On Thursday night (our time), the Australian High Commission in London told British journalist and academic Abdel Bari Atwan that he had his visa.
Thursday’s Sydney Morning Herald reported that perhaps ASIO had expressed concerns about Atwan’s visa application on security grounds. Yet Atwan has never been refused a visa by any Western country. In April, he was in the United States promoting his book The Secret History of al-Qaeda.
One has to wonder what our spooks may have been worried about. Perhaps he lent Osama bin Laden his SIM card when he last saw him in 1996. Maybe Atwan was one of the people Stewie Griffin (the baby on Family Guy) assaulted on the first day of the Holy Month of Radaman (click here to watch the footage). Who knows?
Atwan’s message is summarised by his UK publisher, Richard Beswick of Little Brown, said:
Mr Atwan brings a Muslim’s sensibility to the most important story of our times, while remaining cool and detached in its telling. In the week when Osama Bin Laden has appeared again on our televisions Mr Atwan – who met Bin Laden in the Tora Bora caves – has vital advice for Western governments and their allies in their approach to terrorism. That anybody should be prevented by hearing that advice is a real cause for outrage and a shocking instance of a government ignorantly patronising its citizens.The problem, of course, is that Atwan’s message – that our foreign policy priorities might actually be pussing orf (as they say in New Zealand) 1.2 billion Muslims -- isn’t what the pollies want to hear. Then again, when Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty suggested our involvement in Iraq might make us a bigger target for terrorists, he was publicly humiliated.
You’d think that after the Haneef affair, which showed up the cultural ignorance of our front-line terror-fighters, we’d be seeing someone like Atwan addressing security and law enforcement officials. You’d think someone who follows Arabic media regularly and has a finger on the grassroots Middle Eastern pulse might actually prove useful to us.
Instead, we have immigration and intelligence officials who are only allowed to tell the pollies what they want to hear. Meanwhile, the rest of us are exposed.
Clearly our leaders aren’t very alert. That should make us very alarmed.
First published on the Crikey daily alert for Friday 14 September 2007.
The following letter was published on the Crikey website on Friday ...
I attended the Brisbane Writers Festival event that Abdel Bari Atwan was supposed to speak at. Until I got there, I was totally unaware of the visa issue. Festival director Michael Campbell introduced the session by saying why he invited Atwan to the festival and then spoke of the runaround he got from DIMIA and how he was stonewalled by Kevin Andrews' office. Atwan put his visa request in at least three weeks ago and was told "it was in progress" and then "it was not on file" and finally "it was in progress" again. He finally ran out of time before a decision was made. David Marr, who was to share the session with Atwan, said it was a bad day for democracy in Australia. He also learnt yesterday that Atwan's file was referred to ASIO by the Character Section of DIMIA. There someone sat on the file until it was too late for him to attend the festival. According to Marr the reason for the visa delay (i.e. refusal) was political not security related. The government simply did not want an anti-Iraq war Palestinian journalist in the country prior to an election. He wasn't just going to appear at the BWF. Atwan was also due to speak to ABC Radio National, the Today Show and Alan Jones. Marr said there was a politicalWords © 2007 Irfan Yusuf
dividend to the government to keep Atwan out of the country. He finished by saying he was disgusted to be a witness to it and said "these people are scum".
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