With his harsh budget in tatters and his popularity in decline, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and outgoing head of ASIO David Irvine raised the terror alert from medium to high on September 13.
It was justified, they claimed, by the threat of those returning from fighting in the Middle East — all 70 or so of them — posing an increased risk to Australia’s way of life.
Six days later, 800 police raided homes across Sydney’s west and north-west, arresting one man, detaining three others and seizing a plastic ceremonial sword common to Shia Muslim homes, which the tabloids initially tried to link to the apparent plot to behead a “random” bystander.
The person arrested was 22-year-old Omarjan Azari, who had apparently received instructions via telephone calls from Mohammad Ali Baryalei, the most senior Australian in the group known as Islamic State (IS).
There were no murder weapons, accomplices or the wherewithal to actually carry out such a murder. But it did not matter.
Mustafa Dirani, a 21-year-old part-time painter, was also detained but not charged during the raids. He told police that he didn’t know Omarjan Azari and the sword that was removed from his home was plastic.
One hundred police officers raided homes in Melbourne on September 30. Again only one man was arrested, this time charged with conspiring to send money to a known terrorist.
On September 22, Abbott announced new “anti-terrorism” laws in federal parliament, the essence of which would be to provide police and security agencies with more power at the expense of civil rights. It could mean jail for people travelling to the wrong part of the Middle East, a jail sentence for people, even journalists, who leaked details of ASIO’s security operations, and increased powers of detention.
Possibly the most right-wing member of the federal parliament, Liberal Democratic Party Senator for NSW David Leyonhjelm, was, ironically, the first to pick up that the new laws could justify torture. Although he was initially dismissed by Attorney-General George Brandis, the laws were later amended to specifically rule out legalising torture by ASIO.
It is extremely unlikely that the government’s actions have saved even one life from terrorism, but what it has done is increased the level of fear, and given the green light to the right-wing bigots in the media, to vent their spleen against the Muslim community at large, and those who would dare to disagree with Abbott’s “Team Australia” rhetoric in particular.
The result has been a large increase in attacks on the most identifiable and vulnerable sections of the Muslim community — women in Islamic dress, including women with children.
The racist dog-whistling from the Abbott government, led by Abbott and immigration minister Scott Morrison with their regular chats with shock jocks Alan Jones and Ray Hadley in particular, and ably supported by the likes of Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and Liberal Speaker Bronwyn Bishop (and of course Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie) has reached heights not touched by the former John Howard government.
Abbott’s attacks on terrorism have morphed into an attack on any opposition to the government’s policies, whether domestic or international, particularly if expressed by a Muslim.
Abbott’s outright assault on Hizb ut-Tahrir, a fundamentalist Islamic group who seek to impose an Islamic caliphate on Australia by peaceful/defensive means, is instructive. Speaking to Alan Jones on October 7, Abbott wished out loud that he could ban the group, whose crimes amount to speaking against government policy, but have publicly condemned the violence committed by groups like IS in the past. Abbott’s lead was taken up by the mainstream media, including ABC Lateline presenter Emma Alberici.
In the October 7 Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Mark Kenny questioned the wisdom of persecuting Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is actually seen by many in the Islamic community as playing the role of deflecting alienated Muslim youth away from terrorism.
Speaking to Jones, Abbott even went as far to compare Hizb ut-Tahrir‘s leader Wassim Doureihi’s comments to the flagrantly misleading and inflammatory article written by Andrew Bolt on “white-skinned” Aboriginal people, for which he was successfully prosecuted under the Racial Discrimination Act. Abbott suggested that if Bolt were prosecuted, then so should Doureihi.
The divide and conquer tactic of the major political parties requires driving wedges between working people based on nationality, skin colour or religion.
There is nothing new in this policy, practiced by both Labor and the Coalition. It’s just that, with the unpopular budget, growing opposition and falling polls, the Abbott government has reached for the bottom draw with the zest of a drowning politician clutching for a life jacket.
A coalition of religious and secular groups have called on parliament to forestall the passing of the changes to the anti-terrorism act, which will allow Brandis to cancel the welfare payments of those who are suspected of fighting for IS or similar groups in the Middle East, and allow the security services to seek a retrospective warrant after breaking into and searching citizens homes.
Unfortunately, owing to the craven support of Labor, this appeal to reason is likely to fail, and Australia is to be saddled with some of the most draconian anti-association and anti-free speech laws in the world.
However, for the Abbott government, not all terrorism is equal.
On July 30, environmental officer for the NSW Office of Environment Glen Turner was allegedly shot and killed by 79-year-old farmer Ian Turnbull near the town of Croppa Creek, in north-western NSW.
It is alleged Turnbull and his son were serial land clearers, clearing native vegetation without authority, despite repeated prosecution. He is accused of killing Turner after pursuing him to a neighbour’s property, and shooting him in the back after discharging a number of shots.
After Turner’s murder, sections of the media, the federal agriculture minister and local politicians began to blame the murder on the NSW land-clearing laws themselves, not on the perpetrator.
The August 1 edition of the Northern Daily Leader quoted federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce: “Of course, nothing is a reason, ever, for shooting a man with a wife and kids. You can never make excuses for something like this, no matter what,” Joyce said.
“(These officers) weren’t the architects of this law, the government was. This man was just doing his job.”
They had, though, created considerable frustration for many on the land, Joyce said, and his office regularly fielded calls from farmers complaining about what they saw as the restrictive nature of the laws.
“You have this crazy situation where you don’t own the vegetation on your land, the state government does, and many people have had enough,” he said.
Joyce has publicly called for the laws that Turner died enforcing to be watered down. The NSW government has collaborated and it would appear that the laws will be largely made toothless as a result of a government review.
Turnbull may well go to prison, although at 80 years old, age may spare him that. But it is certain that his act of terrorism against the environmental laws that protect native vegetation from greedy landowners has found a willing sounding board with the federal and NSW governments.
It probably stretches the definition of terrorism slightly, but it is important to acknowledge that domestic violence, which is the leading cause of death of women under 45, is also a form of terrorism — one largely ignored and brushed under the carpet by government and most media.
The drought was blamed for the murder of Kim, Pheobe, Mia and Fletcher Hunt by their father Geoffrey on September 10 at the town of Lockhart near Wagga Wagga. Geoffrey also killed himself.
The media and politicians fell over themselves describing how this act of concerted and bloody violence by this man was brought on by the stress of farming life, practically blaming the victims for this crime.
Capitalist ideology, which worships the family, has sanctified Geoffrey Hunt’s most violent and cowardly act. On the day of their funeral, as a family — as though they were all the victims of some natural disaster rather than one man’s violence — Geoffrey was praised as a loving family man, and as someone who was deeply supportive to his injured wife — right up to the point when he came home and killed his three children and then killed her.
Domestic violence is the ugly face of a certain kind of terrorism, the kind that perpetrates a man’s control over the women in his life, and may be summed up by the phrase “this is what will happen to you if you ever leave me”.
Undoubtedly there were some men saying just that to their physically or psychologically battered spouses as news of Hunt’s violence was played out in the media.
Terrorism comes in many forms. The Abbott government is not interested in attacking all forms, just, ironically, that which historically has posed the least threat to people in Australia.
In dealing with the hysteria built up around terrorism by the Abbott government and the Murdoch media in particular, it’s important to keep in perspective what terrorism is, what it is used for, and who benefits from it. In condemning unlawful violence, it’s important that we do not lose sight of who the real terrorists are, and who their victims are.
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