Saturday, October 29, 2005

Howard Government Backs Terrorist Group?

As if things weren’t bad enough for John Howard’s bid to push through his version of national security. With many Premiers and Chief Ministers in open revolt, even Treasurer Peter Costello is questioning the constitutional validity of his laws.

But with the release of the UN Report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Government can brace itself for further embarrassment.The Howard Government has been linked to the “Habashi” sect, a controversial movement linked to the Syrian government and whose Public Relations Head is now being prosecuted for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The group, with active branches in Australia and the United States, has set up an alternate peak Islamic body known as “Darul Fatwa Islamic High Council of Australia”. The group also runs an FM Station after being awarded a license by former Communications Minister Richard Alston.

The Habashi sect have been active supporters of the Syrian government, which is believed to be arming pro-Saddam militias in Iraq. A number of these militias have kidnapped foreign workers. One such group was responsible for the kidnapping of Australian Douglas Wood.

Three brothers, all members of the “Habashi” sect, have been mentioned in a United Nations report into the assassination of Mr Hariri.

The “Habashi” sect has had a controversial presence in Australia. Recently, they established an alternate peak body, many of whose constituent organisations had only been registered a few weeks before the body’s foundation.

The group recently organised a seminar at the Bankstown Town Hall purporting to be against terrorism. Mr Alan Cadman, a Federal MP close to Mr Howard, spoke at the seminar and read a congratulatory message from the Prime Minister.

A member of the Government’s “Muslim Community Reference Group”, Mr Mustapha Kara-Ali, is also known to be an active member of the “Habashi” sect. Mr Kara-Ali did not attend the PM’s summit with Muslim leaders, but was believed to have been hand-picked by Citizenship Minister John Cobb.

The Government’s support for a movement implicated in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister will send shockwaves through the local Lebanese community. Hariri was a cult political figure in Lebanon whose popularity cut across all sectarian and ethno-religious divides. His assassination led to massive rallies which eventually forced the Syrian occupation forces to withdraw from Lebanon.

On the eve of the debate in Federal Parliament over controversial anti-terror laws, the Government’s links with members of a pro-Ba’athist fringe religious cult again raises important questions about the Government’s approach to dealing with Australian Muslim.

It seems the government is intent on associating with groups and leaders with proven links to foreign governments intent on influencing local Islamic activities. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on September 10 2005 of Mr Ruddock accepting an invitation to lunch at the home of a man widely regarded as the Saudi government’s paymaster for Islamic activities in Australia.

Australian Muslims have been at the heart of mainstream Australia for over 150 years. The Turkish Muslim communities have been established in Australia since the 1950’s, and Turkish Australians have more mosques than any other Muslim ethno-religious community. Not a single Turk sits on the Reference Group, and no Turks were invited to the PM’s summit.

The Howard Government’s policy of dealing with self-appointed leaders and fringe groups with strong links to despotic overseas governments will prove embarrassing to the Government as it attempts to prove its credentials on being tough on terrorism.

Instead, the Government should be promoting and assisting the efforts of mainstream Australian Muslims with stronger roots to Australia. Muslims are no longer a migrant phenomenon, and those with stronger links to overseas interests and governments should be marginalised and not promoted.

Australian Muslims have produced the likes of John Ilhan (of Crazy John’s Telecommunications) and Ahmed Fahour (Chief Executive of the National Australia Bank). Aussie-born Muslim are partners of major commercial law firms, heads of university faculties and hold responsible positions in government departments and agencies.

These people represent the real face of Australian Islam. They have few, if any, links to overseas governments, and have a greater stake in Australia’s security. Many of the current people being consulted and listened to by the Government are people with close links to foreign governments and whose understanding of Islam is conditioned by overseas non-English speaking clerics and leaders.

Aussie Muslims have to form a key plank in our fight against terrorism. They are not hard to find, so long as you know where to look. You won’t find the genuine Aussie Mossies belonging to fringe religious sects or grovelling to Kings and Emirs. Such Muslims are on the fringe of Australian Islam, even if they appoint themselves leaders of bodies with bombastic names.

But by promoting and giving credibility to such foreign interests, the Government is making this mainstream faith-community feel marginalised. Which, incidentally, is exactly what the so-called “Islamist” terrorists want.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and an occasional lecturer in the School of Politics at Macquarie University.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005