Guilty Muslims or Guilty Government?

November 22, 2009 at 2:39 am (Islam)


Source: Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia

A verdict was finally handed down last week in Sydney’s largest ‘terror trial’. Five Muslim men, originally arrested in November 2005, were found guilty. Surprisingly however, for a matter of such importance, discussion within the community has predominantly been private and low-key; a mixture of eerie silence emanating from some quarters, and some not too well thought out opinions from others. An expected scenario perhaps given the overarching environment of misinformation, paranoia and apprehension. Deeper reflection however paints a clearer picture.

A fundamental point of departure on this topic is that of context. The issue at hand is not the current case itself. The pertinent question is not, ‘were they guilty or not?’ For one, we are simply not privy to all the evidence in the case. More importantly, this particular case is a product of the anti-terror regime. It cannot be divorced therefrom. No discussion of it should be had in isolation of that regime as a whole. If anything this case is a case in point which illustrates the numerous problems with the anti-terror regime. Problems which are at two broad levels: legal and political.

Legally, it is obvious to any neutral observer that the anti-terror laws are unjust. They contradict innumerable sacrosanct legal principles of which the Western world is proud, making light work of the rule of law and its underlying values. They are too broad and too vague. They interfere much earlier in the stages of the commission of a crime. The burden of proof is too low, effectively a balance of probabilities instead of the normal beyond reasonable doubt requirement in criminal law. Through these features these laws effectively flip the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt, leaving it to the accused to prove their innocence.

Little wonder then that we end up with people being found guilty for acts in preparation of a crime based purely on circumstantial evidence. A cursory reading of this sentence may betray the profound nature of its import. There are two things to note here. One, the accused were found guilty not of having committed a terrorist act, nor of preparing for the commission of any specific terrorist act, but of acts to prepare for a terrorist act. Meaning that they were (allegedly) doing things that would prepare them for such an act. Where, how, when? No idea. Richard Maidment SC one of the prosecutors admitted that there was no smoking gun and no clear evidence as to what the accused were going to do, whilst noting that a conviction did not need to prove this.

Second, the evidence used in proving that the acts done were in preparation of a terrorist act was all circumstantial. This means it was just the accumulation of probabilistic inferences drawn to reach the conclusion. There was no direct evidence. In the words of a prosecutor it was large mosaic, a jigsaw puzzle for the jury to put together. This illustrates how low the bar has been shifted in the anti-terror laws.

The above points should clearly illustrate the error of those who on the basis of the conviction assume the accused to be terrorists on grounds that ‘a jury found them guilty’. They should stop to think about the law on the basis of which they have been found guilty, as well about the precise crime they been found guilty of committing. When these nuances are considered one realises how dangerous the above assumption can be, particularly for a Muslim upon whom the honour of other Muslims is sacred.

Celebrating these convictions as a national security victory is hence naive on two counts: one, it implicitly legitimises the underlying anti-terror regime, and two, it fails to account for the greater politics at play. For the reality is that although the anti-terror laws are couched in neutral language and forwarded as a sincere attempt to improve national security, they represent a clear political agenda of forcing values through the perpetuation of fear.

The proof that the anti-terror regime is a politicised one is in the pudding. The laws, notwithstanding their draconian nature, were originally hastily passed through parliament without sufficient debate and without community consultation. They included within them vast potential for abuse and heavy-handed application – precisely what we got.

In November 2002 groups of 30 officers with balaclavas, black flak jackets, and submachine guns surrounded suburban homes. Front doors were broken with sledgehammers, men were held to the ground with feet on their heads. The result? No charges at all! In November 2005, 400 police officers raided Muslim homes in Sydney and Melbourne. These are just some of many heavy-handed raids.

These raids, usually resulting in the odd arrest, would be followed by ridiculous charges. Zac Mallah was charged in 2003 with preparing for a suicide terrorist act on a government building. Jack Thomas was charged with receiving funds from al-Qaida in 2004 whilst Jack Roche was charged with conspiring to blow up the Israeli embassy. More recently in 2006 Izhar al-Haque was charged (after being unlawfully detained and mistreated by ASIO officers) with training with a terrorist organisation. The results? All of these charges were false and unable to be proven.

One should keep in mind that these charges are official legal charges laid by the prosecution. As for the media hysteria and insinuation they are even more sensational. In the Benbrika case in Melbourne, to take but one example, all the media outlets were reporting that the arrests have thwarted an ‘imminent’ terrorist attack. We were told that plans to blow up the MCG and the AFL grand final had been foiled. New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney went on record as saying, “We have disrupted what I would regard as the final stages of a terrorist attack or the launch of a terrorist attack in Australia.” The result? The prosecution could not even prove that a terrorist attack was planned!

Most astonishing however was the case in 2007 involving Dr. Mohamed Haneef. Here we have the case of an innocent man arrested, harassed and treated like a terrorist simply because of interactions with relatives who were implicated in terror-related charges overseas. Dr. Haneef was arrested and detained without charge for 12 days. He was lied about in court by the AFP and detained in solitary confinement for 23hrs a day. When he was given bail because the case was ridiculously weak, the government responded by revoking his work visa. In the end, not only was he innocent but even the flimsy facts on which claims against him were made turned out to be false! The following year we learnt that ASIO had in fact informed the government 2 days after his arrest that there was no information of his being guilty of anything.

The above illustrates clearly then the true nature of the anti-terror regime. It is classic fear politics whereby the government instils and perpetuates fear in the people, on the basis of which it then justifies what would otherwise be unjustifiable.

Yet some people still respond to cases of guilty verdicts like this one by expressing content at the evil, radical terrorists being locked up by the good government who is doing so much for our security. Others, more circumspect, think ‘well, better safe than sorry’, a thought which makes similar underlying assumptions. Assumptions, like the government sincerely being concerned about and working for national security, which are flawed.
Everyone knows that the best way to deal with a problem correctly and comprehensively is to deal with the root-causes of the problem. When we talk about the problem of terrorism the primary root cause is Western foreign policy with respect to the Muslim lands. It is the wholesale destruction brought upon Muslims in the Muslim world that creates anger and resentment towards Western nations. Yet the government turns a blind eye to this cause and continues with its vicious foreign policy against Islam and Muslims. If they were sincere about national security they would prioritise it above their imperial objectives overseas. But they chose the latter over the former.

Further, this foreign policy also reveals the ugly reality of the government. Yet we are expected to assume goodness and impartiality on their part? A government which is always ready to jump on the bandwagon of Western powers in their invasion of Muslim lands. A government which continues to uncritically support Israel in her occupation of Muslim land and the oppression of its people. A government which is happy to rub shoulders with, and be allies of, the dictators and tyrants who rule the Muslim world and oppress its people. Why should we assume goodness on their part? Are we that naive?

In fact the narrative we have been fed is upside down. The current struggle is not a case of good government versus evil Muslims. It is the precise opposite. The last century is a tale of immeasurably repressive and manipulative Western governments exploiting and oppressing the Muslim world either directly or through their puppet regimes installed in authority in the Muslim lands. And the response of the Muslims has by and large been gracious beyond words. So upon whom should goodness be assumed, and upon whom should evil be assumed?

This is not the time to become superficial in our assessment or apprehensive in our approach. That is precisely what the government currently seeks. They seek, through the perpetuation of fear, a public which is unquestioning of government policy and discretion. They seek a scared and impotent Muslim community that is apolitical and turns a blind eye to Western adventures in the Muslim world, allowing such governments to continue their exploitation unfettered.

The Muslim community must respond positively and courageously, with a confident expression of the truth, regardless of how much the lies are repeated or of how we will be subsequently labelled. The worst thing we can do is to unknowingly fall prey to silence and fear.

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