Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Goulburn Jail cancels Muslim prayer meetings as prisoners go berserk

PRISON officers in riot gear have used tear gas to control maximum security inmates who tore apart Goulburn Jail in a racially fuelled riot ­described as the biggest in 10 years.

With shouts of “Allah Akbar”, prisoners armed with homemade weapons threatened guards and smashed through an internal fence at the state’s toughest jail, which was in lockdown yesterday.

The riot came as prison authorities cracked down on Muslim prayer meetings in the state’s jails, believed to be a key way Islamic extremists foment their hatred and plot their attacks. Police were called in and investigations are ongoing.

Tensions have been running high in the prison system as federal and NSW police step up their surveillance of suspected terrorists and any of their associates inside and outside prisons after the country’s terror alert was raised to high.

A source has revealed how the violence began in the maximum wing of the Goulburn facility about 3pm on Saturday when a number of ringleaders refused to line up for afternoon muster.

The source said the unrest had begun as a result of some privileges being requested — and denied — for a handful of inmates, but the situation quickly turned into a full-scale riot along religious lines.

“They’d been knocked back something ...,” the source said. “The issue wasn’t a Muslim-related issue, but it was the Muslim guys who got into it, yelling out to Allah.  “They were refusing to go into their cells. They refused to line up, then it went from there and exploded.”

The prison officers had “geared-up” as soon as they sensed trouble.

The riot did not involve convicted terrorists held in Goulburn’s Supermax, who remain under constant surveillance.

Those inmates include ­Mohamed Ali Elomar who is serving a 21-year sentence for his leadership in the 2005 ­Pendennis terror plot.

He is the uncle of former boxer Mohamed Elomar, one of the Australian jihadis currently fighting with the Islamic State in Syria. Mohamed Elomar is with Khaled Sharrouf, who had been jailed along with Ali Elomar over the 2005 plot and fled overseas last year when he was released from jail.

Following Saturday’s riots, seven ringleaders were segregated and four were seen by medical staff for minor injuries. Corrective Services NSW confirmed it had used chemicals on Saturday against inmates who caused damage but denied reports that it was religiously motivated.

“Inmate unrest began about 3pm yesterday after staff informed inmates in that yard that a good behaviour privilege was being withdrawn, due to earlier verbal abuse of correctional staff,” a spokesman said.

NSW Premier Mike Baird said: “I have every confidence in Corrective Services in keeping our community safe


Australian Megachurch With a Beat Lures a Young Flock Worldwide

LOS ANGELES — A toned and sunburned 32-year-old Australian with the letters F-A-I-T-H tattooed onto his biceps strode onto the stage of a former burlesque theater here and shouted across a sea of upstretched hands and uplifted smartphones: “Let’s win this city together!”

The crowd did not need much urging. Young, diverse and devoted to Jesus, the listeners had come to the Belasco Theater from around the city, and from across the country, eager to help an Australian Pentecostal megachurch that is spreading worldwide establish its first outpost on America’s West Coast.

The church, Hillsong, has become a phenomenon, capitalizing on, and in some cases shaping, trends not only in evangelicalism but also in Christian youth culture. Its success would be rare enough at a time when religion is struggling in a secularizing Europe and North America. But Hillsong is even more remarkable because its target is young Christians in big cities, where faith seems out of fashion but where its services are packing them in.

Powered by a thriving, and lucrative, recording label that dominates Christian contemporary music, it has a vast reach — by some estimates, 100,000 people in the pews each weekend, 10 million followers on social media, 16 million albums sold, with its songs popping up in churches from Uzbekistan to Papua New Guinea.

Founded 30 years ago, Hillsong has churches in Amsterdam; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin; Cape Town; Copenhagen; Kiev, Ukraine; London; New York; Paris; and Stockholm, as well as multiple campuses in Australia and, now, an embryonic congregation in Los Angeles.

The Hillsong empire might appear to be a musical powerhouse first and a church second. It is, after all, a multimillion-dollar enterprise, drawing large crowds to arena concert performances; one of its bands, Hillsong United, is even the subject of a documentary scheduled for release by Warner Bros. next year.

Its songs, with a folk rock sound and simple, accessible lyrics, pervade the Christian charts and have transformed the Christian songbook.

“They are without a doubt the most influential producers of worship music in Christendom,” said Fred Markert, a Colorado-based leader of Youth With a Mission, a Christian organization. And Ed Stetzer, the executive director of LifeWay Research, an organization based in Nashville that studies practices in American Christianity, declared in an analysis of Hillsong, “In sensory stimulation, Hillsong’s productions rival any other contemporary form of entertainment.”

But its critics, and there are many, deride Hillsong as hipster Christianity, suggesting that its theology is thin, its enthusiasm for celebrities (Justin Bieber is among its fans) unbecoming, its politics (opposition to abortion and a murky position on homosexuality) opaque.

“It’s a prosperity movement for the millennials, in which the polyester and middle-class associations of Oral Roberts have given way to ripped jeans and sophisticated rock music,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “What has made Hillsong distinctive is a minimization of the actual content of the Gospel, and a far more diffuse presentation of spirituality.”

 For young Christians in cities where Hillsong has churches, it has become a magnet, combining the production values of a rock concert, the energy of a nightclub and the community of a megachurch. Many of the worshipers say they are drawn by the music but have stayed because of the opportunity to be with other young Christians, and because they believe that the churches can help transform cities, both through prayer and through direct social services.

“I want to be part of something bigger than myself,” said Tricia Hidalgo, 29, who said that she first heard Hillsong music played in her childhood church in Ontario, Calif., and that as a young adult she gave up studying to be a teacher to move to Australia to attend Hillsong’s Bible college. Now, she is volunteering for the church in Los Angeles.

“We’re going to love the city, love the people, and, to me, I feel like love can break any walls,” she said.

Amanda-Paige Whittington, 32, recalled hearing Hillsong’s first huge hit, “Shout to the Lord,” as a girl in a Southern Baptist church in Mississippi.

“I told my mom, ‘One day I’m going to Hillsong,’ ” said Ms. Whittington, who also attended Hillsong’s Bible college in Sydney and now lives in Orange County. “The music drew me to the church.”

Hillsong Los Angeles, as well as Hillsong New York, which opened four years ago, is an example of a growing phenomenon in global Christianity: big church brands taking on big secular cities. This year, Saddleback Church, the Orange County megachurch led by Rick Warren, opened its own campus in Los Angeles, while several years ago, Willow Creek, the megachurch based in South Barrington, Ill., opened a campus in Chicago.

“There’s no question there’s a real current of evangelical enamorment with cities,” Mr. Stetzer said. “Evangelicals have been a rural people historically, and the cities were the places where sin was. But cities are also where the people are.”

Hillsong chooses cities not only because of population density, but also because of their impact on culture.

“These are tough, hard, dry towns for contemporary churches,” said Brian Houston, the Sydney-based senior pastor of the Hillsong empire. “We want to be strategic, and really impact cities of influence, so that the influence can reach far beyond.”

Hillsong has critics who monitor speakers at its conferences, and utterances by its leaders, for deviations from Christian orthodoxy (of concern to the right) or evidence of social conservatism (of concern to the left). Its finances have been scrutinized by the Australian news media; its preaching is tracked by a critical blog. This year, Mr. Houston issued a clarification after being criticized by other evangelicals for suggesting that Christians and Muslims serve the same God.

Hillsong, founded by Brian Houston and his wife, Bobbie, has been anti-abortion and has described gay sex as sinful. But recently, church leaders have moderated their tone; the pastor of Hillsong New York, Carl Lentz, passed up two opportunities this year to express a view on same-sex marriage, in interviews with Katie

In the United States, Hillsong is nondenominational; in Australia, it is associated with the Australian Christian Churches, which is an affiliate of the Assemblies of God. For a time, Mr. Houston was the head of the denomination, and in 2000, he fired his father, Frank Houston, who was serving at another church, after the elder Mr. Houston acknowledged having abused a boy decades earlier.

One of Brian Houston’s sons, Joel, is Hillsong’s creative director, performs with Hillsong United and serves as a pastor at Hillsong New York. Another son, Ben, is the pastor of Hillsong Los Angeles. Ben has the “Faith” tattoo on one arm, as well as tattoos of the characters +=♥ (Jesus Is Love) and the names of his three daughters, surrounded by images of flowers and butterflies, as well as that of a lion, “to remind me I’m a man.”

Hillsong’s worship style is charismatic, meaning there is an emphasis on the Holy Spirit and on divine healing, but there is little speaking in tongues, which is seen at more conventional Pentecostal churches.

The Houstons like to say that worship should be enjoyed, not endured. Services are often held in dimly lit concert venues: In New York, the church started at Irving Plaza and then relocated to the Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center; in Los Angeles, a debut was held at 1 Oak, a West Hollywood club. There are lines to get in, and fewer seats than worshipers. Some worshipers share images and thoughts on social media during services.

The sound has evolved over the decades, but is now sometimes compared to U2’s. Tom Wagner, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Edinburgh, said Hillsong’s music was characterized by rich orchestration, but simple harmonies, and was often regarded by listeners as “spiritually anointed.”

“They’re very good at writing songs that are catchy,” Mr. Wagner said. “They know what works.”


Hard conversation about Aboriginal culture and child protection needed

Conservative social commentators have indulged in 'divisive grandstanding' by linking Aboriginal culture to the abuse and neglect of Aboriginal children, according to Ngiare Brown, the deputy chairman of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council.

These claims suppress the hard conversation we need to have about Aboriginal culture and child protection.

We cannot afford to ignore the question of 'culture' when discussing child maltreatment in disadvantaged Aboriginal communities, because 'culture' has long been pivotal to what is and isn't done to protect Aboriginal children.

Since at least the publication in 1997 of the Bringing them home report ('Stolen Generations' report), the standard literature on Aboriginal child protection has used the defence of traditional culture to downplay the impact of customary Aboriginal parenting practices on child wellbeing.

Bringing them home blamed the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system on the 'cultural bias' of caseworkers who failed to understand and respect Aboriginal family values. Because these values differed from the Western view of the 'normal' nuclear family, Aboriginal customs - such as lack of parental supervision, encouraging children to be self-reliant, and the involvement of extended kin networks in rearing children - were incorrectly labelled by caseworkers as neglectful.

This analysis of the Aboriginal 'village' stepping in for parents and caring for children remains influential. The 2007 Wood report into child protection in NSW stressed how difficult it is for caseworkers 'raised in Anglo-Celtic society' and valuing 'the nuclear family above other conceptualizations of the "family", to have any insight into ...the safety of an Aboriginal child.' Similarly, the 2013 Cummins report into child protection in Victoria also stressed the need for 'culturally competent' assessments of the needs of Aboriginal children and families.

The problems with a 'culturally appropriate' approach to Aboriginal child protection are twofold.

The first problem is that the sort of culturally determined parenting practices described above, which may have been suitable in the social conditions of the past, are no longer functioning well in the present. This has created a genuine child protection problem; it has been well-documented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies that the most common form of maltreatment experienced by Aboriginal children is chronic parental neglect of basic needs including 'adequate food, shelter, clothing, supervision, hygiene or medical attention.'
The anthropologist Peter Sutton (who is no conservative) has argued that culturally embedded Aboriginal parenting practices, which he describes as a 'customary permissiveness in the raising of children', play an important role in accounting for neglect of children's most fundamental needs.

The second problem is under-responding to the protective needs of Aboriginal children out of fear of being judgemental or 'culturally inappropriate'. The assertion that concerns about Aboriginal families are motivated by cultural insensitivity, at best, and racism, at worst, creates a powerful justification for non-intervention by child protection authorities. It promotes double standards and reverse racism in the name of 'respecting culture' that lead to Aboriginal children being left in circumstances from which non-Aboriginal children would be removed.

It may not be politically correct to discuss how culture - the habits accumulated overtime and passed down through the generations - might be maladapted and have negative welfare effects. But nor is it 'racist' to do so.

'Culture', whether it is Aboriginal or otherwise, cannot be used as an excuse if child protection policy is to advance the best interests of Aboriginal children.


Snowden reveals tapping of major Australia-New Zealand undersea telecommunications cable

A major undersea telecommunications cable that connects Australia and New Zealand to North America has been tapped to allow the United States National Security Agency and its espionage partners to comprehensively harvest Australian and New Zealand internet data.

Documents published by The Intercept website by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden show that New Zealand's electronic spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), worked in 2012 and 2013 to implement a mass metadata surveillance system based on covert access to the Southern Cross undersea cable network.

Founded in 1997, Southern Cross owns and operates a Trans-Pacific submarine cable network connecting Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii to the internet backbone on the west coast of the United States. The network was developed to service the rapid growth of Internet traffic across the Pacific. It is owned by Telecom New Zealand with a 50 per cent share, SingTel Optus (Australia's second-largest telecommunications provider) with 40 per cent and Verizon Business with 10 per cent.

Top secret documents provided by Mr Snowden show that the GCSB, with ongoing cooperation from the US National Security Agency, implemented Phase I of a mass surveillance program code-named "Speargun" at some time in 2012 or early 2013. 

"Speargun" involved the covert installation of "cable access" equipment connected to New Zealand's main undersea cable link, the Southern Cross Cable, which carries internet traffic between Australia, New Zealand and North America.

Upon completion of the first stage, Speargun moved to Phase II, under which "metadata probes" were to be inserted into those cables. The leaked NSA documents note that the first such metadata probe was scheduled for installation in "mid-2013". Surveillance probes of this sort are used by NSA and its "5-eyes" partners including the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to tap into high capacity fibre-optic communication cables, enabling them to extract vast flows of data including the dates, times, senders, and recipients of emails, phone calls, as well as the actual content of communications as required.

The latest disclosures from top secret documents leaked by Mr Snowden come in the context of the final stages of New Zealand's election campaign where New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has been under pressure to explain the extent of GCSB's surveillance activities. On Sunday Mr Key stridently attacked US journalist Glen Greenwald, who is the author of numerous articles based on Mr Snowden's materials including Monday's report published on The Intercept website.

Mr Snowden, in a post for The Intercept, also published on Monday, accused Prime Minster Key of misleading the New Zealand public about GCSB's role in mass surveillance. "The Prime Minister's claim to the public, that 'there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance', is false," the former NSA analyst wrote. "The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargetted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks."

Mr Snowden explained that "at the NSA, I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders in my work with a mass surveillance tool we share with GCSB, called 'X-Keyscore'". He further observed that "the GCSB provides mass surveillance data into X-KEYSCORE. They also provide access to the communications of millions of New Zealanders to the NSA at facilities such as the GCSB facility in Waihopai, and the Prime Minister is personally aware of this fact."

Mr Key responded quickly to the latest disclosures, claiming that "there is not, and never has been, mass surveillance of New Zealanders undertaken by the GCSB".

The New Zealand Prime Minister said he would not discuss the X-Keyscore program, saying "we don't discuss the specific programmes the GCSB may, or may not use".

"But the GCSB does not collect mass metadata on New Zealanders, therefore it is clearly not contributing such data to anything or anyone," Mr Key said.

Fairfax Media has previously reported on the Australian Signals Directorate's involvement in the X-Keyscore program and the ASD's cooperation with Singapore's Ministry of Defence to tap submarine cables in South East Asia.

The Australian Signals Directorate has also acquired sophisticated technology designed to tap high-speed fibre optic data cables including those that connect Australia with Asia and North America.  The huge volume of intelligence now collected by the ASD data has required the construction of a new $163.5 million data storage facility at the HMAS Harman naval communications facility near Canberra.

The latest revelations from Mr Snowden's trove of leaked intelligence documents are likely to fuel debate in Australia about the Commonwealth Government's controversial proposals for compulsory retention of metadata by telecommunications and internet service providers for access without warrant by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and law enforcement agencies. Attorney-General George Brandis yesterday confirmed the Australian Government's determination to introduce legislation to mandate the compulsory data retention "later in the year".


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