Last night’s Q&A should be compulsory viewing for all members of Commonwealth, state and territory cabinets, counter-terrorism and law enforcement officials. It should teach them an important lesson — that thanks to their approach since 9/11, Australia’s fight against domestic terror is almost lost.
And no, it isn’t the fault of the “fatwa” of some Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) wacko to engage in indiscriminate murder and mayhem. As soon as the edict hit YouTube, the spokesman for the Australian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT, and whose name translates as “Party of Liberation”) immediately hit Facebook with words that included:
“[T]he valid points [the ISIS head] made about western aggression become redundant by what he suggests of indiscriminate violence … ISIS is calling for mass chaos and violence, anywhere and everywhere. It’s wrong, it’s nutty and most importantly it contravenes the Islamic position and the example of the Prophet (saw). It should fall on deaf ears.”
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HT is perhaps the most organised Islamist (i.e. supporter of political Islam and the establishment of a caliphate) group active in Australia and was the group that organised the protest at the Lakemba railway station on the evening of the recent anti-terror raids, in which hundreds of officers were required to lay charges against one person.
The reason that our domestic terrorism strategy is not working is that our allegedly conservative politicians, their media friends and (to some extent) law enforcement officials appear to have lost the confidence of the very groups whose information and community intelligence is needed to arrest and convict actual terrorists.
Muslims hate the fact that there are terrorists among them as much as Catholics hate the existence of paedophile priests (and clergy who protect them from prosecution). If a bomb goes off during peak hour at Wynyard Station or on the No. 19 tram, it will not discriminate in favour of Muslim passengers. The first victim of the July 7, 2005, London bombing to be buried was a young British bank clerk named Shahara Islam.
When Lakemba GP Jamal Rifi organised an open barbecue to show his love for Australia, he was joined by Mamdouh Elomar, father of Mohamed Elomar, who is currently fighting with IS. In past terrorism trials, crucial evidence for the prosecution was provided by imams, preachers and leaders.
Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan knows all this. Or at least he should. He should also know that he needs the confidence of the entire Australian community to stop terrorism or any other form of violent crime. If one group within the community feels unprotected from threats of violence and feels it is expected to give up its liberties to protect the rest of the community, the IS leadership will be clapping their hands in glee.
Keenan looked like a goose telling his audience that the recent raids were not theatre, a suggestion made by counter-terrorism expert Dr Anne Aly. Keenan deftly avoided the point made by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who contrasted the publicity made in one area of national security to the severe secrecy in another area — Operation Sovereign Borders. He dismissed as a conspiracy theory the idea that the timing of the raids was designed to bolster support for Australia’s involvement in Iraq and the passing of yet more draconian terror laws.
Keenan would have us believe that the government and law enforcement officials don’t treat one section of the community less favourably than the other. But seriously, who is he trying to kid? So much of our terror risk is generated by our foreign policy positions. We will act to defend Assyrian Christians (as we should) while ignoring Palestinian Christians in Gaza. It is no secret that certain Australian groups have much easier access to the Foreign Minister than others.
Aly, who has worked on de-radicalisation programs with returned jihadists and neo-Nazis in the UK, asked Keenan what action was being taken against ex-servicemen involved in the Australian Defence League. Would we be seeing hundreds of police and a media circus to arrest members of a group that had made repeated threats against women and to burn down houses of worship?
Keenan’s answer wasn’t terribly convincing. It certainly didn’t convince an Anglo-Australian woman who had been threatened with sexual assault by ADL goons. It seems random threats of beheading by white supremacists don’t quite fit the definition of terrorism while random threats of beheading by supporters of IS do.
I immediately got onto the phone and insisted my mum resort to her younger, more fashionable days when she would go shopping without a scarf on her head. With around 76 years and a couple of knee operations behind her (not to mention rheumatoid arthritis), she’s hardly in a position to run from ADL members.
My parents have lived here since the early 1960s. Unlike Tony Abbott, one of my siblings was born in Australia, as are all my nephews and nieces. A mosque in Mareeba, west of Cairns, was vandalised. Its Albanian congregation first arrived in Australia in the 1920s. A good friend whose mum is Indian Hindu and dad is Scottish Catholic still complains of having random guys shouting at her on the train to go back to Iraq. And I dread what it would be like to be an observant Sikh.
If the inconsistent application of national security policy doesn’t make Australian Teamsters like us feel safe, more draconian laws will increase insecurity and hand victory to IS, the ADL and other monocultural and monoconfessional wackos.