The immigration ministers and the Grand Mufti. And torture.

21 Nov



Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, along with former Immigration Ministers Scott Morrison and Philip Ruddock, took to the media last week to voice their disapproval of comments made by Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, on the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

There’s little doubt that some of the Grand Mufti’s remarks appear to rationalise, even justify, the terrorist attacks, by pointing to increasing Islamophobia in the West, and its symptomatic widespread willingness to regard all Muslims as harbouring secret and not so secret desires to destroy ‘western values.”

Dutton et al demand from the Mufti not rationalisation, but an unconditional condemnation of terrorist attacks, which is not an unreasonable demand. There’s a fine moral and intellectual line: while it’s important to grasp context, that’s an entirely different matter from using that context as justification for acts of terror.

That the west has been the cause of untold death and destruction in its violent pursuit of its own interests in the Middle East is also suggested by the Grand Mufti as background to current terrorism, a narrative I find difficult to disagree with, while simultaneously refusing it as justification for terrorist attacks.

Such is the state of things at the moment, it’s almost impossible to discuss context and history without being accused of being a sympathiser of whichever faction carries the role of baddie, and that applies to just about every situation, not only terrorism. Nuance is not currently our friend. Hardly anybody has time for it and social media is generally not its advocate.

State-sanctioned terrorist attacks perpetrated by the west are named more acceptably as “just war,” a term bandied about at the time of the Blair, Bush and Howard invasion of Iraq, that act of Christian crusading terrorism (the axis of evil, you’re with us or against us)  that left the country in ruins and some 700,000 of its citizens dead. This piece by John Pilger traces western state-sanctioned terrorism from the time of Pol Pot to ISIS, and it reveals us for the blood-drenched, murderous lot we are, despite the treasured “western values” used to justify so much of the horror we inflict on those who are not us.

The three immigration ministers who’ve complained about the Grand Mufti, Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, are responsible for the horrific indefinite incarceration of waterborne asylum seekers, even tiny young ones, in hellish conditions in off-shore camps on Manus Island and Nauru. These incarcerated beings committed no crime. It makes little difference, especially for women, that the Nauru detainees are now permitted to roam that island: they are likely safer in detention.

Conditions in off-shore concentration camps have been  described by the UN as violating the convention against torture. Think about that. Torture. We are torturing people. Yes. Us.

To which then PM Tony Abbott responded that Australians are sick of being lectured to by the UN. Well, what torturer ever liked having their crime named?

It is, to my mind, an act of terrorism to indefinitely imprison in vile conditions and without hope, a group of people who have committed no crime and with whom we are not at war. It is an act of terror to imprison and torture those who you know are innocent. These prisoners are subjected to torture in order to deter others from legitimately arriving in this country by boat, and requesting asylum. This is terrorism.

Their imprisonment is an act of violence. It is intended to intimidate a society of people who are unable to remain in their homeland for fear of persecution or death. Its goal is to achieve political, ideological and religious objectives. This is terrorism.

As I write this, there are reports that another boat has arrived near Christmas Island, and is apparently being towed out to sea again by our navy. To what destination? To what fate? Are there children on board? Pregnant women?

So it is with the barking laughter of contemptuous disbelief that I watch these three men take the high moral ground with the Grand Mufti.

It is not ISIS terrorists who will destroy our “western values.” We’re doing that all by ourselves. Yes, I would like to hear the Grand Mufti unconditionally condemn the Paris attacks. And yes, I would like to hear Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton admit to the torture they continue to support and perpetrate, terrorism that is inextricably linked to attacks such as those in Paris.

The three immigration ministers are as fond as is the Grand Mufti of citing justifications for their vile actions. Regrettably, I think we are far more likely to hear unconditional condemnation of terror from the Grand Mufti than we ever will from Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, those valiant upholders of western values,  and steadfast protectors of the western purity of our borders.



9 Responses to “The immigration ministers and the Grand Mufti. And torture.”

  1. townsvilleblog November 21, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    Terrorism needs to be met with every resource we have available to us, we have been a peaceful nation for tens of thousands of years, this is not the time to give in to religious extremism.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hudsongodfrey November 21, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

    I think the comparison between insupportable apologetics is altogether a good one, but for the sake of ever trying to argue this with a broader audience I think a couple of things would need to be clarified.

    A better definition of terrorism, because it is more likely to be widely accepted, will require something to differentiate it from any other kind similar atrocity. We can start with unlawful, or the term often used is “illegitimate”, act of violence designed to intimidate for political or religions ends, but many these days would add, by a non-state actor. Like it or not that last qualifier make some real practical difference in terms of how you go about justifying action against terrorists, because you’re simply tactically and legally able to deal with State actors differently

    States we can go to war with and winning that war is understood in terms of wresting the apparatus of control away from somebody who if they’re a tyrant we might be able to legitimise removing. The old “war on an abstract noun”, however is to my mind a construct oozing from between of the pages of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. The kind of terrorism we’re dealing with has more in common with crime. Indeed the definition you provide does little more than characterise means, motive and opportunity. We need to focus more narrowly upon and prosecute more specifically the smaller numbers of individuals or groups who’re engaged in or willing to commit these atrocities.

    This doesn’t stop Pilger or anyone else condemning illegitimate and atrocious acts by State Actors, but nor should we fail to ask the question as to why the force of international law or the means we have to sanction such States are rarely used. Its a serious question of being willing to sacrifice a certain amount of rhetoric, some might say hyperbole, to be able to bring diplomacy to bear such that we’re not simply and quite cynically pursuing whatever patchy variety of international justice serves the interests of the strong.*

    Then there’s the whole business of torture, a term which unless it means to extract information tends not to fit with people’s expectations. There are a plenty of other human rights contravened by mandatory and offshore detention to be amply outraged by without lumping cruelty in with torture in a way that stretches the credulity of anyone even slightly inclined to think we might be going over the top with righteous intent.

    The sad, sad truth in either case is that our government’s and many of our fellow citizens’ attitude to refugees is a crying shame, added to by the fact that we feel we have to battle for attention space in desperate attempts to highlight how genuinely objectionable, how repugnant, how fucking ashamed this makes us feel to be Australian!

    Its some tiny comfort that I’m less ashamed of this Prime Minister than his immediate predecessor, and cause of relief that we haven’t come under direct fire from terrorists. It may not seem like enough to say, but “Mohammed down the shops” isn’t a terrorist, that woman trapped behind a headscarf isn’t one either, and the refugees who fled our common enemies? Yet to hear the sheer idiocy of what’s being said out of fear and ignorance against Muslims makes it worse when the Mufti fails to respond to it properly in those terms. By completely missing the point of the conversation we need to have he has doubtless wasted a vital opportunity. But to then direct their comments against him rather than steering the conversation in the better direction we’d have hoped he’d taken it…….

    The Mufti does not represent me. I may only despair of his mistakes. Ministers of the government however have a duty to get it right I feel quite entitled to be indignant about them, as public figures their reputation precedes them like the stench off a fishmonger’s cat on a very hot day. Another great shame….


    *There’s obviously a whole different argument here for a different day, but keen observers will already note some disparity between how attacks in Beirut and Mali are likely to be treated as opposed to those in Paris. Nor can we ignore how struggles at various stage throughout the Arab Spring have unfolded, raising question we’ve seldom good answers for because civil war is the harder question. We don’t call the freedom fighters terrorists when we want them to win.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson November 21, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

      I take the point about state actors, however, as you later point out, international law is rarely engaged to deal with state actors who commit atrocities that result in the deaths of millions of civilians. I have little faith in that law, indeed the US doesn’t even recognise the ICC.
      The Iraq invasion was clearly very suspect, and took place prior to the UN weapons inspectors even completing their investigations, yet no action has been taken against its perpetrators.
      I don’t think the UN convention against torture insists upon the extraction of information as a criterium, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to use that word in relation to asylum seekers or accuse Australia of breaching that convention. I haven’t read it recently but will check.

      I’ve hardly heard anything about Mali today.I don’t see anyone using the flag as their Twitter avatar.

      I’m ready to dispose of the false rhetoric of state and non state actors and the legalities that are supposed to govern both. I’m as daft as that chap who lugged his piano from Germany to France to play “Imagine” outside the Bataclan.
      But I wouldn’t have played “Imagine” which I always thought was a crap song.

      Liked by 1 person

    • doug quixote November 21, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

      I agree with your first four paragraphs.

      The rest is a jumbled rant, HG.

      As for Jennifer’s point, regarding the UN, it works quite well with State actors who aren’t superpowers.

      Just how the UN is to discipline the USA is a bit tricky.

      The USA provided 22% of the UN budget in 2015, and provided 28% of its peacekeeping budget.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. hudsongodfrey November 21, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

    We could well and truly get sidetracked trying to fathom the US attitude to Climate Change (the IPCC, to avoid confusion with the cricketing body, being what I think you meant). Their attitude to the UN Security Council being far worse than merely ignorant actively exercises a power of veto to actively frustrate progress. Since you more or less asked, I do think faith in international law needs to be resorted if only because it seems obvious that the exercise of power by the strong is otherwise as arbitrary as the so called illegitimate atrocities a relatively weak opponent has carried out in recent days.

    I think it’s more important in the meantime that we recognise those controversies we know exist around the “war on terror” and the issue of refugees mean our double standards are ultimately unavoidable. It signals quite clearly how ill at ease people are, even in the face of their own hypocrisy. and holds some hope people will realise what we’re doing both feels wrong and doesn’t work.

    It is precisely because I think there comes a tipping point for persuasion that I don’t think we should argue that people need to read the fine print of UN declarations against torture, or cast a wider net than necessary in identifying terrorists. Instead we should stick to the narrow definition that most people identify most strongly with at all times when seeking to remain persuasive.

    To go down Pilger’s route in any broader context is to say, quite specifically in fact, that you don’t get rid of all terrorism until you get rid of Israel. Which I’d hope you might agree is about as hopeless an overall strategy as giving up on the UN. I’m for identifying the terrorists we really mean and dealing with them first, knowing there’s plenty of support for that. There’s nothing stopping us simultaneously dealing with those states whose behaviour demands it as needs be.

    I’m similarly for saying torture in this context sounds wrong, but cruelty is absolutely not legitimised as a deterrent in the case of refugees, likewise the violation of a cluster of other human rights that can’t be somehow less worth defending when the hyperbole of greatest revulsion can’t be used?

    We have good persuasive arguments for all of these things, why get bogged down in the inevitable accusations of overreach?


    I believe they stormed the Malian Hotel and freed most of the hostages, dozens of lives may have been lost however.


  4. Marilyn November 23, 2015 at 7:25 am #

    I think the mufti and all other Australian muslims should condemn the attacks in Paris when our arsehole media and racist politicians apologise and condemn every death we have caused with every bomb we drop, every door they kicked in and every refugee jailed, tortured, abused and disappeared by us.

    Other than that he doesn’t have to condemn what happened in Paris as if it’s his fault.

    Liked by 1 person

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