Oct 9, 2014

Plastic sword the least of ASIO’s bungles in ‘terror raid’

Is ASIO willing to let innocent people suffer in order to secure more draconian powers? Or is it just incompetent?

Jeff Sparrow

Writer, editor, broadcaster, and an Honorary Fellow at Victoria University.

In 1950, when the Communist Party of Australia was banned by the Menzies government, police raiding militants often compensated for their ignorance of socialism by simply confiscating all books with red covers. The legendary Sydney waterfront activist Stan Moran supposedly even convinced constables that a portrait of Karl Marx merely depicted a jolly old Santa. The revelation that anti-terror police conducting last month’s much-hyped operation in Sydney seized a sword made of, um, plastic suggests that the traditional incomprehension of Marxism has given way to a new incomprehension of Islam. As Fairfax’s Rachel Olding points out, the sword taken from the house of Mustafa Dirani featured prominently in the media’s coverage of the alleged beheading plot. "Was this the lethal sword terror cell planned to use to behead an innocent victim on a Sydney street?" asked the Daily MailTo which we can now answer: no, not so much. Almost all the sensationalist claims made immediately after the Sydney raids and the Melbourne shooting turned out not to be true. In both cases, references to "beheading" were a complete fabrication. But Olding’s piece reveals something even more disturbing. The blade depicted so menacingly in almost all the newspapers was a Zulfiqar, an unremarkable symbol of Shiite Islam, generally purchased from religious shops. Dirani’s family are Afghan-born Shiite Muslims. Why, then, was Mustafa Dirani being raided in connection with the Islamic State, a Sunni group notorious for massacring as apostates any Shias who fall into its clutches? As Patrick Cockburn explained earlier this year, "simply to be identified as Shia or a related sect, such as the Alawites, in Sunni rebel-held parts of Iraq and Syria today, has become as dangerous as being a Jew was in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in 1940". The whole business highlights the profound inadequacy of the discussion of Islam in Australia: in particular, the inane division between "radicals" and "moderates". You only have to apply the schema to Christianity (though of course no one ever does) to recognise its stupidity. Is, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury a "moderate" Christian? One imagines that Justin Welby would claim to practise his faith as fervently as any Pentecostal (albeit with different rituals and customs). But while conventional opinion accepts the divisions between the followers of Jesus as doctrinal differences that need to be taken seriously, Muslims remain categorised according to temperament: basically, whether they’re wild or tame. In a press conference after the raids, New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said it was "perplexing" that a tiny minority of young people would "choose death and terror and the values of ISIS over the freedom, choices and lifestyle that is [sic] available to all Australians". We know now why Scipione was perplexed -- his men had just raided Dirani and his friends on the basis that they supported a group that wanted to kill them. Did ASIO, an organisation with an annual budget of nearly half a billion dollars, really think that Shiites would belong to an organisation dedicated to massacring Shiites? Or were they simply happy to let the Diranis be swept up in the hysteria that, predictably enough, resulted in extraordinary new powers for ASIO? It’s hard to know which option is more disturbing.

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21 thoughts on “Plastic sword the least of ASIO’s bungles in ‘terror raid’

  1. klewso

    I gotta hide my blow-up Mata Hari?

  2. alge percharkis

    Hang on a minute.
    The media showed pictures of a sword. It later turned out to be plastic.
    Ergo, the cops and spooks are xenophobic, religious bigots who’ll use any excuse to drum up anti Islamic fear?
    I suspect they knew the minute they picked it up that it was plastic.
    How were they to know what relevance it had to their investigation?
    Who knows?
    What I know is this… a sword was seen being taken out of the property in a plastic evidence bag.
    And the only people who leaped to conclusions, were the journalists who were covering the story.
    Now they’ve found out that it was a plastic sword, they’re mocking the cops and ASIO.
    But we couldn’t say that could we?
    Because then we’d be shooting the messenger.
    The same messenger that would likely howl in outrage if a suspected plot had become a real one.

  3. danger_monkey

    Time and again this government behaves in a way that presents only two real alternatives for understanding their behavior:

    a) We’re were too slipshod/too lazy/not smart enough to figure out that something is wrong.
    – or –
    b) We were misbehaving then and we are lying about it now.

    Seriously, Sinodinos on AWH, Brandeis on metadata, and the ASIO on pretty much anything.

  4. klewso

    And if you were the Stay Puft marshmallow man, I bet you wouldn’t be laughing about a plastic sword….

  5. klewso

    But of course there is the question of “Who are they going to blame if something happens somewhere else – while they’re out, playing Mack Sennett, with their PR camera teams, chasing these “political piñatas”?

  6. MJPC

    Being the “plastic police” I would have thought the AFP could have identified a plastic sword.

  7. paddy

    It’s a great time in “Reality Australia” for black humour.
    But it’s beginning to get a bit tiresome, as each new episode tries to jump a bigger shark.

    I’m *still* a bit stunned by the plastic sword.
    It’ll be hard to top that for idiocy, but I’m sure the AFP will do their best.

  8. Scott

    “We know now why Scipione was perplexed — his men had just raided Dirani and his friends on the basis that they supported a group that wanted to kill them.”

    Hang on a sec. Check out the names of some of Mustafa’s friends who were also raided. Osman, Dudu and Alou..they are predonimently Sunni in origin I believe.

    I think grouping “Dirani and his friends” together as all Shia is incorrect.

  9. Kristian

    So does this mean that me mate Dave can take his awesome samurai sword out of the shed now?

  10. Graeski

    Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

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