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The inventiveness of John Howard - the SIM card terror case

By Binoy Kampmark - posted Monday, 23 July 2007


I am satisfied that the cancellation is in the national interest. Australian Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, July 16, 2007.

No one can accuse Australia's John Howard (and his rather dreary acolytes) for being uninventive. Yes, he was a touch obsessed with a consumer tax in his second term (“I will never have a Goods and Services Tax” John), the baby of most liberal market economies; and yes, he was obsessed with muzzling trade unions.

For a time, it all seemed rather tedious and uninventive. Howard was bathing in the same waters Thatcher and Reagan had dipped their spears in. But in what sounds more like an item you would purchase at a dollar shop, GWOT (Global War on Terror) came along to rescue us from the mediocrity of just another social policy, stolen from every economy which has succeeded in increasing inequality.

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We were, thankfully, rescued from comfortable, easy, likeable John, defender of that fond fetish: the hardy, sun-burnt Australian battler. In his stead came the paternal, worried John, concerned that Australia's “way of life” was being threatened by shadowy warriors in a country that might, just might, have weapons of mass destruction. (Sadly, Saddam, before he left this life, proved almost as inventive, calling his bluff.)

In terrorism, the Howard Government shows innovation to rank with J.K. Rowling. It has sent Potter-like packages to the Australian public for bed time reading, though they are mercifully less long and less widely read. Let's Look out for Australia, distributed in 2003, was side-splitting fun. Be alert, not alarmed. Ring a hotline if anything suspicious could be found, or seen, or sniffed. The section on veiled Muslim girls and Chinese (in Australia, they are still called “Asian”, whatever that means) was placed alongside a beach cricket scene. Evidently, terrorists don't play cricket, though recent evidence, vide India, Pakistan and England, would suggest otherwise.

And now, citizens, or rather immigrants, must be careful to lend their SIM cards to their relatives. The reasons might be honourable enough ­ to use the rest of the credit at some future date. The suggestion in Canberra is different: they might end up in a global conspiracy to target civilians, stretching from Scotland to Queensland, consumed in a Glaswegian fireball at a rather ugly looking airport or plotting to blow up nightclubs.

Then, in Australia, the accessory might actually be charged, as Indian doctor Haneef Mohammad was, for providing “reckless support” to a terrorist organisation (or to be more exact, Sabeel and Kafeel Ahmed). Relatives should know better, though I am sure all readers must know everything their second cousins get up to. Naturally, not doing so renders you culpable.

The charge against Haneef, whose visa has now been revoked after bail was actually granted by a magistrate, is not merely an assault on the legal system but a gem of creativity. Magistrate Jacqui Payne claimed that the prosecutors had failed in providing evidence directly linking Haneef to a terrorist organisation. But Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews had his thinking cap on.

The genius of this government move is obvious once you realise that a terrorist suspect must, by virtue of this, be able to provide “responsible” assistance to an organisation. What that could be is hard to know, though Canberra might be willing to supply a précis.

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The Howard Government's factory of linguistic turns was certainly working overtime to spin the product. Justice Jeffrey Spender of the Federal Court, who will hear Haneef's appeal on August 8, was puzzled by the character test used by Andrews in revoking the visa. “Unfortunately I wouldn't pass the character test on your statement because I've been associated with people suspected of criminal conduct”. Such is the inventiveness of the rodent and his associates.

Republican Senator Vandenberg once told President Harry S. Truman that a sure way of getting money through Congress for a first (or was it second?) round bout with the Soviets in Greece and Turkey was “to scare the hell out of the American people”. He did. Howard's sense of history is often confused, but on the score of cunning ­ one of his current front bench did call him a “rodent” ­ he scores highly. He will have to. Labor's Kevin Rudd is breathing down his neck.

The grand old man of Australian politics is feeling the strain. It is an election year, and election years usually bring with them leaky boats (remember August 2001), veiled warriors and terrorist “sleepers”. This year, David Hicks, confined to otherwise decay in the luxurious surroundings of a padded cell in “Gitmo”, was returned to South Australia. Then that nasty thing called the climate reared its ugly, drought-stricken head.

But in the foreseeable months, the importance of such wonders of the oft-abused word of “civilisation” such as habeas corpus and a bill of rights might be finally seen as important. For a government keen to defend a certain way of life, overriding the court order granting bail suggests an unsavoury vision.

With Australian “intelligence” authorities apparently investigating an Indian newspaper report claiming Haneef belonged to the banned Student Islamic Movement of India, one can rest well. We can continue being alert and not alarmed.

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First published in Counterpunch on July 18, 2007.



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About the Author

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and blogs at Oz Moses.

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