Repost from 2015 relevant to Melbourne

In the light of recent additional details emerging, for example Sheik Mohammed Omran tells ‘bloody PM’ Morrison: ‘blame police … not us’, I have decided to repost Some reflections on the late teen suicide bomber. Before I do, let me point out that Sheik Omran plays a part in the story behind that post. See too Wikipedia. Sheik Omran is a Salafist. Do also read Dr Roger Shanahan Bourke Street attack: What we get wrong when we talk about terrorism. Dr Rodger Shanahan is a research fellow in the West Asia program at the Lowy Institute. A former army officer, he had extensive service within the Parachute Battalion Group (PBG) and has had operational service with the UN in South Lebanon and Syria, with the PBG in East Timor, in Beirut during the 2006 war, and in Afghanistan.

Now the repost.

As promised yesterday.

There is much out there already; again I commend as a start ‘Jihadi’ Jake Bilardi – from Australian suburban schoolboy to Islamic State suicide bomber from ABC’s 7.30.

I looked at his school. Seems a good place. How hard it must be for them right now, and even more for the family.

Bilardi’s blog reveals a teen not unlike some I have taught or met over the years, especially perhaps since the 1990s. A digital native. It strikes me that he was “radicalised” as much by, say, John Pilger or Noam Chomsky as the Quran or Islamist sources — or by any of a whole range of left to far left news, history and current affairs sites – some of them often very useful as a counterweight (or counterpunch?) to the mainstream. The speed with which he worked through all this stuff over five years from atheist 13-year-old to 17-18 year-old fanatic ready to kill or be killed is quite amazing.

One really does wonder what realistically anyone can do about such radicalising influences. Shut them all down? Do a great firewall of Australia? Hardly likely, and hardly desirable as a lot of the stuff Bilardi must have consumed is in its own right legitimate.

I noticed too that some of what Bilardi says in that January 2015 blog post is not dissimilar to some of the things those students I knew in the mid 2000s were thinking and saying – not surprising since the issues and events that concerned them – and many of us who are not Muslims – are reflections of realities that are often highly unpalatable. But that such interests and views must lead to murder and suicide is clearly not inevitable, a proposition I tested by tracking what some of those students I knew in 2005 are up to now. What I found is encouraging.

There are more positive paths.

Here is the blog of one of those students from ten years ago* who seems as delightful today as when I knew him then. In one post he reflects on events we actually shared in, though from different sides in many ways – generational, and cultural. Here is some of what he says:

— I note this blog is now restricted by its author. In keeping with that I have anonymised some of it — a shame though, as it is excellent! — 14 Nov 2018

My story knowing F– [a fellow student] began in high school …. Whilst we played cricket and soccer together and undertook similar subjects (like French with the intimidating Mr. Davies) – I believe our friendship like the other MCs really blossomed through our involvement in setting up the Islamic Society of …, the only kind of such organisation at a high-school at the time. We organised social activities, provided prayer spaces and opportunities to share and learn about our religion. It was through our combined efforts along with our fellow Muslim and also non-Muslim classmates that we facilitated seminars on Islam to share Islamic culture and ideas and remove myths and misconceptions with the wider school community.

Despite all of our efforts, unfortunate external events generated much attention to our small organisation and our school. This situation blew out in 2005 after one of the seminars on Islam in the aftermath of the July London bombings. Whilst we saw the media attention and negative publicity, F– and his father were the ones who dealt with the media and the school principal, Dr. Jagger. It was actually many years later that we learnt about the pressures that he had faced. I think that it was incredible how a 16 year old was able to handle all of that pressure. And he went on to be School Prefect, GPS Debating champion and achieved such incredible results in the HSC and post-school. This is all part-and-parcel of trying to achieve success and to promote justice and the truth.

It was in those few years that our group of friends realised our potential, our purpose and duties growing up in Australia and what we would need to do as active citizens to hold Islamic values whilst fully functional in the wider society.

What made that experience special and the key qualities that developed was that we were truly all-rounded. We played sport together, hung out at recess and lunch, visited each other’s houses and studied together – and even sold chocolate boxes together.

F– and his multifaceted intellectual pursuits

In much of post-industrial societies, people tend to specialise in certain professions and as a result lose knowledge about other fields and the “bigger picture” issues. Writing at the turn of the 20th century, Emile Durkheim once noted “Not only has the scholar ceased to take up different sciences simultaneously, but he does not even cover a single science completely anymore”. This is something that I can say I’ve come to appreciate very strongly in F– and that inspires the friends all around us. He actively pursued Qur’an, Arabic and Islamic studies alongside law, economics and also philosophy. Moreover, he encouraged us all in this way. This is the sort of multi-disciplinary knowledge that we should all promote and inculcate a passion for in our youth today. So that they may have a greater impact as future leaders.

Non mutual exclusivity between religious and secular pursuits

The key lesson from our group was the pursuit of excellence in religious and secular pursuits. There is no mutually exclusivity in academic rigour, sport and culture and religious duties and community service. Everyone has the potential to make a contribution in their own way and this needs to be supported. This attitude and approach to life was very much developed through our group work starting back in high school – with F– at the helm of our group’s leadership!…

Interesting too is this 2013 post Reading Half the Sky is a Painful Experience (Part 1).

I would read a few pages at a time and would have to stop or look away. Seated 38 000 feet above the ground and after enjoying a warm meal on my flight from Sydney to Dhaka on Thai Airways – I wanted to look away into the distant sun or the large span of water (i.e. the Bay of Bengal) to find some sort of solace and hope. Why are people so incredibly cruel?

I have only gotten through the first 100 pages or so where sex slavery is being recounted by the authors. Whilst it was frightening and painful to read of the stories of these girls and young women who were brutally raped and mentally and physically traumatised – there was also hope in what some of them were doing to fight back and to bring positive change in their communities. I’ll account some of these in the next post Insha Allah. Whilst this comforted me a little – it also highlighted my own incapacities and how I could be doing so much more in my own enjoyable life. It saddened me that we didn’t come to the rescue of these women and that we simply didn’t do more!…

That spirit, I suggest, is many miles from the hate and disillusion that seems to have swallowed poor Jake Biladi. I say “poor” because it is such a waste of a boy who was obviously talented. But his way is far from the only way.

How the authorities can hope to monitor all threats in this world of unparalleled access to whatever information you want boggles the mind. They have taken to stopping and searching people at airports. Dr Jamal Rifi thinks this is a bad idea. Jake Biladi of course didn’t “look the part” so very likely would have got through. (He doesn’t fully explain in that WordPress blog entry how he did it.)

My former student does “look the part.” He is clearly sub-continental and may wear some kind of funny hat. He possibly carries Islamic literature. But of course it seems clear to me that he is a zero security threat – in fact, an asset to this country and, through his work, several others.

I just hope we can all make such distinctions: but unfortunately the common talk makes this difficult. We become obsessed with damnably stupid ideas about the significance of halal markings on chocolate – though not apparently by statements about the same item probably also being kosher. We start to see all Muslims as terrorists, or at best not to be trusted as not being sufficiently “Aussie”!

I do despair: but all praise to people like T– (the blogger quoted above) and friends. There may be the hope we need.

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On Melbourne — stray thoughts

So sad.

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You probably know what that represents. One positive element has been that amazing homeless man who steered a shopping trolley at the terrorist!

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As for the terrorist, this is what we know so far. Some of the responses from various quarters have been helpful, some almost certainly not: see Australian Imams and Muslim groups say Scott Morrison’s speech following Friday’s Bourke St mall knife attack went too far.

I see since writing that Scott Morrison has discounted the possible role of mental illness. I suspect that will turn out to be a major factor. One should also note that the vast majority of refugees, Muslim or not, do not figure in terrorist incidents in Australia, other than among the victims.

In my own case I am reflecting on experiences from 2005, when I was still working at Sydney Boys High, which I often called “The Mine” at the time. The Melbourne terrorist, we are told, was 30, so in fact he was the same age as the Muslim students I had to do with back in 2005. He was therefore 10 years old or less when he arrived in Australia during John Howard’s Prime Ministership, and almost certainly did not arrive by boat.

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That is a gathering in the Great Hall at Sydney Boys High in 2005. See my posts from 2009: Some non-fiction read recently 2b – the personal component  and Some non-fiction read recently 2c – tentative conclusions.

This goes back to 2005 and a particularly interesting if controversial event. On the day I was not there, as I had to attend a meeting of ESL teachers at Erskineville – or was it Arncliffe, one of the last such meetings for me as I retired the following year. But I did know all the participants at The Mine end, and I posted on it at the time and the following year. See Salt Mine and Islamic Students7.30 Report: The Mine and the IslamistsThe Mine and the Islamists: cause for concern?. On Floating Life Apr 06 ~ Nov 07 there is also a major entry from April 2006.

What I found yesterday was a video* on YouTube of the complete 2005 Seminar referred to in those entries. The controversy centred on the guest speakers, Sheik Khalid Yassin and Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Wassim Doureihi. These people would fall in one of Michael Burleigh’s inner circles (see previous entry) but not necessarily, of course, into the innermost circle. While I had concerns about the Mine students involved, I very much doubt they would have even considered the innermost circle – quite the opposite in fact. (I also refer to these students in my Cronulla 2005 posts.)…

*That video is no longer accessible, but I have my own copy. More reflections on it:

I am really trying not to sound patronising, because I respect idealism and even cling to some to this day, modified as it might be by experience and knowledge, especially of history.

The young, confronted with a world that all will admit is not the best of all possible worlds, may react with cynicism, apathy, or a deep desire to make a difference. Those who desire to make a difference will soon seek out how to make a difference, and therein is some danger, as well, of course, as much of the hope of the world. Those boys at The Mine, just like their confreres in the rather fundamentalist Christian and Jewish or political activist groups in the school, look for people who offer convincing solutions. Now you have to admit that both those speakers in the 2005 seminar (the video linked from the previous post in this series) are quite excellent public speakers. As a former debating coach I wouldn’t mind having them on my team, and it is no accident that one of the two sixteen year old presenters was indeed a valuable member of his age-group’s debating team, as was the brave young lad in cadet uniform who got up to rebut what he had heard. (The body language going on behind him, if you have seen the video, is interesting; it’s almost as if the presenters wish there was a hook in the wings or a trapdoor under the stage.) That lad, by the way, is now one of my Facebook friends.

… the seminar the previous year directly dealt with the issue of terror. The tactic was definitely not recommended….

My point regarding some of what has been said about Melbourne is to note that there would be those who would see thought crimes in some of what was talked about at SBHS back in 2005 — indeed some did, as you will discover if you diligently follow the links above. However, none of the people involved in those discussions back then have committed acts of terror, though one (Wassim Dourehi) has been accused of radicalism and is almost certainly being monitored.

Looking back, I have no doubt, by the way, that the kinds of views espoused in that 2005 Seminar could lead into very dangerous waters indeed, but on the other hand they have much more in common than many would want to admit with Christian bigots I have heard or read.

Certainty in belief is not a friend!

Related: search this blog under Islam and terror.

And hasn’t it been wonderful that through all Australia and the UK and Europe those great gatherings marking the end of World War 1 passed without a terrorist incident!

Update

Having read the usual suspects in today’s Tele, it seems appropriate to add Curtis Cheng’s son calls for end to political ‘scapegoating’ of Muslims.

Alpha Cheng’s father was shot in cold blood by a 15-year-old Muslim boy, Farhard Jabar, outside the NSW police headquarters in Parramatta in 2015. Two others were jailed for planning the attack and supplying the weapon.

But he said that was no reason to victimise a community.

“I am tired of needing to explain to adults that the actions of these individuals cannot be attributed to an entire group of people. If I, of all people, can think this way, then sure as hell our ‘elected’ representatives can think this way too,” Cheng wrote in an opinion piece in Fairfax Media.

He said if anyone were to believe that all terrorists are Muslim, then “that person could, and should, be me”.

“It would be frighteningly easy – and I choose those words deliberately – to keep indulging this train of thought. It is not that hard, really.

“A Muslim killed my father. His parents were Muslims. He was manipulated by other Muslims. They are related to Muslims. They probably came from a Muslim country. It is all their fault, kick them out, keep them out,” he wrote.

But he said this was the narrative “those who wish to divide us” were trying to push to “victimise and persecute an entire group because of their religious/cultural background”….

As the Year of the Dog starts….

Happy Lunar New Year to all concerned. I note that The Rabbit (oddly perhaps) is a dog-year person. He has indeed confirmed this in recent years, having become a greyhound rescuer and more…. So on the Dog Year see Chinese New Year 2018.

But my mind is exercised, as many must be, with that dreadful shooting in Florida. It isn’t enough to say it is an act of evil, because some lessons seem crystal clear to me at least.

See also John Barron on ABC News (Australia).

The facts about America and guns

  • There are almost as many guns (300 million) in the US as people (population: 323 million). This is twice as many guns per capita as 50 years ago.
  • Americans represent 4.5 per cent of the world’s population yet own 48 per cent of the world’s privately held guns.
  • Not all Americans are gun-lovers. Fifty per cent of all guns are in the hands of just 3 per cent of the population.
  • The average gun-owning household has 8 guns.

Now consider this:

Gun violence in the US reached record heights in 2017 — more than 60,000 incidents, killing more than 15,000 people, according to a nonprofit organization that tracks gun violence.

Compare:

Afghanistan suffered more than 10,000 civilian casualties in 2017, as deadly suicide and complex attacks killed and injured more people than any previous year in the war-torn country, according to the UN.

In its annual report released on Thursday, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office, documented 3,438 deaths and 7,015 injuries – a decline from the record-high figure in 2016.

Do you find that comparison shocking?  Here’s another story: Australia’s murder rate falls to record low of one person per 100,000. Figures refer to 2013-14.

By comparison, the United States had a murder rate of 4.88 people per 100,000 in 2015, according to the United Nations office on drugs and crime. The office said in 2014 the UK’s rate was 0.92 and New Zealand’s was 0.91.

The report, by the Australian Institute of Criminology, shows knives were the most common murder weapons, responsible for 86 deaths while beatings accounting for 37 deaths.

Guns killed 32 people, marking a 63% decline since 1989-90.

And for those who may question Australia’s gun laws and their relevance, see Snopes.com: “Statistics do not demonstrate that crime rates in Australia have increased substantially since the government instituted a gun buy-back program in 1997. ”

Why the hell should any civilian in a western democracy have such unfettered access to military-style weaponry as appears to be the case in the USA? No-one seems to know. This is what yesterday’s shooter had:

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Looking back at 2017 — 7

From July 2017.

Sydney terrorism raids — Surry Hills!

Right where I lived 1992-2010. From 2008:

dec19 002

And here is the area:

raids

See Sydney terror raids ‘disrupted’ plot to bring down plane, Malcolm Turnbull says and Sydney terrorism raids believed to relate to ‘bomb plot involving aircraft’.

1501321989606

Update

See Sydney terror raids: Bomb plotters may have already tried to smuggle device onto international flight.

Update 4 August

See Two men to appear in court over alleged jet plot.

The only place I have seen the following story on the arrested man who was eventually released is Sydney’s Daily Telegraph two days ago. The detail, based on my experience of 18 years living in “Little Lebanon,” rings true to me.

Khaled Merhi’s father, Omar Merhi, broke his ­silence yesterday to deny his son is a terrorist.

Khaled Merhi’s behaviour was said by friends to have been erratic in the days leading up to his arrest.

They said he lost his job as a van driver last week having racked up thousands of dollars in debt gambling on ­horses and failed to turn up to Botany Powder Coaters on Friday…

The Merhi family, originally from Beirut, bought their terraced Surry Hills home in 1974 and brought up their 14 children there.

Khaled was the only one who never married but he has a seven-year-old daughter after a volatile long-term relationship with a Lebanese-born woman from Canberra.

His father Omar, 76, said Khaled was christened at the Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral of St George in Redfern.

“He has never been to a mosque in his life,” Omar said yesterday.

“It’s bulls … that he wanted to blow up a plane, he works hard for his child and his girlfriend, who was always asking him for money, $150 here and there for jewellery and clothes, it was never enough, it felt like he was working to buy everything for her.

“In my 47 years in Australia, I’ve never had a problem with police and nor has any of my children.”

Hey, hang on! It appears the one who was released is Abdul Merhi, not Khaled. Latest:

Timeline of the alleged plot

April – Some of the men allegedly involved in the plot start communicating with a senior Islamic State figure in Syria who instructs them on how to make a bomb. The group allegedly order military-grade explosive components in the post from Turkey.

July 15 – Khaled Khayat, 49, allegedly escorts his unwitting brother to Sydney Airport to board an Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi with luggage containing a bomb. The bag is not checked in, possibly because it is too heavy, so Mr Khayat takes it home with him while his brother, who was unaware of the bomb, boards his flight as planned.

July 17 – Mr Khayat’s brother-in-law, Khaled Merhi, who remains in custody, sets up a business Khaleds Powder Coating Services. The men allegedly start working on a gas dispersion device.

July 26 – US and British agencies pass on intelligence picked up from Syria about the plot. Australian police start investigating immediately and put the men under surveillance.

July 27 – Security measures at Sydney Airport are enhanced on the advice of ASIO.

July 27-31 – Police create a mock IED like the one created on July 15 and test whether it would get through airport security. It doesn’t.

July 29 – Four men are arrested in five raids across Sydney.

July 30 – airport security is enhanced at all major Australian airports.

August 1 – Khaled Merhi’s brother Abdul Merhi released without charge.

August 3 – Charges laid against Khaled Khayat and Khaled Merhi

Voyage to Surry Hills!

It has been a while, but M invited me up for lunch — which turned out to be Thai at GT’s Hotel in Devonshire Street, revised version of the Gaelic Club. And oh my, the tramline! Tracks appearing now, but the entire project opens for use in 2019 apparently. What a mess right now though!  Some businesses have been badly affected: The Book Kitchen has closed, for example.

The owners lay the blame squarely on disruption from the building of Sydney’s $2.1 billion light rail line, which resulted in high barricades being erected directly outside their doors…

But here is what the finished project will look like, the tram in this artist’s impression crossing Elizabeth Street close to where M and I had lunch yesterday. By the way, M said in China, where he hails from, the project would have been up and running in maybe three months rather than several years.

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Further up Devonshire Street at Bourke Street the line necessitated the demolition of the unit block Olivia Gardens, and the relocation of Wimbo Park. See also my 2009 post and James O’Brien’s 2013 post Wimbo Park Revisited.

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Demolition of Olivia Gardens

Here are some more artists’ impressions of the tram line from 2019 on.

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There’s the Dental Hospital in Chalmers Street near Central Station. Now two shots around Moore Park and South Dowling Street, with Sydney Boys High in the background of one:

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Sydney terrorism raids — Surry Hills!

Right where I lived 1992-2010. From 2008:

dec19 002

And here is the area:

raids

See Sydney terror raids ‘disrupted’ plot to bring down plane, Malcolm Turnbull says and Sydney terrorism raids believed to relate to ‘bomb plot involving aircraft’.

1501321989606

Update

See Sydney terror raids: Bomb plotters may have already tried to smuggle device onto international flight.

Update 4 August

See Two men to appear in court over alleged jet plot.

The only place I have seen the following story on the arrested man who was eventually released is Sydney’s Daily Telegraph two days ago. The detail, based on my experience of 18 years living in “Little Lebanon,” rings true to me.

Khaled Merhi’s father, Omar Merhi, broke his ­silence yesterday to deny his son is a terrorist.

Khaled Merhi’s behaviour was said by friends to have been erratic in the days leading up to his arrest.

They said he lost his job as a van driver last week having racked up thousands of dollars in debt gambling on ­horses and failed to turn up to Botany Powder Coaters on Friday…

The Merhi family, originally from Beirut, bought their terraced Surry Hills home in 1974 and brought up their 14 children there.

Khaled was the only one who never married but he has a seven-year-old daughter after a volatile long-term relationship with a Lebanese-born woman from Canberra.

His father Omar, 76, said Khaled was christened at the Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral of St George in Redfern.

“He has never been to a mosque in his life,” Omar said yesterday.

“It’s bulls … that he wanted to blow up a plane, he works hard for his child and his girlfriend, who was always asking him for money, $150 here and there for jewellery and clothes, it was never enough, it felt like he was working to buy everything for her.

“In my 47 years in Australia, I’ve never had a problem with police and nor has any of my children.”

Hey, hang on! It appears the one who was released is Abdul Merhi, not Khaled. Latest:

Timeline of the alleged plot

April – Some of the men allegedly involved in the plot start communicating with a senior Islamic State figure in Syria who instructs them on how to make a bomb. The group allegedly order military-grade explosive components in the post from Turkey.

July 15 – Khaled Khayat, 49, allegedly escorts his unwitting brother to Sydney Airport to board an Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi with luggage containing a bomb. The bag is not checked in, possibly because it is too heavy, so Mr Khayat takes it home with him while his brother, who was unaware of the bomb, boards his flight as planned.

July 17 – Mr Khayat’s brother-in-law, Khaled Merhi, who remains in custody, sets up a business Khaleds Powder Coating Services. The men allegedly start working on a gas dispersion device.

July 26 – US and British agencies pass on intelligence picked up from Syria about the plot. Australian police start investigating immediately and put the men under surveillance.

July 27 – Security measures at Sydney Airport are enhanced on the advice of ASIO.

July 27-31 – Police create a mock IED like the one created on July 15 and test whether it would get through airport security. It doesn’t.

July 29 – Four men are arrested in five raids across Sydney.

July 30 – airport security is enhanced at all major Australian airports.

August 1 – Khaled Merhi’s brother Abdul Merhi released without charge.

August 3 – Charges laid against Khaled Khayat and Khaled Merhi