Friday, July 17, 2015

OPINION: Citizenship focus misses wider security issue

My road to Australian citizenship was long and hard. First I had to be born. Then I spent five months in a rather swish place called Karachi, then known for its trendy art deco cinemas and funky dance parties. Then I landed in northern Sydney, where I stayed until gaining something resembling a memory.

There was no citizenship ceremony. I did, however, attend the passport office to collect my passport. My father pulled me up to the counter, a task I doubt he could repeat now. He held the pen in my hand but I wasn't used to holding one. There were people waiting behind us in the queue, but my 4-year-old brain needed more time to ponder the subtleties of signatures. My father removed the pen from my hand and my butt from the counter, and I let out a God-Almighty sook. The passport arrived. On the signature line were typed the words "unable to sign".

So many of us have to be born here or come at a young age. We use our passport as ID when we lose our wallet. We use it to take holidays to Bali where many misbehave and harass the locals before returning with few memories.

But the idea of losing our citizenship just never comes to mind. Regardless of what crime we might commit, inside or outside Australia, there are courts waiting to try us and prisons to accommodate us. You can be an ex-student of Duntroon like Julian Knight (of Hoddle Street massacre infamy). You could be part of a paedophile ring, terrorising young boys at a Ballarat school or in the alleys of Yogyakarta.

Your actions can destroy the lives of entire communities, leading to suicides and broken lives. But as far as some 40 Coalition backbenchers are concerned, you are welcome to keep your citizenship. Your heinous crimes can terrorise generations. You can be a lone wolf paedophile or a mass murderer, as long as you aren't a terrorist.

Parliament's 'enthusiasm' for new anti-terrorism laws 

Because as we all know, terrorism is a major threat to our nation's security. No, I am not being sarcastic here. We have to acknowledge that there is a good chance someone could slip out of the country to a war zone and then slip back in after committing horrific crimes. A brainwashed kid with bombs strapped to his chest and unleash a blast that will kill and maim.

Let's remember that the first victim of the July 7, 2005 London bombing to be buried was a 20-year-old bank clerk of Bangladeshi heritage. Her name was Shahara Islam. The surname says it all.

The idea of stripping citizenship from people is being debated at a time when, in the popular imagination, terrorism is about al-Qaeda and the self-styled Islamic State. Foreign fighters have left and returned, but those fighting for Kurdish or other groups are largely ignored. Reports are now reaching us of non-ISIL parties, including Christian groups, engaging in such gruesome acts as beheadings.

Our politicians are always on the lookout for good excuses to expand the anti-terror laws to encompass more actions and more groups. As the learned authors of Inside Australia's Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials note:
… Parliament's enthusiasm for enacting new anti-terrorism laws has not been matched by its attention to their maintenance and refinement. Indeed, it is undeniable that Australian governments have found it much more palatable to increase rather than limit or remove national security measures, tending to ignore reviews which recommend the latter course. The result has been a steady ratcheting up of the power of the state when it comes to the prevention of terrorism.

Matters of national security 

Terrorism is seen as an advanced form of criminal activity, even if its outcomes can be just as easily carried out by those with no political or religious inclination.

The government's discussion paper, entitled Australian Citizenship Your Right, Your Responsibility, states:
Citizens who become involved in terrorism are rejecting Australian values and commitment to a safe and harmonious society.

I doubt the paedophile priests in Ballarat were showing much commitment to Australian values. The numerous victims who tragically took their own lives and the families and parishes must feel quite terrorised at this time.

The paper continues:
Support for, or involvement in, politically motivated violence is not acceptable to Australians.
Indeed no Sinn Fein meetings were ever held in Sydney or Melbourne. No Australians ever followed the lead of men like Eric Blair (who is better known by his pen-name George Orwell) to fight in the Spanish Civil War. And no mosques or Liberal Party branches ever hosted representatives of the Afghan Mujahideen fighting the Soviets.

And national security? Recently I spoke to an Australian friend who works as a journalist in East Asia. "How goes it there?" I asked her. "It's fabulous. I've got a front row seat to World War III in the South China Sea. Most of Australia's shipping passes through here. America and China are almost ready to go. How are things down there? Is Abbott still scaring everyone about terrorists?"

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

OPINION: Tony Abbott getting it wrong on the Rohingya

Something is very rotten in the state of Myanmar. By any measure and any definition, a tiny ethnic minority of Myanmar is the subject of genocide. This is not something recent, even if it has been largely ignored by Western governments and media. It has been going on for more than a decade.

Something is also very rotten in the Commonwealth of Australia. Our nation is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. Previous Australian governments have cited the convention to provide refugees from across the world, from Bosnia Herzegovina to Vietnam and Cambodia to China to parts of the Middle East. Some have come by boat, others by plane. But since the Keating government introduced mandatory detention of asylum seekers, the rot has set in.

So who are the Rohingya? And why, as Tony Abbott has so eloquently put it, can't they

... come through the front door and not through the back door?

Quite simply, as is the case for most refugees, pretty much all doors are shut. No queues are established for them to stand in a neat line. Other ethnic groups (such as the Karen and Shan) have also been persecuted by Myanmar's military junta, some even taking up arms to protect themselves.

The Rohingya live mainly in the Rakhine state of western Myanmar, a region they have called home for centuries. Though numbering barely one million, they have been stateless since they were collectively stripped of their citizenship in a 1982 citizenship law that recognised 135 ethnic groups. Since then they have been driven out of their homes and forced into virtual concentration camps and small villages where they are deprived of medical care.

But don't take my word for it. In April 2013, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing Myanmar's sort-of civilian government of "crimes against humanity" and "ethnic cleansing". Some 200 people were killed in one incident in which Rakhine Buddhists attacked Rohingyas with state authorities standing back. The report mentioned attacks in some 13 townships. The dead were buried in mass graves.

When they are not being burned alive and raped, ethnic Rohingya are being driven from their homes into enclaves at the mercy of religious chauvinists led by a highly organised Buddhist movement. Just about every respectable human rights body has documented this.

These people are regarded as "Bengalis" by the Myanmar government and hence are denied citizenship despite their ancestors living in the area for centuries. Bangladesh (literally "home of Bengalis") regards the Rohingya as Burmese. Some Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh as stateless persons. Unlike Australia, Bangladesh hardly has the resources to permanently settle them.

Conditions in the camps are atrocious. Aid workers from Doctors Without Borders and the UN High Commission for Refugees have been detained by authorities. The camps are squalid and disease-ridden.

Among those at the forefront of anti-Rohingya rage in Myanmar civil society are Buddhist monks like Ashin Wirathu, who describes himself as the "Burmese bin Laden" and uses the same rhetoric as used by the likes of Fox News presenters and our own Reclaim Australia.

Not even Myanmar's otherwise brave opposition leader Nobel Prize Winner Aung Sang Suu Kyi has much to say in defence of the Rohingya. And neighbouring countries, keen to cash in on Myanmar's liberalised market, are too busy imagining the dollars and rupiah and ringgit.

So the Rohingya have no army and no policy force to protect them. Their sources of humanitarian aid are harassed by local authorities. They are constantly attacked by religious fanatics. There is no queue for these people to jump. No country in the region wants them. Even the governments of allegedly Islamic countries have little pity for them, offering little more than some kind of temporary protection.

They are to today's south-east Asia what European Jews were to Europe during the 1930s and '40s. The numbers were much larger in Europe, and the history of Christian persecution of European Jewry was much longer and more brutal. But the ideology was much the same. Even the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, part of the US Holocaust Museum, warned that the Rohingya were a
... population at grave risk for additional mass atrocities and even genocide.
Their fact-finding mission in March found
... early warning signs of genocide.
Genocide. In our own backyard.

But Tony Abbott simply refuses to allow any Rohingya to settle here. Nope nope nope. It sounds as tacky as the old Rosella advert. "Not Reffos again". No No No. "Not Mozlems again". No no no. 

We're often told that being sympathetic is a leftwing fetish. Those of us (like me) who see ourselves as more right than left (or indeed than wrong) feel we have to be tough on boat people. When pressured to show some compassion, we talk about nasty people smugglers. And it's true that they are nasty.

But as conservative American writer and humourist P.J. O'Rourke says, we are the ones who miss out when we close the door on the desperate. As he told his Q&A audience in 2009:

You know, my people came over to the United States in a completely disorganised way. Doubtless by way of people smugglers [...] I really believe in immigration ... Let them in. Let them in. These people are assets. [O]ne or two of them might not be, but you can sort them out later ... Oh, I think conservatives are getting this wrong all over the world, I really do. 

Tony, you're getting it wrong. Close the doors? Lock the gates? Miss out on good future citizens? Showing less humanity than a country with no hesitation to execute our reformed smugglers? Nope. Nope. Nope. ​

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation Deakin University. This was first published in the Canberra Times on 22 May 2015.

OPINION: Dr Tareq Kamleh IS video reaction makes draining the 'extremist swamp' harder

The Death Cult. Perhaps Tony Abbott's most memorable description of Da'esh (also known as Islamic State ISIS, and ISIL). An appropriate description for an organisation whose volunteers and recruits revel in posting on social media photos of themselves holding up decapitated heads. As if they are playing out their own version of Abu Ghraib.

Da'esh is a group whose brutality has even led them to be condemned by al-Qaeda, the terror outfit from which they broke away. Like al-Qaeda, Da'esh has had no hesitation in murdering Shia Muslims, Kurdish Muslims as well as religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. But unlike al-Qaeda, Da'esh wants to be seen establishing a fully functioning state, a place to which believers in its novel form of Islam may wish to migrate and build a new life.

Such a state cannot be established in territory populated with bearded blokes holding up index fingers and/or decapitated heads, deceased "martyrs" and/or kuffar (non-believers) and teenage girls in burqas boasting about luxury cars.

Which makes Dr Tareq Kamleh's 15-minute video perhaps the most effective piece of IS propaganda to date. Kamleh comes across as calm, softly spoken, competent. He uses minimal Arabic religious terms. His face isn't covered with a bushy unkempt beard (the trademark of many a firebrand). He looks like a reformed ladies' man, the kind of well-groomed guy who would impress many a parent were he to come and ask for their daughter's hand or appear at their front door to take her on a date. 

Dr Kamleh isn't speaking from a war zone. Far from living in a death cult, he's in a hospital bringing new life into the new caliphate. The video almost looks like an invitation from a prospective employer to work.
Come and join us. It's nice here. Lots of facilities. All we need is professional people like yourself. I'll see you soon.
The response from political leaders, pundits and religious spokespersons will be predictable. Conservative pundits will move slowly toward their preferred "I told you so" position. They will complain that allegedly chronic political correctness is stopping them from warning Australians about the desperate need to answer "the Muslim question".

Prominent self-appointed spokesmen (and I use the gendered​ sense deliberately) will remind us that Muslims are victims, the subject of discrimination, vilification, increased surveillance and victimisation.

Seriously, in what way was this young doctor who allegedly spent much of his spare time drinking and sleeping around (as if he was the only young Australian professional to do so) the subject of victimisation? Like any other young doctor working long shifts in regional hospitals hundreds of miles from home, Dr Kamleh would have found plenty to entertain himself in Mackay or Perth.

This young doctor was hardly a victim. Yet the Muslim spokesmen will find some of their message – at least as far as vilification is concerned – confirmed by a fair few politicians. The Prime Minister will repeat his talk of draining extremist swamps, an image that reminds this writer of Saddam Hussein's 1993 draining the marshes to destroy the lives of Iraqi Shia Arabs.

And how ridiculous did South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill​ sound when he told The Australian that he was
absolutely" concerned about doctors joining IS and that "We will assist the commonwealth in identifying people that fall into this category and to make sure they don't infect other South Australians with their ideology.
And how exactly will he do this? Will the University of Adelaide Medical School run deradicalisation courses? Will Federal Police be sent to watch over paediatricians at work? Does it really boil down to ideology?

What I am about to write may be a bit difficult for Muslim spokespersons, pundits and politicians to stomach. The fact is that we really don't have much of an idea why young people with plenty of opportunities head off to Raqqa or other territory controlled by Da'esh. We have also put very little money into researching why a tiny group of people take that path.

Let's just say there are 200 Australian Muslims in IS territory at the moment. There are about 400,000 Muslims in Australia. So a grand total of 0.05 per cent of Muslims have joined the "Death Cult". Now Australia's population is just over 23 million. By my calculations, IS recruits are 0.00087 per cent. That's a rather shallow extremist swamp to drain.

But let's just say there is a massive risk of doctors, lawyers, accountants etc lining up to fly to the Islamic Republic of Da'eshistan. How will we find out what their motivation is? By waiting until they appear on a well-produced video, condemning them for joining the biggest threat to civilisation since World War II (as Julie Bishop recently described IS) and cancelling their passports so they can never return and we can never find out why they left Australia and then left IS?

If we are going to defeat IS in Australia (or rather, if it doesn't implode due to lack of demand among local Muslims), our solutions must be based on solid research. By that, I don't mean speculation or theorising. I mean talking to Muslims on the ground. It is a task self-appointed Muslim leaders have never done. And due to lack of funding, academics have found it hard to do.

If the threat from home-grown Islamist terrorism is as big as we are left to believe, let us address it on the basis of facts and evidence.

In conclusion, why did Dr Tareq Kamleh leave behind the alcohol and the girlfriends and the surf? I have no idea. And unless your name is Tareq Kamleh and you are sitting in Raqqa​, chances are you don't either.

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 29 April 2015.