Benbrika a ‘resource’, not a leader: defence lawyer

Jurors warned on portrayal of Muslims
ABDUL Nacer Benbrika was in charge of a group of alleged terrorists “pretty much in the way Peter Costello was in charge of the Liberal Party”, the Supreme Court has been told.
“He is a voice among many, and that’s all he ever is,” Benbrika’s lawyer Remy Van de Wiel, QC, said yesterday. “He is no leader. He is no more and no less than the man who is a resource person in terms of the religious basis of the frustration that the others feel.”
Benbrika is the alleged leader of 11 Muslim men charged with belonging to an organisation fostering or preparing terrorism in pursuit of violent jihad.
Several of the men face other terror-related offences. All have pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Mr Van de Wiel told jurors to take care interpreting comments in covert recordings of the alleged terrorists. He said the defendants were all men: “What do males do when they get together? . . . It’s the great Australian thing that they all do . . . They bullshit to each other. That’s what they do. Bravado, bluster, nonsense.
“They all want to be heroes and they all say things that none of them mean, to make themselves heroes in their own lunchtime.”
He said Australia had already seen the way “things can be blown up ridiculously” in terms of the “excesses of authorities in terms of Dr (Mohamed) Haneef”.
Mr Van de Wiel told the jury that Western culture’s portrayal of Arabs was often negative, and asked how many movies had an Arab hero. “Almost invariably, Arabs and Muslims are portrayed as what we might say in the cowboy movies as the black hats.” He said very little in Western news reports came from Muslim or Arab sources.
Mr Van de Wiel asked the jury to think about the reactions to world events of “people who live in a Muslim ghetto in Melbourne” and who regard other Muslims as their people.
He asked why Australia had sold wheat to Iraq while embargoing medicines needed by sick children, and why Australia had sent troops to Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction “which we all know never existed”.
He said it would be “very, very silly” to say that Osama bin Laden had orchestrated the September 11 attacks in the United States, as bin Laden had never claimed responsibility for them.
“American suffered an enormous blow to its pride. There it was, the world’s policeman . . . It was a shocking thing to do, to kill thousands of innocent people . . . It was a terrible thing to do, evil . . . But don’t forget America has done many evil things too.”
He said it was important to understand such perspectives to appreciate the way Benbrika analysed world events for the purposes of his comments.
Mr Van de Wiel told jurors the Bible on which they had sworn their oaths talked about “fanatical slaughter of whole cities, including innocents; a punitive,vengeful and war-mongering God; favouring of a chosen people to the detriment and sometimes the exclusion of all others; and even . . . books that deal with the killing of people who commit adultery”.
“It demands that women cover their heads and remain silent in certain situations. It objects to heathen judges judging disputes between Christians. It talks of terrible plagues which should be inflicted on unbelievers,” he said. “Not very different, you might think, not very different at all from what it is that these men are looking at in terms of their own literature.”
Earlier in yesterday’s hearing, prosecutor Richard Maidment, SC, told the court that defendant Amer Haddara had told Benbrika that he would rather martyr himself than get married and have children.
Benbrika had told Haddara there was no escape from marriage, and Haddara replied that “I can escape it because I want to escape this world”, Mr Maidment said.
The trial continues before Justice Bongiorno.

First published in The Age.