Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gerard Henderson, terror trials, the so-called civil liberties lobby, and a call for a swab and a humor transplant

(Above: Timothy McVeigh, your average Roman Catholic jihadist. More on him here and here).

Alarming news this morning, as the stewards have called for a swab in relation to Gerard Henderson's column Judges and juries called it as they saw it.

The provisional results of the weekly betting pool are:

First mention of John Howard in the column: last paragraph
Total number of mentions of John Howard in the column: 1

One mention! In the entire column! You can see the problem. A betting plunge on this kind of result will leave the short odds favorites still lost on the track, while the long odds punter scoops the pool.

Worse, there's an unnerving symmetry about the way the Howard government only turns up once in the final par, as if it's somehow a calculated ploy.

But there's no disputing that this is a column by Henderson. It has the same dull prattling Polonius qualities of his best work, as he comes not to bury Caesar but to praise him, especially in the matter of terrorism:

The present terrorism legislation is the product of agreement between the Coalition and Labor in Parliament. Most - if not all - of the convictions have been assisted by the much derided terrorism help-line set up by the Howard government. Among those providing evidence against terrorism have been Australian Muslims. Clearly, they are not convinced that terrorism deserves the "so-called" label.

And what's got our Polonius so upset about the use of "so-called"? Why it's that off the cuff fiend Deborah Cameron, speaking on that well known refuge for lefties, coffee drinkers and Fairfax hacks, the ABC's 702:

Last week the ABC 702 radio presenter Deborah Cameron referred to the "so-called terror trial in Parramatta". On Friday, after deliberating for over a month, a jury at the Supreme Court returned guilty verdicts against five men on terrorism charges. The jurors were unaware that four other men, charged following the same police investigation, had already pleaded guilty and had been sentenced.

Clearly the jury was convinced, beyond reasonable doubt, that the five men acted in the preparation of a terrorist act ...

Out of this thin gossamer of indignation - the use of "so-called" - Henderson seizes the moment to righteously trawl through the recent terror trials as a way of clubbing the civil liberties lobby yet again:

There is considerable evidence that members of what is best termed the civil liberties lobby - including some journalists, lawyers and academics - do not want to accept that a few men in Western societies want to engage in violent jihad. The evident cynicism is not confined to Australia but extends to Britain and the United States, where acts of violence by militant Islamists have occurred.

If Henderson had a sense of humor - it's conspicuously absent in this desiccated coconut - he might have dubbed it the 'so-called' civil liberties lobby.

And he might have noted that the evident cynicism in the commentariat columnist brigade only seem to extend as far as acts of violence by militant Islamists, and not to the likes of the Oklahoma City bombing perpetrated by American militia movement sympathizer Timothy McVeigh (who was making a point about the Waco siege and the Ruby Ridge incident).

Only a humorist or a loon would assert that the so-called civil liberties lobby do not want to accept that there are violent people in all societies who will resort to acts of violence, a form of cloud cuckoo land thinking in defiance of history, world wars, sundry personal acts of violence, and Hollywood (and as a sub-set there are people who want to engage in so-called violent jihad while some so-called fundamentalist Christians and right wingers might want to either shoot so-called abortion providing doctors or blow up so-called government buildings).

But back to the case building by Henderson:

Writing in The Australian in 2006, Phillip Adams identified with the cynics within the left and the Muslim world concerning the reported attempt to use liquid explosives to bring down seven airliners flying from Heathrow in Britain to the US and Canada. He went so far as to hint all this might have been a distraction to divert attention from the political difficulties of the then British Labour prime minister, Tony Blair.

Well through the wonders of the intertubes, it's possible to go back and read what Adams actually wrote under the header A highly convenient diversion. Adams cleverly phrases his views from a paranoid third person perspective:

Many millions in the Arab and Islamic worlds refuse to believe the official story on 9/11. Someone else killed the nearly 3000 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The most popular theory is that the Jews did it: that Mossad knocked down the World Trade Centre to slander Islam and justify George W. Bush's global crusade against the Muslim faith.

Sceptics in the US and Australia favour the idea of the self-inflicted wound. It was a stunt organised by Bush to save his sorry arse, to give his White House a licence to kill. If it wasn't Mossad then the CIA did it, or the FBI, or it was contracted out to Dick Cheney's mates at Halliburton. Whoever, whatever, it was George W's Reichstag fire, the Pearl Harbor he had to have.

At times of incidents or alarms the internet goes close to a Chernobyl meltdown as increasingly fanciful and mutually exclusive conspiracy theories short-circuit its synapses. Since Thursday my email has been a deafening chatter of disbelief. The official story is that five years after 9/11 the other shoe was about to drop. Their response? Pull the other leg.

Like previous high alerts on either side of the Atlantic, the timing of the Heathrow story is deemed far too convenient because it takes attention off the fiascos of US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because it gives breathing space to the White House, to an administration that's bleeding like Baghdad, to Bush and the boys fearful that what happened to three-term Democrat senator Joe Lieberman might happen to the whole pro-war mob, Republican and Democrat. Or because only the chaos at the Heathrow terminal can help Tony Blair's terminal condition. But most, the argument goes, because the story distracts world attention from what the Israelis are doing in Lebanon.

With minor variations, that's what paranoid lefties in the West and a majority of Muslims on the Arab street suspect or believe. And is it so hard to understand their paranoia? We've lived through years of our leaders telling some of the biggest lies in political history. We were propelled into a war our leaders wanted on the basis of misinformation, disinformation and outright lies. And having lied their way into Iraq, they're now lying about the consequences, claiming catastrophe as victory.

Now heaven forfend that this be seen as support for Adams, who is to tedium what the prattling Polonius is to blind unctuous John Howard worship, but Adams in his survey of conspiracy theories skirts suggesting the Heathrow matter was an actual conspiracy, though treated as a conspiracy by leftie and Muslim paranoids. He even offered up a little humor by canceling a flight:

Extrapolate just a little from that sense of betrayal, that growing conviction that nothing a president or prime minister says can be trusted, and winds of suspicion and a vortex of conspiracy theories threaten to demolish democratic faith like that cyclone did New Orleans. Behold the new world disorder, when a little healthy scepticism becomes utter cynicism. When society is full of doubting Thomases demanding to see the holes in the hands of those who claim to be our saviours. And until they do, they'll see ever bigger holes in their arguments.

Let the record show that today I've cancelled my Qantas flight to London. It was scheduled to land at Heathrow on September 11. Call me superstitious, but any plot to start blowing up aircraft for the fifth anniversary of Osama bin Laden's 9/11 spectacular gives pause for thought. As does the suggestion that they're going to ban books as well as liquids in your hand luggage.

The war on terror is as inept as the war on drugs. Invading Iraq seems to have made matters far worse. For if the British security people have got this one right, the Heathrow plot is largely an internal effort, like the attack on London's transport system. Locally born and bred Muslims, not Saudis or Egyptians who've been trained in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Local lads reading from the bin Laden song book, one the convert son of a Conservative Party official.

Actually you see that's the crunch line. The war on terror being as inept as the war on drugs. Time for payback, and so back to our prattling Polonius:

Once again, a jury found otherwise. Last month, three British Muslims were convicted of planning a series of suicide/homicide attacks against trans-Atlantic airlines. The case was documented in the first-class BBC Panorama documentary Terror in the Skies, shown here on Four Corners last month. The program showed the "suicide" videos recorded by the terrorists before the intended attacks were thwarted by British police and intelligence services.

Um, would those three British Muslims would be the local lads referred to by Adams?

Our prattling Polonius is on safer ground pinging Antony Loewenstein, who in Crikey under the header Was the Heathrow terror "plot" a political concoction? actually drinks of the kool-aid of conspiracy theories, as offered up by Adams. Loewenstein compounded his folly by linking to other conspiracy theorists.

The point? Well I suppose playing 'gotcha' with terrorism and criminals is one of those 'playing with fire' routines beloved of our prattling Polonius, but you could easily slip the slipper on to the other foot by taking a look at the Haneef matter and Henderson's valiant support for the authorities.

If you like digging back and disinterring bones - personally I think this is best left to the gravediggers in Hamlet - you can frolic amongst not so long ago columns such as Rudd won't escape Haneef fallout, or Attack on freedom overstated, or Keelty not getting a fair hearing, wherein the so-called civil rights lobby gets a standard pummeling.

No, let's pass on by that matter in silence, and instead celebrate the recent examples of terrorists being sent down:

It is not as if those convicted of terrorism offences in Australia in recent years have come up against an unfair system - despite complaints reported in the media by some of their family members and supporters. In all the cases cited above, judges have gone out of their way to ensure a fair trial. And juries have exercised considerable caution, including reaching some "not guilty" findings. Also, Justices Bongiorno and Whealy expressed valid concerns about the extremely harsh conditions experienced by some prisoners.

Catch the wording - 'those convicted of terrorism offences'. No need then to worry about those in recent years who've come up against a system which might have a little unfairness built in to it, since they weren't convicted. Never mind the time or the expense. Never mind the Haneef matter. Or even valid concerns about extremely harsh conditions, whatever they might be.

That's the way of it with so-called balanced commentators intent on denigrating the so-called civil rights lobby, while celebrating the police and intelligence services for doing "a first-rate job in protecting the liberties of all of us", as well as politicians led by .... of course, the unfairly derided Howard government.

Well I'm grateful for a number of things - for the coppers nailing the few jihadists they've found to date, for Pastor Danny Nalliah cleansing Canberra, for right wing conspiracy theorists in this country lacking the desire and the means of Timothy McVeigh, for the ongoing efforts of secularists to wipe out all forms of religion, and for the so-called civil liberties lobby for helping out in the Haneef matter.

Now if only someone could give Gerard Henderson a so-called humor transplant ... perhaps starting in the funny bone, then working down towards the prim, prissy spleen ...

(Below: Oklahoma City 1995, and right wing American humor at work:

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."
--Ann Coulter as quoted in the New York Observer, Aug. 20, 2002

"RE: McVeigh quote. Of course I regret it. I should have added, 'after everyone had left the building except the editors and reporters.'"

--Ann Coulter, from an interview with Right Wing News - here).

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