Racism and 'anti-terror' laws — a threat to civil liberties

Sunday, August 16, 2009 - 10:00

On August 12, ALP federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland announced a discussion paper that foreshadowed a new raft of draconian "anti-terror" laws. The proposed new laws would give police the power to enter premises without a warrant and create new "terrorist" offences.

McClelland said new laws were needed to prohibit "an act that is designed to attack our electronic system". He also flagged changes that would redefine "terrorism" to include causing "psychological harm" and making terrorism-related hoaxes or threats.

The announcement was made a week after paramilitary raids in Melbourne on August 4, in which five people were charged under "anti-terror" laws.

The mainstream media has given blanket coverage to outlandish claims by prosecutors when the defenders were remanded in custody.at the Melbourne Magistrates Court. about those arrested. These alleged the five were planning a "suicide assault" using automatic rifles (even though the police admit the five had no access to weapons) on Sydney's Holsworthy army barracks.

Government ministers, police, the media and selected "expert commentators" have repeatedly used the foiled attack on the army base to say that terrorists threaten Australia.

Politicians and the corporate media have even suggested that immigrants and refugees from the Third World, particularly Muslims, pose a security threat to Australia.

Many of the advocates of making "anti-terror" laws tougher are blatant hypocrites. They support new laws to make the incitement of violence on the basis of race, religion or political opinion a terrorist offence, while they incite anti-Muslim hatred at the same time.

"While a majority of Muslims aren't terrorists, the majority of terrorists are Muslim", Bren Carlill of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council wrote in the August 11 Australian.

Racist columnists such as Carlill and the Herald Sun's Andrew Bolt have claimed that denial of the relationship between Islam and terrorism is just political correctness.

Yet there has never been a terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists in Australia, or credible evidence of one narrowly averted.

Also, there has never been credible evidence of an Islamic fundamentalist-organised atrocity being narrowly averted.

Even without McClelland's proposed new laws, Australia's existing harsh "anti-terror" laws allow convictions for "intent" to become a terrorist. There is no requirement to prove any specific attack was actually planned.

As under previous prime minister Howard, the definition of terrorism is also determined by the Rudd government's foreign policy.

The arrested proclaimed their innocence to the Magistrates Court. Some of those arrested also said on August 4 the Australian military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were acts of terrorism. Politicians and the media cited this as evidence of supposed "extremist" views.

However, it is a fact that the Australian forces in Afghanistan kill civilians, including children. Furthermore, a majority of Australians are opposed to Australia's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The racist media hysteria that has followed the August 4 raids has been especially directed at the Somali community. Three of the five people charged are Somali Australians.

The prosecution has alleged the planned assault on Holsworthy was organised by al-Shabaab — a Somali Islamist militia. The armed group is one of several contenders for power in Somalia. Since 1991, the country has been beset by continuous war and lawlessness. But al-Shabaab's political agenda is entirely domestic.

However, allegations have also been made — without evidence — that al-Shabaab has recruited fighters in Melbourne. Melbourne Somali community leader Sheikh Isse Musse, Imam of the Virgin Mary Mosque in Werribee, questioned this claim. "Australia is far from Somalia. Why would they try to recruit here?" he told Green Left Weekly.

He said that the close-knit Somali community "feels that these boys were normal citizens, ordinary workers and students". The allegations were generally not believed. "We'll see what the police will produce as evidence."

He said that despite the constant allegations, Somali Australians had so far experienced "no big issue with the wider Australian community <193> members of the Somali community are also members of the wider community and would not do anything to damage the community. There is no reason for young people to turn against Australia.

"This is the first incident involving the Somali community", he said. "The way [the police] conducted the operation has bred more fear in the community. Four hundred cops went into houses while people, including children, were sleeping.

"The law should involve less numbers of heavily armed police and arrests should be carried out in a less dramatic way. Now, other young people are being called for interviews by the police."

He said the proposed new laws were also increasing fear. "We don't know the content of the new laws. We would like so-called anti-terror laws to be softened — we would like the presumption of innocence."

From GLW issue 807