Massive “counter-terrorism” raids in Melbourne last week have further stirred up racism against Muslims and immigrants. More than 400 police were involved in the raids, including paramilitary squads armed with sub-machine guns. Five men are being charged under draconian “anti-terror” legislation with making unspecified preparations to carry out a terrorist attack.
Police say the men wanted to use automatic weapons to attack an Australian military base. But they acknowledge that the group had no weapons, no links to any organised crime networks that could have supplied weapons, nor access to the necessary funds.
Abdurahman Osman, a leader of the Somali community in Melbourne, was briefed by police on the case against the men. He emerged furious from the meeting: “What do you call waking people up at four in the morning with guns? It’s the police themselves that are terrorists. They raided 19 houses and did not find anything—no guns, no ammunition, nothing… We don’t believe they have any evidence of a terrorist plot”.
These arrests are only possible under “anti-terror” laws so broad they criminalise “thought crimes”—a group can be declared a terrorist organisation simply on the basis of talking about terrorist acts. Despite their widespread condemnation the Rudd government has announced further legislation that overall is even more draconian.
These latest terror raids have again been used by politicians and media to whip up racist hysteria and brand the men guilty. Immediately after the arrests, Kevin Rudd and government Ministers talked up “the threat of terrorism”, as though those charged are actually guilty. Media commentators once again pointed at mosques as being breeding grounds of terrorism.
When one of the defendants refused to stand in the court, the judge and then the media had a field day attacking the supposed lack of respect for Australian values. Never mind that the law has no respect for democratic rights.
Some Labor MPs made comments reminiscent of the worst of the Howard days. Labor MP Kelvin Thompson called for severe restrictions on immigration. Immigration Minister Laurie Ferguson argued for stricter background tests to “vet” immigrants.
It is such comments that fuel anti-Muslim racism in the community. The anti-Muslim riots in Cronulla followed hot on the heels of major anti-terrorism raids in November 2005. Since the recent raids Somalis in Melbourne are already reporting increased cases of physical and verbal abuse.
Such attacks on the Muslim community in Australia come as the Rudd government prepares to increase its commitment to the Afghanistan war, although more than one million civilians have been killed in the Iraq and Afghan wars.
The real terrorists
Australian troops in Afghanistan have been responsible for massacring civilians, including the slaughter of five children during an attack on a village in February this year. Afghan MP Hajil Abdul Khaliq told Dateline, “the Australians have shot my daughter, my wife, my family in the daytime… they don’t have a good reputation in Afghanistan, people hate the Australian troops”.
Malalai Joya, a female MP who has been expelled from Afghanistan’s parliament, is calling for foreign troops to leave immediately: “The US pushed us from the frying pan into the fire, replacing the Taliban with the Northern Alliance fundamentalists who make a mockery of democracy. Afghanistan’s government is one of the most corrupt in the world, in most places the situation of women is like hell”.
NATO’s General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has let slip the real aim of the war, talking up the importance of maintaining a Western military presence in Afghanistan to “contain” China and Iran.
When one of the defendants accused the Rudd government of being guilty of terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, it was a truth that the neither the government nor the media wanted to hear.
Western leaders have fostered anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the war on terror. Howard routinely attacked Muslims to divide the community and try and undermine opposition to his warmongering and attacks on workers’ rights.
As the economic crisis worsens, there is a danger that racist scapegoating can grow. In Britain, unemployment has been blamed on foreigners stealing “British jobs”, rather than on profiteering multi-national companies. This helped the fascist British National Party (BNP) win two seats in the EU parliament.
Rudd has backed away from the more explicit racism of the Howard years. But in his rhetoric about the “threat” of greater numbers of asylum seekers, his mission to “civilise” Afghanistan and his push for further draconian terror laws shows he has failed to challenge that racism.
The government’s failure to respond to the recent attacks on Indian students is more evidence that it turns a blind eye to racism. Now it is Somali and other African communities suffering racist attacks.
We need to demand that the government and the media stops targeting the Muslim community. Money being spent on warfare should be put into job creation and support for migrant communities; and the government must get Australian troops out of Afghanistan and have the terror laws scrapped.