Historian Michael Foley said during times of war pacifists often get mugged. As a non-violent activist working to end the war in Iraq and the corporate war profiteering that comes with it, September 2005 has been the most surreal time of my life and I definitely feel like I got mugged by Australian Attorney General Phillip Ruddock and the Australian government.
After three lovely months of traveling through Australia and meeting people, one Wednesday afternoon during the second week of September I was called by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, or ASIO, and asked to come in for an interview. I asked if I was required to do so and the woman at the other end of the phone said “No, you are not obliged too.” I then asked if this would affect the remaining two weeks of my time in Australia and she said she couldn’t say. I should have listened with closer attention to that non-answer.
A few days later, walking out of a café in Melbourne, I was snatched off the street by 4 Australian Federal Police and 2 Immigration Compliant Officers. They informed me I was being placed into “questioning detention” so that the Department of Immigration could assess if they were going to cancel my tourist visa or not. In truth, “a competent Australian authority” had already assessed me to be a “direct or indirect risk to Australian national security”, cancelled my visa and began the process of removing me from the country (which would end up costing me $11,000 Australian dollars). By that evening, I was in solitary confinement at the Melbourne Custody Center, a maximum security lock-up awaiting that not-so free ride home. In addition, that evening, a media firestorm erupted in Australia and I became the center of debate over free speech and the criminalization of dissent in Australia.
I spent a good part of July and August doing workshops on our Houston based campaign to get Halliburton out of Iraq, people powered strategies to end the illegal occupation of Iraq and non-violent action. The Halliburton talks discussed the company’s history of corruption and cronyism in Iraq, tactics and strategies used by community organizers in Houston (and elsewhere) to pressure Halliburton out of Iraq and the campaign in the larger context of the American anti-war movement. The people power strategies workshop is an approach to social action that addresses immediate community priorities, builds power by mobilizing citizens, is framed by core ‘citizen values’ and challenges structural inequalities. It imparts on participants methods to craft a clear strategy in working for social change. The non-violent action workshops were facilitated them in the tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi, King and countless other advocates for non-violent social change.
I facilitated these trainings at the Brisbane Social Forum, the Sydney Social Forum and Subplot, a forum for autonomous and student activists. The latter two venues were precursors for 2 days of protests against the Forbes Global CEO Conference at the Sydney Opera House.
During those 2 days of protests, I also organized a protest outside the Sydney offices of war profiteer Halliburton’s subsidiary KBR. It was a political theater event where my cohorts and I dressed up as billionaires, named ourselves “The Coalition of the Billing” and chanted such insurrectionary chants as “1-2-3-4, we make money when there’s war, 5-6-7-8, KBR’s really great!” and “We’re here, we’re rich, get used to it!”. It was a fun little protest and many of the New South Wales police watching were laughing along with our comedy routine. I can only guess that Phillip Ruddock and ASIO missed the underlying humor.
While they may currently hold all the legal cards, they are losing the public debate as lawyers, civil libertarians, environmentalists; former government whistleblowers, grassroots activists, major media outlets and some politicians have spoken out and acted on this baffling outrageous episode. Currently, their best response has been that I “incited spirited protest”. All over Australia, local communities have mobilized and rallied around my detention and removal. There have been numerous NON-VIOLENT protests, occupations and direct communications all over Australia, and in the United States, confronting Prime Minister John Howard, Phillip Ruddock and the Australian government about their shabby handling of me and my civil rights. Major Australian media outlets have questioned daily why their government has acted in such a manner. This doesn’t even include the outpouring of support I have read from people all over the world fed up with this type of behavior from “liberal western democracies” seeking to restrict and criminalize dissent under the auspices of “national security” and the “war on terror”.
Since my departure from Australia, an article appeared in The Australian — a Rupert Murdoch owned newspaper with right wing leanings– stating I had planned to teach violent protest tactics. Apparently, anonymous government sources informed reporters at The Australian that I would be discussing how to throw marbles under police horse hooves, how to spring protesters from custody and how to isolate police during marches and surround them. These charges are completely ludicrous. I am completely opposed to any actions that would harm police animals or officers. I have publicly stated during workshops previous to this entire episode that tactics such as this are not a good idea and lead to things like “assault on a police officer”. I am philosophically and practically opposed to the use of such tactics. These are the same sort of stories put out by American authorities and right wing media about non-violent protesters since the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle.
Bob Dylan once alleged to live outside the law you must be honest. I have been known to live outside the law from time to time and it has given me a degree of self-realization and honesty which I apply to my activism. I realize that while my actions are not necessarily the norm in today’s world, they are dictated by conscience or as Thoreau once said “The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies A very few–as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men–serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.” After the backlash I have seen against the Australian government’s treatment of me, I can honestly say the Australian people are on the right track to serving their country with their consciences.
SCOTT PARKIN is a community organizer in Houston Texas. See: www.houstonglobalawareness.org. He was held in custody when traveling in Australia recently
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.
As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
We are pleased to clarify the position.
August 17, 2005