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Too alarmed to be alert

By Irfan Yusuf - posted Monday, 16 July 2007

Let's not live in denial. A small number of Australians of Muslim faith and/or heritage believe they must attack Australian (and broader Western) interests. If the British experience is any indication, many are young second and third generation migrants, and the rest converts.

By and large, the intelligence and law enforcement community knows who these people are, and have reliable informants from within various Muslim communities. Indeed, virtually every arrest under anti-terrorism legislation has been the result of tip-offs from sources within Muslim communities, often the result of long and drawn-out investigations.

This hasn't always been the case. Concern about domestic or "home-grown" terrorism became particularly acute since the London bombings on July 7, 2005. Within weeks of the bombings, investigative journalist Brian Toohey wrote in the Weekend Financial Review that ASIO's budget for Muslim community informants had blown out, with much information deemed useless. Former Australian Security Intelligence Service chief Allan Taylor was called in to crack down on the amount of money wasted by ASIO.


An internal review revealed many part-time agents in Australia's Islamic community were being paid for information that had not been properly evaluated. The intelligence community soon learned what Muslims took for granted: Australia s Islamic community is riven by religious, political and personal rivalries, which often prompt informers to take advantage of ASIO's cash to make up damaging accusations against their opponents.

This simple fact underlies the work of seasoned law enforcement and intelligence professionals who show extreme caution to ensure they only act on the basis of accurate information, ensuring their processes are driven less by ideology and more by objective assessment of exactly where threats exist.

Sadly, our cultural warriors in the media and politics aren't always driven by such caution.

We are taught to be alert but not alarmed.

But some Muslim-baiting media outlets incite so much sectarian hysteria that we are left too alarmed to be alert. Recent reports in one newspaper in particular have bordered on the fanciful. Last week the paper declared all Australian Muslims supported the Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim party Hezbollah and opposed Israel. I've never been to Lebanon. Most of my Lebanese friends are either Sunni Muslims or Christians. Most of my Shi'ite Muslim friends fled Afghanistan and Iran to escape theocratic regimes.

Hardly people who'd support a theocratic party. My migrant mother's first Australian friend was Jewish. When I was young, my family used to buy our Indian spices from a Bondi spice shop owned by a Jewish family. My colleagues and friends include Jews, most of them avid supporters of Israel.


Yet according to The Australian, I support Hezbollah and oppose Israel. Why? Because The Australian spoke to a senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric who declared that all his community supported Hezbollah and opposed Israel. The newspaper then spoke to an oft-quoted Lebanese Muslim spokesman who declared Sunni Muslims agree with this position.

Before reading the article, I'd never even heard of the Shi'ite Muslim gentleman. I knew of the Lebanese Muslim spokesman as a former president of an ethno-religious organisation in Lakemba which barred full membership to all women and to men ineligible for Lebanese citizenship. Yet the national broadsheet attributes the opinions of these religious figures to 300,000 Australians who tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms. This same newspaper's editorials consistently patronises Muslims for allegedly not embracing democracy and gender equality.

Within 24 hours of the latest terrorist scares in London and Glasgow, the paper had a front-page report alleging some 2,000-3,000 "ideological sleeper cells" existed in Sydney ready to be "radicalised" into committing terrorist acts. The report relied on the "research" of one Mustapha Kara-Ali, of Sydney, giving credence to his sensational comments by claiming he was given a $200,000 grant by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in June last year to investigate the radicalisation of young Muslims in Sydney 's south-west.

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First published in The Canberra Times on July 5, 2007.

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About the Author

Irfan Yusuf is a New South Wales-based lawyer with a practice focusing on workplace relations and commercial dispute resolution. Irfan is also a regular media commentator on a variety of social, political, human rights, media and cultural issues. Irfan Yusuf's book, Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist, was published in May 2009 by Allen & Unwin.

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