I’m starting to wonder whether the leadership of the Australian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir are actors following the directions of a shadowy movie producer hired by desperate politicians in need of a decent war to distract the punters from their plummeting political fortunes. Their lines are so perfectly scripted, their public forays so beautifully timed — really, Dustin Hoffman’s character as a Hollywood producer hired to orchestrate a fake war in Wag the Dog could not have done better.
But of course, no one has to pay HT to participate in the production of a fake war — not when the real and horrifically bloody war underway in Iraq and Syria threatens to distract attention from their organisation in favour of the new stars featuring in Islamic State’s rival production.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s fulminating against HT in his “make or break” speech at the Press Club yesterday could not have better served the organisation’s purposes. The Prime Minister and HT are locked in a perfect symbiotic relationship, each of them needing the other’s background presence to justify their own existence.
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The only member of the current cast failing to turn in a five-star performance is the Prime Minister himself. His heart just doesn’t seem to be in it anymore. “If cracking down on Hizb ut-Tahrir and others who nurture extremism in our suburbs means further legislation, we will bring it on, and I will demand the Labor Party call it for Australia.” Yawn. Muslims on social media sniggered at Abbott’s Arabic pronunciation (his-but-taaria — lol) and then picked up their remotes to check what was showing on the other channels.
As Opposition Leader Bill Shorten suggests, Abbott’s latest promise to crack down sounds more like “part of his job application to keep his current job” than a Churchillian call to arms. However, Abbott’s preoccupation with HT predates the recent plunge in support for the government in general and his prime ministership in particular. Last year, he abandoned his usual antipathy towards to ABC to praise the “feisty” Emma Alberici (nice casting, Dustin) for her heated interview with HT leader Wassim Doureihi. Alberici won praise for her persistence in questioning Doureihi about whether or not his organisation supported the “murderous” campaign conducted by IS, including the notorious photograph posted by Sydney man Khaled Sharrouf of his seven-year-old son clutching a severed head. Then in January, when the organisation held a rally in Lakemba proclaiming “Our Prophet, Our Honour” in response to the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, Abbott’s warned that it might be used to “incite terrorism”.
Those who favour a ban on HT claim that while it may manage to stay on this side of existing legal boundaries, it serves as a “gateway drug” to other more extreme organisations. Lindt cafe gunman Man Haron Monis is alleged to have been one of those for whom HT served as a way station on a dangerous journey.
However, there are sound tactical as well as ideological reasons for refraining from banning HT. Certainly Monis would have found his own way to embark on his chosen course of action, with or without HT. With individuals and organisations who choose to work with governments increasingly regarded as stooges, banning HT will only add to its allure among some Muslims. And even Muslims who revile HT and all that it claims to stand for will regard Abbott’s decision to target them in his speech yesterday as nothing more than convenient scapegoating.