Monday, January 23, 2017

CULTURE WARS: The real reason so many conservatives are suddenly standing up for the queer community

They fought it for years. Until they realised it could be leveraged to malign an even greater foe.

Last week the Prime Minister hosted a dinner for a bunch of Muslims at Kirribilli House. I didn’t get an invite. But I do know a fair few people who did go, as they plastered their Facebook walls with photos of them sitting and standing with the PM.

Now I’m glad I didn’t get an invite. Since the dinner, News Corp papers have been picking off the names of a host of invitees, linking them to something that might be linked to something that might be linked to some event overseas.

Overnight, columnists for The Australian, Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph etc have suddenly discovered the evils of homophobia. Why? Because somehow they feel the urge to link the PM hosting a Ramadan Iftar dinner to Omar Mateen, the security guard who shot dead 50 people in an Orlando gay night club.

But reading through the reports and op-eds leads me to wonder whether the ideological crime of homophobic Muslims is that they are treading on the territory that should be reserved for Australian conservatives.

Imams are being accused of spreading teachings on the evils of homosexuality that you can regularly hear if you attend a service of Fred Nile, Rise Up Australia’s Danny Nalliah or some other clergyman with whom the Coalition regularly shares preferences and who is defended by Peter Costello or Andrew Bolt. Or if you attend the kinds of conferences that Tony Abbott attends or Kevin Andrews almost attended.

Then the Oz lambastes a Sydney psychologist who signed a recent press release supporting LGBTI communities. The Oz effectively denounces her as a hypocrite for backing LGBTI people now. Hanan Dover is a controversial figure in Muslim circles — at best. It is true that she did once promote “gay conversion” therapies, something very dangerous for a practitioner to do. The unfortunate thing is that the Oz cites her words from 2002. That’s 14 years ago. And what the paper does not say is that the types of therapies she promoted were not from Iran or Turkey or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. They were from the United States,

They were developed by conservative Christian groups. Has Dover changed her mind? I’m not sure. She did sign the anti-homophobia press release. But then so did regular Crikey writer Shakira Hussein (who has written and tweeted against Dover’s homophobia). But when was the last time we saw Gerard Henderson or Janet Albrechtsen or Piers Akerman (who has been known to refer to David Marr as a “homosexual activist” and who repeated “rumours” on national TV about Julia Gillard’s partner) or Andrew Bolt sign a document supporting the rights of LGBTI communities in Australia?

I’m not aware of prominent imams opposing same-sex marriage. I’m not aware of Muslim leaders opposing the Safe Schools program in the manner former Iranian refugee Rita Panahi has. The allegedly conservative commentariat have been defending the homophobia that exists among them and also in the churches and the Australian Christian Lobby in the name of “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion”.

“But aah, Mr Yusuf, we don’t see conservatives or Christian clergy or ACL saying that homosexuals should be put to death,” you might say as you point to this article published in the Oz about imams and homosexuality. And as you point to reports of a British Shia Muslim scholar who left Australia of his own accord.

Indeed. But let me put these points to you:

* Imams Shady Soliman and Yusuf Peer play leading roles in the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC);

* This bombastically named body consists only of a minority of Sunni Muslim imams;

* This council does not include imams of the Cypriot and Turkish communities, which make up one of the largest and oldest ethno-religious bloc;

* There are no women in ANIC despite there being female religious scholars in Australia;

* The idea of what makes a person an “imam” and what his/her role should be is contested across different cultures;

* Unlike the church, there is no agreed hierarchy of imams; and

* To get some idea of how influential ANIC is, its announcements on the beginning and end of sacred months such as Ramadan are largely ignored.

Your average Muslim knows what silly and ridiculous attitudes many imams have. It reminds me of the story of a sheikh in India who was asked a businessman who regularly donated to his mosque: “Sheikh, why do our religious scholars talk such crap?” The sheikh responded with a question: “Imagine you have two sons. One is very intelligent, the other is a buffoon. Which would you send to London to study to become a barrister and which would you send to my madressa to study to become an imam?”

Finally, regardless of how ridiculous the views of some imams (or some clergy or some rabbis or some other religious figures) are, to suggest they in any way reflect the opinions of any sector of mainstream Australia is ridiculous.

Unless, of course, you don’t regard Australians who identify as Muslim as being part of mainstream Australia.

First published in Crikey on 20 June 2016.

RELIGION: Why are conservatives so damn obsessed with Islam?

From what we know about Omar Mateen, this massacre was not an act of Islamic State-sponsored terrorism. 

When it comes to fighting nasty brown-skinned Muslim terrorists with unpronounceable names, you really don’t want to look like Neville Chamberlain appeasing Hitler. Hence, when introducing counter-terrorism law number 56 (or was it 57? I’ve lost count) in September 2014, then-PM Tony Abbott invoked Winston Churchill and declared: “I refuse to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire.”

Hitler and Churchill are long gone. But Hitler’s rhetorical and ideological legacy arguably live on in the person of the US Republican Party’s likely presidential nominee, Donald Trump. True, Trump hasn’t called for Hispanics and Muslims to be thrown into gas chambers. But then, neither had Hitler called for such treatment for Jews, disabled people, homosexuals, etc, when negotiating with Britain.

When it comes to the obvious danger arising from the election of Donald Trump, Australia’s conservative side of politics — its pollies and its media — are looking a lot like Chamberlain. Should Americans elect a President with xenophobic tendencies, it’ll just be a case of peace in our time for Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop. Meanwhile, these same conservatives are attacking Bill Shorten for sounding more like Winston Churchill in alerting voters to the dangers of a Trump presidency. 

Nowhere has this been clearer than in the recent Orlando shooting. In case you’ve been asleep for the past 72 hours, here’s just a little of what we know so far about the killer Omar Mateen:

* He was born in New York, not in the mysterious nation of “Afghan” as Trump suggested;

* He dialled 911 and allegedly told the operator he was acting on behalf of the violently homophobic terrorist group Islamic State;

* Witnesses say he frequently attended the Pulse nightclub, approached men for sex, identified himself to friends as gay and used multiple gay apps such as Grindr;

*He occasionally went to the mosque with his son and performed congregational prayers. He did not attend the Friday prayer during which sermons were delivered; and

* He was violent and vicious toward his first wife.

Yet from Donald Trump to Andrew Bolt to Rita Panahi to Greg Sheridan to the editorial writer for The Australian to even Emma-Kate Symons, the message is that this is about the Islam, the whole Islam and nothing but the Islam.

And notwithstanding their almost constant linkages of terrorism to Islam, radical Islam, Islamism, Muslims, Islamists (and perhaps even those awful nasty pus-filled islamicysts), many of these same pundits allege that there is a conspiracy of political correctness stopping them from linking terrorism to Islam, radical Islam, Islamism etc etc. And when someone at the front line of fighting terrorism — say, for example, the ASIO chief — tells them that their rhetoric isn’t helpful, they go completely nuts.

This fixation with anything remotely Islam says more about alleged conservatives than it does about your average Yusuf Blow who buys halal/kosher certified products at the supermarket. Conservatives seem to have lost the ideological plot, more so than their most paranoid anti-communist forebears. Seriously, communism was an international threat with nuclear weapons and the ability to send men and dogs into space. Can we really compare groups like Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah and Boko Haram to the combined super power of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies?

First published in Crikey on 16 July 2016.

TERRORISM: Orlando massacre: for a minority of a minority, two worlds collide

Barely a few days after Americans of all faiths and backgrounds came together to celebrate the life of the great American Muhammad Ali, the unifying spirit of that event has been spoiled by the spilling of blood. Early on Sunday morning at an LGBTQI venue in Orlando, some 50 people were gunned down. While shocking, news of a mass shooting in the US is not new. The fact that the gunman proclaimed to be Muslim, the weapons he used, the ease with which he could procure them, is also not new. Attacks on people because of their sexuality, again not new.

There has been plenty of conversation about whether this was an indiscriminate act of violence or a deliberate terrorist attack. The gunman's religious heritage, his marital discord and his family background were the subject of speculation even before all the victims had been identified. But the real elephant in the room was in fact the victims. Whether orchestrated by Islamic State or not, this was a targeted attack on people from the LGBTQI community in a place that was theirs, a space they believed was a safe one.

This event is fast becoming a moment for LGBTQI people who grew up in Western Muslim communities when their two worlds could collide. Perhaps Western Muslim communities would finally appreciate and speak about homophobia among them with the vigour they speak about Islamophobia directed against them. Perhaps Western Muslim communities would finally understand that LGBTQI Muslims are part of their community, albeit marginalised from within as well as from without.

Will Western mosques, imams, leaders and those claiming to speak for the faith and the believers recognise that all sinners are equal and none of more equal than others? Or will Western (including Australian) Muslim communities be too busy trying to deflect the inevitable hatred from themselves? 

Or at least from their straight selves. In this respect, Muslims won't be alone in effectively airbrushing the pain of their LGBTQI minority.

Remarks by so many public figures in the US and Australia almost ignored the fact that the victims of the Orlando attacks for killed because they were LGBTQI people. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull mentioned the direct victims of this atrocity, the LGBTQI community of Orlando, but described the incident as an attack on all, arguably diluting recognition of the essentially homophobic nature of the crime. Commentators and pundits even question whether this was in fact a homophobic act. Worse still, some even pointed fingers at the mourning LGBTQI community and accusing them of "hijacking" the pain and horror of what happened in Orlando for their "own" purposes.

Let's be honest about this. The attack on the Orlando club was primarily a homophobic attack. The gunman's family have described his homophobia. The gunman went to a nightclub at 2 am with an assault rifle and he stayed there for three hours, killing gay people during the heavily publicised Pride Month – a time and in a place where they not only felt safe but so safe they felt that they could celebrate their identity and the community they had built around them. There should be no question about this and yet in the minds of so many of our leaders and our media, this central fact has had to compete with speculations and prejudices and frivolous punditry.

Discussion has naturally turned to the possibility of a similar incident happening here. Experts speculate on law enforcement arrangements, on intelligence and on the strength of "radical Islamists". Yes, this is all important. But please, let's not forget the many ways in which LGBTQI victims are affected. Imagine if an LGBTQI venue was attacked in Sydney or Melbourne or Canberra. What if, among those killed, was a same-sex couple from Britain celebrating their honeymoon?

What if one survived, but had to be faced with the prospect of their spouse's Australian death certificate stating the words "never married"? At a time when the survivor should be mourning, s/he would find her/himself fighting for legal recognition of their relationship, for rights to the deceased loved one's body, and their funeral arrangements.

Should we use the Orlando shootings as an excuse to patronise and lecture our Muslim minorities about the homophobia in Muslim tradition, we might be prepared to acknowledge that our own Western attitudes and laws and even our (allegedly) Christian heritage aren't exactly lacking in similar traditions and attitudes. It's easy for some in our broader community to say with pride that only "those" Muslims have sufficient hatred to commit such an attack, as if the average American or Australian Muslim can only be seen as a potential IS fighter. Would our lectures be so stern if the Indiana man apprehended by police around the same time as the Orlando massacre had used his weapons to carry out a deadly attach at the LA Pride Festival in West Hollywood? And why do we persist in the fantasy that Muslims have a monopoly on homophobic violence and terrorism?

When our social attitudes and laws are stripped of homophobia, we can then point the finger with some confidence at minority attitudes. Although one wonders if pointing fingers ever achieved anything. Finger-pointing and blame are the strategies favoured by those unable to overcome hatred and rage, those who cannot handle difference. In this time of mourning, please spare us your superiority complex.

Haneefa Buckley works at a brand development and consumer insights agency based in Sydney and is a gay Muslim. Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer, author and PhD scholar at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship & Globalisation, Deakin University. First published in the Canberra Times on 14 June 2016.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

SECURITY: Five men in a boat: we don't know much, but tabloids have plenty of theories

Were these men a serious threat or just delusional youths?

Here’s an interesting twist on the “stop the boats” mantra. Except this story involved five young Aussies accused of plotting to sail a “tinnie” across to Indonesia and possibly beyond with a view to joining Islamic State. A parent of one of the men claims they were going on a fishing trip. All have been extradited to Melbourne (where their “plot” was allegedly hatched) to face trial for serious terrorism-related offences.

These are serious charges. This is a very serious matter, an important judicial test for our counter-terrorism laws, which represent effectively a parallel system to our normal criminal justice system and have no parallels (other than the anti-bikie laws) under our legal system. The young men involved face maximum penalties of life imprisonment.

Without meaning to diminish the seriousness of the case, one question remains in my mind: what on Earth is a tinnie? Is it a boat made of tin? Is it a vehicle for carrying tins of beer? Could it carry asylum seekers? Could it withstand an attack by a great white or a five-metre croc? And if so, could it make for an entertaining front page of the NT News?
For other News Corp tabloids, another question arises from this case: what on Earth is a cleric? In a bid to add to the seriousness of the case, the Daily Tele and its siblings reported that
a radical UK Islamic cleric
had attacked
moderate Australian sheikhs

(among them a mufti whom these same tabloids had previously attacked for being too radical a cleric). So an attempt is being made to link five young men to some bloke in the UK named Abu Haleema. From reading the headlines and the first few sentences, you’d think this Abu Haleema bloke is some big fish in the world of Islamic religious scholarship, a man who can access the scriptures in their original classical Arabic and whose list of academic qualifications is at least as long as his scruffy beard.

To know who this guy really is, you have to read down to the sixth paragraph:
Haleema has no formal training and does not speak Arabic.
Not much gravitas there. The story continues:
“Haleema’s comments follow the creation a Facebook page to support Cerantonio and other would-be jihadists in prison. “The page has been active for four days.”

I accessed the page at 2.45am on May 18, 2016. At that time, it had 241 likes. As of 4.44pm, it had 328 likes. With figures like that, no wonder advertising revenue is down. Almost all persons clicking “like” to the entries were outside Australia. Most focus is on Musa Cerantonio of Melbourne, an internet preacher recently profiled by John Safran for Good Weekend.

So are Musa and his buddies part of some huge international plot linked to uneducated UK clerics, tinnies and IS? Perhaps it’s best we leave these questions to the trial judge.

First published in Crikey on 19 May 2016.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

POLITICS: Manipulating division a fizzer in London's mayoral election

Sadiq Khan studied law and worked as a human rights solicitor. He was made a partner of the law firm within a mere three years. He ran controversial cases pursuing the human rights of some very unpopular figures. Khan left practice and in 2005 was elected to Parliament in his local seat of Tooting. Yet being lawyer to the damned didn't stop him from securing 1.3 million votes in last week's London mayoral election, in what George Eaton in the New Statesman described as
the biggest personal mandate of any politician in UK history.
What could have stopped Khan was his Conservative opposition's constant insinuation that Khan's ancestral religious culture (his parents are Indo-Pakistani Sunni Muslims) somehow made him less desirable as mayor.

Ironically, the sister of the Conservative candidate not only married another politician surnamed Khan but also adopted his faith. Jemima Goldsmith is no longer married to Pakistan's former cricketing legend and political leader Imran Khan. She expressed disappointment and disgust in the way her brother's campaign spent so much time trying to link Sadiq Khan to Muslim "extremists"

Zac Goldsmith's campaign was overseen by the firm of Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby. The campaign included sending leaflets to voters with Hindu and Sikh-sounding names saying that Sadiq Khan would place heirlooms at risk by placing a wealth tax on family jewellery. Pamphlets also made an issue of Khan not attending a welcome ceremony for Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi at Wembley Stadium in 2015.

Similar leaflets were sent out in the 2015 UK general election calling on Gujarati Hindu voters to support the Tories, claiming Labour supported laws banning caste discrimination!

Such strategies are sadly nothing new. In his 2007 book The Hollow Men: A study in the politics of deception, Nicky Hager includes an entire chapter detailing the methods used by Crosby's firm C|T Group in Britain and New Zealand. The book is the product of a series of leaked internal NZ National Party correspondence and emails obtained from disgruntled political staffers, party supporters in business, conservative think tanks, pollsters and fringe fundamentalist churches during the period of the leadership of Dr Don Brash.

The book provides detailed material on the methods and messages C|T shared with the NZ National Party. These included techniques to identify the prejudices of "soft" voters, which included using immigration as a wedge, especially if it meant stealing votes from more extreme anti-immigrant parties.

It all sounds terribly familiar. It's a shallow form of conservatism based not upon values but prejudices. It seeks to replace the sound aspects of the status quo and gradual reform with a political order built upon the manipulation of underlying divisions.

But in the London mayoral election, such strategies repeatedly backfired. For instance, in an interview with the Evening Standard, Zac Goldsmith made an issue of Sadiq Khan sharing the stage with an alleged Muslim extremist Imam Suliman Gani.
To share a platform nine times with Suliman Gani, one of the most repellent figures in this country, you don't do it by accident.

To his credit, Khan did not respond. He didn't need to. Gani soon tweeted a photo of himself standing with a smiling Zac Goldsmith. Gani had also openly endorsed and supported another Tory candidate in the 2015 general election.

It was a formidable barrage of innuendo and Muslim-phobic prejudice thrown at Sadiq Khan by devout Muslim Imran Khan's former brother-in-law. Khan's Muslim heritage wasn't referred to. It didn't need to be. The subliminal message was clear – a person of Pakistani Muslim heritage with alleged links to terrorists (heck, don't they all?) should not be entrusted to the mayoralty of a major Western (and hence white Christian) city.

What the Tories and their pollsters failed to realise is that London's Indians don't all support Indian PM Narendra Modi. Even if they did, Modi is not seeking election as London mayor. Tamil voters are not just fixated with jewellery. Simon Hattenstone reports in The Guardian about a letter received by Barbara Patel, a retired biochemist whom some smart cookie at Conservative HQ had imagined to be a Gujarati Hindu. In fact she was white and Jewish, her husband's family being Muslim! 

Conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that all us non-whites are not an angry divided rabble who make voting decisions based upon some Anglo stereotype. We care about the same issues anyone else does. Poor Londoners, whether Hindu or Sikh or Jewish or Muslim or Catholic or Callithumpian really don't care about whether the mayor delivering them affordable housing meets the stereotype of a toff or a terrorist.

If Cypriot Turkish Muslims in the inner south of Melbourne can vote for a Jewish MP for Melbourne Ports and Filipino Catholics in Mount Druitt for a Muslim MP for Chifley, why can't Londoners of all persuasions vote for the son of a Muslim bus driver? As for me, I'm just happy another solicitor has taken power.

Irfan Yusuf is an award-winning author and lawyer who in his past life was a federal Liberal candidate for the western Sydney seat of Reid in the 2001 federal election. First published in the Canberra Times on 12 May 2016.

AUSTRALIAN POLITICS: Australian Liberty Alliance candidate once sang songs of jihad

Angry Anderson is the new Senate candidate for the anti-Islam Australian Liberty Alliance. But Rose Tattoo was once on the side of Afghan jihadis.

I’m so excited. One of my musical heroes is running for Parliament. He’ll be a candidate for the Senate, representing me and millions of other New South Welshmen. And even better, like me, he’s a somewhat conservative chap.

Though I doubt Angry Anderson would be happy to have me as a fan. Back in year 9, I was a bit of a jihadist. It was 1984, the year that was the name of a famous novel written by a British foreign fighter named Eric Blair. I found the novel boring, but my year 9 English class all adored Angry Anderson’s passionate lyrics. That year the band he fronted, Rose Tattoo, released their Southern Stars album. The first single was an extraordinary anthem for freedom entitled I Wish.

Anderson sings of the struggles of the Catholics of Northern Ireland and the Solidarity Movement of Poland. During the guitar solo, the video clip shows images of freedom fighters past and present — Gandhi, Khomeini and some priest I am not familiar with. Then the following inspirational words:
I wish I was a hero 
Fighting for the rights of man 
I wish I was a tribesman 
In the hills of Afghanistan
Afghan tribesmen? Fighting in Afghanistan? In 1984? Who were they? Who were they fighting? 

They were, of course, the Afghan jihadis fighting the Soviet Union. And they weren’t fighting alone; Saudi Arabia and the United States were supplying them with advanced weaponry. If you don’t believe me, ask Charlie Wilson, who helped arrange it all. Lots of Arab volunteers were fighting with the Afghans as well. If you don’t believe me, ask Osama bin Laden. He was organising their kit, accommodation, recruitment, medical treatment, etc.

OK, it’s too late to ask Charlie and Osama, as they are deceased. Still, you can ask Tom Hanks if you like.

Angry Anderson’s wish became my wish. Like Anderson, I wanted to be a hero fighting for the rights of men, rights being trampled on by the Soviet communist empire. I wanted to fight in a war in which global Islamism and the global Western right were together on the same side, just as they continue to be, on the ground, across much of the so-called “Muslim world”.

Good on Angry Anderson for making jihad such a fashionable topic for this hard-rocking Anglican-school boy. The people he praised, those he wanted to be were fighting for freedom, for liberty, for the West and for Islam.

Yes, a rather strange form of Islam. An Islam that many Muslim theologians at the time found rather difficult to understand, let alone swallow. But I guess if Ronald Reagan is leading the jihad, it must be good.

So as Angry Anderson accepts his endorsement to run on the anti-Islam Australian Liberty Alliance platform, I hope he recalls with fondness the days when he was singing his jihad anthem.

First published in Crikey on 10 May 2016.

SECURITY: Deradicalisation programs: do they work?

A 16-year-old boy from suburban Sydney with no criminal record has been charged with an offence whose maximum penalty is life imprisonment. He was charged for an offence of planning or preparing to commit a terrorist act.

Apparently the boy was planning an attack on an Anzac Day gathering. Around 12 months before being charged, the boy was being monitored by NSW and Federal Police.

Debra Killalea reported on that the boy had been referred to a deradicalisation program run by police in conjunction with psychologists, religious leaders, mentors and work placements. Killalea also expressed the opinion that
it appears clear the program has now failed.
Perhaps there are others in the community who believe that the arrest of the boy means taxpayer funds are being wasted on wasteful preventative programs.

Yet such diversionary programs are nothing new in conventional criminal law. All too often have I had clients referred to all kinds of courses and programs from anger management to safe driving as well as more serious programs designed to prevent more serious crimes. Often a magistrate will order a special report from the probation and parole office on whether the accused is an appropriate person for such a program. 

Unfortunately such programs don't always succeed in deterring people. A man who assaults his wife may assault her again, even after attending an anger management course. The alternative is to send the person to prison. But we all know that, upon release, a high proportion of prisoners return to the same offending activity.

So how should we deal with a 16-year-old boy with no criminal record? Immediately charge him? Journalists and politicians who make such simplistic suggestions do not understand the nature and difficulties in implementing our counter-terrorism system.

From 2001 until the end of 2014, some 64 separate pieces of counter-terrorism have entered the law books. Australia has effectively developed a parallel criminal justice specifically for acts deemed "terrorist acts". The definition of a "terrorist act" is defined in an extremely broad manner. This becomes especially difficult given that the concept of terrorism is so contested and politically loaded. The Kurdistan Workers Party is listed as a terrorist organisation in Australian, despite the fact that a number of Kurdish groups fighting Islamic State are believed to be linked to the PKK.

Australia is also developing a policy and set of programs under the umbrella of "Countering Violent Extremism". The 16-year-old accused participated in a CVE program. Whether you call it CVE or "deradicalisation", it's all the same. OK, not quite.

If you thought lawmakers and experts find it hard to define terrorism, wait until you see the problems with "radicalisation". The word has become a buzzword in counter-terrorism circles despite the lack of consensus on what it means. British criminologist Kris Christmann has identified eight separate models of the radicalisation process and 10 theoretical models in the scholarly literature.

This hasn't stopped the British deradicalisation program, called "PREVENT", from creating a legal duty on teachers and other staff to report students who are suspected of undergoing radicalisation. With such little consensus on exactly what teachers are to look out for, PREVENT has come under fire from teacher unions, schools and social workers. There have been cases of children as young as four being referred to a PREVENT program.

US lawyer Faiza Patel notes the US approach to CVE has tended to look for signs of Muslim religiosity, as if radicalisation is a kind of religious conveyor belt. The problem with this approach is that groups such as IS and al-Qaeda also use religious terminology extensively. By focusing on Muslim religious practice, US law enforcement authorities risk confirming the rhetoric of the very groups it claims to oppose.

Australia's approach has been far more cautious. The Commonwealth government's Living Safe Together website recognised the complexity of radicalisation:

There is no single pathway of radicalisation towards violent extremism, as the process is unique to each person. 

At best, we can only realistically talk about

what the radicalisation process looks like. 

The Commonwealth government's guide entitled Preventing Violence Extremism And Radicalisation in Australia was criticised by a host of environmental and other groups who scoffed at the notion that any of their members could be inspired to commit acts of violent extremism. Presumably the intention was to ensure the community understood that any form of youthful radicalisation could become dangerous. And that includes far-Right extremism.

Whatever the problems with our current deradicalisation system (and in my opinion there are plenty), one arrest isn't enough to remove it altogether. Properly thought-out preventative and educational measures developed and rolled out in conjunction with communities and experts are far more effective than hyper legislation and political and media circus.

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer, award-winning author and a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Institute of Citizenship and Globalisation. First published in the Canberra Times on 26 April 2016.

CULTURE WARS: A message to mono-cultural chestbeaters

Abul A'la al-Ma'arri (973-1057BC) was an Arab philosopher and poet who lived to the ripe old age of 84 in the district of Aleppo in Syria. When it came to denigrating religions, al-Ma'arri was an equal opportunity offender. French-Lebanese novelist, Amin Maalouf, quotes one of al-Ma'arri's more famous verses in his The Crusades Through Arab Eyes:
The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: Those with brains, but no religion, And those with religion, but no brains.
His words were almost prophetic. Decades later, European crusaders led by Raymond de Saint Gilles and Bohemond of Taranto stormed Abul A'la al-Ma'arri's home town, murdered 8000 civilian and then cooked and ate their remains. In 2013, the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front in Syria finally got to punish al-Ma'arri by beheading his statue.

Al-Ma'arri's message is strangely relevant today as we see self-declared Christian politicians and their pundit pals using every opportunity to attack a religious tradition which is oh-so similar to their own. Their crusade/jihad may not involve cannibalism or beheading statues. However, it does involve a strange mix of patriotism, prejudice and political opportunism.

The rhetoric about Islam, a faith whose Australian adherents are from more than 160 countries and who make up barely 2 per cent of the population, has never been terribly sophisticated in Australia. Middle Eastern religion isn't one of our strong points. Many Australians are still offended by depictions of Jesus as black or of Mary wearing a veil. The Aussie Jesus must be whiter than Santa Claus, his mother a Roman-era Lara Bingle.

Surprisingly, Tony Abbott appears to have joined the ranks of the monocultural chest-beaters. There was a time when he doggedly refused to follow the Howard line on multiculturalism, penning articles for Quadrant and The Australian declaring multiculturalism to be an inherently conservative idea worth defending. He refused to buy into the anti-Muslim rhetoric of colleagues like Bronwyn Bishop or pundits like John Stone and Andrew Bolt. Abbott's Catholicism did not even lead him to mimic his close friend Cardinal Pell's speculative diatribes on Muslims.

And then Mr Abbott became prime minister. We soon discovered he wasn't the suppository of wisdom on national security. Our law enforcement agencies cringed as Abbott lectured Muslim spokespersons to convince him they really meant it when they said they followed a religion of peace. It was a patronising performance from a prime minister born overseas to religious communities largely born in Australia.

Still, the numbers of young Muslims heading off to Syria to join Islamic State didn't exactly skyrocket as a result, remaining steady at about 0.0002 per cent of the total Muslim population. The few successful prosecutions of Muslim terrorists have involved tip-offs from Muslim communities, including mosque leaders giving crucial evidence at trials.

ASIO and law enforcement officials are aware of these facts. They are aware of the pressures minorities face when their traditions are constantly maligned and pilloried, when they are treated as security threats and as people whose transnational connections make them a danger in the imagination of others. Yes, many people working for ASIO are middle-aged Catholics who, like Abbott, are not too young to remember a time when Catholics, their faith and institutions were treated as foreign, a security threat and not very Australian.

"But ah, Mr Yusuf", I hear you say, "What percentage of Australian Catholics turned to violent extremism?" I'm not sure. Perhaps 0.0002 per cent of them?

Mr Abbott says not all cultures are equal. Or perhaps he was echoing the words of that great foreign fighter George Orwell by declaring all cultures are equal but some are more equal than others. But can one speak of Muslims whose ancestry is from more than 160 different countries as possessing one single culture? Why are so many mosques and Muslim religious bodies divided along ethnic and linguistic lines? In this respect, how are Australian Muslims any different to Orthodox Christians or Buddhists?

Even some Coalition MP's seeking to "defend" Islam have made a meal of it. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has argued that we need "a more modern interpretation of the Koran". Seriously? Is the problem one of exegesis? Do people who tick the Muslim box on their census forms stop and consult the Koran before they decide whether to shop at Coles or Aldi?

Why do Coalition MPs imagine that Muslims are any more or less religious than the rest of Australia? Is it all about religion? Are Muslims just characters in some Koran-bashing freak show? 

Such speculative forays do become frustrating for Muslims who are often too busy working to pay mortgages and school fees to worry about what some Coalition MP or obsessive Kippax Street columnist is saying about them. But I strongly doubt the unholy Islam circus will push Muslims over the edge and into the hands of IS.

I appreciate the phone calls made by the ASIO boss to Coalition MPs, but I wonder whether it was as unnecessary as the many rounds of anti-terrorism laws that ASIO has supported over the past decade or so. Still, if our civil liberties can be curtailed for the sake of national security, why can't the verbiage of pollies who love the sounds of their own voices?

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at Deakin University's Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation. First published in the Canberra Times on 20 December 2015.

SECURITY: Are we on our way to becoming a police state?

The greatest comic cop ever to grace a Hollywood screen was Frank Drebin, lead character in the cult comedy The Naked Gun. Readers may recall a fiery exchange between Drebin and the LA mayor in which Drebin proudly declares:
Well, when I see five weirdos dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of 100 people, I shoot the bastards. That's my policy.
The mayor wasn't impressed.
That was a Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, you moron! You killed five actors! Good ones!
Thankfully our police officers are not as keen to fire at someone in a toga or similar exotic dress. Our police understand that killing or severely injuring a suspect doesn't automatically bring justice to victims. Justice is done in court before a judge (and possibly jury), with police evidence tested by counsel for the accused.

But we are now living in the age of terrorism which, as far as the Commonwealth Parliament was concerned, didn't exist before 9/11. So before 9/11, there was no separate offence or regime to cover terrorism.

Since then, the Commonwealth has been behaving as if more Australians were being killed in terrorist attacks than by sharks or in motor vehicle accidents. The result is that our police and intelligence agencies have been given extra powers.

Extra, unprecedented powers. And then more powers. And if that isn't enough, even more powers. Not only are terrorist acts (defined very broadly in the legislation) criminalised, but so is conduct ancillary to terrorist acts. Organisations that so much as praise a broadly defined terrorist act can be banned without any judicial review. People can be held incommunicado if they are suspected of having information related to a terror offence. Incommunicado. Suspected.

What we have aren't just a few amendments or a new offence. As the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department noted at a conference in September 2006, what we now have is "a whole new area of criminal law and law enforcement procedure". With all these additional powers come additional complications for officers on the ground as well as for commanders in HQ. Police officers are seasoned professionals. They are trained to deal with a wide variety of situations. Australia does not need to become a police state for police to earn the respect of communities they work to protect. 

However, in their enforcement of counter-terrorism laws, police have made serious errors. These errors were present in the case of Harun Causevic​, the accused Anzac Day terrorist, whose terrorism charges had to be dropped for want of evidence.

The unprecedented nature of our new terrorism legal system presents a major challenge to our individual liberties. Chest-beating conservative politicians tend to be keen to forget individual liberty when it comes to criminal law. The racial hysteria surrounding terrorism is such that all kinds of religious observance (even halal meat certification) is treated as a possible avenue of terrorism. If a senior religious scholar speaks of terrorism's "causative factors", he is howled down and lampooned by politicians and pundits who are happy to explain away their own cultural warrior fetishes using the most dubious "causative" explanations.

In this environment of fear and hysteria, and with so many counter-terrorism laws unused, NSW police are being given powers to shoot terror suspects engaged in hostage-style attacks without making some effort to "contain and negotiate". According to some counter-terrorism experts, negotiations don't work with terrorists whose sole aim is to cause as much damage as possible before achieving some kind of demented martyrdom. This betrays a rather simplistic understanding of terrorists and their motives.

And how will police know whether the person they're dealing with is such a terrorist? Is it their shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greater")? Is it by their name? By their holding up a flag that isn't quite the IS flag? Hopefully it won't be that simple, though details of the policy and the training remain under wraps. And in case you thought this policy and training was in response to the horrific attacks in Paris, AAP reports that

senior officers say the new policy and a training program for every officer in NSW has been in the works for several years. 

Indeed, in an interview with Radio 2UE, NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas​ referred to the Mumbai attacks, in November 2008, as an instance in which

you have a mobile enemy force, which moves through places and kills people … we would be mad to continue to say we will do nothing but contain and negotiate. 

Of course, the ideal is to minimise loss of life – including the life of the terror suspect. Terrorists aren't the only people who take hostages or to hold suicidal fetishes while doing so. Our sum total of knowledge of terrorism will hardly be helped if suspects are merely identified and shot dead.

These powers need to be used sparingly, if at all. Guidelines need to be clear, and there is no reason for them to remain unpublished, for the protection of both the public and police officers themselves.

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 20 November 2015.