Tony French

internet surveillance_opt
Internet Surveillane Mike Licht flickr cc

Given the recent flurry of freedom-restricting legislation enacted by the Federal Parliament, I thought I would revisit the immediate cause of this legislative hyperactivity, that inflammatory Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) Statement. You know the one, calling for killing Australians.

But do you think I could find it on the internet? It appears to have been censored out of existence (‘it does not fit our content policy’, says Twitter). Strange, since Twitter and others have shown little reticence in publishing some grossly disturbing stuff, but this must be a recent first, when words not pictures have real power.

So I had to rely on the press and Tony Abbott’s interpretations of the Statement and its importance, if any, to me. Given those reactions though, and the ‘cleansing’ of the internet, it would apparently be detrimental to me if I were to read it for myself, without becoming deranged, or fanatical, or both.

When I had first read the Statement (in an English translation helpfully provided by media-savvy Islamic State), there were a couple of standout things: first, it’s long, some 7000 words, and overall an odious and tedious rant, miscasting the cadences of religious language, one minute beseeching then venomously vilifying. To call it a fatwa, an interpretation by learned scholars, as some newspapers have done, is to give it a religious credence it can never possess. For those without the time to exegete every sentence, the overall effect soon enough is eye-glazingly dull.

Contrary to what we in Australia have been led to believe, the Statement is not directed solely at us. Puncturing our perceived ideas of international prominence, perhaps, it is not a personal letter to us the Australian people. Honestly, we are given a mid-sentence reference in the company of Canada and ‘other disbelievers’, and then only towards the end of the diatribe. On any infidel register, we are right down at the bottom, insultingly below the ‘spiteful and filthy’ [sic] French.

The Islamic State author literally has in his sights much more important targets than us, and closer to his home. He lambasts his co-religionists for their lack of religious fervour; he excoriates his hated sectarian rivals, the Shia. Much bilious wording is spewed denouncing neighbouring Arab countries before he turns to what by now must be obligatory Obama abuse.

That ‘non believer’ President is particularly attacked for taking upon himself the daring liberty of interpreting Islamic State’s activities as un-Islamic. Further the author gratuitously insults Obama by calling him a ‘mule of the Jews’, it being a rank Arab insult to call someone a mule. Tellingly, though, it reinforces how much Arab discourse continues to be stridently anti-Semitic, not just anti-Zionist. Strange, given the Arabs are also a Semitic people.

internet censorship_opt
Internet censorship in Slovak republic flickr cc

Given the notoriety sought and duly received by the Statement, when I mentioned to friends that I had read the 11 pages, my efforts were greeted with surprise. Why would you do that? Your computer will now be monitored. You’ll be under ASIO surveillance, they said, and not jokingly. Are we being cowed as well as conformist?

Their reaction is more troubling than anything in the Statement. I am not inviting official surveillance. I am protesting any suggestion you and I can’t be trusted to read the Statement in full and draw our own conclusions. As far as I can tell, no newspaper anywhere has published the full text, or even provided a link to it. Instead we have had to rely on selective and secondhand, largely emotive commentary from the newspapers and politicians. Now that’s alarming!

Equally alarming is our evident national passivity in accepting heavy-duty restrictions on our personal freedoms. Overwhelmingly we have gone along with a paternalist government that says it is looking after us, and we are to trust it when it openly says our freedoms need to be restricted in this ‘war on terror’. The Statement must then be an enemy salvo.

Recall how our unquestioning trust in government has been breached, as in the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef, an Indian doctor on the Gold Coast who was mistakenly charged with aiding terrorism and held in detention for three weeks. Even when the charges were disproven, he had his visa cancelled by former Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews. Haneef’s lawyers challenged this cavalier treatment, and Haneef had his visa returned. In 2010, he was awarded considerable damages.

The ‘watching’ authorities now have increased powers to investigate, detain, and listen, while ‘whistle blowing’ invites a decade-long jail stint. So should we really feel so comfortable?

In future, don’t expect to hear of abuses such as those perpetrated on Dr Haneef, the bugging of the East Timor government or the wife of the Indonesian president. Truth, they say, is the first casualty in war; and relentlessly we are being told this is a ‘war on terror’, when in reality it’s the policing of a few random yet containable criminal acts.

Our legislative hyperactivity has magnified our fears of the Muslim community too. We now hold it nothing short of fully accountable for the criminal actions of a few disaffected youths, when Christian or other religious communities would never be held accountable for the actions of a misguided few. Now it’s a brave Muslim woman who would walk the street in a hijab, or indeed approach Parliament.

I suggest we are being force fed a diet of fear both by Islamic State and by our federal government, a junk diet that shows up with symptoms more of alarm than of alert.

Recall the newsreader in that fine movie, Network, leaning out of his window in frustration, howling: “I’m as mad as hell”. Perhaps, like him, you and I might add that we too don’t want to take any more of it.

Tony French is a Melbourne lawyer, and a member of the SPC Board.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email