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
YOU'RE ALL DRUNKS.
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
and
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
to
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.