On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when two planes smashed into New York’s World Trade Centre, those responsible committed two atrocious crimes. They killed, in one shockingly memorable moment, more than three thousand people going about their work. And they handed the repressive forces of world Capital — headed up by the court-appointed President George W. Bush — the perfect excuse for an all-out assault on dissent and civil liberties. In their sights are those who are making their democratic voices heard all around the world, as we did in Melbourne on September 11 the year before, when we blockaded the World Economic Forum.
With Americans still grieving and in shock, the U.S. Congress hastily enacted the USA PATRIOT Act — a breathtaking assault on people’s civil and constitutional rights. Washington also made it known to other governments that they were expected to follow suit, and John Howard’s Coalition Government wasted no time.
As we write, the Australian Senate has agreed to enact the biggest attack on the right to organise and protest since the Suppression of the Communist Party Act of 1950. Once passed by the Federal House of Representatives in August, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the federal police, the military and other punitive arms of the State will be free to commence a reign of terror of their own — against union, community and political organising by the working people of Australia.
The terrorist lottery. The most significant parts of the “anti-terror” legislation are the creation of a new, loosely-defined crime of terrorism, the penalising of solidarity with liberation struggles and the expansion of the powers of ASIO.
The Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act defines “terrorism” as “undue intimidation or coercion.” The penalty is life imprisonment. Protests and industrial action are supposedly exempt. Yet there is no definition of “undue.” Anti-WEF protesters and the union/community pickets supporting the Maritime Union of Australia in 1998 could today be behind barbed wire, but then so could someone organising a consumer boycott against one of the big banks. The vagueness is deliberate. Preventing people from certain knowledge that they are acting legally is a time-honoured ruling class means of chilling opposition. Even more chilling is the fact that the new laws target terrorism that doesn’t happen. For example, merely considering the possibility of bulldozing the immigration concentration camps can be deemed “terrorism.” This is nightmare, Orwellian thought policing.
Ten to 25 years for “assisting” terrorism is the penalty for possessing a “thing” associated with an “act of terrorism.” How is a “thing” defined? Again, vagueness. It could be a leaflet for a demonstration, a placard, maybe even a union card. Association — direct or remote — with an organisation banned by the United Nations will bring 25 years in jail. Solidarity with liberation struggles, from Cuba to Kurdistan and Palestine, will be a crime. Under the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Act, this particular crime of association includes fundraising for, say, the liberation struggle in West Papua. The Act also gives the Minister for Foreign Affairs the power to effectively ban any organisation by freezing its finances, without answering to Parliament.
The ASIO Amendment Act will be put to Parliament in August. The bill will give Australia’s snoops even more sweeping powers, including the right to detain people — from 10 years old — incommunicado and without independent legal representation. Disappearances, like those long known under Latin American or other dictatorships, are about to happen here.
The first targets of Howard’s laws will be Arabs and Muslims. In the U.S., thousands have been detained. Harassment by federal agencies spread to all people of colour, immigrant and native-born alike. Small businesses of Somali immigrants in Seattle were ransacked by government agents and their finances frozen. Residents of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan are to be fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated once they enter the United States. Expect the same here.
Attention will then shift from the racial to the political. Our most basic civil liberties — rights for which generations of working people spilled blood — are now subject to direct attack. Like the right to silence, trial by jury in an open court, freedom from arbitrary detention, the presumption of innocence. Once we lose them, other hard-won rights go: the right to strike, to be politically active, to speak freely or to organise. At the first attempted use, these laws must be met with an overwhelming mass response. We cannot allow the capitalist class to rule at will.
Globalising State terror. September 11, 2001 allowed Bush to put the U.S. economy onto a war footing. The proposed Department for Homeland Security alone will have a budget of $38 billion to spend on spying, including the pioneering of new technology. Hit hard by the “tech wreck,” Silicon Valley is now a bustling factory for military technology. Throughout the United States, Police Intelligence Units have been established to work hand in hand with the FBI and CIA. Snoops have been instructed not to restrict their work to Al Qaeda-type terrorists but to also collect information on environmentalists and other troublesome activists. Where are these billions for Bush’s war chest coming from? Money for welfare, hospitals and schools. And now Bush has given himself a “first strike” power — which means bomb first and ask questions later.
Truth overboard. Taking his cue from the Bush war machine, John Howard needed his own “Al Qaeda” to demonise. It started with a racist act of piracy, ordering commandos to invade the Norwegian ship, Tampa, which had rescued hundreds of Middle Eastern shipwreck victims. Even more despicably racist was the use of doctored photos to make it appear that refugees threw their children into the sea as a way of bullying their way into Australia. Such people, Howard warned, are capable of terrorism. The government has spent hundreds of millions in its “border defence mission.”
And who is to pay for this costly exercise in abrogating the Law of the Sea, in illegal deportation of refugees to Pacific Islands and in invading Afghanistan on Bush’s coat-tails? Australia’s poorest. The government’s attempt to throw half a million people off the Disability Support Pension and to dramatically increase “co-payments” in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is simply a war levy on those least able to pay. There’s no crisis in the welfare or health sectors that cannot be funded by an end to the persecution of refugees and the redirection of the military budget.
To stop terrorism, stop terrorising! A message to global capitalism: get the terrorists — U.S. and Australian troops — out of Afghanistan. Get the Israeli State terrorist machine out of Palestine. Stop the government supporting the oppressive regimes of Burma, Colombia and Saudi Arabia. End military spending and divert the funds to the alleviation of world poverty. Reverse neoliberal globalisation policies, which amplify poverty and injustice.
The World Trade Centre attack accomplished nothing to further the cause of the Palestinian people or any of the world’s oppressed. In fact it has, quite predictably, made the situation worse, because only mass, unified action can end injustice. Individual acts of terrorism sideline the majority at best, and at worst, leave oppressed people as their only casualties.
Organise! These laws were enacted because of the absence of organising on the streets, in our workplaces and in our communities. Our job now is to force their repeal. Let’s look into our past and learn from the defeat of the Menzies Government’s attempt to ban the Communist Party. Enraged by this assault on the freedom of opinion, people from all quarters — unions, socialists, universities, churches and lawyers coalesced in mass actions, legal challenges, strikes and door knocking. It was a nationwide education in the power of collective action.
When we’re threatened for going to a refugee rally, protesting the next privatisation, striking against assaults on our unions or fundraising for Palestinians, solidarity must be our weapon. We have the numbers. It’s time for all progressive movements — of all those they’ll come after — to unite and defend each other now! Our collective, well-organised defiance is our defence. March on!