Thursday, August 03, 2006

On Hanson, Israel & The Reference Group

If the Federal Government's response to the Muslim Community Reference Group's proposal to revisit Hezbollah’s status as a terrorist organisation proves anything, it is that the Howard government will allow only limited involvement from Muslim communities on decision-making on foreign policy issues.

When the Group was first set up, its apparent purpose was to provide some kind of formal two-way consultation mechanism for the Federal Government and representatives of Muslim communities across Australia to address issues of national security in the wake of the London bombings.

Muslim representatives were to provide advice on how security threats from within the local Muslim community were to be best addressed.

Such threats are often said to arise from young Aussie Muslims feeling isolated and alienated from the broader community.

However, such threats also arise due to the government’s foreign policy agenda. The Muslim communities are entitled to express their views on such issues. They are also entitled to be heard by John Howard who is apparently the Prime Minister of all Australians (including Muslims).

Yet when Muslim representatives wanted to bring up the issue of the impact of the war in Iraq, the PM and other relevant Ministers refused to discuss the issue.

Pauline Hanson once said that she doesn’t represent Aboriginals in her electorate. By refusing to engage Muslims, the PM and the Federal Government are effectively sending the same message to Muslims.

It is true that the Chairman of the Reference Group (chosen by the PM himself) didn’t exactly express himself on the issue using precise language. His analysis was hardly the stuff public policy discourse is made of. But Dr Ameer Ali’s lack of sophistry shouldn’t be used as an excuse to dismiss his call.

The Government’s classification of the armed wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation is a problematic issue. The classification criteria used could just as easily apply to a number of groups and states with whom Australia has friendly relations.

The criteria could easily be applied to Israel. In other words, according to the criteria set by the Federal Government, Australians choosing to fight in Lebanon for the Israeli army could well be classified as terrorists.

The waters could become even muddier should Hezbollah decide to merge its armed wing with the mainstream Lebanese army. Alternatively, Hezbollah might instruct its fighters to fight under the command of the Lebanese Defence Ministry.

If this happens, would this change the status of Hezbollah’s armed wing?

The classification of the armed wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation also has implications for Australians donating to charities working in South Lebanon. With Hezbollah now part of the government and holding a number of Senior Ministries, it means that moneys donated even to mainstream charities such as Red Cross/Crescent may end up somehow getting to organisations linked to Hezbollah.

This raises the dangerous prospect of Australian donors falling foul of anti-terror laws and liable to prosecution and jail.

Australian Jews are free to donate to any number of Israeli causes and charities, including extremist groups such as YESHA which openly support ethnic cleansing and the destruction of churches in Israel. At least one Australian businessman of Jewish background is known to bankroll a number of Jewish extremist groups.

Further, Australians are free to join the Israeli army and engage in activities which could well be classed as war crimes.

If the Australian Government refuses to engage with Lebanese and/or Muslims on foreign policy and security issues, it will effectively be confirming the suspicion held by many Arab and Muslim Australians that it favours pro-Israel opinion over the opinions of those criticsl of Israel.

Alexander Downer frequently speaks with Jewish media and community leaders on foreign policy issues. This in itself is not a problem, and nor should it be seen as one. What is a problem us that he rarely allows his doors to be open to Arab, Muslim or other community media or representatives.

This government claims it does not wish Muslim youth to be alienated and marginalised. Yet on key issues of Australia’s security and foreign policy, it is seen to be actively marginalising even the most moderate Muslim opinion, whilst allowing the most hawkish pro-Israel opinions open access and a direct line.

If the government has no intention of allowing Muslims genuine involvement in foreign policy issues, it may as well disband the Reference Group. If the only purpose Muslims serve to the government is to address security issues on the government’s terms, it means the Reference Group has reached its “used-by” date.

On the other hand, if Reference Group members are not prepared to consult more widely and act with greater sophistication, they should allow more articulate voices to raise such issues with the government.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Max said...

The Howard government, or any government for that matter, should not and can not allow any particular segment of the community to have more than a limited involvement on foreign policy. Anything else would allow that segment to have a disproportionate effect on the policies of that nation.

Likewise, anyone can offer advice but there is no obligation upon the recipient to accept that advice or act upon it. Failing to accept advice is not evidence of marginalisation and only those desperate to take offence would think so.

I agree with you that Australian citizens should not be free to join overseas armies (Israeli, Lebanese, whatever). However as a democratic nation we cannot stop dual citizenship bearing Australian citizens from participating in lawful activities of their second country (or third if they would like to have more options). The only solution would be to forbid dual citizenship thereby making such participation illegal which is hardly a solution I would expect the Muslim community to embrace, although I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

"Alexander Downer frequently speaks with Jewish media and community leaders on foreign policy issues. This in itself is not a problem, and nor should it be seen as one. What is a problem us that he rarely allows his doors to be open to Arab, Muslim or other community media or representatives."

Bottom line: Jewish media/community do not harbour in their midst a minority of people who would like to blow up Australians on planes and trains.

In contrast, the Muslim reference group suggests Hezbollah are fine and dandy. They are shooting themselves in the foot with this kind of rubbish talk. At least it shows their true colours and most Australians will trust the "moderates" even less than they already do now.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's right Anon @ 2pm. Jewish media/community don't harbour such people in Australia.

They just send their terrorists to Israel where they can bomb and incinerate Aussie kids and women who happen to be in Lebanon at the time.