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.