to invade Iraq in the first place. Even more Iranian students.

At this stage, Iran has been a trading partner but not exactly our best friend. Perhaps that status can be gained by Mr Abbott turning up to Tehran sporting a turban. Either way, both Iran and Australia can be well pleased with diplomacy well done.

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, at Deakin University. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on Tuesdau 21 April 2015.

OPINION: Muslims shouldn't have to keep apologising for terrorist attacks

The general response in the West to the appalling January 7 Paris attacks show that the Western view of terrorism has barely changed since 9/11. The same themes persist - "they" are terrorising "us". "Their" moderates need to do more to stop "their" extremists from attacking "us". Why aren't more of "their" moderates speaking out? Why don't "they" respect "our" values? Why don't "they" take responsibility?

Surely holding all Muslims (one-quarter of the world's population) collectively responsible for the actions of fringe groups should be universally hounded as imbecilic. Instead, many of the "official" Muslim spokespeople have taken this exclusionary message to heart.

Each time there is a terrorist attack on a Western country, they all but trip over themselves and each other to condemn - at times not even waiting for anyone to confirm the actual motives of those ultimately held responsible.

The same set formula, the same mantras are reported. "We condemn. It has nothing to do with us or our faith."

One can hardly blame them for this. In the Australian imagination, terrorism and Islam are interchangeable.

Whether it be small evangelical and far-right groups complaining about halal certification of Vegemite or opponents of mosque developments, the spectre of terrorism is ever present.

Even after it was established that a fringe loner was responsible for the Martin Place attack, some commentators insisted "sheikh" Haron had a substantial following.

Those who scream the loudest about the alleged Islamic threat to Australia are often those complaining they aren't free to speak loudly about the threat because of "stifling political correctness" or Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Yet there's a new generation of Muslims born and brought up in Australia who better understand and are less afraid to engage with media, politics and mainstream culture than their elders.

Many of them see their elders' rush to condemn terrorist acts as having the opposite effect to that intended. They see their elders' statements as reinforcing a dominant mindset on Islam and Muslims that is patronising and at times even xenophobic.

Conventional wisdom about terrorism is certainly worth questioning.

Jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State regard many, if not most, Muslims as kuffar, plural of kafir or infidel. These groups have killed a far greater number of Muslims than Jews and Christians.

In December, about 132 students and 13 staff at the Army Public School in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar were gunned down by the Pakistan Taliban. The Peshawar attacks received nowhere near as much media coverage nor pious statements from world leaders.

Nor was there much said about Boko Haram's assaults in Nigeria. In one such assault, which took place around the same time as the Paris attack, more than 1000 people were murdered. The Nigerian schoolgirls have still not been captured, though they have been immortalised in a Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting them as pregnant welfare queens demanding no one touch their payments.

Muslims are often accused of seeing themselves as victims. But when so little emphasis is placed on a far greater number of non-Western terror deaths, young Western Muslims can be forgiven for seeing this as an indication of chronic Western victimhood.

Westerners are the only victims - or at least the only victims who matter.

No one should be murdered for drawing cartoons or for working as a policeman or for visiting a supermarket. But our knowledge and consciousness of terrorism is almost always limited to our own cultural backyard. Our sense of reality is distorted.

According to the 2013 Global Terrorism Index, 80 per cent of all terrorism-related deaths occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.

In sixth place was India, where terrorist deaths doubled. And who are the most feared group in India?

Communist terrorist groups are by far the most frequent perpetrators and the main cause of deaths in India ... Three Maoist communist groups claimed responsibility for 192 deaths in 2013, which was nearly half of all deaths from terrorism in India.

The Maoist uprising, which started in 1967, has been operating in 20 of India's 29 states.

But is the hypocrisy and victimhood that pervades much of the Australian and the broader Western debate on terrorism enough reason for community spokespersons not to speak the truth and call a spade a spade?

Haters can allow their hate to compromise their beliefs. They can point the finger at Muslims for being terrorists whilst ignoring them - and others - as victims.

Perhaps the issue is not whether to condemn terrorism but rather when, to condemn all political violence regardless of who are perpetrators and who are victims. Ultimately it doesn't matter who the victims are. Unjustly killing one is equivalent to killing all humanity. Surely that's a Biblical and Qur'anic principle we can all agree on.​

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and author of Once Were Radicals: My Years as a Teenage Islamofascist. This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 16 January 2015.

Monday, March 30, 2015

CRIKEY: How the Western media supports terrorism ...

Daesh supporters post gruesome photographs on social media to spread propaganda. And the Western media have been very willing to help out with that.

I’m looking at a story from Friday’s Australian on my laptop. The author is Victorian editor John Ferguson. A headshot shows him smiling, below which is a larger photo of two younger men in military fatigues, also beaming smiles. One of the smiling men, believed to be a former RMIT student, is holding a severed head, thankfully with its face blurred. Part of the rest of the body is also shown.
The photo described above was apparently taken from social media and posted by supporters of Daesh (also called Islamic State or ISIS). Thought bubbles have been superimposed on the photo. The Melbourne student, pointing to both the severed head and the body, thinks “STINKY DOG”. The other giggles the letters “LOL”.
Apart from being fighters in a guerrilla war, these men also fit into the category of “terrorist” under relevant Australian law. The media organisations that constantly display gruesome images of these and other young men holding severed heads or boasting about their sex slaves or standing guard while a victim in an orange jumpsuit is beheaded or burned alive, are aware that the images show not just gruesome but also illegal conduct.
This raises a simple question: why are Australian media organisations effectively providing free propaganda services to terrorists? If there are troubled or sick individuals tempted by such activities or by nasty images in general, why are mainstream news organisations feeding their fetish? Why are their advertisers not kicking up a fuss? And why haven’t the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and other erstwhile parliamentarians even said a word?
We are, after all, involved in a war with Daesh. We are trying to stop the (albeit small) flow of young Sunni Muslim men and women to the war zone in Syria and Iraq. Their actions have led to serious but unnecessary changes in anti-terror laws, which are in addition to current laws that have barely been used.
It remains to be seen whether the laws will be applied consistently to other foreign fighters, including former NT Labor Party president Matthew Gardiner,who is believed to be fighting with a Kurdish outfit in Syria called the “Peoples Protection Units”. Certainly the Attorney-General’s office has made it clear that ”if you fight illegally in overseas conflicts, you face up to life in prison upon your return to Australia”, regardless of which side you are on.
When Daesh first came to the Western media’s attention for beheading aid workers and journalists, there were requests from the victims’ families that images of the final moments of the victims not be shown. By and large, Australian newspapers ignored these requests. In my opinion, this was grossly insensitive. Perhaps on the occasions above, where Daesh fighters are shown holding severed heads or even laying in a “martyred” state, media outlets might suggest that there are no living victims involved.

That’s assuming you don’t regard the families of these young men and women as victims. The student referred to above comes from a highly educated family of south Asian extraction. His friends have told me that the family were extremely distressed when they heard their son had left for Syria. Imagine how much this distress is compounded by knowing that images of their son holding an AK-47, holding a severed head and finally dead on the ground are on major news websites and newspapers.
Yes, it’s true. These photos are taken from Daesh supporters and used for propaganda purposes. So why do terrorists’ propaganda for them?

First published in Crikey on 26 March 2015.

CRIKEY: The enemy of my enemy? Beware of cherrypicking Islamic sects ...

Western governments have long tried to fight terrorism by supporting opposing sectarian Islamic groups. But this is not necessarily the way forward.

Words like “terrorism” and “radicalisation” may defy clear definition, but they describe real and preventable phenomena. And if we are to have any hope of effectively combatting them, we need to develop strategies built on facts and evidence, not ideology. And we need to do it in a timely manner. In key areas, the Abbott government and its predecessors have failed on both scores since the London bombings.
On Tuesday the PM was quoted as saying: “We are about to begin a very big campaign to try to counter the influence that the death cult has, particularly online, on vulnerable Australians”.
And just how is he going to do that? The headline on a page 2 story inThe Australian story reads “$5m lost reaching out to Islamists”. Maybe this is what Abbott meant when he remarked: “It’s important that we spend the money the right way, rather than just blow it.”
One common way money has been blown is bankrolling sectarian Muslim organisations to de-program kids. Often these projects are based on the idea that funding a group from a sect opposing the preferred sect (say, Wahhabism) of terrorists will drag people away from violent extremism. As if it’s all about religious denomination.
Back in 2005-07, the Howard government insisted it did not wish to deal with groups it considered extreme. The Australian had a field day linking people and institutions to Wahhabism (also known as Salafism) and hence to terrorism. The Howard government decided that bankrolling al-Ahbash, an anti-Wahhabi/Salafi sect based in Lebanon, was the way to fight terrorism. The result was the publication of a booklet whose strategy was built upon sectarian and ideological polemics.
One of the organisations named in The Australian is the Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA), which “received $100,000 to run an educational program”. At first glance, the choice of the LMA is curious — it allows only men eligible for Lebanese passports to hold full membership, to vote and to be elected to its executive.
Both the LMA and al-Ahbash compete for support from Lebanese Sunni Muslims, and they have a history of enmity dating back decades. LMA might have nationalistic and gender bias, but it certainly isn’t as sectarian as al-Ahbash. On the positive side, it engaged Aftab Malik, a very un-Lebanese expert from the UK with substantial experience in British Muslim anti-terror initiatives funded by the UK government’s Prevent Strategy.
However, Malik’s strategy was based on the false idea that “wrong” theology leads to violent extremism. As a leading figure in a Western Sunni movementcalling itself “Traditional Islam” (TI), Aftab was “[w]ithin the United Kingdom … critical in articulating and promoting TI perspectives”.
Perspectives? TI openly rejects a broad range of religious ideas and movements it sees as “Wahhabi/Salafi”, claiming these have direct theological links to Daesh, Boko Haram or any other group engaged in violent extremism. Even those (like myself) broadly sympathetic to TI’s position would be uncomfortable with a blatantly sectarian agenda dominating deradicalisation work.
There’s no suggestion the LMA used public funds to pursue a sectarian agenda, or that Malik engaged in sectarian activities (given my own preference for TI, I almost wish he did!). But his very presence in such a sensitive program could risk a national security program becoming a sectarian exercise. Perceptions are often more powerful than reality.
Deradicalising young people isn’t and should never be about attacking a set of religious ideas that happen to be within the theological range of Daesh. If Daesh can be described as “Wahhabi”, so can its most vicious opponentsamong Wahhabi religious scholarship across the world.
Foreign fighters heading for Daesh, like their predecessors heading for Afghanistan to fight the Soviets or heading to Spain to fight General Franco, are often less inspired by religion than by fighting for what they see as injustice which the rest of the world had turned its back on. As western Sydney imam Wesam Charkawi, who works with social workers and young people tempted by the political rhetoric of Daesh, told The Guardian: “The idea that young men are waiting in line to become radicalised is a myth. This point is sensationalised by media and politicians.”
With that in mind, perhaps one good strategy to stop Daesh is to stop marginalising people because of their religious heritage. And to create an environment where they aren’t powerless to address the inconsistencies in our foreign policy.​

First published in Crikey 12 March 2015.

CRIKEY: Abbott’s latest bizarre captain’s call a dog-whistle at cultural trolls ...

Islamic State is as Islamic as the Liberal Party is liberal — but you wouldn’t know it from Abbott’s dog-whistling.

Ask any person with an Arabic or Persian or Muslim-sounding name who blogs, tweets or regularly posts on Facebook groups. We’ve all had the same experience — trolls leaving nasty or narky or even violent comments about our religious or ethno-religious heritage. One guy used to leave messages on my blog warning of an impending “alcoholocaust” in which my type would be drowned in grog. Others would request I kindly commit suicide as I was “the fattest ugliest and smelliest lawyer in Australia”.
My favourite would be the snarky reference to “the religion of peace”. From far-Right wackos to the Facebook pages of the Fred Niles and Danny Nalliahs of this world, this cynical reference to George W. Bush’s remarks after 9/11 has become a staple hate-phrase of just about anyone with a gripe against someone who sort of looks mildly Muslim-ish.
And now the Prime Minister is echoing the trolls during a high-profile speech on national security. A speech introducing a report by two public servants into a single tragic incident that is still the subject of an investigation and report from the Coroner.
Abbott’s rhetoric surely must represent yet another ridiculous captain’s call. “I’ve often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a religion of peace. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.” It was as if he’d just been told all Muslims worked on the same telephone sex line, leading him to wink at his fellow cultural trolls.

And which Muslim leaders is he talking about? Religious leaders? Fruit-loop dictators who imprison Australian journalists? Middle Eastern oil sheikhs? The captains of the Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and South African World Cup cricket squads?
And exactly when will Abbott be satisfied that Muslims actually mean it when they quote Dubya? What does it mean to mean you reckon your religion is all peace and love and flowers and VW vans?
Indeed, what does the peaceful or otherwise nature of 14 centuries of parallel traditions have to do with a crazed gunman who wore Iranian Shia robes and then decided he would support the vehemently anti-Shia Islamic State but took the wrong flag to the Lindt Cafe?
I know plenty of Muslims who are about as observant and pious as Mick Jagger. A fair few are atheist. Others might visit the mosque once a year. There are Muslims who drink, eat very non-halal meat, live in sin and yet still have some identification with their ancestral faith and culture. They aren’t the sort of people to give a rat’s backside about what some non-English-speaking mufti says.
Then there are more devout Muslims who would not associate with IS-type groups for religious and sectarian reasons. They don’t want their country to enter an “ominous” new “dark age”. They just want to go to work, pay their taxes and have enough money left over to take the kids shopping at their local Westfield regardless of any threats or the Jewish beliefs of certain Westfield managers. They probably wouldn’t feel inclined to sign some long-winded statement, many of whose signatories belong to an exclusivist denomination that regards other Muslims as unbelievers.
Grassroots communities don’t need lectures from Tony Abbott. They know what terrorism is because many have fled from it and have often spent years in detention centres. Perhaps the PM should talk to the group of Iraqi-Australians from Christian and Muslim denominations who met in January to discuss the issue of young Iraqi-Australians tempted to fight for either side. “The forum was organised by young people from the Iraqi Australian University Graduates Forum — which included people from Shia, Sunni, Assyrian, Christian, Chaldean, Syriac and Mandaean communities” and called for “an open debate on extremism”. Of course, it’s impossible to have an open debate when a substantial part of the whole community is made to feel like it’s all their fault.
All this fuss and dog-whistling about migrants and non-white people saysmore about Tony Abbott than it does about migrants and non-white people. Seriously, what kind of conservative prime minister introduces revolutionary changes to citizenship law on the basis of a single report by a couple of public servants? What kind of PM thinks we should change our laws due to the actions of a deranged migrant when our jails are full of deranged violent people who were born here? What kind of champion of Australian values awards the nation’s highest honour to a Greek chap with unsavoury connections? What kind of party introduces legislation attacking hate speech while sharing preferences each election with the likes of Fred Nile and while having supporters like Andrew Bolt? What kind of bloke appoints himself Minister for Women? With this kind of decision-making, is it any wonderAbbott is in deep poop?
Suggesting Man Haron Monis is reflective of Islam is about as silly as suggesting Tony Abbott is reflective of Catholicism and/or Australian values. As for Islamic State, it’s about as Islamic as the Liberal Party is liberal.

First published in Crikey on 24 February 2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

CRIKEY: Pakistan school massacre and the nature of terrorism

At funerals for the dead students kill Pakistan, mourners will recite the same words uttered by the terrorists. And yet some would have us believe Islam has something to answer for.

In his column yesterday, Chris Kenny lectured us on how “sections of the media and political class” are pressuring him and his colleagues to “play down the Islamist element” in various terror attacks affecting Australians. These forces would have us ignore the “horror of Islamic extremist terrorism”.
Kenny wrote of 9/11, when “10 of our nationals were killed”, then of the Bali bombings, when “88 of our citizens” were among the victims, then of the attack on our embassy in Jakarta. We are facing this. We are the victims. And all the left-wing elites care about is “a backlash” and of “repercussions against Muslims” that will never arrive. Kenny’s simplistic binary seems to be “we” Aussie versus them … um … er … Islamic Islamist types.
There wasn’t much evidence of playing down anything from Chris Uhlmann during his conversation with the PM this morning. Uhlmann asked some tough questions that needed answering, then made the extraordinary claim about a certain set of religious and legal denominations and traditions whose adherents make up one-quarter of humanity: “[T]his is a religion that is resistant to scrutiny or criticism, that is utterly incapable of laughing at itself, and when it is criticised the reaction often tends to be violent.”
Blaming this attack on Islam won’t help survivors of the hostage drama any more than an attack on Christianity would help victims of child sexual assault who gave evidence at the royal commission.
Right now people are in mourning. The Lindt Cafe is a popular destination, situated between the financial and legal districts of Sydney CBD. I’ve been shouted coffee there myself by barristers grateful for the work. It could have been me among those hostages. It could have been the mufti wearing a suit. It was almost Chris Kenny.
Of course, real terrorists who are part of real terrorist groups tend not to care much about having the right flag or talking to the prime minister or other delusional wishes. Real terrorists like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) don’t allow the age or gender or religion of their victims to stop them from walking into a school and starting to shoot.

Imagine being a year 10 student and witnessing 40 of your fellow students being murdered during an exam. Imagine being shot in both legs and then shoving a tie down your throat so that you don’t scream in agony and you can successfully play dead. Imagine being a parent and not knowing whether your children will still be in their school uniforms or draped in a burial shroud.
The idea that many terrorists are inspired by theocratic “Islamist” ideas is a given. Pakistani newspapers and Urdu cable TV channels are vociferous in their condemnation of dehshat gardi (terrorism). The current government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have won the argument about peace talks with the Taliban, but Pakistan looks like it is fast losing the war.
Now here’s a thought. At the funerals of the young students, people will be reciting the Arabic sentence hung up in the window of the Lindt coffee shop in Martin Place. They will recite Allahu Akbar (God is Greater) as was shouted by Taliban assailants as the bullets entered the victims. With whom do the mourners of Peshawar have more in common? The self-styled Sheikh Haron? The Taliban murderers? Or the Sydney folk of all colours and ethnicities and faiths laying flowers and praying at Martin Place?

First published in Crikey on 17 December 2014.