NATIONAL SECURITY: by John MillerNews Weekly
Damned if you do and damned if you don't
, February 4, 2012
I have frequently criticised federal governments of both persuasions about their attitude to fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. Regrettably, the trend in America these days, for reasons of political correctness and cultural sensitivity, is to uncouple deeds of terrorism from fundamentalist Islam.
Law-and-order professionals, along with those in the intelligence community, have been annoyed by the enforcement of politically correctness, especially when the top strata of US national security officialdom are expected to use restrained, or what is deemed “appropriate”, language to describe an act of terrorism as “an unfortunate incident” and the perpetrator as “an isolated individual”.
As I have observed also, Australia has been extremely lucky so far in that to date there has been no successful terrorist attack on Australian soil. Moreover, even with the number of plots uncovered, no suspect or person charged has been linked to arrival by boat. However, it is the boat-people who always make the headlines in our media.
Just like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, our country takes in migrants and, although the media give undue prominence to refugees who arrive by boat, the fact is, whichever way you look at it, their numbers are still small.
We are constrained to accept refugees by being a signatory to international agreements and treaties on such matters. The constituent elements of ordeal by boat vary according to the crisis areas around the world and, at present, it appears that Iranians are currently the largest numerical group trying to get here. It was not that long ago that Sri Lankan Tamils were the biggest number because of the defeat and ferocious reprisals they had suffered at the hands of the majority Sinhalese in the civil war in that unhappy country.
Australia deported any refugees suspected of association with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), even though Tamils have been victims of the Sri Lankan Government’s campaign of ethnic cleansing and even though the LTTE was not part of worldwide Islamic jihad.
The rules and regulations pertaining to migration to and residence status in Australia have been tightened; but, depending on the measure used, there is an enormous variation in the number of illegal migrants in this country. The ones who risk their lives to reach our shores are easily outnumbered by visitors (especially from the UK and New Zealand) who overstay the time permitted by their tourist visas.
Finding and deporting the latter is a shadowy area because many have found work or developed relationships with locals and, providing they don’t break the law, there is less pressure on the authorities to locate and deport them.
Try as it might, the government simply cannot get off the hook of unfavourable publicity and, while boats continue to make attempts to reach our shore, the Opposition has a stick with which to beat the Government.
Perhaps it would do some good for our parliamentarians to spend some of their ample study allowances to observe refugees trying to cross the English Channel along the “Chunnel” or to stand waiting on Italian beaches to see more specimens of human misery struggling ashore only to be rounded up promptly, while the Italian navy collects the corpses of those who have drowned.
Getting to Australia as a refugee, by boat, is a hazardous and expensive business and no-one knows the failure rate — those lost at sea. Italy finds putative refugees from Africa and the Middle East in numbers that our politicians cannot comprehend. In a single weekend early this year, many more poor wretches tried to get to Italy than the total who tried to come to Australia by boat in the whole of 2011.
I reiterate that I know of no case in which any terrorist suspect appearing before a court arrived by illegal boat, and I challenge the authorities to prove me wrong.
Australia has been particularly lucky during the decade-long Global War on Terror as there have been five or six terrorist plots planned and organised in our cities at various times. To date, they have all been nipped in the bud by the authorities, often with help from local community groups.
Without a great deal of fanfare, certain regulations pertaining to those suspected of terrorism, or of terrorist-related acts, have been tightened up, and the inside talk from Canberra is that it has a great deal to do with the departure of former Attorney-General Robert McClelland and his replacement in last year’s Cabinet reshuffle by Ms Nicola Roxon.
Whoever was actually responsible for signing deportation papers in a recent case that made national headlines is irrelevant, but usually it is the federal Attorney-General who is involved in the process. It took just over three weeks for the case of Salman Ghumman, a 23-year-old Pakistani student formerly resident in Melbourne, to be given a very sympathetic write-up by The Australian’s South Asia correspondent, Amanda Hodge, writing from Islamabad.
The facts of the case as reported show that Mr Ghumman was approached at an outer Melbourne railway station and accompanied to an office of the Immigration Department on December 21, 2011. He was thereupon told that his visa had been cancelled and, according to Ms Hodge, warned that trying to appeal against the decision would be futile.
Rather than try to fight — and despite protestations from familiar identities in the legal profession and elsewhere, such as Melbourne lawyers Julian Burnside QC and Rob Stary — Mr Ghumman left without resistance.
Ms Hodge’s subsequent article from Islamabad, “The fast-food date with ASIO that ended a dream”, is downright facetious, especially when she refers to the detention and expulsion of young Mr Ghumman as being like “a cheesy spy thriller” (The Australian, January 14, 2012).
If the appointment to meet Mr Ghumman at a restaurant in Melbourne, from where he was taken to Immigration Department offices, to be told that his visa would not be extended, had been conducted by four large policemen, cars with “blues and twos” and running TV footage, the media beat-up would doubtless have been greater.
According to all reports it was a civilised action. After all, as even the Trotskyite press was moved to point out, the government made the decision based on all factors, and ASIO enacted the process; but we should note that the actions were ultimately taken by immigration officials and legal.
Once again, the government is damned if it doesn’t deport a person on a student visa who has come to the attention of the authorities and adjudged a security risk, and damned if it does because the usual suspects will moan and groan about “due process”, “human rights”, “lack of an appeal process”, and will predictably accuse ASIO of being a cruel enforcer carrying out harsh government diktats.
The material appearing in the media to justify the deportation of Mr Ghumman is, as usual, fairly sparce. There is reference made to his association with Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity wing of Lashkar-e-Toiba, one of the most lethal terrorist organisations in the world, associated with bombings in the UK and the notorious plot to down transatlantic airliners simultaneously by suicide-bombers.
Of itself, this does not necessarily make Mr Ghumman an L-e-T sympathiser or operative. His attendance at a Preston mosque, described as the seat of moderate Muslims clerics — but also noted for being the meeting place of radical cleric Mohammed Omran and Indonesian Jemaah Islamiah terror leader Abu Bakar Bashir — serve only to cloud the issue. However, it has been the practice, and rightly so, not to release security information on such cases. Given its track record on such matters, the Gillard Government can enjoy some kudos for acting decisively in this matter, rather than procrastinating.
As for young Mr Ghumman himself, he looks like a decent young man; but, as we have seen through history, appearances can deceive.
I could not help but compare his looks with an Afghan refugee of about the same age apprehended and charged in the US, Najibullah Zazi. In jeans and check shirt, there is a similarity between to the two. They both look like decent young men with much in their favour.
The Australian government acted swiftly within the law, while the US government let a case run, then pounced on the young Afghan, a naturalised citizen who was contemplating jihad and now has received a life sentence after being convicted for the 2009 plot to bomb the New York Metro.
The similarity goes beyond looks — neither is what he appears to be.
John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.