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Monday 12 October 2015


Terrorism, Scepticism and Current Events

Posted in: Comment
By GayNZ.com Daily News staff - 6th November 2014

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How should LGBTI communities respond to the ISIS insurgency in Iraq and Syria? Should LGBT New Zealanders become actively involved? Should our country? If so, what role should we take and why? And what about the Key administration's proposed anti-terrorism legislation?

On October 23 2014, New Zealand media audiences awoke to the horrific news that an armed assailant had opened fire in Ottawa's House of Commons, with three people hospitalised and two people dead. Commendably, New Zealand media did not jump to the conclusion that "radical Islamists" were involved in this reprehensible act of violence. This may be due to caution and prudence, given that firearms were used at the House of Commons, instead of explosives. ISIS' modus operandi appears to be causing maximum property damage and loss of life through detonation of high explosives or individual suicide bombers. Indeed, for reasons that I will explain in the body of this article, radical Islamists aren't the only constituency that anti-terrorism legislation needs to consider. There was no prior warning of the attack and no organisation has claimed responsibility.

According to Toronto's Globe and Mail, what appears to have happened is this. At 10.00 am, an assailant approached soldiers stationed at Canada's National War Memorial and then opened fire. The assailant then entered the House of Commons building on Ottawa's Parliament Hill, firing dozens of shots. At this stage, it is uncertain whether one or more assailants were involved. The building was hurriedly evacuated and security guards managed to wound and possibly kill the individual involved. Further gunfire was heard outside the Chateau Laurier hotel at 11.00 am, but it is not certain whether this was associated with the events at the House of Commons, but were later disregarded, as were reports of a second assailant.

Subsequent police media releases identified the assailant as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (32), a recent Muslim convert, who may have also been mentally ill. Zehaf-Bibeau was the son of a Canadian businessperson who had apparently earlier fought for Gadhaffi in Libya back in 1982, and an immigration department civil servant, who later divorced. Apparently, he spent some time in Libya before he returned to Canada, working as a miner and labourer. One Muslim friend noted that even before his extremist turn, Zehaf-Bibeau was apparently experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations of "Shaytan" (the devil). Eventually, his behavioural problems became so pronounced that commendably, the elders at the British Columbian mosque where he previously worshipped, banned him from the premises. At present, he does not seem to have been involved with any organised radical Islamist organisation, according to Canadian Security Intelligence Service sources. This seems to have been the act of a lone individual, possibly suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia, who became fixated on an extremist ideology.

This is reminiscent of another time something similar happened, but this time, the individual was conservative Catholic John Salvi, who also seems to have suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia and who was similarly influenced by militant religious rhetoric- in his case, though, the motivating ideology was inflammatory conservative Catholic anti-abortion movement references to abortion, embryos and fetuses. Under influence of that ideology, he murdered three abortion clinic staff in New England back in 1994. In Salvi's case, however, US anti-abortionist terrorist elements actively assisted him. Sadly, Salvi didn't receive adequate help for his disorder and committed suicide in prison, aged only twenty six. His case indicates that it is not only radical Islamist philosophy that can motivate such disturbed, lonely individuals. However, such actions are not the result of organised terrorist groups, but precisely lone individuals. Who knows whether severe mental health service cutbacks could have been involved? If either Salvi or Zehaf-Bibeau had received it in time, their victims might still be alive today.

In the New Zealand context, there appear to be domestic equivalents of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Dominion-Post journalist Tracy Watkins (30.10.2014) profiled Mark John Taylor, a Muslim convert and now apparently aligned with al Nusra- Syria's al Qaeda affiliate. Taylor is now known as Abu Abdul-Rahman. His Indonesian wife and friends from a Sydney mosque are disturbed at the sudden change in his behaviour, given the randomness of his messages and posing with firearms, which are stated to be out of character for him. His only "experience" as a jihadist is a role playing wargame. His Australian friends believe that like Zehaf-Bibeau, he may also be mentally ill. It must therefore be asked, is the Key administration relying on the rhetoric and aberrant behaviour of disturbed and unwell individuals to buttress its anti-terrorism message?

During the last decade, the neighbouring United States became involved in two Middle Eastern conflicts. One was waged against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan after the murderous attack on New York's World Trade Centre, which cost three thousand non-combatant lives, leading to the consequent US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 2001 onward. Apart from SAS combat specialist assistance, New Zealand involvement was largely restricted to medical and humanitarian assistance in Helman Province. Soldiers died, resistance to the conflict grew at home and eventually, given the continuing instability in that country, New Zealand ended its military commitment there. Wisely, Helen Clark's government kept New Zealand out of active involvement in the consequent US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003 onward. That turned into a quagmire for the Bush administration. After Saddam Hussein's apprehension and execution, the power vacuum was filled by fragile democratic institutions and both Shia and Sunni paramilitary armed militia, leading to social and political polarisation and the emergence of Sunni ISIS. ISIS has filmed itself decapitating civilian prisoners, which has commendably led to some earnest and direct condemnation from mainstream Muslim spokespeople, who repudiate both capital punishment and the abrogation of due process in the context of ISIS.

As for New Zealand, Prime Minister Key seems ambivalent about the scale of potential direct threat to New Zealand citizens or interests from ISIS and is "open" to restricting any consequent commitment of New Zealand military personnel to medical and humanitarian aid, as occurred in Afghanistan. He also seems hesitant about anti-terrorism legislation and the number of New Zealand Muslims alleged to be fighting alongside ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria. New Zealand has no tradition of large-scale white supremacist activism or anti-refugee/anti-asylum policies that would foster such perceptions of exclusion and discrimination, unlike (unfortunately) Western Europe, Australia and the United States. Sadly, from what FIANZ spokesperson Anwar Ghani has told the media, ordinary decent Muslims are already being harassed by vigilante and fringe elements within New Zealand society. I fully appreciate that FIANZ is working alongside the New Zealand Police to exclude and shut down any tiny ISIS sympathiser outlets within the migrant Muslim community. I applaud them for that, but I would ask that non-Muslim New Zealanders refrain from demonising our fellow Muslim New Zealand citizens and unreservedly condemn harassment, violence and vandalism directed against their communities.

However, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, representing primarily migrant Muslim community members in this country, has found itself at odds with the predominantly indigenous Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association, specifically its apparent spokesperson Te Amorangi Kiraka-Whaanga. Mr Kiraka-Whaanga has said that although he isn't a violent person, he is anguished by the "persecution" of his "co-religionists" within Islamic State and believes that ISIS will "bring down Western civilisation." He and his family want to move to Syria but New Zealand's Ministry of Internal Affairs cancelled his passports so that he and other potential ISIS sympathisers can be saved from the consequences of their own actions. FIANZ is aghast at this. Its members are integrated into New Zealand communities and are predominantly migrant small business owners, shopkeepers or employed in horticulture, so they do not espouse ISIS' interpretation of Sunni Islam, or that of Mr Kiraka-Whaanga. It's not hard to work out what's going on here and it seems to be a matter primarily of ethnicity, nationality and class, not faith. ISIS appeals to anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist stances within Maori political activism and because of that, Mr Kiraka-Whaanga obviously perceives solidarity with them against "western Christian" nations like the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. One wonders how he can square that with ISIS attacks on Kurdish communities in Northern Iraq, given that the Kurds are the mana whenua of that area.

So, where does that leave "us?" Given that military service discrimination ended in 1993 and that we know that out lesbian and gay military service personnel served in Afghanistan during New Zealand's mission there, it is likely that if any commitment is made to Iraq in its turn, they will also serve there, with equality of risk and equality of sacrifice. What about LGBT Iraqis, though? Over the years, I have reported that the Mahdi Army, in Baghdad's Shia Sadr City district, routinely engages in abducting, torturing, mutilating and executing lesbians and gay men (amongst others) for violations of "shariah law," according to conservative Islamist interpretation. More recently, Pinknews has carried stories that indicate that in areas under ISIS control, something similar appears to be occurring, although it is uncertain on what scale. Might this situation worsen in the event of renewed western military intervention? Probably. Should New Zealand therefore increase our refugee and immigrant intake from Iraq in that case? Definitely.

Should LGBT New Zealanders support the Key administration's proposed anti-terrorism legislation? Thus far, ISIS has not executed any New Zealand civilians. Commendably, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand has condemned ISIS, but also questions the need for parliamentary urgency in this context. Certainly, FIANZ has a valid point. Urgency may well become a recipe for hastily drawn up legislation, drafting errors due to inadequate consultation and bad resultant law. Given the lack of immediate need to do so, I am inclined to therefore suggest that the usual legislative process should be followed. The Key administration should seek expert advice within a Law Commission Report, draft legislation, engage in parliamentary debate, call for select committee submissions and then progress the legislation through Parliament. It should also reach out and commend the responsible actions of mainstream Muslim groups like FIANZ, and make it clear that any sectarian and racist vigiliante activity against our fellow Muslim citizens is completely unacceptable and intolerable.

In any case, what about other forms of terrorism? I am not engaging in facile point scoring and denial of the heinousness of ISIS' acts in this context. As I have noticed above, ISIS and the Mahdi Army have killed LGBT Iraqi civilians and therefore, I believe that ISIS does need to be covered within any consequent New Zealand anti-terrorism legislation. I also take anti-LGBT violence, community harassment and persecution in Malaysia, Brunei, Iraq and Iran seriously- just as much as Russia, Nigeria and Uganda, however. However, as with liberal Christians, I differentiate them from ordinary Muslim New Zealand citizens, who may well deplore human rights and civil liberties violations in the aforementioned Muslim nations. The problem is fundamentalism, not any specific religious group per se.

But what about white supremacist, radical anti-abortionist and animal liberationist terrorism as well? Granted, white supremacist groups are tiny in New Zealand and are held in disdain and revulsion over their vandalism against property and assaults on overseas students and tourists. Granted too, New Zealand animal liberationists don't firebomb research laboratories, although animal rights "militia" have done so within the United Kingdom. As for the radical anti-abortion lobby, abortion clinics have been firebombed in New Zealand in the past, but the last such event happened over twenty years ago. In the United States, however, anti-abortion terrorism escalated in the nineties and medical practitioners, clinic escorts and guards were killed. Needless to say, mainstream anti-abortion groups are just as horrified at these events as the rest of us and have strongly denounced them.

However, British investigative journalist Matt Kennard has asked some searching questions about whether radical Islamists are the only ones being radicalised. In Irregular Army (2013), Kennard relates that former Bush administration Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld deliberately allowed army examiners to fudge investigations of white supremacist incidents in the pasts of some questionable US military recruits, as well as serious criminal activity from African-American and Mexican drug cartel gangs. The outcome is escalated horizontal hostility within the US military and against occupied nation inhabitants. These individuals are also provided with military training, combat weapons and security clearances, all of which may have dramatic consequences in terms of urban crime and white supremacist aggression against ethnic minorities. Added to which, Rumsfeld also scrubbed alcohol, drug and mental illness screening. How can New Zealand be sure that these US white supremacists won't pass their skills on to Western European and Australasian counterparts? And what about the safety of our Maori and Pacific Island service personnel?

Should we get involved in this war? Should we pass anti-terrorism legislation? And if so, shouldn't we be even-handed and neutral and diligent in its ambit and coverage?


Recommended:

Josh Wingrove et al: "Attack on Ottawa: One soldier killed, one suspect dead" Globe and Mail: 22.10.2014:Attack on Ottawa: PM Harper cites terrorist motive
Colin Freeze and Les Perreaux: "Suspected killer in Ottawa shootings had religious awakening" Globe and Mail: 23.10.2014:Suspected killer in Ottawa shootings had religious awakening
Tony Wall and Marty Sharpe: "Maori Muslim backs Islamic State" Stuff.co.nz: 01.11.2014:Maori Muslim backs militants
Tracy Watkins: "The new terror threat" Stuff.co.nz: 30.10.2014:www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/10687081/The-new-terror-threat

 
 
 
 
 
 
John Salvi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
John C. Salvi III (March 2, 1972 – November 29, 1996) was an abortion opponent who carried out fatal shootings at two Planned Parenthood reproductive health clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, on December 30, 1994, killing two and wounding five. These were the subject of intense ...

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Matt Kennard:The Irregular Army: London: Verso: 2013
Martha Nussbaum: The New Religious Intolerance: Fighting the Politics of Fear in an Uncertain Age: Harvard: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: 2012.
Josh Lowe: "Iraq Crisis: Who and What is ISIS?" Prospect: June 2014
Iravati Guha: "Who is IS leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi?" Prospect: July 2014
Suunvie Brydum: "ISIS propaganda claims gays are pedophiles, animals" Advocate: 19.09.2014
Tim Warrington: "Iraq: The Killing Fields" DNA 149 (June 2012): 34-39.



GayNZ.com Daily News staff - 6th November 2014

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