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Issue #1659      October 8, 2014

Grim theatre for war, attack on democratic rights

The stage has been set. Reports of beheadings and other outrages committed by Islamic State (IS) forces have featured prominently on the front pages of the dailies and led on the TV and radio news broadcasts. Haunting, suggestive photos of the executions of western journalists and aid workers have driven home the message. We are at war with “evil” and the evil ones are forcing us to do things at odds with our better nature, or so the narrative goes. Australia will join the US in a long, perhaps endless, war in the Middle East. In order to be safe on the streets and in our beds at night, we are told will have to be stripped of long-standing, hard-won freedoms and the last vestiges of our right to privacy.

Photo: Anna Pha

The climate of mistrust and tension created by the federal government and the corporate media was bound to lead to conflict. The first casualty wasn’t a politician, a soldier, a police officer or a random person plucked off the street for a beheading via YouTube at the behest of IS. It was an 18 year-old Muslim man, Numan Haider, who was shot dead by Police during an interview near the Endeavour Hills Police Station after the youth allegedly inflicted stab wounds on the two officers involved.

Gaith Krayem of the Islamic Council of Victoria joined many other community voices in calling for calm. He questioned the approach of authorities in dealing with young, vocal, radical men in the Muslim community. “While I don’t know the young man personally, I do know many young men at that age and they can be brash, they can be angry, they can be immature. None of those things make him a terrorist,” the Council secretary said.

The government is persisting with the line that authorities are not targeting the Muslim community as a whole, just the extremists. Spokespersons, including the Prime Minister, claim to respect Islam as a religion of peace but they would be aware the effect current media coverage would have on bigoted elements in the broader Australian community. The recent raids on the homes and business premises of 30 members of the Muslim community have raised the political temperature to boiling point.

Premises in Brisbane and Sydney were searched during that pre-dawn operation. Over 800 police were involved and the raids were given maximum media exposure. Ultimately, only one arrest was made. Three people were detained but later released. Nevertheless, the public was treated to headlines like “Evil within” and “Beheading plot smashed”. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and Palmer United Senator Jacqui Lambie chose this moment to stir the debate over the wearing of the burqa – the traditional face covering worn by some Muslim women.

Reports of attacks on members of the Muslim community spiked dramatically. Prams were kicked and mothers spat on. Pigs heads were left outside Islamic venues and impaled on crosses. An audience member on ABC TV’s Q&A program told Justice Minister Michael Keenan that the neo-Nazi Australian Defence League had threatened to cut her children’s throats and rape her. Clearly, this sort of anti-Muslim terrorism is not being targeted by the government despite its frequency and the distress it causes.

Abbott shows his hand

Abbott addressed the Parliament in an effort to make the agenda that has been unfolding for a long time appear legitimate. Even though the raids had taken place and supposed “extremist plots” had been foiled using existing legislation, another tranche of ASIO and other police powers were being whisked through the parliament with “bi-partisan” support.

“I can’t promise that hideous events will never take place on Australia soil, but I can promise that we will never stoop to the level of those who hate us and fight evil with evil,” the PM said.

“Regrettably, for some time to come, Australians will have to endure more security than we’re used to and more inconvenience than we’d like. Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift,” he warned.

And shift it certainly has. Howard era legislation granting ASIO the capacity to detain people of “interest” without charge has been extended by a decade. Other “temporary” provisions will be kept indefinitely. ASIO can use “force” while dealing with suspects. Perhaps most disturbing are ASIO’s new powers over the Internet. A single warrant from the likes of Attorney General George Brandis is now all that is required for the spy agency to monitor whole networks right up to the entire Australian web.

Whistle-blowers and journalists can be jailed for “recklessly” disclosing information related to “special intelligence operations” –such as spying on the governments of our near neighbours. The computers of innocent parties can be hijacked to break into those of terror suspects. Funding for security agencies to carry out this work has been boosted by $630 million.

Islamic State and domestic Muslim fundamentalism have been exploited by the government to obtain what are essentially police state powers. It would be naïve to think they won’t be used to further attack the trade union movement or some other “enemy” of the day. Left political groups opposed to Abbott’s “Team Australia” vision won’t be left untouched.

The tensions raised by the actions of the government have also eased Australia’s entry into another US-led military adventure in the Middle East, which side-steps the UN and has the sovereignty of Syria clearly in its sights. The Australian people have effectively been excluded from these truly momentous decisions in the Parliament. They will have to make their voice heard on the streets.

Next article – Hong Kong – “Occupy Central” is US-backed sedition

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