Sunday, October 11, 2015

COMMENT: Guns don't kill people. Terrorists do.

Imagine it’s your lunch hour at work. You are standing up finishing your coffee. A man comes out of nowhere and produces a gun. He looks very young and very very angry. He orders everyone to stand still. He then goes up to people one by one and asks them about their religion.

Anyone who says “Christian” is ordered to stand at a nearby wall. Once he has 10 persons, he walks past each one by one and shoots them in the head at close range, screaming something about God. A nearby police officer also on his lunch break shoots the gunman dead.

Not a very nice scenario. I’d hate for anyone to experience such an event. I’d hate such an event to happen (though I am sure my hopes will be dashed somewhere in the world). You would feel absolutely terrified. It would be a terrible experience. The terror of having to witness or experience this.

Police and detectives are immediately on the scene. The gunman is arrested and taken into custody. The bodies would be taken away. You would receive counselling. After seeing so much terror, you’d need it.

The shooting is a major media event, with saturation coverage and politicians and pundits asking questions about who would do such a thing. There are scenes of weeping family members paying tribute to their lost loved ones. It’s just too hard to see.

Some days later, you turn on the news. A police officer you say at the scene is giving a press conference. It appeared the man had been self-radicalised on the internet. Police has strong suspicions the shooting was ideologically motivated. They had followed his Facebook page, his twitter feeds and had also found a hand-written manifesto on his desk at home.

It all makes sense. This was a terrorist attack. You expected this to be the case. You had witnessed the terror, seen the hatred in the man’s eyes.

But he wasn’t found to be a terrorist. He had an ideological motivation. He was a neo-Nazi with extreme far-Right beliefs. He became known as the “lone gunman”, a “violent deranged madman”.

Now let’s change the scenario for a moment. You’re finishing your coffee. The gunman approaches. He shoots and is shot.

He was suspected of being self-radicalised. However, his Facebook and Twitter feeds show nothing. There is no manifesto.

Now answer this question honestly - which one of these two would be more than likely to be considered a terrorist? Which would be charged under normal criminal laws had he survived, and which one under counter-terrorism laws?

It seems extraordinary that two shootings can occur within 24 hours of each other, both involving young deranged and angry men killing innocent people for apparently ideological motivations. The one in which one poor innocent man was killed is deemed a terrorist attack by media, police and politicians. The one in which 10 innocent people were killed isn’t. Are some victims less important than others? Are some murderers more murderous than others?

The Parramatta shooting was a shocking event. The actions of a 15 year old - carrying a gun and shooting a random person - could only be described as radical. But only slightly less shocking was the ignorant speculations made the boy’s clothes. And his invocation. “Allah, Allah”, he was supposed to have shouted. “My God! My God!”

Why did he invoke his creator? I’m not sure. The kid’s dead now, so we can’t ask him. Perhaps he was inspired by some desire to avenge Allah and Allah’s people. Perhaps he was shocked by what he had just done or where he was and realised there was no turning back. No one really knows. What we say is all speculation.

Writing for Fairfax Media, Inga Ting attempts a distinction.

Gun violence has killed 428 times more Americans over the past decade than terrorism. 

And that's using a narrow definition of gun violence, which includes homicides but excludes suicides, accidents and other kinds of gun deaths. It also uses a wide definition of terrorism, including attacks in which doubt exists about a terrorist link and crimes by anti-abortion assailants. 

Even US President Barack Obama is beginning to have doubts about all the media focus on terrorism.


In the wake of the Umpqua Community College massacre on Thursday - the 294th mass shooting in the US in the past 274 days – Barack Obama issued a challenge to news media outlets.
"Have news organisations tally up the number of Americans who have been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who have been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports."
The following chart says it all.

Perhaps Australians should have the chance to view a similar chart about terrorism deaths and those from domestic violence.

Ting continues:

But even when we expand the dataset to include September 11, 2001, the deadliest terrorist attack in history in which more than 2900 people died, gun homicides account for 50 times more American deaths than terrorism.
Between 2005 and 2014, gun violence (homicides only) killed almost 12,000 Americans a year on average, according to figures from the University of Sydney website gunpolicy.org and the Gun Violence Archive.
Terrorism killed an average of 28 Americans a year, both on US soil and abroad, according to figures from the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database and the US State Department. In all, gun homicides accounted for about 119,000 American deaths.
If we widen the definition of "violence" to include suicides, accidents and other gun deaths, that figure swells to more than 300,000 deaths.
Over the same period, 55 people (including 53 US citizens) were killed in terrorism-related attacks in the US and 225 private US citizens were killed in terrorist-related attacks overseas.

TERRORISM: Balancing security and individual liberty - when radicalisation becomes a threat to government thinking

We were all radicals in one way or another. Some of us become more radical with age. Tony Abbott's views on abortion (at least as expressed in his book Battlelines) were quite radical for a man who once wanted to become a priest. It's unlikely that today's Murdoch tabloid columnists would have shown as little respect for an official war narrative Keith Murdoch.

Radical ideas are needed for individual and social reform. But sometimes radical thinking is seen as a threat to all of us, especially when they turn violent. The consensus these days is that the most dangerous form of radicalism is radical Islam. This consensus has a ring of truth to it, though it is also used by anti-Islam radicals with a distinctly sectarian (and at times violent) agenda.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his media allies, the Commonwealth has tried its best to avoid pointing the finger. Funding for "deradicalisation" projects has been awarded to a range of organisations from the ethno-religious Lebanese Muslim Association to the non-sectarian People Against Violent Extremism (PAVE) to Centacare in Cairns.

Emphasising the non-sectarian nature of counter-"radicalisation" measures can get you into some trouble, as the Turnbull government recently discovered following the release of its Preventing Violent Extremism & Radicalisation In Australia kit which has been sent to school teachers across Australia.

The criticism hasn't just come from the "usual suspects" – civil libertarians, Muslim community advocates and the Greens. Some professional education groups have been critical of the idea that one kit can solve all teachers' problems. Instead, as the Global Learning Centre stated in a recent press release:
Preventing violent extremism and radicalisation in our students is not about targeting individuals. It's about creating a more cohesive and connected community. This is a challenge that involves us all … Australian teachers are more desperate than ever to develop globally-ready classrooms.
Teachers cannot counter a narrow view of the world unless they have a broader and more cosmopolitan view. Kids need to be taught that being good citizens of Australia and of the globe are not mutually exclusive. The "kit" (which, according to one of its main authors Emeritus Professor Gary Bouma of Monash University, was never meant to be used as a kit) has also been ridiculed for the examples it gives of "radicalised" young people "cured" of their radicalism.

The booklet distinguishes between mere "radicalisation" ("[w]hen a person's beliefs move from being relatively conventional to being radical, and they want a drastic change in society" and which isn't necessarily bad) and when "it becomes a concern to everybody, including families, communities and law enforcement, if a person begins to advocate or use violence to achieve a political, religious or ideological goal".

The definition of advocating or using violence has been the butt of many jokes on social media, especially the hashtag #freekaren on Twitter, named in honour of the case study "Karen". Karen's interest in environmental protection led her to attend a forest camp where she and others would "disrupt logging activities by barricading areas that were being logged, spiking trees, and sabotaging machinery". Scuffles broke out between her group and loggers, and she was arrested.

The scenario may sound laughable, but the booklet's authors were obviously trying to show that violent extremism can take many forms and may not harm everyone. Unlike Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram whose targets of choice are almost exclusively Muslims.

But you wouldn't believe it if you believed everything you read about terrorism fed to a tabloid by the former prime minister's office. Tony Abbott just loved talking about the "death cult" that was coming to get us all. It made his government look tough, even if it was accompanied by ridiculous stunts such as the recent Australian Border Force fiasco in Melbourne. It also gave oxygen to far-Right extremists who were rarely seen as a threat.

The Abbott government's policies might be described as a case of "militant democracy", when democracy compromises itself and its values in order to fight its perceived existential enemies. Abbott told Australians they would need to be prepared to enjoy less freedoms to fight terrorism. He used this reasoning to justify citizen stripping and other laws.

At least in his rhetoric, then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed discomfort with where all this was going. On July 7, 2015, Turnbull lectured the Sydney Institute on "balancing security and individual liberty".

"It is a balance our Government has, I believe, got right," Turnbull remarked. But the expression was wrong. And those with dissenting views were dismissed.

If, as Prime Minister, Turnbull wishes to sell Mr Abbott's militant democracy to us, he needs to appreciate that counter-terrorism isn't just an issue affecting "vulnerable groups". He also must be prepared to be ridiculed. Australians no longer take their liberties lightly.

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

POLITICS: Cory Bernardi gets in touch with his inner conservative


Tony Abbott is gone. Malcolm Turnbull is in power. This apparently means conservatives in the Liberal Party have or soon will be vanquished. The "wet" or small 'l' liberals have won the day.

Little wonder the likes of South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi are making noises of leaving the Liberal Party and forming a new conservative party, perhaps similar to Britain's Conservatives.

But things have never been so cut and dried. The "Right" don't see each other as all being Right, let alone right. The Liberal Party founded by Menzies represented a political compromise, a somewhat uncomfortable marriage of liberals and conservatives.

 But what does it mean to be conservative in Australia anyway? Does it mean you worship God on Sunday and the free market every other day? Does it mean you support traditional values but insist they can only be Judeo-Christian?

In my final years of law school, a friend and I were invited to dinner with John Howard. It was 1993, and Mr Howard was the opposition spokesman on industrial relations. John Hewson had just lost the unlosable election, and had stunned many colleagues by "coming out" as a social progressive. I asked Mr Howard whether he thought the Liberal Party was or should be necessarily more conservative than the ALP. In those days I was thinking with my undergraduate binary political brain, typical of many in the highly factionalised NSW Young Liberal conservative faction.

In those days, the 'Group' (as the small 'l' liberals were known) had a winner-takes-all mentality, refusing to share power with any but a handful of conservatives. My education as a conservative young liberal included recognising dangerous 'wets', among them Marise Payne, John Brogden, Robert Hill, Christopher Pyne and George Brandis. That's right, campus left-wing activists. Christopher Pyne and George Brandis were on the Liberal left. No doubt many current Young Liberal lefties would be wondering what on earth happened!

Back to dinner with Mr Howard. From memory, Mr Howard's reply to my question was that the essence of conservatism is respect for tradition and the status quo. Change needs to be done gradually, not hastily or in a radical manner. Evolution always works better than revolution.

In that respect, Howard said the Liberal Party was a "broad church". He admitted that many policies pursued in his own portfolio in those days could hardly be called conservative. Indeed, the idea of seriously curtailing the dominance of the union movement and the award system in Australia was regarded as revolutionary. For decades, centralised wage fixing through an independent umpire was the norm.

Howard had a much clearer understanding of what the role of conservatives in the Liberal Party was. He realised you had to take the electorate with you, and you had to use big events to your advantage. The rule was respecting things as they are and making minor changes here and there (or at least major changes when no one was watching). Events like the Port Arthur 'massacre' (conventional racialised wisdom won't allow us to label this an act of terrorism) gave Howard the catalyst to introduce gun laws against the wishes of many in the National Party.

But there was one lesson Howard and other self-styled conservatives today have not learned. When conservatives are guided by prejudice instead of reason, they risk giving birth to a political monster that could go out of control and come back to bite all of us.

The free market is built upon people acting in rational self-interest. This means looking out for commercial advantage regardless of linguistic, ethnic, religious and other differences one might have with others. There's no point accusing the ALP of anti-Chinese xenophobia for having reservations about the proposed preferential trade agreement with China when there are people on your own side using the existence of violent Muslim extremists in the Middle East as an excuse to punish cattle farmers and put our export markets at risk.

And if refugee policy is built upon ease of integration, do we really think an Arabic-speaking Christian refugee named Nabil Youssef tortured by Islamic State and/or Assaad will find it easier to integrate than an Arabic-speaking Sunni or Alawite refugee named Nabil Youssef traumatised by IS and/or Assaad?

John Howard would have wished his last press conference as prime minister could be devoted to his long record of achievements. Instead, he had to deal with a fake pamphlet of racial and sectarian content distributed by members of the Liberal Party (including a NSW State Executive member) in a Western Sydney marginal seat. He went on to lose not just the election but his own seat.

Conservatives who dabble in irrational prejudice will never succeed in the long term. If Mr Bernardi and his fellow travellers wish to establish a conservative party on narrow foundations, they might consider doing so in North Korea.

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 20 September 2015.
 

LAW: Terrorism legislation highlighted as Harun Causevic released on bail


During the pre-dawn of April 18, 2015, police raided a number of homes in south-western Melbourne. To say the raids were a media circus would be an understatement. Charges were laid against five young men pursuant to anti-terror laws. The men were accused of plotting to attack police officers as well as citizens gathering to commemorate ANZAC Day. The plot was allegedly inspired by remarks by leaders of Islamic State for young Western men to randomly kill civilians.

In Britain, charges have been laid against two adolescents who have since pleaded guilty to involvement in the thwarted Melbourne attack.

Local media had a field day circus after being fed by police information and allegations against the arrested men. The nerves of Australians were on edge over attacks on the larger-than-usual turnout to the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. Pundits, terrorism "experts" and politicians appeared in newspapers and on TV screens confirming the narrative of fear. Some months later, Prime Minister Tony Abbott even declared to delegates at a summit on countering violent extremism that

... as far as the Daesh death cult is concerned, they're coming after us. 

In this environment of hysteria, it would have been a sacrilege to suggest that one of accused, 18-year-old Harun Causevic, perhaps wasn't the best candidate for placement in a maximum security isolation unit. A young man with no criminal record might be spending 23 hours each day in the company of hardened criminals? Still, in tabloid terror terms, the man is already guilty as charged. Human rights aren't an issue.

But now it seems the major terrorism charges against Causevic have been dropped. Causevic wasn't part of Tony Abbott's "death cult" after all. At worst, he was a young man in possession of knives and other weapons. Causevic is now out on bail.

It is easy to blame the police for pursuing these matters. But we must remember police are under enormous pressure to protect us from enemies whom they – and we – barely understand. To think that terrorism experts are still arguing over whether the actions of Man Monis constituted terrorism.

Police are expected to use an arsenal of vague, often poorly drafted and draconian laws repeatedly reinforced over more than a decade and which represent a massive departure from the criminal justice system. And if that isn't enough, the Abbott government is hoping to give them even more powers.

Following Causevic's release on bail, Federal and Victoria Police stated they could legitimately take "overt" action if they had reasonable grounds to suspect someone was planning a terror attack. Defence lawyer Rob Stary sought an apology and an ex gratia payment for his client, claiming there was no real evidence against Causevic. Victorian Police Commissioner Graham Ashton refused to apologise on the basis that

... no one acted in bad faith here … With the nature of terrorism offences it is inevitable you will see these types of cases occur.

So police will frequently prosecute terror cases where the evidence is so minor that charges will have to be withdrawn. Meanwhile a young man with no criminal record will remain in the worst form of custody, arrested and then released following a media circus. There are likely to be more young men in Causevic's situation, men whom the community will find guilty until proven guiltier.

The powers given to police and intelligence agents have been abused. In the 2003 case of Izhar Ul-Haque, a 21-year-old medical student, the trial judge described the conduct of ASIO agents as "grossly improper" and "reminiscent of Kafka". The agents were found to have "committed the criminal offences of false imprisonment and kidnapping at common law". The charges against eventually dropped.

Repeatedly reinforced vague laws exist because we have been convinced that death by terrorism is somehow more evil and nasty than death by murder or dying in a road accident with a drunken or stoned driver. Women dying at the hands of their partners weren't deserving of the same protection before their death as potential victims of death by death cult.

Further, the way we define terrorism says a lot about how we view ourselves as a nation. Harun Causevic is of Bosnian heritage. He is European. He is white. Imagine if he had driven up to police carrying not a black flag with white Arabic writing. Imagine if it was a flag of the Australian Defence League or some other white extremist organisation whose members are known to bring weapons to Reclaim Australia rallies and who carry out violent attacks on women. Would he have subjected to a dawn raid? Would he have spent four months in the company of some of the most dangerous men in Victoria?

Before 9/11, our police and intelligence services already had an arsenal of laws to help them keep us safe. Even if it could be argued that the hyper-legislation against terrorism was necessary, imagine how difficult it must be for agencies to do their job properly when under pressure from incompetent poll-driven governments act on the basest (often sectarian) instincts.

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. First published in The Canberra Times on 2 September 2015.

SPORT/RELIGION: We can slap away Eddie McGuire's 'mussie' comment. The real problem is the use of 'footy'

Australian Muslims have a sense of humour and no problem being likened to insects; what gets me is calling Australian rules "footy". 


What on earth was Collingwood boss Eddie McGuire on about when he described Victorian Sports Minister John Eren as a "Mussie"? Or should that be "Mossie"? Or is this the new slang for "Muslim"?

And why should non-AFL people like myself care?

Because apparently McGuire was being racist. And racism affects us all. Apart from Muslims, of course. Muslims aren't a race but rather some invading alien species from the Planet Gsjhtr%$hj.

Personally I don't see what the big deal is. It isn't the first time I've been named an extremely annoying insect.

At my all-boys Anglican Cathedral school, there were three non-Anglicans who wore our non-believing hearts on our sleeves. Brian was Jewish, Tim was an atheist though his Catholic heritage made him a non-believer among super-low-church Anglicans. I was the Muslim.

We'd give our school chaplain hell, but we also happily threw dirt at each other using unfortunate stereotypes. When the stereotypes no longer stuck, we had to use more novel approaches.

One morning, Tim approached me all excited. "I killed one of your type in the shower yesterday. I slapped him dead just as he was about to bite me and suck my blood." I was confused. Tim clarified with a question.
Aren't you a Mossie?
Brian made sure everyone in our year knew Tim's new terminology. Soon blokes would find a mosquito buzzing around in the playground, point to it and ask my permission.
Do you mind if I flatten one of your cousins
? Another would remark:
How come you never seem to have mosquito bites? Oh yeah, I forgot. They never attack their own.
Some years later at university, I befriended an Anglo-Australian Muslim convert. Dave who had been around the mosque and religious organisation scene for more than a decade. Like many converts during the 1980s, Dave was not made to feel very welcome in a scene dominated by "ethnic" Muslims who treated converts with disdain or distrust.

Convert experiences were very similar to those of young Muslims like myself who resented religious spaces that treated Islam as cultural relics of life "back home".

I mentioned to Dave about how I was referred to as a "Mossie" at school. He had a good chuckle.
Mate, that's nothing. One of the earliest converts in Sydney was a bloke named Yusuf. He was doing a PhD and was organising activities for converts.
Yusuf understood that converts were often subject to pressure from fringe Muslim groups. He knew converts needed educational programs that reflected Australian norms so he produced a newsletter which was sent to more than 500 converts across the country. It was the 1970s and with no email or Facebook back then, it was all cut and paste and licking stamps onto handwritten envelopes. The newsletter was for Australian Muslims, for Muslims who saw Islam as something for Australia and not just a carbon copy of whatever was happening in Ankara or Lahore or Tripoli.

And the name of this publication? The Aussie Mossie.

Apparently the subheading was: "Watch out or we'll bite!"

Yes, Australian Muslims had a sense of humour, an understanding of Australian abbreviation and even an ability to rhyme. Muslims have been happily describing themselves as "Mossies" for more than four decades. So much for not integrating.

Nowadays, the biggest group of Muslims here are those born in Australia. Most of us are Aussie Mossies.

Thanks to events happening overseas, we're getting a rough ride. We're told to say our faith is one of peace like we really mean it. Our ladies are subjected to both domestic violence at home and non-domestic violence on public transport. Across the country, crowds of thugs and neo-Nazis are holding rallies to reclaim the country from us.

There are some real haters out there. But I'm not sure if Collingwood boss Eddie McGuire is one of them.

For starters, spotting the Sports Minister as a Turk isn't something that should come as a surprise to anyone who knows anything about McGuire. Seriously, McGuire grew up in Broadmeadows. He knows a Turk when he sees one.

But there is one thing I'm deeply offended about, not so much as a Muslim and as a decent human being. The story about McGuire's comments was placed on the Fairfax website headed "REAL FOOTY".

Fancy describing a game where huge men wear tiny shorts as footy, let alone real footy. I'm deeply offended and demand an apology.

And if it's true that the minister prefers to play "soccer", well I'm happy he leads by example. Because REAL footy is played throughout the world with feet, not hands.

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at Deakin University and has no interest in AFL. He is the author of Once Were Radicals: My Years as a Teenage Islamo-Fascist. This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 11 August 2015.