Australia is curtailing civil liberties in response to the Islamic State

Global Post: MELBOURNE, Australia — Shamaila Saeed sat in a circle with a dozen women and teenage girls, discussing passages from the Quran. It was a typical afternoon in the women’s section of the IEWAD mosque and community center in Narre Warren, a southeastern suburb of Melbourne.

The tranquil setting seemed a world apart from the police station parking lot in nearby Endeavor Hills, where five days earlier Abdul Numan Haider, an 18-year-old Muslim from Narre Warren, had stabbed two counter-terrorism officers with a knife before they shot and killed him.

The attack was the latest in a series of events that has left many Australians in fear of Islamic State-sanctioned violence within their own communities. Earlier in September, the government said massive police raids in Sydney and Brisbane thwarted IS-backed plans of a public beheading.

“Regrettably for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott cautioned parliament after the police raids.

A battle is now being waged between the Australian government’s desire to ramp up national security measures and a counter effort to safeguard civil liberties. While government officials say the new legislation is necessary to protect citizens, critics accuse parliament of playing into public fears in order to scoop up broader powers it never intends to relinquish.

“This not only unfairly targets the Muslim community, it also reverses the onus of proof in a society where, like the United States, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” said Hugh de Kretser, executive director of the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre.

The United States government has received criticism amid revelations of widespread surveillance of citizens under the post-9/11 Patriot Act and PRISM program in the United States. But it appears unlikely that Australia will deviate from the path forged by its North American ally: Parliament already passed the first of three proposed reforms with nearly unanimous support, and Abbott gives no indication of seeking middle ground.

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