Monday, May 04, 2009

Counter-terrorism, Mills & Boon-style

For someone styling herself as a counter-terrorism expert, Australian journalist and author Sally Neighbour is oddly casual with her facts:

“[Rabiah] Hutchinson has spoken frankly for the first time about her 20 years on the frontlines of the global jihad movement, in a new book [by Sally Neighbour], The Mother of Mohammed. It began when she joined a student Islamic group [in Indonesia] involved in the resistance against then Indonesian president Suharto in the 1990s . . . In 1990, after divorcing her third husband, Indonesian-born Abdul Rahim Ayub, Ms Hutchinson travelled to northwest Pakistan with her six children to ‘join the jihad’”.

So joining the jihad in northwest Pakistan-Afghanistan wasn’t even a curtain-raiser to Rabiah Hutchinson’s later radical “beginning” in an Indonesian student group who – shock horror – were agitating against their corrupt (Muslim) dictator/president of the time? This curiosity is explained in the Australian magazine* of the same day –Hutchinson’s Indonesian student group days were circa 1984-85, not the 1990s.

In the same Australian magazine article, also by Sally Neighbour, the facts get stranger still when Osama bin Laden enters Hutchinson’s life. Earlier in her article, Neighbour sets the scene for Hutchinson’s spartan life in the Pakistan desert town of Pabbi for three years from 1990:

“The electric blankets [Hutchinson] had brought after being warned of the sever winter cold were never unpacked. Pabbi had no electricity, just a communal generator that provided electricity for about two hours in the morning and two hours at night”.

Pabbi’s material primitiveness doesn’t prevent Neighbour from being able recount, third-hand, a conversation between bin Laden and Adbul Sayyaf (a senior al-Qaida figure) in Pabbi sometime during those three years:

“‘[Hutchinson] came with her children, she works in the hospital, she doesn’t have anything, they don’t even have air-conditioning.

‘Well they do now’, bin Laden replied. A few days later, his emissary delivered a new air-conditioner to her home”.

It is surely remiss of Neighbour to not make more of bin Laden’s loaves-and-fishes scale miracle. Never mind that a rich man had freely donated a single new (!) electrical appliance (or a year’s worth of free bread (baked, not conjured) to the town as a whole), bin Laden has evidently solved a problem that bedevils many first-world power grids: providing enough electricity for energy-guzzling air-conditioners on hot days. And it’s not that Hutchinson’s air-conditioner would have been the only summer peak electricity-hog in the village – Sayyaf’s “even” implies that Hutchinson was one of a air-conditioner have-not minority at this time. More astonishingly still, bin Laden’s generating magic-pudding act has all been done using either using the previously-mentioned single generator (!), or by building a conventional power station in an impoverished town in an impoverished country, in record time. Praise be to Allah, indeed.

The improbable air-conditioner story is, however, Neighbour’s own highlight of Hutchinson’s interactions with bin Laden, unless you count a possible marriage proposal for Hutchinson to become bin Laden’s nth wife, which proposal lapsed anyway after bin Laden fled to Sudan. This is hardly probing investigative journalism. Sally Neighbour evidently has an excellent bedside manner in these matters, when she wants to – witness Jack Thomas’ “4 Corners” admission that was the subject of subsequent court proceedings. Why she covers Rabiah Hutchinson’s objectively similar, quite possibly traitorous journeyings as though they were a romp in a harem – an air-conditioned one, mind (but only after sufficient begging to the master) – is a mystery, of the strong and silent type.

* Sally Neighbour, "Journey to the Jihad", Australian magazine 2 May 2009 (no URL).

You have hit on the secret of Sally Neighbour's journalism - lack of depth and lots of imagination to get over the absence of facts - and she never lets facts get in the way of a good story! Neighbour is a disgrace to the profession - 'Shallow Sal' seems so appropriate somehow.

The one thing that so many of us now know - if Neighbour says it - it is most probably not so.
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