Thursday, January 05, 2017

CRIKEY: 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.

CRIKEY: 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.

POLICY: 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 news.com.au 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.


POLITICS: 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. The modern 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.

OPINION: 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.

Friday, July 29, 2016

REPORT: A Sunday with Hizb ut-Tahrir: 'forced assimilation' and what the media didn't report

Senior leader Ismail al-Wahwah pointed out that not a single Muslim army was occupying a Western capital while Western armies have occupied numerous Muslim capitals.

The Australian wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir (“Party of Liberation” or HT for short), an organisation ex-PM Tony Abbott wanted to proscribe under anti-terror laws, held its annual conference in Sydney’s Bankstown on Sunday. The theme of the conference was “Innocent Until Proven Muslim” and was promoted with a rather slick video, a Facebook page, another Facebook page, a Twitter presence and no doubt other social media.

The hall was packed with around 700 people, perhaps more. There were more women than men, and the crowd were from all different ethnic backgrounds. There was also a large media contingent, with most TV crews and journalists staying until almost the end. Even an Al Jazeera English crew covered the conference. The scribes enjoyed the free lunch, soft drinks and bottled water along with the rest of the crowd. John Safran was seated up the back and proved to be a huge hit with many outside the hall in the foyer. Two HT guys even posted a selfie with Safran on Facebook.

Outside, police vehicles were doing rounds of the adjacent car park. I had borrowed someone else’s car to get to the conference, and I hope they don’t receive a visit from any law enforcement officials.

Prior to the conference, The Australian took the unusual step of providing prominent space on its opinion page to HT spokesman Uthman Badar. I say unusual because the same newspaper harangued the ABC’s Q&A program for allowing a question from another “radical” Muslim Zaky Mallah. Fairfax also ran a column by Badar.



So how does one summarise in less than 1000 words the themes of the conference and all its speakers, as well as active Q&A sessions, all of which ran for around five hours? Media reports available online appeared to focus on a few key themes: singing the national anthem in schools; the alleged targeting of Muslim-looking people at airports; and the use of deradicalisation policies to bring about some kind of forced assimilation.

I understand it’s hard to cover so much material in a short space. But seriously, the reports I saw and read on the conference were disappointing, more for what they left out than for how they reported it. For instance:

One female barrister from the UK (also an HT spokesperson there) sent a recorded message in which she spoke about the impact of the latest changes to the UK government’s deradicalisation program, Prevent, which targets not only violent extremism but indeed any form of deemed extremism. Professionals such as teachers and doctors apparently now have a legal duty to report children showing “signs of radicalisation”. Apparently, even a child as young as three years old has been picked up by the anti-terror radar in this manner. Some of the case studies she cited, including cases involving children with intellectual disabilities, are horrendous. I was a bit sceptical of her claims until I noticed the mainstream British Press filled with reports of such cases.

An independent Victorian lawyer (who was once a New South Wales police officer) spoke at length about the impact of counter-terror laws including the practices of prosecutors. He also criticised the media reporting of terror cases.

The speech of HT senior leader Ismail al-Wahwah, who earned the ire of Jewish organisations for his remarks during a recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza, barely rated a mention.



Al-Wahwah made a point that seemed to resonate with the audience. He said not a single Muslim army was occupying a Western capital while Western armies (whether directly or through their puppets) have occupied numerous Muslim capitals such as Baghdad and Kabul. His message was that many young people are affected by events overseas, especially now that unfiltered information from war zones is widely available. Our government’s foreign policy inconsistencies and choices do potentially radicalise young people. They do compromise our domestic security. They also create a flow of refugees that no one benefits from except companies like Transfield. No amount of schoolkids singing the national anthem will change that.

In the quality and professionalism of their publications and online presence, HT can match any major media organisation. HT is the only Muslim organisation to have produced a comprehensive (if somewhat jaundiced) guide to the application of anti-terror law and policy for over a decade. But then, these days just about any group — “fringe” or “mainstream” — can do the same. Just about every primary school kid in Karachi or Bangalore is a whiz kid on the keyboard and can navigate multimedia platforms with ease. Meanwhile, if some media reports are to be believed, our Defence Force can barely keep up with the constant stream of Tweets from Islamic State.

HT can also match the most paranoid newspaper columnist or shockjock when it comes to generalising about the “other”. HT talks about “the West” and “Western leaders” in the same manner and with the same lack of nuance that a Rita Panahi or Andrew Bolt would talk about “Muslim leaders” or that mythical and near-mystical entity they call the “Muslim community”.

First published in Crikey on 2 November 2015.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

POLITICS: How Turnbull can avoid Howard's mistakes in alienating Muslims

A few imams do not represent Australian Muslims. Here are the people Turnbull should really be talking to.
A 15-year-old boy has murdered an adult in the geographical heart of Sydney. Police believe other teenagers are also involved, as are underworld figures. A 12-year-old is under surveillance. A 22-year-old has been charged with supplying the gun, and an 18-year-old has also been charged in relation to the crime. The appropriate response? Conventional wisdom is that we need to legislate. And we need to talk. In that order.

The conversation we need to have must involve “the Muslim community”. Some say we should talk with them. Others prefer to talk at them. Is it because in our imagination terrorism is necessarily Islamic, and Muslims are usually held collectively responsible? The point is that “we” and “they” need to talk.

Normally we don’t bother talking to them. They are sitting over there in mosques we rarely enter. We assume their women are at home or standing a few metres behind their men when in public. We read about them and their strange culture in our newspapers.


But now there is a greater urgency. Our security is threatened by their teenagers, possibly by their houses of worship and by their negligent parents. And of course by their terrorists. We therefore need to engage with their leaders. No, not academics or professionals or business people. Generally not their women (unless they are the type standing a few metres behind the men). We have to engage with their religious leaders. And we will choose who we speak to.

It’s a patronising narrative, but the fact is governments find it easier to talk to stakeholders and lobbyists. But the structured consultation model doesn’t quite work when you’re talking to 470,000 people coming from over 70 different countries and speaking languages at home that include Bangla, Urdu, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi, Tamil, Vietnamese, Russian and Croatian. Their understanding of religiosity varies. In a recently published book Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia, the contributors included writers from at least three out of four Sunni schools of law, a Lebanese Alawi, a Turkish Alevi, a woman of Indian Gujarati Bohra background and an Iranian atheist of Shia heritage. And there was me.

So who represents the Islamic “them”? Malcolm Turnbull will be meeting with a group of people described as “Muslim leaders”. Almost certainly they will be limited to mosque management bodies or councils/federations of mosque management bodies. The Mufti and his interpreter will likely be there. There could be one or two women.
Few will have substantial experience in advocating for their communities to government in a meaningful way (apart from funding applications, and having their photos taken with the immigration minister). The organisations they represent will often have archaic rules. The Lebanese Muslim Association in Lakemba allows full membership only to men of Lebanese heritage. I cannot join, and neither can my mum. Keysar Trad’s Islamic Friendship Association meets each evening around his dinner table. Dr Jamal Rifi has a large medical practice, but then so does every third south Asian.

The main topic of consultation is deradicalisation of young Muslims. And perhaps a discussion on the latest round of anti-terror laws. There won’t be much discussion about the latter as the Prime Minister and Attorney-General have already made up their minds. The leaders (and their interpreters) aren’t capable of engaging with politicians on legal matters.

Former PM John Howard understood this well. After the July 7, 2005, London bombings he set up a round-table discussion with Muslim leaders. Virtually all were male. A fair few spoke little English and had little or no experience in lobbying, public affairs or political engagement. They were largely men of John Howard’s generation, whom he could easily manipulate.


This eventually morphed into a Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG), which consisted almost exclusively of middle-aged male religious leaders and was chaired by Dr Ameer Ali, then-president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). In October 2005, Ali claimed the MCRG unanimously supported proposed new counter-terrorism laws before a single clause had been drafted. Howard would have been delighted with such compliant leadership. In fact, no one had any idea of the provisions of the proposed bill until ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope released the draft, much to the consternation of the PM.

Howard’s approach of focusing on religious leaders probably helped the cause of radicalisation. It made imams and religious leaders the public face of Australian Muslims. Mainstream Australians who identified as Muslim and who derived their income and status from mainstream engagement were left out of the picture

On March 26, 2008, the RN Religion Report reported that then-parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs Laurie Ferguson said the Rudd government was considering reinstating the MCRG, though with
fewer imams, more women and young people, and it will also reflect the sizeable non-religious component of Australian Muslim community.

The focus on youth is natural. We’ve just witnessed a 15-year-old murder someone in broad daylight. We also know groups like Daesh (also known as Islamic State or ISIS) are using social media to actively recruit and influence young people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Yet the last time the self-appointed peak body of Australia’s Muslims made any public comment on an issue was to defend its conduct in relation to the lucrative halal meat certification market on Four Corners

Demographically, Aussie Muslims have a very young profile. The last three census figures show they are over-represented in younger age brackets (up to age 40) and under-represented in older ones. No prizes for guessing which age bracket religious leaders emerge from. They were largely from one denomination (Sunni). Apart from a few that ran independent schools, most had little knowledge of youth affairs.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull can take the cynical route and do a Claytons consultation. Or he can take a leaf out of Laurie Ferguson’s book and search for people of merit by perhaps even inviting applications.

In 2007 Gerard Henderson wrote a monograph for UK conservative think tank Policy Exchange entitled Islam in Australia: Democratic bipartisanship in action. His qualifications to write such are monograph are dubious to say the least, and the document has mysteriously disappeared from the Policy Exchange website. But one valuable point Henderson made in his report was that Australian Muslims are, by and large, as secular and irreligious as most Australian Christians, correctly noting: “Many Australians who regard themselves as followers of Islam do not attend a mosque.” 

Consultations shouldn’t just be with religious Muslim men and imams, most of whom have little influence over kids at risk. Younger people (and not just the relatives of religious leaders who are all too often employed to run government-funded projects for their family fiefdom organisations) should be consulted. Lawyers, doctors, psychologists, journalists, youth workers, sportsmen and women, teachers, entrepreneurs, student leaders, etc. With a focus on people under 40 and people born here and who engage outside the religious square.

When mainstream Australians of Muslim heritage are involved in the process, it will show that with all this talent there are no shortage of role models. It will also show that the hateful mantras of those insisting Muslims “refuse to integrate” are just a load of tabloid refuse.


First published in Crikey on 16 October 2015.

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.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

COMMENT: Guns don't kill people. Terrorists do.

Imagine it’s your lunch hour at work. You are standing up finishing your coffee. A man comes out of nowhere and produces a gun. He looks very young and very very angry. He orders everyone to stand still. He then goes up to people one by one and asks them about their religion.

Anyone who says “Christian” is ordered to stand at a nearby wall. Once he has 10 persons, he walks past each one by one and shoots them in the head at close range, screaming something about God. A nearby police officer also on his lunch break shoots the gunman dead.

Not a very nice scenario. I’d hate for anyone to experience such an event. I’d hate such an event to happen (though I am sure my hopes will be dashed somewhere in the world). You would feel absolutely terrified. It would be a terrible experience. The terror of having to witness or experience this.

Police and detectives are immediately on the scene. The gunman is arrested and taken into custody. The bodies would be taken away. You would receive counselling. After seeing so much terror, you’d need it.

The shooting is a major media event, with saturation coverage and politicians and pundits asking questions about who would do such a thing. There are scenes of weeping family members paying tribute to their lost loved ones. It’s just too hard to see.

Some days later, you turn on the news. A police officer you say at the scene is giving a press conference. It appeared the man had been self-radicalised on the internet. Police has strong suspicions the shooting was ideologically motivated. They had followed his Facebook page, his twitter feeds and had also found a hand-written manifesto on his desk at home.

It all makes sense. This was a terrorist attack. You expected this to be the case. You had witnessed the terror, seen the hatred in the man’s eyes.

But he wasn’t found to be a terrorist. He had an ideological motivation. He was a neo-Nazi with extreme far-Right beliefs. He became known as the “lone gunman”, a “violent deranged madman”.

Now let’s change the scenario for a moment. You’re finishing your coffee. The gunman approaches. He shoots and is shot.

He was suspected of being self-radicalised. However, his Facebook and Twitter feeds show nothing. There is no manifesto.

Now answer this question honestly - which one of these two would be more than likely to be considered a terrorist? Which would be charged under normal criminal laws had he survived, and which one under counter-terrorism laws?

It seems extraordinary that two shootings can occur within 24 hours of each other, both involving young deranged and angry men killing innocent people for apparently ideological motivations. The one in which one poor innocent man was killed is deemed a terrorist attack by media, police and politicians. The one in which 10 innocent people were killed isn’t. Are some victims less important than others? Are some murderers more murderous than others?

The Parramatta shooting was a shocking event. The actions of a 15 year old - carrying a gun and shooting a random person - could only be described as radical. But only slightly less shocking was the ignorant speculations made the boy’s clothes. And his invocation. “Allah, Allah”, he was supposed to have shouted. “My God! My God!”

Why did he invoke his creator? I’m not sure. The kid’s dead now, so we can’t ask him. Perhaps he was inspired by some desire to avenge Allah and Allah’s people. Perhaps he was shocked by what he had just done or where he was and realised there was no turning back. No one really knows. What we say is all speculation.

Writing for Fairfax Media, Inga Ting attempts a distinction.

Gun violence has killed 428 times more Americans over the past decade than terrorism. 

And that's using a narrow definition of gun violence, which includes homicides but excludes suicides, accidents and other kinds of gun deaths. It also uses a wide definition of terrorism, including attacks in which doubt exists about a terrorist link and crimes by anti-abortion assailants. 

Even US President Barack Obama is beginning to have doubts about all the media focus on terrorism.


In the wake of the Umpqua Community College massacre on Thursday - the 294th mass shooting in the US in the past 274 days – Barack Obama issued a challenge to news media outlets.
"Have news organisations tally up the number of Americans who have been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who have been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports."
The following chart says it all.

Perhaps Australians should have the chance to view a similar chart about terrorism deaths and those from domestic violence.

Ting continues:

But even when we expand the dataset to include September 11, 2001, the deadliest terrorist attack in history in which more than 2900 people died, gun homicides account for 50 times more American deaths than terrorism.
Between 2005 and 2014, gun violence (homicides only) killed almost 12,000 Americans a year on average, according to figures from the University of Sydney website gunpolicy.org and the Gun Violence Archive.
Terrorism killed an average of 28 Americans a year, both on US soil and abroad, according to figures from the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database and the US State Department. In all, gun homicides accounted for about 119,000 American deaths.
If we widen the definition of "violence" to include suicides, accidents and other gun deaths, that figure swells to more than 300,000 deaths.
Over the same period, 55 people (including 53 US citizens) were killed in terrorism-related attacks in the US and 225 private US citizens were killed in terrorist-related attacks overseas.

TERRORISM: Balancing security and individual liberty - when radicalisation becomes a threat to government thinking

We were all radicals in one way or another. Some of us become more radical with age. Tony Abbott's views on abortion (at least as expressed in his book Battlelines) were quite radical for a man who once wanted to become a priest. It's unlikely that today's Murdoch tabloid columnists would have shown as little respect for an official war narrative Keith Murdoch.

Radical ideas are needed for individual and social reform. But sometimes radical thinking is seen as a threat to all of us, especially when they turn violent. The consensus these days is that the most dangerous form of radicalism is radical Islam. This consensus has a ring of truth to it, though it is also used by anti-Islam radicals with a distinctly sectarian (and at times violent) agenda.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his media allies, the Commonwealth has tried its best to avoid pointing the finger. Funding for "deradicalisation" projects has been awarded to a range of organisations from the ethno-religious Lebanese Muslim Association to the non-sectarian People Against Violent Extremism (PAVE) to Centacare in Cairns.

Emphasising the non-sectarian nature of counter-"radicalisation" measures can get you into some trouble, as the Turnbull government recently discovered following the release of its Preventing Violent Extremism & Radicalisation In Australia kit which has been sent to school teachers across Australia.

The criticism hasn't just come from the "usual suspects" – civil libertarians, Muslim community advocates and the Greens. Some professional education groups have been critical of the idea that one kit can solve all teachers' problems. Instead, as the Global Learning Centre stated in a recent press release:
Preventing violent extremism and radicalisation in our students is not about targeting individuals. It's about creating a more cohesive and connected community. This is a challenge that involves us all … Australian teachers are more desperate than ever to develop globally-ready classrooms.
Teachers cannot counter a narrow view of the world unless they have a broader and more cosmopolitan view. Kids need to be taught that being good citizens of Australia and of the globe are not mutually exclusive. The "kit" (which, according to one of its main authors Emeritus Professor Gary Bouma of Monash University, was never meant to be used as a kit) has also been ridiculed for the examples it gives of "radicalised" young people "cured" of their radicalism.

The booklet distinguishes between mere "radicalisation" ("[w]hen a person's beliefs move from being relatively conventional to being radical, and they want a drastic change in society" and which isn't necessarily bad) and when "it becomes a concern to everybody, including families, communities and law enforcement, if a person begins to advocate or use violence to achieve a political, religious or ideological goal".

The definition of advocating or using violence has been the butt of many jokes on social media, especially the hashtag #freekaren on Twitter, named in honour of the case study "Karen". Karen's interest in environmental protection led her to attend a forest camp where she and others would "disrupt logging activities by barricading areas that were being logged, spiking trees, and sabotaging machinery". Scuffles broke out between her group and loggers, and she was arrested.

The scenario may sound laughable, but the booklet's authors were obviously trying to show that violent extremism can take many forms and may not harm everyone. Unlike Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram whose targets of choice are almost exclusively Muslims.

But you wouldn't believe it if you believed everything you read about terrorism fed to a tabloid by the former prime minister's office. Tony Abbott just loved talking about the "death cult" that was coming to get us all. It made his government look tough, even if it was accompanied by ridiculous stunts such as the recent Australian Border Force fiasco in Melbourne. It also gave oxygen to far-Right extremists who were rarely seen as a threat.

The Abbott government's policies might be described as a case of "militant democracy", when democracy compromises itself and its values in order to fight its perceived existential enemies. Abbott told Australians they would need to be prepared to enjoy less freedoms to fight terrorism. He used this reasoning to justify citizen stripping and other laws.

At least in his rhetoric, then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed discomfort with where all this was going. On July 7, 2015, Turnbull lectured the Sydney Institute on "balancing security and individual liberty".

"It is a balance our Government has, I believe, got right," Turnbull remarked. But the expression was wrong. And those with dissenting views were dismissed.

If, as Prime Minister, Turnbull wishes to sell Mr Abbott's militant democracy to us, he needs to appreciate that counter-terrorism isn't just an issue affecting "vulnerable groups". He also must be prepared to be ridiculed. Australians no longer take their liberties lightly.

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

POLITICS: Cory Bernardi gets in touch with his inner conservative


Tony Abbott is gone. Malcolm Turnbull is in power. This apparently means conservatives in the Liberal Party have or soon will be vanquished. The "wet" or small 'l' liberals have won the day.

Little wonder the likes of South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi are making noises of leaving the Liberal Party and forming a new conservative party, perhaps similar to Britain's Conservatives.

But things have never been so cut and dried. The "Right" don't see each other as all being Right, let alone right. The Liberal Party founded by Menzies represented a political compromise, a somewhat uncomfortable marriage of liberals and conservatives.

 But what does it mean to be conservative in Australia anyway? Does it mean you worship God on Sunday and the free market every other day? Does it mean you support traditional values but insist they can only be Judeo-Christian?

In my final years of law school, a friend and I were invited to dinner with John Howard. It was 1993, and Mr Howard was the opposition spokesman on industrial relations. John Hewson had just lost the unlosable election, and had stunned many colleagues by "coming out" as a social progressive. I asked Mr Howard whether he thought the Liberal Party was or should be necessarily more conservative than the ALP. In those days I was thinking with my undergraduate binary political brain, typical of many in the highly factionalised NSW Young Liberal conservative faction.

In those days, the 'Group' (as the small 'l' liberals were known) had a winner-takes-all mentality, refusing to share power with any but a handful of conservatives. My education as a conservative young liberal included recognising dangerous 'wets', among them Marise Payne, John Brogden, Robert Hill, Christopher Pyne and George Brandis. That's right, campus left-wing activists. Christopher Pyne and George Brandis were on the Liberal left. No doubt many current Young Liberal lefties would be wondering what on earth happened!

Back to dinner with Mr Howard. From memory, Mr Howard's reply to my question was that the essence of conservatism is respect for tradition and the status quo. Change needs to be done gradually, not hastily or in a radical manner. Evolution always works better than revolution.

In that respect, Howard said the Liberal Party was a "broad church". He admitted that many policies pursued in his own portfolio in those days could hardly be called conservative. Indeed, the idea of seriously curtailing the dominance of the union movement and the award system in Australia was regarded as revolutionary. For decades, centralised wage fixing through an independent umpire was the norm.

Howard had a much clearer understanding of what the role of conservatives in the Liberal Party was. He realised you had to take the electorate with you, and you had to use big events to your advantage. The rule was respecting things as they are and making minor changes here and there (or at least major changes when no one was watching). Events like the Port Arthur 'massacre' (conventional racialised wisdom won't allow us to label this an act of terrorism) gave Howard the catalyst to introduce gun laws against the wishes of many in the National Party.

But there was one lesson Howard and other self-styled conservatives today have not learned. When conservatives are guided by prejudice instead of reason, they risk giving birth to a political monster that could go out of control and come back to bite all of us.

The free market is built upon people acting in rational self-interest. This means looking out for commercial advantage regardless of linguistic, ethnic, religious and other differences one might have with others. There's no point accusing the ALP of anti-Chinese xenophobia for having reservations about the proposed preferential trade agreement with China when there are people on your own side using the existence of violent Muslim extremists in the Middle East as an excuse to punish cattle farmers and put our export markets at risk.

And if refugee policy is built upon ease of integration, do we really think an Arabic-speaking Christian refugee named Nabil Youssef tortured by Islamic State and/or Assaad will find it easier to integrate than an Arabic-speaking Sunni or Alawite refugee named Nabil Youssef traumatised by IS and/or Assaad?

John Howard would have wished his last press conference as prime minister could be devoted to his long record of achievements. Instead, he had to deal with a fake pamphlet of racial and sectarian content distributed by members of the Liberal Party (including a NSW State Executive member) in a Western Sydney marginal seat. He went on to lose not just the election but his own seat.

Conservatives who dabble in irrational prejudice will never succeed in the long term. If Mr Bernardi and his fellow travellers wish to establish a conservative party on narrow foundations, they might consider doing so in North Korea.

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 September 2015.
 

LAW: Terrorism legislation highlighted as Harun Causevic released on bail


During the pre-dawn of April 18, 2015, police raided a number of homes in south-western Melbourne. To say the raids were a media circus would be an understatement. Charges were laid against five young men pursuant to anti-terror laws. The men were accused of plotting to attack police officers as well as citizens gathering to commemorate ANZAC Day. The plot was allegedly inspired by remarks by leaders of Islamic State for young Western men to randomly kill civilians.

In Britain, charges have been laid against two adolescents who have since pleaded guilty to involvement in the thwarted Melbourne attack.

Local media had a field day circus after being fed by police information and allegations against the arrested men. The nerves of Australians were on edge over attacks on the larger-than-usual turnout to the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. Pundits, terrorism "experts" and politicians appeared in newspapers and on TV screens confirming the narrative of fear. Some months later, Prime Minister Tony Abbott even declared to delegates at a summit on countering violent extremism that

... as far as the Daesh death cult is concerned, they're coming after us. 

In this environment of hysteria, it would have been a sacrilege to suggest that one of accused, 18-year-old Harun Causevic, perhaps wasn't the best candidate for placement in a maximum security isolation unit. A young man with no criminal record might be spending 23 hours each day in the company of hardened criminals? Still, in tabloid terror terms, the man is already guilty as charged. Human rights aren't an issue.

But now it seems the major terrorism charges against Causevic have been dropped. Causevic wasn't part of Tony Abbott's "death cult" after all. At worst, he was a young man in possession of knives and other weapons. Causevic is now out on bail.

It is easy to blame the police for pursuing these matters. But we must remember police are under enormous pressure to protect us from enemies whom they – and we – barely understand. To think that terrorism experts are still arguing over whether the actions of Man Monis constituted terrorism.

Police are expected to use an arsenal of vague, often poorly drafted and draconian laws repeatedly reinforced over more than a decade and which represent a massive departure from the criminal justice system. And if that isn't enough, the Abbott government is hoping to give them even more powers.

Following Causevic's release on bail, Federal and Victoria Police stated they could legitimately take "overt" action if they had reasonable grounds to suspect someone was planning a terror attack. Defence lawyer Rob Stary sought an apology and an ex gratia payment for his client, claiming there was no real evidence against Causevic. Victorian Police Commissioner Graham Ashton refused to apologise on the basis that

... no one acted in bad faith here … With the nature of terrorism offences it is inevitable you will see these types of cases occur.

So police will frequently prosecute terror cases where the evidence is so minor that charges will have to be withdrawn. Meanwhile a young man with no criminal record will remain in the worst form of custody, arrested and then released following a media circus. There are likely to be more young men in Causevic's situation, men whom the community will find guilty until proven guiltier.

The powers given to police and intelligence agents have been abused. In the 2003 case of Izhar Ul-Haque, a 21-year-old medical student, the trial judge described the conduct of ASIO agents as "grossly improper" and "reminiscent of Kafka". The agents were found to have "committed the criminal offences of false imprisonment and kidnapping at common law". The charges against eventually dropped.

Repeatedly reinforced vague laws exist because we have been convinced that death by terrorism is somehow more evil and nasty than death by murder or dying in a road accident with a drunken or stoned driver. Women dying at the hands of their partners weren't deserving of the same protection before their death as potential victims of death by death cult.

Further, the way we define terrorism says a lot about how we view ourselves as a nation. Harun Causevic is of Bosnian heritage. He is European. He is white. Imagine if he had driven up to police carrying not a black flag with white Arabic writing. Imagine if it was a flag of the Australian Defence League or some other white extremist organisation whose members are known to bring weapons to Reclaim Australia rallies and who carry out violent attacks on women. Would he have subjected to a dawn raid? Would he have spent four months in the company of some of the most dangerous men in Victoria?

Before 9/11, our police and intelligence services already had an arsenal of laws to help them keep us safe. Even if it could be argued that the hyper-legislation against terrorism was necessary, imagine how difficult it must be for agencies to do their job properly when under pressure from incompetent poll-driven governments act on the basest (often sectarian) instincts.

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. First published in The Canberra Times on 2 September 2015.