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Let’s hope porn connoisseurs can stop anti-terror laws — as Muslims leaders won’t

The Abbott government’s proposed anti-terror laws should be repelled by a unified front of civil libertarians and Muslims. Unfortunately, some groups have been lax in their duty, writes Irfan Yusuf.

Australian conservatives thrive on hysteria. During the 1980s, the paranoia was about Iranian revolutionary Shiism and Soviet communism. The Iranians were kept under control by our buddy Saddam Hussein and his chemical weapons. But the Soviet influence was threatening our moderate democratic Sunni Muslim friends, like dictator General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan.

I doubt too many Australian conservatives would have supported the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as almost all would have supported the Afghan mujahideen (a word generally translated in those days as “freedom fighters”). Who knows how many young Australian Muslims went to fight in Afghanistan? Who knows how many wanted to? I know I certainly did. And if I had gone, it’s unlikely the prime minister or attorney-general would have stopped me or cancelled my passport.

For decades the conservatives cosied up to Islamists (the religious Right) of Muslim communities and countries. Why? Because Saudi-style Islamists were anti-communist. It seemed everyone from John Howard to Ronald Reagan to Maggie Thatcher suffered from Charlie Wilson’s syndrome. When my friend is my enemy’s enemy, he becomes an even stronger friend.

Now that the commies are well and truly done and dusted, the cultural warriors of the Right have discovered their old friends are now their enemies. After 9/11, George W. Bush’s “Islam is a religion of peace” rhetoric did not go down well in his backyard, though his “crusade” rhetoric certainly did.

After the July 7, 2005, London bombings, the spectre of “homegrown terrorism” placed the spotlight on Muslims born and/or raised here. In response, then-prime minister John Howard chose to appoint a “Muslim Reference Group” consisting of (almost exclusively Sunni) men of roughly his own age but lacking his political guile, media savvy or English language skills.

Some press releases being issued by Muslim organisations are sounding more like undergraduate politics essays than the work of seasoned media and political operators …”

One of these men was the then-mufti of Australia, Sheik Taj el-din al Hilaly, who also doubled as imam of the Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA). Then, as now, the LMA’s membership rules specifically barred full membership to women as well as to men not of Lebanese heritage. Later, when Hilaly was caught making extremely misogynistic remarks, Howard led the charge against both him and the community he claimed to lead. That huge swathes of that community (or rather, communities) had for years rejected Hilaly’s leadership on a host of religious issues (including the dates of festivals) seemed to escape Howard’s notice.

When the issue of anti-terror laws came to be debated, Howard was a prime minister in his prime. During his first meeting with his hand-picked Muslim Reference Group, Howard managed to convince the group’s chairman, Dr Ameer Ali, to support the proposed laws before any bill had been drafted.

Howard first presented a draft bill to a meeting of premiers and chief ministers in October 2005. Former ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope posted the draft on his website. In a farcical move, Howard then proposed a parliamentary debate on Melbourne Cup Day. Howard got his desired laws. The result was a small number of convictions, a large number of acquittals and an extremely embarrassing and expensive saga involving an Indian doctor named Mohamed Haneef.

July next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the London bombings. The hysteria hasn’t died down. If anything, it has become worse with news that around 150 Australians have now joined the (extremely un-)Islamic State (IS) and are based in Syria, Iraq or Turkey. Exactly what role they are playing is unclear, though we have seen images of an IS fighter with untreated schizophrenia holding what appears to be a dead man’s head.

Australia’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies have asked for increased powers. After the brutal beheading of an American journalist made front pages across the Western world, selling stronger terror laws to the Australian people should be a walk in the park for for any prime minister. Almost as easy as selling a budget or legislating to increase freedom of speech.

It should. But we’re talking about the Abbott government.

The proposed terror laws include provisions on metadata that should generate a coalition of opposition — unifying Muslims, civil libertarians, IPA-types and consumers of sex industry products.

But instead of looking at the broad picture, the language used by many organisations claiming to represent the 400,000-odd Australians who tick the “Muslim” box on their census forms has been insular to say the least.

Some press releases being issued by Muslim organisations are sounding more like undergraduate politics essays than the work of seasoned media and political operators. Others  — including Muslims Australia, the national umbrella body of all state Islamic societies — are ignoring the issue altogether.

Then you have the ridiculous situation where some Muslim “leaders” are meeting with Abbott (with some using grovelling speech) while others are choosing to boycott, thinking their stance will somehow break Abbott’s resolve or undermine his push or deny him a photo op.

As the first anniversary of the Abbott government approaches, Australia’s tiny sector of self-appointed Muslim leaders are in the process of handing him his first and long-awaited political victory. Let’s just hope the lawyers, civil libertarians and porn consumers can do a better job.​

10
  • 1
    DF
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Must be an old photo - no blue tie.

  • 2
    rhwombat
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article, Irfan Yusuf.

  • 3
    j.oneill
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    As usual the Australian media is failing to tell us more than a fraction of what is happening in the Middle East. We have grown used to the failure to hold Israel to account, but as Irfan points out, even the Muslim leaders are failing to call Abbott on his posturing, or if they are, it is not being reported.

    The Islamic State is a classic example. This is a group trained and equipped by the Americans among others, as the Jordanian government has acknowledged. They were primarily intended to be used, in classic American style, as proxies in the desire to dislodge the Assad government in Syria.

    IS then made major strides in taking over Iraqi territory; an Iraq left in total disarray because of the US, UK & australian led invasion in 2003, preceded by ten years of sanctions that killed 500,000 children among others. No acknowledgment of that in our media.

    A major source of finance for IS is close US ally Saudi Arabia. On the same day that the US journalist was beheaded the Saudis executed 19 people by beheading, including one man for “sorcery”. Not a squeak out of the US or Australia about that particular barbarity.

    Now Abbott is musing aloud about having Australian’s rejoin the fight in Iraq. No doubt he is relying on the same lack of historical memory and monstrous lies that accompanied the last ill-fated adventure to get Australians to accept a repeat performance.

    He can probably count on a supine media and Labor Party to support him. After all, despite its professed opposition to the earlier outrage the Labor Party when in government refused to countenance an inquiry into our involvement in Iraq.

  • 4
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    DF: I’m almost sure the Rabbott was sporting this tie at a funeral. I can’t remember who died. But that’s what it was.

  • 5
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    IRFAN YUSUF: Thank you for an excellent article.

  • 6
    Kfix
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Irfan. I’ve missed you in Crikey, hope to once again see more of your writing here.

    Also well said j.oneill

  • 7
    Itsarort
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Can someone explain to me, also observed by j.oneill, why the more vocal supporters of IS look distinctly like members of The House of Saud, yet not even a blink from any politicians or the media?

  • 8
    j.oneill
    Posted Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Another item of news the Australian media failed to report was the statement last Friday by Syria’s ambassador to the UN that the Islamic State is in an alliance with Israel. IS troops, after being trained in Jordan as previously noted, are infiltrated into Syria via the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.

    This may help to explain why IS has not attacked a single Israeli target, and that they have been conspicuously quiet on the ongoing fate of the Palestinians.

    There is a very interesting article today in Antiwar.com by Walead Farwana on the history of IS whose origins and current successes can be firmly traced back to decades of US policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan. That history needs to be understood in the light of the current posturing by Abbott et al about Islamic radical jihadists running amok.

  • 9
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Not that I’d expect the Rodent to have a moment of self reflection or doubt of his own rectitude but in that pic. he seems to be thinking “oh, shit what I wrought?”

  • 10
    Dallas Beaufort
    Posted Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I would prefer water boarding any day to decapitation in the name of some past hero. Time for the tribes to plant some trees..

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