Friday, July 29, 2016

REPORT: A Sunday with Hizb ut-Tahrir: 'forced assimilation' and what the media didn't report

Senior leader Ismail al-Wahwah pointed out that not a single Muslim army was occupying a Western capital while Western armies have occupied numerous Muslim capitals.

The Australian wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir (“Party of Liberation” or HT for short), an organisation ex-PM Tony Abbott wanted to proscribe under anti-terror laws, held its annual conference in Sydney’s Bankstown on Sunday. The theme of the conference was “Innocent Until Proven Muslim” and was promoted with a rather slick video, a Facebook page, another Facebook page, a Twitter presence and no doubt other social media.

The hall was packed with around 700 people, perhaps more. There were more women than men, and the crowd were from all different ethnic backgrounds. There was also a large media contingent, with most TV crews and journalists staying until almost the end. Even an Al Jazeera English crew covered the conference. The scribes enjoyed the free lunch, soft drinks and bottled water along with the rest of the crowd. John Safran was seated up the back and proved to be a huge hit with many outside the hall in the foyer. Two HT guys even posted a selfie with Safran on Facebook.

Outside, police vehicles were doing rounds of the adjacent car park. I had borrowed someone else’s car to get to the conference, and I hope they don’t receive a visit from any law enforcement officials.

Prior to the conference, The Australian took the unusual step of providing prominent space on its opinion page to HT spokesman Uthman Badar. I say unusual because the same newspaper harangued the ABC’s Q&A program for allowing a question from another “radical” Muslim Zaky Mallah. Fairfax also ran a column by Badar.

So how does one summarise in less than 1000 words the themes of the conference and all its speakers, as well as active Q&A sessions, all of which ran for around five hours? Media reports available online appeared to focus on a few key themes: singing the national anthem in schools; the alleged targeting of Muslim-looking people at airports; and the use of deradicalisation policies to bring about some kind of forced assimilation.

I understand it’s hard to cover so much material in a short space. But seriously, the reports I saw and read on the conference were disappointing, more for what they left out than for how they reported it. For instance:

One female barrister from the UK (also an HT spokesperson there) sent a recorded message in which she spoke about the impact of the latest changes to the UK government’s deradicalisation program, Prevent, which targets not only violent extremism but indeed any form of deemed extremism. Professionals such as teachers and doctors apparently now have a legal duty to report children showing “signs of radicalisation”. Apparently, even a child as young as three years old has been picked up by the anti-terror radar in this manner. Some of the case studies she cited, including cases involving children with intellectual disabilities, are horrendous. I was a bit sceptical of her claims until I noticed the mainstream British Press filled with reports of such cases.

An independent Victorian lawyer (who was once a New South Wales police officer) spoke at length about the impact of counter-terror laws including the practices of prosecutors. He also criticised the media reporting of terror cases.

The speech of HT senior leader Ismail al-Wahwah, who earned the ire of Jewish organisations for his remarks during a recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza, barely rated a mention.

Al-Wahwah made a point that seemed to resonate with the audience. He said not a single Muslim army was occupying a Western capital while Western armies (whether directly or through their puppets) have occupied numerous Muslim capitals such as Baghdad and Kabul. His message was that many young people are affected by events overseas, especially now that unfiltered information from war zones is widely available. Our government’s foreign policy inconsistencies and choices do potentially radicalise young people. They do compromise our domestic security. They also create a flow of refugees that no one benefits from except companies like Transfield. No amount of schoolkids singing the national anthem will change that.

In the quality and professionalism of their publications and online presence, HT can match any major media organisation. HT is the only Muslim organisation to have produced a comprehensive (if somewhat jaundiced) guide to the application of anti-terror law and policy for over a decade. But then, these days just about any group — “fringe” or “mainstream” — can do the same. Just about every primary school kid in Karachi or Bangalore is a whiz kid on the keyboard and can navigate multimedia platforms with ease. Meanwhile, if some media reports are to be believed, our Defence Force can barely keep up with the constant stream of Tweets from Islamic State.

HT can also match the most paranoid newspaper columnist or shockjock when it comes to generalising about the “other”. HT talks about “the West” and “Western leaders” in the same manner and with the same lack of nuance that a Rita Panahi or Andrew Bolt would talk about “Muslim leaders” or that mythical and near-mystical entity they call the “Muslim community”.

First published in Crikey on 2 November 2015.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

POLITICS: How Turnbull can avoid Howard's mistakes in alienating Muslims

A few imams do not represent Australian Muslims. Here are the people Turnbull should really be talking to.
A 15-year-old boy has murdered an adult in the geographical heart of Sydney. Police believe other teenagers are also involved, as are underworld figures. A 12-year-old is under surveillance. A 22-year-old has been charged with supplying the gun, and an 18-year-old has also been charged in relation to the crime. The appropriate response? Conventional wisdom is that we need to legislate. And we need to talk. In that order.

The conversation we need to have must involve “the Muslim community”. Some say we should talk with them. Others prefer to talk at them. Is it because in our imagination terrorism is necessarily Islamic, and Muslims are usually held collectively responsible? The point is that “we” and “they” need to talk.

Normally we don’t bother talking to them. They are sitting over there in mosques we rarely enter. We assume their women are at home or standing a few metres behind their men when in public. We read about them and their strange culture in our newspapers.

But now there is a greater urgency. Our security is threatened by their teenagers, possibly by their houses of worship and by their negligent parents. And of course by their terrorists. We therefore need to engage with their leaders. No, not academics or professionals or business people. Generally not their women (unless they are the type standing a few metres behind the men). We have to engage with their religious leaders. And we will choose who we speak to.

It’s a patronising narrative, but the fact is governments find it easier to talk to stakeholders and lobbyists. But the structured consultation model doesn’t quite work when you’re talking to 470,000 people coming from over 70 different countries and speaking languages at home that include Bangla, Urdu, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi, Tamil, Vietnamese, Russian and Croatian. Their understanding of religiosity varies. In a recently published book Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia, the contributors included writers from at least three out of four Sunni schools of law, a Lebanese Alawi, a Turkish Alevi, a woman of Indian Gujarati Bohra background and an Iranian atheist of Shia heritage. And there was me.

So who represents the Islamic “them”? Malcolm Turnbull will be meeting with a group of people described as “Muslim leaders”. Almost certainly they will be limited to mosque management bodies or councils/federations of mosque management bodies. The Mufti and his interpreter will likely be there. There could be one or two women.
Few will have substantial experience in advocating for their communities to government in a meaningful way (apart from funding applications, and having their photos taken with the immigration minister). The organisations they represent will often have archaic rules. The Lebanese Muslim Association in Lakemba allows full membership only to men of Lebanese heritage. I cannot join, and neither can my mum. Keysar Trad’s Islamic Friendship Association meets each evening around his dinner table. Dr Jamal Rifi has a large medical practice, but then so does every third south Asian.

The main topic of consultation is deradicalisation of young Muslims. And perhaps a discussion on the latest round of anti-terror laws. There won’t be much discussion about the latter as the Prime Minister and Attorney-General have already made up their minds. The leaders (and their interpreters) aren’t capable of engaging with politicians on legal matters.

Former PM John Howard understood this well. After the July 7, 2005, London bombings he set up a round-table discussion with Muslim leaders. Virtually all were male. A fair few spoke little English and had little or no experience in lobbying, public affairs or political engagement. They were largely men of John Howard’s generation, whom he could easily manipulate.

This eventually morphed into a Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG), which consisted almost exclusively of middle-aged male religious leaders and was chaired by Dr Ameer Ali, then-president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). In October 2005, Ali claimed the MCRG unanimously supported proposed new counter-terrorism laws before a single clause had been drafted. Howard would have been delighted with such compliant leadership. In fact, no one had any idea of the provisions of the proposed bill until ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope released the draft, much to the consternation of the PM.

Howard’s approach of focusing on religious leaders probably helped the cause of radicalisation. It made imams and religious leaders the public face of Australian Muslims. Mainstream Australians who identified as Muslim and who derived their income and status from mainstream engagement were left out of the picture

On March 26, 2008, the RN Religion Report reported that then-parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs Laurie Ferguson said the Rudd government was considering reinstating the MCRG, though with
fewer imams, more women and young people, and it will also reflect the sizeable non-religious component of Australian Muslim community.

The focus on youth is natural. We’ve just witnessed a 15-year-old murder someone in broad daylight. We also know groups like Daesh (also known as Islamic State or ISIS) are using social media to actively recruit and influence young people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Yet the last time the self-appointed peak body of Australia’s Muslims made any public comment on an issue was to defend its conduct in relation to the lucrative halal meat certification market on Four Corners

Demographically, Aussie Muslims have a very young profile. The last three census figures show they are over-represented in younger age brackets (up to age 40) and under-represented in older ones. No prizes for guessing which age bracket religious leaders emerge from. They were largely from one denomination (Sunni). Apart from a few that ran independent schools, most had little knowledge of youth affairs.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull can take the cynical route and do a Claytons consultation. Or he can take a leaf out of Laurie Ferguson’s book and search for people of merit by perhaps even inviting applications.

In 2007 Gerard Henderson wrote a monograph for UK conservative think tank Policy Exchange entitled Islam in Australia: Democratic bipartisanship in action. His qualifications to write such are monograph are dubious to say the least, and the document has mysteriously disappeared from the Policy Exchange website. But one valuable point Henderson made in his report was that Australian Muslims are, by and large, as secular and irreligious as most Australian Christians, correctly noting: “Many Australians who regard themselves as followers of Islam do not attend a mosque.” 

Consultations shouldn’t just be with religious Muslim men and imams, most of whom have little influence over kids at risk. Younger people (and not just the relatives of religious leaders who are all too often employed to run government-funded projects for their family fiefdom organisations) should be consulted. Lawyers, doctors, psychologists, journalists, youth workers, sportsmen and women, teachers, entrepreneurs, student leaders, etc. With a focus on people under 40 and people born here and who engage outside the religious square.

When mainstream Australians of Muslim heritage are involved in the process, it will show that with all this talent there are no shortage of role models. It will also show that the hateful mantras of those insisting Muslims “refuse to integrate” are just a load of tabloid refuse.

First published in Crikey on 16 October 2015.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

OPINION: The rhetoric of madness over terrorism vacillates with little logic

In January 2009, a Melbourne "cleric" known as Abu Hamza had his face splashed across the front page of the Herald Sun. The headline above his image read:
Muslim cleric blasts Aussies on gambling, booze
and in huge letters
The trigger was some YouTube recordings that had been made six years earlier. It must have been a slow news day.

Not reported was that this allegedly radical cleric (whose real name was Samir Mohtadi) had been the prosecution witness in the Benbrika case in 2006. As the then editor of Crikey, Jonathan Green, wrote:
He became a key Crown witness in the Benbrika case and gave evidence about a meeting he had with Benbrika in 2004 in which he said to Benbrika that he had heard Benbrika was planning a terrorist attack in Australia. Benbrika denied it. Mohtadi said he would go to the government if he got wind of any plan.
Green continued:

Richard Maidment, SC, the lead prosecutor for the Crown, said in his closing that 'you saw Mr Mohtadi and he was a credible witness, in our respectful submission'. 

The fact is that major terror plots have been thwarted and prosecution cases succeeded thanks to information from ordinary Muslims. ASIO, the AFP and the Commonwealth DPP know this all too well. So do state law-enforcement authorities.

Muslim "dobbers" know their loved ones and friends have just as much chance as anyone of being killed or maimed in a terrorist attack. Australian woman Dr Gill Hicks lost both her legs in the 2005 London bombings. Twenty-year-old Shahara Islam, an English bank clerk of Bangladeshi heritage, lost her life.

Our security agencies have been begging our politicians to calm the rhetoric down. They know better than anyone that words matter and that what political leaders say can make the work of police and prosecutors that much harder.

Sadly, certain sections of our media are making the job even harder by reinforcing the narrative of groups like Islamic State and convincing Muslims that they just don't belong. Condescending cultural warriors are happy to marginalise 500,000 Australians who tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms. In an editorial dated October 6, The Australian said:
when attacks such as this happen the broad Islamic community has a choice. It can do its utmost to help police prevent extremism or it can retreat into a defensive insularity.
Tell that to Samir Mohtadi.

The same editorial described the killing as a
jihadist murder
the latest chapter in the struggle for the soul of Islam
despite acknowledging that
the investigation is in its early days but it's understood his parents were not in Sydney on the day of the attack; the family context is unclear. It is thought that Jabar may have come under the influence of fringe elements at the Parramatta mosque.
So what does Islam's soul and the highly contested concept of jihad got to do with it?

The irony is that the same newspaper editorialised on July 24, 2008 that heavy reporting of child sex abuse allegations against Catholic priests by the ABC and Fairfax during the Pope's tour would be an affront to World Youth Day pilgrims and ordinary Catholics.

So it's OK to patronise one faith community over terrorism but it's not OK to report abuses taking place within a preferred religious hierarchy. Of course, out in the real world, Muslims and Catholics and Hindus and Buddhists and Sikhs and others of faith and no faith are horrified by any form of violence or abuse in their communities.

Some reporting descended to surprising levels of idiocy. On October 5, the Daily Telegraph quoted one Sydney GP of Lebanese heritage as saying the teenage killer wore black because he was from Iran and that Shia Muslim men in Iran always wear black. It then compared an image of the killer to that of Islamic State killer Jihad John. So the young man wanted to dress both like IS and a country at war with IS. Further, one wonders if Foreign Minister Julie Bishop came across any Iranian men not wearing black during her recent visit.

The same paper spoke of the young man having access to online Islamic videos which were "extreme". How so? Apparently the videos describe ...
... the end of days ...
and called US President Barack Obama
... treacherous.
The paper also condemned the ABC for allegedly stating that the Parramatta attack was not necessarily a terrorist attack on the basis that
... police [were] not yet commenting on what motivated the sickening attack.
Let's throw caution to the wind, shall we? One columnist wrote that
the instant response of our leftist friends
acts of Islamic terrorism
is a
desperate attempt to play down or outright conceal any Islamic component to these acts of terrorism.
The same columnist failed to mention the far-right political motivations of a gunman in Oregon in the United States who, around the same time as the Parramatta tragedy, identified 10 students as Christian before brutally murdering them. Right wingers can't engage in violent extremism.

After the tragic events at Parramatta, our political leaders are working hard to mend bridges with various communities. Our allegedly conservative media outlets now have a choice. Do they report the facts? Or do they allow their sectarian prejudices to marginalise these communities even more that? Do they wish to work in Australia's interests or the interests of Islamic State?

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 7 October 2015.

LAW: Will treating an innocent teen like a terrorist convince him to become one?

Australian police have a control order for Harun Causevic, who has not been found guilty of terrorism.

Teenager Harun Causevic has not been found guilty of terrorism. But with police monitoring his every move, he is still far from a free man.

Causevic, 18, from Hampton Park in south-east Melbourne, was arrested in April 2015 under suspicion of being one of the “Anzac Day terrorists” and charged with one count of conspiring to do an act in preparation or planning for a terrorist act, as well as other less serious weapons charges. The alleged plot involved killing police officers and/or members of the public attending Anzac Day services.

Police were concerned Causevic might be a close friend of Numan Haider, a young man who was shot dead by police after he attacked them with a knife. Some police officers had seen Causevic carrying a black-and-white flag with Arabic writing on it. Similar writing appears on the Islamic State flag, though it also appears on the flag of Saudi Arabia.

Conventional wisdom tells us that extremists who look like “us” — white Anglo Christian types — can never be terrorists. But when it comes to Muslim suspects, popular paranoia is such that it’s easy to generate a media circus, to turn the crazed words from the tweet of some IS twit (or pseudo-IS troll) into prophecy and to superimpose on the actions of any young man or woman a death-cultish intent to decapitate. In such an environment, only a brave magistrate would grant Causevic bail

Denied bail, Causevic was placed in a maximum-security unit 23 hours a day with some of the most dangerous and violent prisoners in the state. He had no criminal record. After more than four months of harrowing detention, the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions announced that
there was insufficient evidence to continue the prosecution of Mr Causevic for this offence
and that the charge would be dropped.

Just how weak was the prosecution’s case is something we are unlikely to find out. But it must have been very weak if even the guilty pleas of two teenagers in the UK who were part of a plot couldn’t nail Causevic. The police brief was given to Causevic’s lawyers, who insist the evidence against their client was “flimsy”. Harun pleaded guilty to the two minor charges, and the matter was adjourned to November, after he was granted bail.

Magistrate Jelena Popovic clearly understood the consequences of a young man spending over four months in maximum security, and wanted to check in on how he was going. The Guardian reports Her Honour as telling the young man:
I really want to see how you’re going [back in the community] ... My concern is you’re going to be released into the community, and I want to ensure you’re properly supported and things are going well. It’s not about making your life more difficult, it’s about actually trying to assist you with the readjustment.
The court’s intention in checking in on Causevic might not have been about making his life more difficult. But the Federal Police had no such qualms. The Herald Sun recently reported that the AFP had applied for and been granted interim control orders for a period of 12 months. The orders are based on the same “facts” and flimsy evidence that were withdrawn by the AFP at the trial. Which, under our extreme terror laws is just fine. The evidentiary threshold for control orders is based on some vague notion of protecting the community.

The orders are extensive and include barring Harun from visiting his local RSL club as well as travelling overseas. Quite a few of the conditions make sense and are already included in bail orders made by the court, so why the AFP require them beyond Causevic’s next court date is anyone’s guess.

The strangest condition is barring Harun, whose family is Bosnian, from visiting any mosque other than a Turkish mosque in Dandenong. This Thursday the Causevic family would likely be attending the biggest religious and cultural festival of the year (called Kurban Bejram in Bosnian). There is a Bosnian mosque in Noble Park and another in Deer Park. It would probably have made more sense to allow the young man to spend time in familiar surrounds with his family and people of his ancestral culture.

But what if Causevic wanted to attend a Sufi Muslim class at Coburg Mosque? Or what if he were in the city attending counselling organised by the Islamic Council of Victoria and, while there, attended prayers at the mosque downstairs? There are over 100 mosques in Melbourne, but only one is deemed “safe” enough for this young man. His religious freedom is being restricted in a manner that reflects not just on him but on hundreds of mosques he has never visited.

The control orders contain even more stringent conditions than those orders made by the court. He has a midnight to 5am curfew in the family home, and is to wear an electronic tracking device at all times. As Fairfax observed:
The restrictions comprehensively control Mr Causevic’s movements, both in the real world and online.
It’s almost as if an attempt is being made to bait Causevic into being radicalised. Is this what control orders were supposed to do?

Control orders were perhaps the most controversial provision introduced by the Howard government in late 2005 following the London bombings. Harun Causevic is the fifth person to be subject to such orders. Should he breach any order, he could face up to five years’ imprisonment, no doubt in a maximum-security unit. We don’t see such restrictions placed on convicted murderers or rapists after they are released..

According to the court, this young man is not a terrorist. But for at least the next 12 months, he is to be effectively treated like one.​

First published in Crikey on 23 September 2015.