Dr Waleed Kadous, co-convener of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights
Advocacy Network (AMCRAN), spoke at a 150-strong forum organised by the
Canterbury-Bankstown peace group in Sydney on July 9, two days after
the London bombings. Below is an abridged version of his presentation.
I’d like to convey my deepest condolences to the victims of terrorist
acts of any kind. What I am about to say is not a defence of terrorist
acts — I unequivocally oppose terrorist acts in all their forms,
regardless of who conducts them. The killing of innocent people is
immoral in every religious code I know, including the one I am most
familiar with, the Islamic code.
My comments are not about preventing those who commit terrorist acts
from being caught and punished, but about ensuring that the rights of
innocent individuals and communities are not taken away in the process,
as has already happened to Mamdouh Habib (who was released in January
2005 after being imprisoned for three years and three months; David
Hicks (imprisoned since December 2001); Ahmad Rafiq (imprisoned since
February 2004); Talal Adree (imprisoned since February 2005); and in
some ways the entire Muslim community.
Why is it that the Australian government goes in to bat for alleged
drug runners (and Schappelle Corby is merely the latest), while leaving
Hicks and Habib high and dry? This is a clear injustice. The
attorney-general has said — point blank — that Hicks and Habib
conducted no crimes that they could be charged with under Australian
law. Yet, rather than this being a reason for the government to go to
bat for them, it became a reason to do nothing.
The new ASIO laws, which haven’t been widely publicised, introduce a
bunch of new offences and new powers. Two of the worst of these new
powers will allow a person to be detained — without suspicion of a
crime — for up to seven days. What’s more, the detainee can’t say
anything about it — to his or her employer, partner, or to anybody.
Hidden in the new laws are various biases. For example, many of the
laws apply to “terrorist organisations”. It just so happens that in
Australia all the “official” terrorist organisations, which are not
decided by a judge or an independent party, but by the
attorney-general, are Muslim. This means that, at least at the moment,
the only people who can commit some of the offences are Muslims.
Is there a perception in the Muslim community that these laws are
targeted at them? Absolutely. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission’s report surveying 1400 people found that this was a common
belief among Muslims and Arabs. As one woman quoted in the report said:
“There is a fear in the community that one day you will wake up and
your husband will be taken away under the new ASIO laws.”
Even Dennis Richardson, the head of ASIO, when asked at a recent
parliamentary inquiry, said: “For the [Islamic] council to say there is
this perception would probably be an accurate statement. Indeed, that
there should be such a perception is understandable.”
It is unjust that a community of 300,000, just because they are Muslim,
feel so insecure in their own country. What’s more, it will
unfortunately lead to an isolation mentality, and that breeds serious
But what about already existing discrimination?
What if I told you of a 21-year-old medical student who already felt
discriminated against because of his looks, fails his second year
exams, goes back to his homeland, decides to go to a training camp for
an independence movement, decides it’s not for him, comes back to
Australia, and then almost a year later is arrested and held for six
weeks in isolation in the high security facility at Goulburn?
What if I told you that at his bail hearing, the crown prosecutor
states that this person poses no threat to Australia whatsoever, that
he was not involved in the planning or commission of a terrorist act,
but that he could still go to jail for 15 years? Does that seem just?
What if I told you that the ASIO raids two weeks ago in Melbourne and
Sydney — where seven homes were raided and computers taken away, where
officers questioned neighbours as young as eight, and when the
newspapers talk about “men in long beards” appearing — resulted in no
charges being laid. What about when a senior federal police officer
tells the Sydney Morning Herald that the raids weren’t about preventing
terrorist acts, but about “rattling the cages”, letting people know
that they were being watched?
Then there was the time a guy with a beard was stopped in an alley way
behind the Sydney courts where he was getting friends to sign bail
papers and a Channel 7 camera crew happened to be there. That night his
house was raided and he was accused of staking out an AFP office close
to the courts and videotaping it for some kind of attack. He was then
charged with multiple offences and held until the hearing, at which
time all the charges were dropped and the AFP was forced to pay his
The following two accounts relate to how ASIO is using its new coercive
powers: “A” is an expatriate Australian who has returned for a short
visit. Upon arrival, ASIO representatives tell him they’d like to meet.
As his time is limited, he says he’d prefer not to. They make it clear
that they can ensure he answers their questions. “A” consults a lawyer,
who explains that under a questioning warrant, his passport would be
taken away and he could be left stranded in Australia.
“B” is contacted by ASIO representatives. They ask her some questions.
The first few she answers, but as the questions become offensive,
including whether she knows anyone from a terrorist organisation, she
becomes angry and refuses to answer. They tell her ASIO can take steps
to force her to answer. She, in anger, says, “Do your best”. She is
later surprised to find when she goes to travel that her passport has
Not only can these new ASIO laws be used coercively to deprive people
of their rights, there is also a question of whether these kind of
strong-arm tactics are effective.
The research evidence is that torture and coercion are ineffective as a
means of gathering intelligence. The bad blood such acts generate in
the Muslim community make cooperation with ASIO harder.
What can we do about these problems?
It’s important not to assume all Muslims support terrorism. It’s also
important to do what we can to hold the government and its officers to
account for what they have done, and to ensure they apply the law
equally to all citizens.
There are already enough victims of terrorist acts. We do not need to
increase the damage by believing that people who were not involved in
those acts supported or were involved in them. All we want is for the
laws to be applied justly. We do not need new laws that can be used to
take away certain groups’ rights. It may start with the Muslim
community, but it may not end there.
[Visit <http://www.amcran.org> for more information.]
Green Left Weekly, July 20, 2005.