On February 2, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib launched his NSW state election campaign in the western Sydney seat of Auburn. The seat is currently held by the ALP's Barbara Perry.
Habib was detained in Guantanamo Bay for three-and-a-half years without charge after being arrested in Pakistan for allegedly training with al Qaeda. Since returning to Australia he has been under constant "supervision" by the federal government, and been the victim of a number of unsolved break-ins to his family home and car.
Habib and his son have been interrogated by police, and Habib has received death threats and has been stabbed near his home. In the face of such extreme harassment, Habib has taken a courageous stand to enter the electoral arena.
NSW Labor Premier Morris Iemma declared on February 2 that the people of Auburn would not put up with Habib's "extremism and lunacy", and cast other aspersions on his character. Muslim bashing and "law and order" rhetoric are being rolled out in large doses by both Labor and Liberal for the March 24 state election.
At his campaign launch, held in the Auburn shopping centre, Habib, wearing a T-shirt picturing the US flag with the word "Terrorism" inscribed on it, was asked by journalists if he was "extreme", if he was a terrorist, why he had visited Afghanistan and whether he would wear the T-shirt he had on in state parliament. He answered, "I am running a human rights campaign and concentrating on the local area. Thirty per cent of young people in Auburn are not studying because they have no money. People are dying in hospital waiting for care. This is not good."
Commenting on the "terrorist" smear campaign against him, he said: "I am not worried about Howard and Iemma. I have been a victim of torture, a victim of terror laws." He added, "This campaign is not about religion. Every Jew, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian should have their human rights." Habib confirmed that he would indeed wear the T-shirt in parliament if he is elected.
On February 1, the online edition of the Daily Telegraph published an article titled "Mamdouh Habib and the socialists". It "revealed" that Habib's campaign manager, Raul Bassi, is a member of the Socialist Alliance. Bassi is one of the alliance's four NSW upper house candidates.
Bassi told Green Left Weekly, "Mamdouh is standing as an independent. He is not a socialist. But he is raising key issues of health, education and human rights, and demanding an end to war in Iraq, all issues that the Socialist Alliance is also campaigning around. I am supporting and helping his campaign." (See Our Common Cause column on page 7.)
[Rachel Evans is an upper house candidate for the Socialist Alliance in the NSW state election.]