First published in Crikey on 26 March 2015.
Monday, March 30, 2015
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.
First published in Crikey on 26 March 2015.
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.
First published in Crikey 12 March 2015.
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.
First published in Crikey on 24 February 2015.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
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.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
India does not spring to mind as a global terrorism hotspot, but lawyer and commentator Irfan Yusuf finds there’s much we don’t know about the world’s second-most populous nation.
India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told Commonwealth lawmakers in Canberra that Australia was firmly at the centre of his nation’s gaze. Meanwhile, our national broadcaster has announced it is closing its New Delhi bureau. And most Australians wouldn’t have much of a clue about the world’s second-most populous nation or its neighbours.
India doesn’t just want our uranium and coal; Modi has pledged to work with Australia to fight what he describes as the “menace of terrorism”.
But what does terrorism mean in India? Do publications like The Times of India or The Hindu or Caravan see terrorism as purely a Middle Eastern or Islamic problem?
The 2013 Global Terrorism Index placed India at sixth in the world when it came to number of terrorist attacks. Above India were Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. These countries accounted for some 80% of all terrorism deaths. India experienced the largest increase in terrorist attacks, with deaths almost doubling (238 to 404) from 2012-13.
Yes, there certainly are jihadists operating in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. But the GTI Report states what most Indians already take for granted:
In 2013 around 70% of attacks were non-lethal. 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. Police are overwhelmingly the biggest targets of Maoists, accounting for half of all deaths and injuries.
The Maoist insurgency has much to do with farmers in impoverished tribal areas being forced off their land. The uprising has been going since 1967, with the Naxal movement operating in 20 of India’s 29 states. Terrorism doesn’t happen in an economic or political vacuum.
Perhaps the most dangerous form of extremism can be found in the Indian ruling coalition. Before being elected Prime Minister in a landslide, Modi was chief minister of Gujarat province in the north-west of the country. Gujarat was also the home state of an eccentric barrister named Gandhi, who was once labeled a terrorist by Her Majesty’s government.
Far from engaging in violence, Gandhi preached a novel form of non-violent resistance with a view to securing independence for India. He was assassinated by a small cabal of extremists from his own Hindu faith, people who did not share his cosmopolitan vision for a multi-confessional India.
This coalition of theocrats has been quite happy to use violence and terror to put religious minorities — especially Catholics and Muslims — in their place. They include people within the current PM’s inner circle as well as convicted religious terrorists. They were behind some of India’s worst violence in its post-independence history.
And when it comes to violent Hindutva theocracy, guess which side the current Indian PM belongs to.
Indians (and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans and Nepalese) take this stuff for granted. But rarely will you read or hear or see much use of words like Hindutva or Naxalite in our own media.
First published in Crikey on 21 November 2014.
Western young men travelling to the Middle East to become jihadis is a serious problem that demands serious coverage. But all the tabloids care about it is jelly belly jihadis. Irfan Yusuf, lawyer, author and commentator, reports.
The anonymous parents sit in their Sydney home consumed with grief. They believe four of their sons, aged 17, 23, 25 and 28, have travelled to Syria to join Islamic State or one of the other groups battling each other and the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They’d been told by their oldest son he’d won a free holiday to Thailand and was taking his three brothers, one of whom had just finished his year 12 exams. The others had stable jobs.
The mother received a text stating the boys were now Syria and looked forward to seeing her “in paradise”. At fist she assumed it was a joke and deleted it. Now she believes it is real. The mother begs for her sons to come home. Who knows what she and other members of her family are going through.
Why did this happen? Assuming they have signed up for a militia in Syria, how did four young “cleanskins” become indoctrinated to leave behind loving parents, stable jobs and bright futures to join a war whose contours they might barely understand?
These are serious questions requiring serious analysis. Instead, what we have received is a chorus of fat jokes from the tabloids. The right-hand corner of yesterday’s Daily Telegraph front page carried the headline: “TOO FAT FOR JIHAD. Weight might stop Sydney’s would-be death cult recruits”. Page 6 carried the headlines “JELLY-BELLY JIHADIS” and “Sydney’s biggest losers too overweight to join IS cali-fat”. A photo is shown of a boy holding his head on his chin with his right fist while holding a half-eaten kebab in his left.
Two of the boys each weigh allegedly 140 kilograms and “can’t even run on the field”. A similar report appeared in the Daily Mail Australia, which cited a source saying:
‘We are hoping the fact that because two of them are quite obese they will not good foot soldiers, they are over 140 kg. People are going to realise, what are we going to do with them? Are they going to eat al [sic] the food and you can’t even run on the field.’The source for the boys’ physical fitness or lack thereof? Dr Jamal Rifi, a GP who says he is a friend of the family. Is there any evidence that Islamic State will reject them? Any kind of statement that they are not fit enough to become soldiers? Nope.
I hope to God that the boys were playing a joke on their parents, that they return to Australia soon and that they make a fast buck pursuing defamation proceedings. No doubt that would wipe the tears off their parents’ faces.
Tabloid media discussion on these issues has tended to demonise not just those fleeing to Syria but the communities they leave behind. The same communities that more likely than not despise IS and other groups, which seem to have a knack for beheading more Muslims than anyone else. Now in the case of the four Sydney boys, the tabloids have resorted to ridicule. It might entertain the readers, but I doubt it generates much sympathy for the poor parents.
First published in Crikey on 19 November 2014.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Emma Alberici’s drawn praise for her heated interview with the head of a radical Islam group, but her conduct was not exemplary.
Tony Abbott copped a few guffaws when he said that in Syria there were no clear goodies and baddies, just lots of baddies. But in fact it was one of the wisest things he ever said about foreign policy. If only he didn’t limit such wisdom to Syria.
What Abbott and the rest of Australia (including our fourth estate) needs to understand is that the national boundaries drawn up in the Middle East were the result of shenanigans of colonial powers on their last legs. Religious, cultural and language groups were split up and even denied some kind of nationhood. Artificial nations were created.
In his memoir Leave to Remain, Australian Lebanese writer Abbas El-Zein recounts his visits to Iraq, where his relatives, from a long line of Shia Muslim religious scholars, studied and worked. He visited what is perhaps the largest cemetery on earth, the Wadi al-Salaam (Valley of Peace) in Najaf Iraq, where Shia Muslims from across the globe aspire to be laid to rest.
Yes, it’s true. Shia Muslims in southern Lebanon have direct links to Shia Muslims in Iraq. Sunni Muslims in Lebanon have direct family and spiritual links to Sunni Muslims in Syria. A Sunni Muslim tribe in Syria is being housed by their direct tribal relatives from Jordan. The boundaries may be real to us, living in the Westphalian world of nation states. But to the people of the region, it really doesn’t make sense. The ties of language and culture and faith and sect go back much further. Those ties and loyalties may extend to communities in Australia, affecting even people born here. It may well be much more complex than just Shias hating Sunnis.
It also explains why the simplistic vision of “the Muslim world”, a singular rump of 25% of humanity yearning for a caliphate, also makes little sense to all but a tiny minority of nominally Muslim migrants and their offspring. This is the fringe simplistic ideology promoted by groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), the organisation of “hate preachers” Tony Abbott has promised another hate preacher he will ban.
Emma Alberici’s Lateline interview with former HT Australian spokesman Wassim Doureihi started well enough. “We’ve invited you here tonight to help Australians better understand what it is that you stand for.” It went downhill from there, with decontextualised questions like, “Do you support the murderous campaign being waged by Islamic State fighters in Iraq?”
Then again, Doureihi could have just used some strategic sense. He’s in luck that HT leaders overseas were having serious issues with ISIS/ISIL/IS before the first Western aid worker or journalist was decapitated. Or rather, when other Western journalists were ignoring the large number of Lebanese, Kurds and other non-Westerners being slaughtered by Daesh, which is the correct Arabic name for Islamic State.
All Doureihi had to do is read out the HT rejection of the Daesh caliphate. Inane questions such as these are something any seasoned media operator should be used to. And Doureihi is about as seasoned as they come. He’s been an HT spokesman since around 2006.
But Doureihi cannot remove himself from this simplistic vision of human beings as computer hardware who just need the correct religious and political software to operate a caliphate network. HT see the idea of a caliphate as sole political glue that binds Muslims together, despite the fact that Shia Muslims don’t believe in a caliphate. As if issues like language never led to the phenomenon of Kurdish separatism or the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 and the ongoing tensions within this relatively new Muslim nation.
Perhaps Alberici could have asked Doureihi to explain this diagram from The Guardian — it doesn’t look much like a singular Muslim world to me. Or if complicated is her thing, perhaps this one from Slate. But then Alberici was stuck in a simplistic paradigm handed to her, one where a handful of white people being decapitated was more tragic than thousands of brown people being slaughtered by Daesh and then bombed to shreds by righteous Western forces.
Doureihi had an opportunity to decontextualise and recontextualise all he wanted if he just got past Alberici’s threshold questions. Instead, he became bogged down in a sad attempt to rejig the war on terror “narrative” in a single interview.
WASSIM DOUREIHI: Let me make it very clear: you’ve invited me on to this platform to express my views.EMMA ALBERICI: Yes!WASSIM DOUREIHI: You’re not allowing me to do that.EMMA ALBERICI: But you want to express your views quite separate to the questions that I’m putting to you.WASSIM DOUREIHI: I’m answering the question that I deem appropriate.
How hard is it to say, “I am against beheadings. I am against genocide. And I was wondering why we never gave a flying fuck about the toxic fallout in Fallujah being worse than Hiroshima”?
But Alberici’s own responses to Doureihi’s questions reinforced Doureihi’s claims that some kind of underlying narrative was at play. She was becoming flustered by a phenomenon — an interviewee answering her question in a manner he wished — that she should be well used to. Heck, politicians do this all the time. HT is a political party. Doureihi is a Muslim politician wannabe.
Alberici lectured Doureihi on how to combat phobia. “You can dispel any supposed phobia out there by putting a line in the sand and giving people a yes or a no about what your position is”. She even asks : “What are Islamic State fighters doing in your name?”
It’s easy for Doureihi and others (including me) to be offended by this. Daesh don’t fight in my name. They are violent wackos, thugs, criminals. I don’t think HT are violent, even if they are silly. But to ban them would be ridiculous. If Abbott and other pollies cannot win such a simple battle of ideas against such simpleton opponents, it says a lot about the pathetic discourse on foreign policy in this country.
First published in Crikey on Friday 10 October 2014.
Saturday, October 04, 2014
Why have we been focusing all of our attention on lone-wolf terror suspects, while a man accused of horrific war crimes attracts scant mention?
It’s easy to sit here in our Crikey ivory towers sipping sharia-compliant champagne while we ponder why 800 police officers are required for raids that yield a handful of arrests across three cities. But we can’t help but notice that all the fuss about lone-wolf, suspected Muslim terrorists has been somewhat absent in other cases.
I’ve been seriously trying not to be cynical about the Abbott government’s mini-Domestic-War-On-Terror-Suspects and almost succeeded when I noticed a piece published in yesterday’s Canberra Times. At a time when deceased teenage suspect Numan Haider was a mere toddler, a suspected war criminal named Krunoslav Bonic was openly and comfortably living in Canberra within 30 minutes of the Federal Police HQ.
In the grand scheme of horrors that was the 1990s’ Balkan Wars — horrors committed on all sides that include concentration camps, mass murders in cities and towns like Srebrenica, gang rapes of civilian women, ethnic cleansing, etc — Bonic’s crimes aren’t at the most gruesome end.
Bonic is not accused of orchestrating the gang rapes of girls as young as 12. He was not part of a force that massacred 8000 men and boys over a few days. He did not hold emaciated civilians to be beaten and tortured in concentration camps. It isn’t suggested that he destroyed world heritage monuments such as the famous 16th-century Ottoman Stari Most Bridge.
The War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague has heard evidence that Bonic cut the ears and other bodily parts off dead soldiers to make money. He also rounded up and beat civilians.
True, it’s only a tad worse than the actions of our allies at Abu Ghraib. But if the evidence survives court scrutiny, Bonic’s alleged actions would almost certainly constitute war crimes. He would be yet another war criminal our authorities ignored in favour of pursuing potential terrorists.
One would hope that pursuing potential war criminals would also warrant a media circus, even if (in the case of ACT-based Bonic) only worthy of a few local Canberra newspapers. War criminals do matter, and not just as friendly hosts to our asylum seekers.
First published in Crikey on 2 October 2014.
Last Friday, the Herald Sun editorialised that there are "actively 100 Australians actively supporting terrorist organisations" in the Middle East. It's a figure that gets thrown around a lot these days. Support for terror has blown out among Australians who tick the Muslim box on their census forms.
What do you get when you cross a blatant disregard for facts and legal due process with a “feral Andrew Bolt column”? The Herald Sun, of course.
Haider did stab two police officers before being shot dead. He likely had his passport cancelled and was suspected of being involved in activities that, had he carried them out, might have been found by a court to have breached the provisions of anti-terror laws.
In the real world, he had not been charged, let alone convicted. No evidence against him was brought before a properly constituted court. But as far as the Hun was concerned, all this is legal mumbo jumbo. Haider was a terrorist who planned to assassinate the Prime Minister, even if police denied there was ever such a plot.
The coverage, the allegations, the group responsibility and the hysteria was relentless. The cover of the Hun on Wednesday, September 24, carried the words “DEADLY THREAT TO ABBOTT”, and the deceased was described on page 2 as “A TEEN terror suspect under investigation for making threats against Prime Minister Tony Abbott”. Following this allegation were 11 paragraphs citing a midnight police press conference after Haider’s shooting, during which no mention was made of a plot to kill the PM. One wonders how the five reporters (Angus Thompson, Anthony Dowsley, Wes Hosking, David Hurley and Simon Benson) could not cite a single source for their allegation.
The headline of Thursday, September 25 screamed “JIHAD REVENGE FEARS” and spoke of “terror reprisals”. The following eight pages ended with a feral Andrew Bolt column arguing that the fault for terrorism inevitably is with the 1400-year-old set of religious traditions shared by almost one-quarter of humanity.
The front page of Friday, September 26 featured a man visiting the grieving Haider family holding what appeared to be prayer beads and a cup of coffee in one hand while throwing a stone with the other. “ANGER ERUPTS AS FAMILY PREPARE FOR FUNERAL” screamed the headline. Sensitive choice of photo to match such delicate journalism. More allegations were made including “DEAD TERRORIST GOOGLED PM’S MELBOURNE TRIPS” and allegations the deceased and his friends planned to ambush police at Hungry Jack’s.
On Saturday, September 27, on page 5, the headline read: “Tears for teenage terrorist lost to hate”. The story commenced with the words: “Numan Haider will be remembered as a teenage terrorist”. The cover page showed a young man attending the funeral wearing a hoodie, a black beanie and a black cloth to cover his face. The headline screamed out “DEATH STARE” followed by “MOURNER WEARS PROVOCATIVE MASK TO FUNERAL” and “RAW EMOTION AS FAMILY BURY DEAD TERRORIST”. Yep, they’re a scary lot when they bury terrorists.
Provocative mask, you say? Given Fairfax newspapers plastered the wrong kid on its front cover and described him as a terrorist, and given the tabloid hysteria leading to hate crimes, who could blame the young man?
On Monday, Hun columnist Rita Panahi argued that the actions of a fictitious uniform entity called “the Muslim community” was behaving in a manner that “threatens to turn inclusive Australians into frightened xenophobes”. Perhaps she imagines all inclusive non-Muslim Australians read her newspaper.
She then says Muslim leaders need to “finally dissociate the Muslim community from the extremist scourge”. As if they haven’t done so already. But two can play that game. I’ll dissociate myself from pseudo-religious nutcases whose actions I have no control over if you dissociate yourself and your buddies from the disgusting criminal actions of your colleagues that led to the closing of the News Of The World and the imprisonment of a number of its staff. Deal?
The Hun can count its lucky stars young Numan Haider is no longer with us. Imagine if he survived the gunshot wounds. Imagine if he were put on trial and convicted of a serious criminal offence that was not terrorism-related. Defamation lawyers would be queuing up to represent him. Andrew Bolt wouldn’t be able to cry freedom of speech then. And he’d look like a right royal fool if he blamed Islam.
First published in Crikey on 30 September 2014.
Monday, June 02, 2014
The next budget should be an absolute shocker. Cuts to pensions and the dole and even a "one-off" tax – a temporary measure to pay for the deficit.
Still, if you don't like it, you can always leave before the next election. There are plenty of places with stronger economies and less fiscally oppressive regimes where you could claim to be an economic refugee. And you won't even get locked up while your application is processed.
Take Brunei. Its population is barely 406,000. Writing in the IFLR1000 (an international guide to commercial law and lawyers) in 2012, Bruneian lawyer Colin Ong notes: '
Tax advantages and incentives are comparable if not better than those offered by other countries in the region. For example, no personal income, capital gains, export, sales or payroll tax is imposed in Brunei Darussalam.
Beat that, Mr Hockey.
If you obtain permanent residency and reach the ripe old age of 55, you'll get a nice pension. And regardless of age, there are plenty of other benefits. According to Hjh Rahmah Hj Md Said, deputy permanent secretary (professional and technical) at the Bruneian Ministry of Health, Brunei has universal healthcare coverage. She told delegates at a health forum hosted by the Asia Inc Forum in 2012 that men in Brunei had an average life expectancy of 75.5, only 18 months below that of Australian men.
Little wonder Brunei calls itself ''Darussalam'' (Abode of Peace). Bruneians are healthy and rich. The Sultan of Brunei, whose easy-to-remember name is Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, has a fair bit of wealth including a private Boeing 747 and a luxury car fleet that would make John Laws extremely jealous. The sultan is surrounded by more female ministers than Tony Abbott.
Among them is the Bruneian attorney-general, known impressively as Yang Berhormat Datin Seri Paduka Hjh Hayati Pehin Orang Kaya Shahbandar Dato Seri Paduka Hj Mohd Salleh. She'll be responsible for overseeing implementation of the Shariah Penal Code Order 2013 that introduces draconian punishments for certain crimes, and applies only to Muslims. It won't apply to most Australian economic refugees. Unlike us, Bruneians don't treat economic refugees harshly.
The usual bleeding heart ABC/Fairfax types would have you believe that Brunei's tough-on-crime policies will make it an ayatollah's paradise and a living hell for anyone engaging in such innocent pastimes as having consensual sex (or less innocent acts of murder, stealing and rape). As if all sharia-based jurisdictions only concern themselves with penal sanctions, where citizens can be seen walking the streets limbless and/or headless (but certainly not legless unless they desire a good flogging).
One article for The Diplomat carried the misleading headline ''Brunei Imposes Sharia Law''. But as Dr Ong notes, Brunei has had parallel common law and sharia law systems in non-criminal jurisdictions for years. Sharia courts have
.. limited exclusive jurisdiction to hear matters of personal law relating to persons that belong to the Islamic faith on matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, inheritance, maintenance of dependants and the estates of deceased Muslims.
Dr Ong also mentions increasing use of sharia-based financial instruments. It isn't just all chopping and changing. This is hardly new. As far back as 1870, an English translation of the classic 12th century Islamic legal text al-Hedaya (“the Guide”) was commissioned by the Governor-General and Council of Bengal. It was a compulsory text in English law schools for those seeking to practise in colonial India. The British understood that their common law system was strong and flexible enough to accommodate Islamic (and Hindu) legal traditions in limited areas.
For 14 centuries, Muslim jurists have been borrowing from Roman, Judaic and other legal traditions. What passes as sharia today is really the illegitimate child of centuries of fornication between different legal traditions.
Speaking of fornication, it's impossible to be prosecuted for ''zina'' under the Sharia Penal Code if four witnesses to the actual copulation cannot be found. So no swingers' parties in Brunei, thanks very much. And Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy prosecution would be thrown out of court.
However, we should be concerned about the implementation of such punishments in any country. We know such punishments exist across south-east Asia for a range of crimes, including drug trafficking.
But unfortunately we in the West are no longer in a position to lecture others about human rights and capital punishment. We look somewhat silly lecturing brown-skinned Bruneians while happily participating with white-skinned Brits and Americans in wars that often involve the worst human rights atrocities. Our condescension may force Muslims to say that there is more to their faith than stonings and beheadings. But is there more to our allegedly liberal ideals than torture in secret prisons and indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo? Can we claim to be more free when, in the leader of the free world, 32 states and the US military and government all provide for the death penalty?
Indeed, where would Clayton Lockett prefer to be executed – Oklahoma or Brunei?
Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Citizenship & Globalisation at Deakin University.
Friday, May 30, 2014
Abbott's emphasis on the 'Anglosphere' as the focus of Oz's foreign policy confirmed suspicions that Australia saw itself as a Western colonial outpost in the Asia-Pacific.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is publicly downplaying the issue. But surely he knows just what a huge diplomatic disaster this is. Indonesia is Australia's closest neighbour, and two-way trade between the two countries last year amounted to A$15 billion ($16.9 billion). In Parliament, Abbott some days back described Indonesia as an "emerging democratic superpower in Asia" (perhaps distinguishing Indonesia from the not-so-democratic China). Abbott also described SBY as "one of the best friends that we have anywhere in the world".
Abbott's stated respect for Indonesia has not, however, been reflected in Australia's recent dealings involving asylum seekers which have largely been driven by partisan domestic political considerations. The Abbott asylum policy, reflected in the simplistic formula of "stop the boats", could only ever work with the co-operation of Indonesia.
The policy is being treated as a military operation, as if 50 dishevelled asylum seekers on a boat somehow represent a security threat requiring a 3-star general. The secretive implementation of this policy, with the Immigration Minister and the general providing vague weekly briefings to journalists, reached such heights of stupidity that Australian journalists found more information about the policy from their Indonesian colleagues at the Jakarta Post than from their own Government.
Time and again, Indonesian officials expressed frustration with Australia's unilateral approach to the issue of asylum seekers which affected both countries. Abbott's policy included the Australian Navy turning back tiny fishing boats carrying asylum seekers "when it is safe to do so". The fishing boats would then return to Indonesia. Abbott insisted that Indonesia would co-operate, ignoring Indonesian concerns about both the human rights implications and of the immense social pressures this would have on the more crowded and poorer nation.
It was as if Indonesia was at Australia's beck and call. Tony Abbott's emphasis on the "Anglosphere" as the focus of Australia's foreign policy confirmed commonly held Asian suspicions that Australia saw itself as a Western colonial outpost in the Asia-Pacific region, as the deputy sheriff of the United States.
Australian politicians of all political stripes are so focused on the West that they forget their own geographical location. Understanding of Asian cultures in Australia is poor. Indonesian language instruction, once a primary feature in Australian secondary schools, has all but disappeared. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does an excellent job running cultural and other exchange programmes, but these are to build person to person contacts, not replace the bilateral policy process.
Some in Jakarta are quite happy to attack Tony Abbott's domestic standing by undermining his efforts to stop the boats. At the time of writing, a member of the House of Representatives' Commission on defence, foreign affairs and information had told the Jakarta Post:
We are in a better position than Australia. This issue [boat people] could be utilised as a bargaining chip in demanding an apology from Prime Minister Abbott.
Abbott's response has been to virtually scoff at any suggestion of an apology.
Every government gathers information and every government knows every other government gathers information.
True, but not everyone gets caught. When it comes to such spying methods, Indonesia is hardly in a position to cast the first stone. As News Limited points out:
When he retired in 2004 Indonesian spymaster General Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono revealed his agency had not only tapped Australian civil and military communications and politicians' phone calls during the 1999 East Timor crisis, but had also unsuccessfully attempted to recruit Australian officials as double agents.
The official Australian response at the time was muted.
All this fracas coincides with a visit to Jakarta by Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Indonesians don't exactly have fond memories of Dutch colonisation which began in the 16th century. Following Japanese occupation during World War II, Dutch forces attempted to re-establish colonial rule. Most Western countries supported Dutch claims. Australia's Labor government under Prime Minister Ben Chifley openly supported the nascent Indonesian nationalist movement.
Why did Australian leaders at the time support Indonesia, even going to the extent of criticising their closest ally, the US, for supplying material and moral aid to Dutch forces in the archipelago? Simply because Australia realised that its security and its national interest lay in an independent, strong and proud neighbour. Indonesian independence reinforced Australian independence.
There are still some in Canberra who see Indonesia as a potential threat. Which is all the more reason to keep Indonesia on side. You keep your friends close and your potential enemies closer.
• Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and an award-winning Australian author. This article was first published in the NZ Herald on Friday 22 November 2013.
Stupid Australian tourist.