Media Opinion

Australian media stretches the truth on pro-Palestine movement

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Sheikh Ibrahim Dadoun spoke at a pro-Palestine rally in Sydney (Screenshot via YouTube)

A joint investigation from The Age and 60 Minutes purports to expose a secret infiltration by Islamic fringe political group Hizb ut-Tahrir into Australian pro-Palestinian activism.

Here is the evidence for the "sinister" plot:

  1. A guy, who they say is from Hizb ut-Tahrir, runs an Instagram page called 'Stand For Palestine'.
  2. That page, like many dedicated pro-Palestine content pages, has amassed a lot of followers.
  3. It has a Telegram group, also staffed by Hizb ut-Tahrir members.
  4. 'Stand For Palestine' members, like many people, showed up to Sydney student encampments.
  5. Sheikh Ibrahim Dadoun, who has appeared at Hizb utTahrir-organised rallies before, spoke at one rally at Sydney University a month ago. That event was organised by a collective of Muslim community groups and student Muslim activist groups.
  6. On 8 October 2023, Hizb ut-Tahrir organised an event in Lakemba ostensibly celebrating the events of 7 October, of which it must be remembered that few details were known at the time. The post-7-October antigenocide movement had yet to even gather at that point.

None of that amounts to evidence of a successful, systemic infiltration by Hizb ut-Tahrir into Australian pro-Palestinian activism. All that journalist and documentary maker Nick McKenzie can demonstrate is that they have been there, hanging around.

But so has this reporter. So have many average people. There have been at least hundreds of thousands of Australians who have attended and organised pro-Palestinian rallies and actions, now for the better part of a year.

The rest of the coverage is devoted to documenting the fact that members of Hizb ut-Tahrir are political jihadists who want a global caliphate and that they regularly praise Hamas. Those are some of the reasons I don’t personally like Hizb ut-Tahrir, without delving here into its record of bigotry and deep conservatism. 

But that also does not serve as evidence sufficient to explain an exclusive joint investigation by The Age and Nine portraying the pro-Palestine movement in Australia as an unwitting dupe of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Perhaps if the journalists involved in this investigation were to have asked pro-Palestinian activists in Australia – say, in Sydney’s student activist scene – about the degree of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s involvement, viewers might have been afforded a sense of perspective. But no activists are interviewed, of course.

The Age’s piece is loaded with disclaimers:

'This masthead is not suggesting Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters are terrorists or that all its members condone terrorism... There is no suggestion Hizb ut-Tahrir has any official role in the regular weekend rallies that have drawn thousands to the streets in Sydney and Melbourne.'

But the coverage undertakes what strikes me as a self-evident dot-joining exercise, typical of the modern creep of counter-terrorist legislation.

First, Hamas is proscribed as a terrorist organisation. Next, Hizb ut-Tahrir praises the actions of Hamas, so in the UK, it is proscribed as a terrorist organisation. 

Now Hizb ut-Tahrir is visible here, so in this coverage, it is being framed as a 'radical Islamist organisation recently banned as a terrorist group in Britain'. We can guess what might come next.

McKenzie might have been careful to include the legal team’s advice and not make this or that suggestion, but that's precisely what everyone who’s seen the article is doing.

Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) CEO Alon Cassuto shared McKenzie’s coverage and said that Hizb ut-Tahrir 'should be recognised as the terrorist organisation they are'

ZFA President, Jeremy Leibler is taking this as a cue to demand that the Australian Government 'initiate the legal process for Hizb ut-Tahrir to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation'

Hasbarist propagandist Drew Pavlou also demands a ban, too, on cue. There are countless other calls for the same as a result of McKenzie’s piece.

These calls add to a chorus of voices already calling loudly for pro-Palestinian activism to be criminalised. Authoritarian anti-doxxing laws took mere days to become a national discussion attended by even our Prime Minister. 

Calls for chants, symbols and items of attire to be banned grow. VicPol’s violence toward protesters in Victoria has increased steadily with the growing calls for criminalisation of the anti-genocide movement.

Independent Hague-based think tank International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT), released a piece titled ‘The Problems of Banning Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain’ in January of this year. 

It suggests:

'The quick resurrection of concern around Hizb ut-Tahrir likely represents the creep of counter-extremism legislation in Britain, coupled with hostility by the Government towards ceasefire protests at a time of electoral panic.'

Securitised counter-terrorism language chiefly has in its toolbelt a series of demands for further criminalisation of protest and for increased scrutiny from intelligence and police. The incentivisation is pretty clear — there is a lot of money to be made in furnishing reports to the government and intelligence apparatus on what is to be done about "extremists". 

That apparatus is of course seeking advice to expand, regulate and legislate. So experts exist to tell it to do that — in exchange for grants.

One of the local figures they get in to make these demands is Josh Roose

Speaking to McKenzie, Roose says of Hizb ut-Tahrir:

“They might not be necessarily crossing that line into advocating terrorism, but there is inherent violence in what they’re doing.”

It reads like Roose felt obligated to give McKenzie some sort of quote whilst being careful not to actually say anything. And it's nonsense. We aren't in the soft sciences mulling over whether or not words are violent. 

We’re debating whether a group should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation — or, as McKenzie ambiguously prefers, whether we should “strengthen hate speech laws”

It's a serious charge. They're either terrorists or they're not. They're either violent or they're not.

The ICCT’s coverage of the UK Hizb ut-Tahrir ban outlines a wealth of evidence of the group’s avowedly non-violent approach, in contrast to groups like Islamic State for example, weighing up the previous success encountered in the UK by permitting the group to operate unhindered within non-violent political boundaries:

The threat of proscription existed only to the extent that it [the UK government] successfully encouraged the party to moderate its activism, whilst backroom engagement ensured that frustrations were kept in check. As such, in the recent years, the party has become less ‘radical’ in its activism, as well as largely becoming marginalised amongst British Muslim communities, fading in relevance, membership and capacity.

These are lessons learned from the rampant period of domestic Western Islamophobia during the 2010s. Indeed, Tony Abbott advocated for the proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir here in Australia during the same period. 

But the careful – and openly democratic – approach cultivated after that time is being eroded in favour of the wasteful and authoritarian counter-terrorism call to proscribe and criminalise.

Other people who Nick McKenzie didn’t bother to consult for his exposé include the Australian Muslim community. Instead, they’re studying Muslims for curiosity, wondering out loud about whether Hizb ut-Tahrir-related youth group seminars might be grounds for raising terrorists. 

They rustle in Roose again and another counter-terrorism grant receiver who used to be a Hizb ut-Tahrir member.

In the space of that one article, they manage to both say, 'It is not suggested that Hizb ut-Tahrir members engage in terrorism' and 'there are now growing calls... to urgently investigate the possibility of proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organisation'.

What is the point of this confusing coverage? If it isn't – as Zionists in Australia enthusiastically sharing it seem to think it is – to bolster calls for criminalisation?

One of the counter-terrorism hacks interviewed says it may be enough to “shine a light”. That education for people in the movement about who they're standing next to might be sufficient to limit Hizb ut-Tahrir influence. And we all readily admit, we always want to know who we're rallying with.

That would be noble of The Age and Nine. How thoughtful. 

But why, then, did they not speak to any of the activists in question for their educational awareness-raising material? Not the Hizb ut-Tahrir members, but the countless other tireless activists they're supposed to be duping?

Why did they not consult Australian Muslim community groups to find out about the years of tireless work undertaken counteracting the influence of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir within their community?

McKenzie didn't bother. He only spoke to counter-terrorism figures. 

Because the aim of this coverage appears purely counter-terrorist — meaning to promote criminalisation. 

Activist communities can and must police who we let man the barricades with us, but anyone who thinks this "investigation" is for us is a fool.

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom posts weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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