Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SECURITY: 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.

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