The Guardian 17 August, 2005

Howard grabs new police state powers

Bob Briton

The Howard government has effectively ditched its previous "be alert but not alarmed" slogan in its ongoing beat-up of domestic terror threats. Next month the PM will host a national summit on terrorism at which he hopes to get broader support for a range of attacks on the civil rights of Australians.

Among other things, he wants a ban on "inflammatory language", longer periods of detention for people suspected of having knowledge of terror plans and a national identity card. Howard and his ministers are trying to make every post a winner in a new drive for more police state powers in the wake of the London bombings.

Howard wants the states to take a greater role and contribute more funds to the cause and it seems newly-installed NSW Premier Morris Iemma, at least, is up for it. "The state and territory governments are determined to do everything possible to bolster our defences against terrorism. That includes better intelligence, appropriate powers for security agencies and a co-ordinated approach to preventing the spread of radical teachings advocating terrorism", he announced.

People in Sydney are to face intrusive body searches and other draconian measures from September 1. As a starter, visitors to the Opera House will be required on demand to remove coats, jackets, gloves, shoes, hats or any other headwear, as well as submit to electronic scans and car searches.

"Reasonable force" may be used by staff and security guards to remove anyone who refuses to cooperate. Such a person also will face a three month ban from the Opera House. People will also be forced to give their names and addresses and be photographed against their will.

Howard is hoping to follow the lead of the British government which has started a program of banning Islamic organisations. Blair’s government has also given itself the power to detain "terror suspects" for up to three months without charge.

It is considering amending the Human Rights Act to make it easier to deport individuals and deny asylum to people involved in "terrorism" — as if international terrorists are currently accorded that protection. "Let no one be in doubt that the rules of the game are changing", Blair said in some chilling, inflammatory words of his own.

In Australia, Howard was warding off criticisms from concerned civil liberties groups last week with a very disturbing argument: "The most important civil liberty I have and you have is to stay alive and to be free from violence and death. I think when people talk about civil liberties they sometimes forget that action taken to protect the citizen against physical attack is a blow in favour and not a blow against civil liberties."

Cameron Murphy of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties stated, "We’re quickly falling into the trap where the terrorists are achieving their goals by getting our government to remove those freedoms."

Meanwhile, government and opposition heavyweights are doing their best to inflate the jihadist threat. Ruddock believes Australians would be right in being nervous about a London-style terror attack. He was referring to a recent official "confirmation" that there are 60 suspected Islamic extremists supposedly "operating" in Australia. Much has been made of the video images first shown on Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV of a supposed al-Qaida spokesman threatening western nations with revenge attacks in what sounds like an Australian accent.

Books have been seized in recent raids and clerics have been barred from the country. Abdur Raheem Green was prevented from boarding a plane from Sri Lanka to New Zealand because it would be setting down in Brisbane. He is on the Immigration Department’s "movement alert list" for once having made statements to the effect that Westerners ands Muslims cannot live together peacefully.

The fact that he long ago disowned those views made no difference in the eyes of a government hell bent on inciting fear and suspicion among the public.

Cleric Abu Bakr has had his passport revoked for having described Osama bin Laden as a great man and suggesting Australian Muslims could be justified in fighting against occupying forces in Iraq.

Mamdouh Habib, who spent two years in the hell hole of the US prison in Guantánamo Bay without ever being charged, has had his request for the return of his passport rejected by the government.

The corporate media has fanned all of these flames and singled out other views for scrutiny under a proposed new law to deal with "incitement to terrorism" — a law with a longer reach, presumably, than the current proscription on any incitement to violence.

Day after day, Australia’s Muslims are feeling pressure to make public statements to demonstrate their "loyalty" in a manner reminiscent of the loyalty oaths forced on civil servants and film actors in the US at the height of the McCarthy era in the 1950s.

Australia’s Muslims may be the first to feel the weight of this sort of political oppression. Other Australians and particularly the labour movement must stand with them because, if these attacks are not defeated, they certainly will not be the last to be muzzled in this manner.

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