Even the most conservative of government conservatives insist that it is the government’s role to provide and manage the security of the nation. That means real security, not merely sound bytes of nationalist fervour. The government as a whole — ministers, the executive and the security agencies they oversee — need to protect us from external and internal threats. This can only be done when the true nature and full extent of the threat is understood.
Thus far, the Abbott government’s response to the threat appears to be a mixture of ignorant chest beating, draconian legislation and occasionally throwing money at social cohesion projects to provide activities for middle-class Lebanese Muslim kids needing some activity when they aren’t studying for their IT, medicine, law or other uni exams. The sort of kids whose only links to Islamic State is a vacation with their Anglo friends to Syria and Turkey on holidays. And they have the Instagram snaps and hashtags to prove it.
Before the election, Abbott promised that if he became PM, he would move to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT, literally “Party of Liberation”). On one occasion, he even apologised to Alan Jones for not moving on HT earlier.
A few sound bytes later, Abbott congratulated ABC journalist and Lateline host Emma Alberici for her grilling of HT spokesman Wassim Doureihi. Abbott even declared HT was unIslamic, a fatwa that he as a conservative Catholic was so qualified to issue. Abbott accused HT of supporting terrorism, so he must have been cheering Alberici on when she threw this question at Doureihi: “What are Islamic State fighters doing in your name?”
But Abbott’s rhetoric showed how little he understood the basic stuff that many young Muslims interested in political Islam, and who are on social media, take for granted. He had no idea of the tensions building up between HT branches in Syria (a country where HT has always had a strong presence) and IS. About a week ago, a senior HT leader in Aleppo, IS forces executed Abu Bakr Mustafa Khayal (pictured above). Khayal’s crime was to openly question the legitimacy of the self-declared caliphate. HT’s press release contemptuously referred to IS as “the Baghdadi organisation”.
Khayal used to deliver Friday sermons at a number of mosques in Aleppo, a key stronghold of the anti-Syrian government resistance and now under IS control. He’d been imprisoned and tortured by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for some six years.
One HT activist in Sydney wrote on his Facebook page:
“ISIS fighters talking about various fighting factions and declaring them apostates. Talking about Jolani as an ‘apostate’ and they call the Nusrah Font (Jabhat Al Nusrah) the ‘Apostate front’. I showed this to a few and one prominent ISIS apologist said ‘but these are just foot soldiers’. Yep, and they happen to be the idiots with guns in their hands who would blow off the heads of other Mujahideen without hesitation (leave alone what they are capable of doing to shia, yazidis and Christians).”
In another thread, a local “hate preacher” claimed reports of IS killing Khayal were “nonsense” but then cited a 1400-year-old text to prove legal grounds under classical Islamic jurisprudence to kill Khayal. A long debate ensued about whether the narration was decontextualised and whether the preacher’s narration showed him to be another IS apologist. It’s the sort of debate that Facebook warriors commonly engage in, but in this case it could possibly fall foul of our revised anti-terror laws.
But it isn’t just Abbott’s clumsy cultural warrior rhetoric that should worry us, nor the provisions of his Attorney-General’s draconian and unnecessary amendments to the anti-terror laws. For all their hard work, our security agencies may be ill-equipped to do the job.
Under the headline “ASIO fails on recruitment from ethnic communities“, The Australian reported on the Australian Federal Police’s ability to “fight organised crime and terrorism networks” being compromised by “the mainly Anglo-Celtic background of its staff”. The AFP boasts having staff with “Arabic skills”. Within the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, not a single senior executive service member is from a non-English-speaking background.
Which could mean some possibility an investigator reading a Facebook thread might confuse the use of classical Arabic terms and texts (and somewhat less classical amateur commentary) of young men debating about ideas of jihad and events overseas with some plot to commit mass terror. The result would be more mass raids, more imbecilic political rhetoric, more socially divisive commentary and more calls for banning halal-certified burqas. And perhaps more legislation.