I wonder how long it will be before you or I or someone we know
is given the Haneef treatment? Judging by the hyperbole
emanating from Canberra and the willingness for politicians and
police to ignore fundamental rights, it should not be too long.
Within many cultures the idea of collective ownership, or at the
least a willingness to share goods, means that little thought is
given to the potential ramifications of a good deed. In many
cultures the focus of ownership is not necessarily on individual
ownership but on collective access to something that one person
may take responsibility for managing. In some places around the
globe an entire village might be served by one mobile phone. In
other places a ‘family’ may ‘own’ a phone that a senior member
looks after and ensures is shared equitably among the clan. This
clan may well include ‘relatives’ whose familial ties are very
loose. Just like here many families try and improve their lot
and as the economic circumstances arise another mobile handset
may become available for use. Even though the handsets are
relatively cheap to purchase in local markets they don’t come
with a SIM card. These, should they be needed and of course they
always are, are purchased separately.
Another issue related to mobile phones is their ‘stealability’.
Being small and easily misplaced they make for easy targets for
the thief, pickpocket and opportunistic ‘business person’ who
can turn your misfortune into a few pesos at the market. The
handsets are quite traceable due to their unique identity and
when matched to a SIM card can be traced to the original owner
or SIM card purchaser if needed. They also double as quite good
location beacons for those wanting to find you.
One of the beauties of global travel these days is that in many
reasonably developed places it is quite easy to purchase a SIM
card that can be fitted into your own phone. These prepaid cards
allow the international traveller the ability to manage their
costs and provide an affordable alternative to the global
roaming most networks allow.
When I travelled in the Middle East last year I took my own
phone and purchased pre-paid SIM cards in Jordan and the West
Bank. Unfortunately for my hosts I used all my credit before I
left. However, if there had of been any credit left I was more
than willing to leave the SIM cards behind for them to use as
they would be of no use to me once I left the region. If I had
left a SIM card, let’s try this for a possible scenario.
I bid my hosts farewell and get on the bus. They leave for their
homes and when they arrive home place my SIM card in their
phone. A couple of days later a ‘cousin’ comes to visit. This
‘cousin’ is part of the extended family of well over 200 who
live in the town. He sits, drinks coffee and after an acceptable
time asks if he can borrow my host’s mobile to make a call or
Eventually some breathtaking calamity takes place and the
intelligence and security agencies gear up for the
investigation. Scouring the electronic signatures of thousands
of people ‘of interest’ they come across the family name of my
host’s ‘cousin’. They then link that with the name of my host
and a number of calls made from a particular mobile. Having made
the, at best, tenuous link, they decide to detain my host and
his ‘cousin’ as suspects and begin to interrogate them. My host
says he has nothing to hide. The security forces ask him to hand
over the mobile he has. They examine the SIM and ask where he
got it. He tells them that his Australian friend left it for him
when he went home. They interrogate the phone and SIM and find
out that it was used by my host’s ‘cousin’ to contact a fringe
player in a known ‘terrorist’ group.
My host’s ‘cousin’ is subject to further questioning and denies
any links to the suspect group saying that he knows the man he
rang as an old school friend who he keeps in touch with.
However, the security forces don’t believe him. Their next calls
are to Mick Keelty and Philip Ruddock, the Attorney General.
Well, I don’t think I need to go on here. The links are so
tenuous and ridiculous that they really are Keystone cop type
antics. One act of generosity, reinforced by another leads to
all involved, no matter how far removed, as being branded as
‘suspects’ or as having “associated” with “persons of interest”
or in the case of Mohammed Haneef, being found guilty before
trial or evidence is produced.
As each passing day reveals we find desperation, lies, unfounded
innuendo, defamatory comments, deception and now scapegoating.
Howard says his minister told him. Andrews says the AFP told
him. Keelty says Scotland Yard told him. I suppose we’ll soon
find out Scotland yard found out via a note in a fortune cookie.
Who knows? And that is the question. Who knows?
I agree with all those who say we need to be vigilant and aware
of the potential risks to our safety and way of life. That is
not up for negotiation. However, as a so called “advanced”,
“democratic” society should we not expect more of those we
entrust to ensure our safety and way of life is maintained? The
basis of this expectation is trust.
Our mainstream media allows politicians, senior bureaucrats and
other officials to hide behind a rhetoric that invokes the vague
notion of ‘national security’. At the rate we’re going I suggest
it won’t be long before we hear ‘national security’ invoked to
deny access to even more so called ‘official sources’. The so
called ‘background’ briefings that journalists are privy too are
used to inveigle them into the ‘inner sanctum’ as if the role of
the press is to collude with power rather than stand up and
I cannot say for certain that Mohammed Haneef is a cleanskin in
this matter. However, based on the freely available press
reports and the emerging fog of obfuscation produced by the
government and the federal police one thing is clear. Haneef’s
involvement, at the very least and assuming he did know
something was afoot, was as far removed from the plot and
subsequent acts - acts in which we must remember no one other
than the perpetrators were injured – as to render him innocent
as the court as rightly done so.
In the age of international travel, ease of communication and
the traveller’s willingness to become involved in the things
going on around them, it is only a matter of time before one of
our nearest and dearest is at the receiving end of the type of
treatment Dr. Haneef received under our government. Or perhaps
While we continue to allow those who hold power over us to rule
according to their own rules and continue to allow them to
ignore the rights we, collectively, have fought to develop to
protect us from abuses of power, the more likely it will be that
we will find ourselves or our loved ones caught up in the Star
Chamber like environment facilitated by those who would rather
rule over us than serve us.