Australia's Banning Of LeT Raises More Questions
Australia's Banning Of LeT Raises More Questions Than It Answers
by Amir Butler
The recalling of the senate for a special session on Friday, November 5th, to rush through legislation banning the group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) raises more questions than it answers.
For most Australians this is the first time they are hearing of this group – and with good reason. LeT is the military wing of the Pakistani-based educational and social services organization, Markaz Da’wah wa’l Irshad. It was formed in 1989 by Abdul Wahid Kashmiri and consists almost entirely of Pakistanis and Kashmiris. Since the 1990s, the military wing has been fighting a battle against Indian forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir with the sole objective of achieving independence and autonomy for the mostly-Muslim Kashmiri people.
Unlike other groups, LeT is characterised by its focus entirely on military targets in the Jammu-Kashmir region. LeT have never attacked Western interests nor expressed any animosity towards Australia. In 2000, the LeT leader, Professor Hafiz Muhammad Sayyid, told reporters from the American ABC network, that LeT has “no interest in fighting American since America is not fighting the Muslims and this is the ruling of the Koran”. He went on to say that “Lashkar-e-Taiba is engaged in fighting against the occupying Indian army in Jammu and Kashmir” and is fighting for the “rights of all oppressed human beings: Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, even Hindu”.
It is possible that some members of LeT have had contact with al-Qaeda, although in the same ABC interview, Professor Sayyid went to lengths to explain that LeT has no organization affiliation or tie with Usama Bin Laden and that “our organization is not involved, nor has it even been involved, in any activities in America or East Africa.” He went on to repudiate the methodology of al-Qaeda, saying, “We condemn all acts of violence against civilians and those who commit such acts, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. Islam does not allow the killing of peaceful, innocent, unarmed civilians”.
There is a clear ideological distinction between LeT and al-Qaeda. LeT, for example, have demonstrated a willingness to speak out against Muslim terrorism and extremist behaviour. On Christmas Eve, 2000, LeT issued a communiqué to their followers and supporters explicitly condemning the attacks on Indonesia’s Christian minority that were taking place at the time. Abu Umar, the group’s Director of Foreign Affairs, wrote, “These bombings are a horrific and inhuman assault on innocent civilians who gathered solely for the sake of worship”. Rebuking those who carried out the attacks, he wrote, “the goal of the criminals who carried out these attacks was to tarnish the religion of Islam and cause the further deterioration of relations between Muslims and Christians. Whoever they are, the bombers are doing the work of the enemies of Islam”.
When 36 Sikh villagers were murdered in Jammu-Kashmir in 2000, LeT issued a communiqué lamenting their deaths as a “tragedy” that has only damaged “the Islamic struggle for justice”.
In the aftermath of September 11, LeT were amongst the first Islamic groups to publicly condemn the attack and clarify Islam’s opposition to such attacks on civilians and innocents.
The reason most frequently given in the West for opposition to LeT is their alleged involvement in the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. However, this allegation has never been proven and seems contrary to the position that LeT have consistently articulated for several years through regular communiqués and articles.
Given its history, it is difficult to see the threat that a Kashmiri independence group poses to Australian security; especially a group that has condemned anti-Western violence and has never attacked or opposed any Western interest. The decision of the government to ban LeT seems driven more by politics than any pragmatic need to protect Australians from impending danger. The threat of LeT is a Trojan horse for the Attorney-General to push for increased ASIO powers and usurp further our civil liberties.
It is a fact that in our multicultural society, many ethnic Australians retain support for various causes and struggles in their old countries. For instance, many Turkish Kurds have supported intellectually and materially the PKK; many Irish Australians provided support for the IRA’s struggle for independence from British rule; and many Tamil Australians continue to support the struggle of their people for an independent homeland in Sri Lanka. In the past, many Australians supported the struggle of the Timorese people to gain independence from Indonesia.
It is the pinnacle of injustice that a government should then outlaw support for one cause, but tolerate and even encourage support for another based purely on political expediency. Governments must either demonstrate the specific threat that a movement or cause poses to security, or ban support for all independence and secessionist struggles – regardless of whether these causes may enjoy the temporal support of the government and her allies.
Amir Butler is executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee (AMPAC). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.