Cory Bernardi And The Little Halal Truther Campaign That Couldn’t

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Michael Brull cleans up what’s left of Cory Bernardi’s anti-Halal Senate inquiry.

As readers may be aware from my colleague Max Chalmer’s incisive reporting on the subject here at New Matilda, the Senate has been inquiring into Halal. That is, into Third party certification of food.

The Senate has released its report. The whole thing was ridiculous from start to end, and seems to have been driven by a vocal bunch of racist nuts on the internet who think Halal labelling funds terrorism and is a form of religious oppression of people who don’t want to “support Islam”.

Boycott-Halal-FacebookFor example, there was this image by the facebook page Boycott Halal in Australia.

The fact that this inquiry took place tells you something about Australia and the political salience of the most ignorant strains of anti-Muslim bigotry. Readers will not expect the Senate to devote similar time to investigating the moon landing, or what really happened on 9/11, because certain types of conspiracy theorists don’t need to be assuaged, whilst others apparently do.

Anyway, let’s turn to the report. Chaired by ALP senators (Sam Dastyari, then Chris Ketter), and Deputy Chaired by Liberal Senator Sean Edwards, it had 7 members, and two “participating members”. It seems this lower level designation was in recognition of their intellectual faculties: they were Senators Jacqui Lambie and Cory Bernardi. The report runs to 114 pages, though 45 pages simply list the names of submissions.

The report found “insufficient evidence” as to whether food certification drove up prices (3.26). The committee explained there was no imposition of religion because there’s no religious rituals involved in halal or kosher certification (3.34-5). Certification doesn’t impose religion on anyone, and doesn’t make food more or less halal.

What about the terrorism link? Dismissed in 3.42-7. For example,

The committee considered these serious allegations very closely and sought the clarification of a number of government agencies with expertise on anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing (AML/CTF). Evidence supplied by AUSTRAC, Australia’s regulator and specialist financial intelligence unit with responsibility for monitoring AML/CTF, stated that despite these allegations, such a link does not exist…

The Australian Crime Commission “confirmed that no direct link between halal certification in Australia and the funding of terrorism had been found”. Kirralie Smith, Director of Halal Choices Incorporated claimed in a submission that “it is quite clear that the halal certifiers are giving to charities, and AUSTRAC, AIC and ACC have all said repeatedly that those charities are major conduits for funding extremists and terrorism both here and overseas”.

Halal truther Kirralee Smith, from a screencap of an ABC 4 Corners story into Halal certification.
Halal truther Kirralee Smith, from a screencap of an ABC 4 Corners story into Halal certification.

The response: “The committee did not receive any evidence supporting this view.”

Conclusion?

3.46 The committee defers to the view of agencies which are at the forefront of Australia’s counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering endeavours, which have access to classified intelligence and considerable resources, and whose evidence indicates that there is no direct link between halal certification in Australia and terrorism funding.

3.47 The committee has complete confidence that these agencies are vigilant in their efforts to protect our nation and its interests.

The report concludes that halal certification is “arguably under-regulated” and “poorly understood”, leading to a situation which has “amplified” the industry’s shortcomings. Improvements can be made, but this is “vastly different” from abolition. The Committee also noted that “it is cognisant of the pronounced anti-Islamic tenor permeating a regrettably large portion of [submissions to the inquiry]. Many Australians, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, may have been justifiably confronted by the vitriolic nature of some of the published submissions”.

Cory Bernardi, though not a Chair or even a proper member of the inquiry, still added his own “Additional Comments” to the report. They are somewhat vapid, and yet, even Bernardi does not quite corroborate the anti-Halal nuts, hard as he might try.

For example, as noted, the rest of the Committee found that Halal didn’t involve a religious ritual. Bernardi’s response? The “name of Allah is invoked during halal slaughter by the slaughterman when he says “bismillah” (‘in the name of Allah’) as he cuts the animal’s throat. This was confirmed by Mr Wasim Raza, Manager of AFIC. There is clearly a religious connotation to this so to deny any religious element during halal slaughter is not accurate”.

Note how he seamlessly transitions from “religious ritual” to “any religious element”. So, in case anyone needs this explained: when people sneeze, it is common in Australia for people to say “bless you”. There is a religious connotation to this too, and yet, somehow, most of us don’t consider that a religious ritual.

And what about terrorism? He covers it in a very brief three paragraphs (1.90-1.92). Perhaps he was embarrassed by the weakness of his own case, or letting down the racists who hoped they finally had a voice in the Senate.

He begins: “The committee’s report does not go far enough in detailing the evidence presented regarding the potential for halal certification funds to find their way to radicals. My intention is not to doubt the abilities of the relevant authorities in this matter; I merely wish to present some additional points in the context of this discussion.”

Cory Bernardi, speaking at the recent Senate Inquiry into the certification of foods.
Cory Bernardi, speaking at the recent Senate Inquiry into the certification of foods.

So they don’t go far enough, not that they’re wrong, but we should note some more things. What evidence did he have in mind?

He writes that the relevant Australian authorities aren’t perfect and can’t see everything

Officials from the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), while stating that they had no information to indicate halal certification is linked to terrorism, also said that they do not follow certification funds from a certifier to wherever the certifier sends it (for example, to a mosque, school, charity or bookstore). AUSTRAC also has “much more limited visibility of domestic financial activity” and is not able to track money overseas once it moves on from its first overseas recipient.

Then he notes, like the Committee, that the ACC hasn’t found “any direct links” between halal certification and terrorism funding. He replies: “Yet it’s logical to conclude that funding derived from halal certification could be directed to Islamic charities and objectives.” It could also be directed to paying the salaries of anti-Halal nuts. There simply isn’t any evidence of that link either.

Bernardi concludes with his strongest evidence:

AUSTRAC’s 2014 report Terrorism Financing in Australia found that there is a high risk that charities and not-for-profit organisations could be used as channels for terrorism funding; indeed “some Australia-based charities and NPOs have been exploited by terrorist groups”. Mr El-Mouelhy, for example, boasts that he contributes to Human Appeal International (HAI). The overseas branch of HAI has been named as a possible fundraiser for Hamas.

So, Halal certifiers could give money to charities, which could be linked to terrorists. He just doesn’t have any evidence of this – he just has one anecdotal claim of one instance of when he thinks this happened, citing an ABC story. Yet the problem is – Hamas is not a listed terrorist organisation. Its military wing is, but he presents no evidence that Human Appeal International donated to it.

The funny thing is: Bernardi already knows this. As Max Chalmers wrote, he discussed this on Four Corners. Bernardi then, too, gave Hamas as an example of this nefarious halal-terrorism axis.

“Hamas itself is not a proscribed terrorist organisation in this country,” [journalist Geoff]Thompson coolly pointed out.

Bernardi stared back at the camera for a moment.

“Well, there you go,” he eventually responded.

And then, almost three months later, he still put it in the report. He knows it’s bullshit, but he said it anyway. Just to smear Muslims.

There are probably some Australians who fear Halal on the basis of bad information and excessive susceptibility to false claims on social media. Then there are people who peddle hatred and bigotry for cynical ulterior motives.

The fact that we have video footage of him learning that this talking point is bullshit is really all you need to know about Cory Bernardi, and the vicious attacks on Muslims in Australia that will doubtless continue long after this inquiry finished.

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Michael Brull

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelBrullWritings/

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