I have nothing but respect for Lincoln Tan, I think his past body of work is some of the best journalism the Herald has to offer, but his recent run of stories on the Avondale Islamic Centre seems alarmingly irresponsible.
As blogger Latifa Daud, a member of the Avondale Islamic Centre, has pointed out, there is another side of this story far more complex and nuanced than screaming ‘Jihad’ in a news headline. Using that word in a headline demands responsible journalism, what Lincoln has printed doesn’t seem responsible.
There’s something terribly manufactured by this sudden exposure of domestic terrorism at a time the Government is about to face intense scrutiny over how the intelligence agencies have been behaving behind our backs.
We know because of Nicky Hager’s book, ‘Other People’s Wars‘, that over the past decade, the NZ Defence Force has run a constant media disinformation campaign against the mainstream media. I know what some will say, ‘But Nicky Hager is a conspiracy theorist. My Dad and ZB told me so”. For those of that opinion, here was the review of ‘Other People’s Wars‘ by NZ Herald’s John Armstrong, the least likely Nicky Hager supporter…
Those who think Nicky Hager is just another left-wing stirrer and dismiss his latest book accordingly should think again.
Likewise, the country’s politicians should read Other People’s Wars before condemning it.
Whatever Hager’s motive for investigating New Zealand’s contribution over the past decade to the United States-led “war on terror”, it is pretty irrelevant when placed alongside the mountain of previously confidential and very disturbing information his assiduous research and inquiries have uncovered.
With the help of well-placed informants and thousands of leaked documents, Hager exposes the cynical manner in which the Defence Force has purposely misled the public by omission of pertinent facts and public relations flannel.
This is particularly the case with regard to the “candyfloss” image the military has built around the deployment of New Zealand soldiers in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan.
That image is of our soldiers acting more like peacekeepers armed with nothing more dangerous than a shovel.
There will be those who argue a war is a war and no one should therefore be hugely surprised those soldiers have been found to be sharing their base with operatives from America’s Central Intelligence Agency.
Fair enough. But the Defence Force has sought to paint this deployment in a completely different light. Hager has cut through that pretence with the evidence to prove what has always been surmised – that the real reason for such deployments was not to help the inhabitants of Bamiyan but to impress the hawks in Washington.
While the information flow from Afghanistan has marginally improved of late, the public’s trust in the Defence Force has largely been reciprocated with obfuscation and obstruction.
The lack of transparency and accountability reached its nadir in the blanking out of large portions of a Government review of the Bamiyan operation sought by Hager under the Official Information Act. This was done on the grounds that revealing those sections would prejudice the security and defence of New Zealand.
A complete copy later showed the only thing at risk was the credibility and reputation of the Defence Force, so damning was the review’s findings.
When it comes to a political response, however, Hager’s efforts are likely to fall on stony ground.
Predictably, only the Greens were yesterday urging official action be taken on the book’s findings. Even they limited their call to establishing a parliamentary review of defence and intelligence relations with the US.
Neither National nor Labour – both having committed troops to Afghanistan while in government – have anything to gain from such an inquiry. Nor has the public mood shifted in sufficient quantity against the Afghan deployment to force any meaningful inquiry. It is more likely any Government going down that path would cop a backlash through being seen as undermining the armed forces.
And, with an election pending, neither of the two major parties will go there.
Where manipulation and propaganda failed, out right attacks on the integrity of the messenger was the order of the day. This was best exemplified by the smear campaign launched against award winning journalist Jon Stephenson by the NZDF who went out of their way to blacklist and damage his reputation after he published critical articles in Metro raising war crime questions in Afghanistan.
Which leads me back to suddenly finding ‘the enemy within’. Once whaleoil started to fan the burn on this issue it smelled bad. How much of this is disinformation or Islamaphobic tabloid journalism is difficult to decipher, but after talking to members inside the congregation, today’s current scandal that there was police surveillance seems remarkably unbalanced.
I’ve asked for a response to each of Lincoln Tan’s current allegations against the Imam, these are their responses…
Imam at centre of mosque ruckus kept under police surveillance
The man at the centre of a mosque battle in Auckland has allegedly been monitored by police for potential terrorist allegiances.
The Weekend Herald can reveal that Abu Abdulla, an imam who has been banned from the Avondale Islamic Centre, is Mohamed Abu Hamam.
Abu Abdullah simply means “father of Abdullah”. It is widespread practice amongst Arabs to change their name on the birth of their first child in this way. There is nothing sinister about having two names. There are many New Zealanders of Arab origin that have two names, one that is the one they were given at birth and the other the one they take on at the birth of their first child. The same applies for women who prefix “Umm” before their child’s name. Similarly children are referred to as “the son of” and in this case Abu Abdullah’s son is called Abullah bin Hamam, which means Abdullah, the son of Abdullah, illustrating that there is no attempt to hide the identity of Hamam.
Mr Abdulla confirmed he also goes by the name of Hamam, but did not know if he was the person named in a United States Embassy warning in 2005.
The Federation of Islamic Associations in New Zealand said it was made aware in 2011 of Mr Abdulla’s other identity and extremist preaching.
His apparent extremist teachings are often as a result of political violence that are happening around the world. He has spoken about the historic conflict in Bosnia and current conflicts in Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Burma. He has also used his sermons to condemn drone attacks something many people in the West also speak out against.
On the other hand NZMA would like its members to remain silent against any such atrocities. While Abu Abdullah would actively march for the Palestinian cause on Queen Street, the NZMA as an organization would refrain from any political action.
Reports on potential terrorist activity here, including warnings from police to US officials in a cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010, named “Hamam” as a person monitored by the police.
“The New Zealand Police recently provided information indicating some New Zealand Muslims have fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia and possibly Chechnya,” the cable said.
Abu Abdullah says he fought alongside the United States of America against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Many people that fought with the United States of America against the Russians enjoy refugee status in Western countries.
“The police are also looking at some New Zealand citizens/residents who may have travelled to the Middle East, including Iraq. A specific example of such a person involves an individual known only as ‘Hamam’.”
It said Hamam was an Afghan veteran and a surgeon from Egypt.
Abu Abdullah only went to Egypt to visit a sick relative after overthrow of Mubarak and when it seemed as if Egypt was becoming a democracy.
“He is currently living in Auckland on state benefits and refuses to become employed. He stays in a local mosque and espouses anti-Western views. He is being monitored by the New Zealand Police.”
In Lincoln Tan’s article yesterday he wrote about how Muslims are the most discriminated religion in the workplace. Perhaps this is part of the story of his unemployment. Despite Abu Abdullah having been the resident Imam at the Avondale Islamic Centre for the last two years the NZMA have refused to pay him. His unemployment status is only due to him not receiving any salary for his work at the mosque.
The cable goes on to say some in the community may be sympathetic to terrorist organisations.
There is no real evidence to support this claim of sympathy.
Mr Abdulla, 50, said he was a plastic surgeon in Egypt before he moved here in 1998 after one of his family members was targeted and killed by the Egyptian police.
He denied his family had any links with terrorist organisations, but admitted to having worked in Pakistan and several countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, which he visited last year.
The father of seven is embroiled in a fight with the New Zealand Muslim Association, which has barred him, his sons and some of his supporters from its mosques in Avondale, Ponsonby, Ranui and Birkenhead.
He was issued a trespass notice first in 2012, and again this month.
The situation has escalated. Earlier this month, a senior member of the association, Haider Lone, was severely beaten at the Avondale mosque.
Mr Lone was in hospital for 10 days, and is now in hiding.
Mr Lone is not in hiding. He gave a TV3 interview where he called homeless people “bunch of idiots” from the mosque in Ponsonby. This location was clearly identifiable in the news clip. There are doubts about whether he stayed in hospital for ten days. He also refuses to negotiate directly with representatives of the local congregation only communicating with them through the media.
Two men, whose passports were cancelled before they could board a plane to join the Syrian war, attended classes conducted by Mr Abdulla, but he denied asking them to join the conflict.
When the young men were stopped at the airport Abu Abdullah had been overseas for the last four months in Egypt visiting a sick family member. Two other young men attended a different mosque in Auckland but no scrutiny has been given to the Iman of the mosque in Mt Roskill or their committee.
The men in question are young and are likely to get their information and motivation from the Internet not from the local mosque.
A senior member of the association, who requested anonymity, said Mr Abdulla followed Wahhabism, a strand of Islam which Osama bin Laden adhered to, that “promoted extremism, radical and anti-Western” ideas. He described Mr Abdulla as a “destructive force” and someone local Muslim leaders were “trying to remove” from the community.
He said Mr Abdulla preached that those who did not follow Wahhabism, which he believed to be the only path of true Islam, were “infidels”.
Abu Abdullah is a Hanafi Muslim like the majority of Egypt and also incidentally the Indian sub continent and the leadership of the NZMA.
Claims that he is a Wahhabi or Salafi are being made to discredit and slander him.
The NZMA hierarchy belong to religious movement called the Tabligh Jamaat, which mostly peaceful is also on the radar of international security organisations.
This intense scrutiny is the case for most Muslims since 9/11.
Mr Abdulla also preached it was “haram” – forbidden – for Muslims to carry, fly or drape themselves in the New Zealand flag.
Mr Abdulla told the Weekend Herald it was forbidden for Muslims to be associated with the NZ flag because the St George Cross was on it.
For the same reason, they were also forbidden to have face paintings or temporary tattoos with the flag.
“From Islam, you cannot raise another flag that represents another religion. You cannot raise the flag of Jews, Christians or the cross, because we’re Muslim,” he said.
Here we see the New Zealand trying to use nationalist sentiment to further sensationalize the situation.
During a Friday khutbah, or public preaching, on the weekend the Rugby World Cup kicked off in 2011, three of those present said Mr Abdulla told the congregation: “Do not be infidels by carrying or waving New Zealand flags to support the All Blacks.”
This is news to regular members of the congregation.
The Blockhouse Bay Rd mosque, where Mr Abdulla has been preaching for the past four years, was closed indefinitely by the association on Monday due to safety concerns.
These safety concerns have only arisen from the repeated harassment of local members of the congregation from the NZMA over a period of two years.
Acting president Mohammed Faiaz said members had been assaulted and their cars damaged, and mobs had turned up at homes to threaten them and their families.
Again, this is another attempt from the NZMA to justify their action of closing the mosque and removing the mosque.
Mr Faiaz said he received further threats after he was named in a Weekend Herald report last Saturday.
On Sunday, a security man hired to guard the mosque, Bill Frost, was assaulted twice and threatened with jihad, or holy war. He said he understood jihad to be a “religious assassination notice” and fears for his safety and the safety of the seven children who live in his family home.
This is explained in Latifa’s article. Witnesses of the event say that the word “jihad” was never mentioned. There was an angry response to Mr Frost walking in the shoes with his shoes on and smoking inside the mosque foyer. Both of these actions are disrespectful to the place. When one member called the police to charge him for smoking in a smoke free zone Mr Frost responded with these allegations, not before issuing that complainant with a trespass notices.
If assaults did take place in daylight hours, in front of security and in front of the police why have no arrests been made.
A Weekend Herald reporter was also threatened and was warned by a worshipper he and the paper would be harmed if further articles on Mr Abdulla or the mosque appeared.
People are justifiably angry with the one sided articles being run by the New Zealand Herald. Incidentally the President of the NZMA works for the New Zealand Herald.
Photos of the reporter, his car and the paper’s photographer were uploaded to a Facebook page of one of the mosque members.
Islamic federation president Anwar Ghani said the violence and threats were “highly regrettable” and “totally unacceptable”.
“I am disappointed that an arrest hasn’t been made,” Dr Ghani said.
Local members of the congregation agree that arrests should be made for criminal behaviour. However they feel that the right response is not to close the mosque, which further aggravates the situation.
Dr Ghani said the federation did not support Mr Abdulla’s religious views or teaching.
“If this is the kind of feeling he has and these are his views, then I don’t think we want that type of person to be involved.”
Dr Ghani as the President of FIANZ has never attempted to mediate the situation so it is surprising to see him comment at this late stage.
The NZMA and the four or five people that control Muslim affairs in New Zealand are also responsible for the deportation of Maulana Patel from Ranui mosque. This action was taken because this Imam was considered to be too outspoken.
This previous action shows that anyone that critiques this elite will be on the next plane out of New Zealand or will have their reputations tarnished in the New Zealand media. What’s really happening here is an attempt to preserve the power and control of this small bullying elite.
We should not allow the fear of the other to overcome our good senses. This Government have questions to answer about what they are militarily doing in our name and they have a decade long history of lying about it. To allow some to manipulate domestic fear to blunt criticism of those answers is something we must always be prepared to challenge and scrutinise. I think there is enough blogged in the above rebuttal and in Latifa’s original blog to prompt a genuine counter narrative to the one being fed by Whaleoil and Lincoln Tan.