British writer claims Australian 'Islamophobia' behind visa delay
The Associated Press
Published: September 14, 2007
CANBERRA, Australia: High-profile British journalist Abdel Bari Atwan blamed “Islamophobia” Friday for a delay in getting an Australian visa to attend a writers' festival.
The Palestinian-born editor-in-chief of the London-based Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al Arabi said the Australian Embassy in London had notified him Thursday his visa had been approved a day after he told the media he suspected he was banned because of racial and religious prejudice.
“There was a problem, but maybe … the publicity which surrounded the whole thing actually made them change their minds,” Atwan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio in London.
“It is part of Islamophobia,” he said. “It seems if your name is not … Smith or Peter or something, you are a suspect.”
Atwan said his visa application took six weeks to approve, while most British passport holders get Australian visas within a few days.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews' spokeswoman Kate Walshe said the application was four-weeks old, and there is no standard time for security checks to be completed.
“It is false to suggest it's anything to do with the media campaign or conspiracy theories,” she said.
“We had to seek some additional information,” she said, without elaborating.
But Sen. Kerry Nettle, of the minor opposition Greens party, suspected the government wanted to prevent Atwan from speaking out against the Iraq war in Australia, where elections are due by December.
“Department of Immigration figures reveal that many permanent visas to Australia are resolved in as little as two weeks, so it's difficult to see why Dr. Atwan's short-stay visa is taking four weeks and counting,” Nettle said before news of the visa decision.
Australia's center-right government sent 2,000 troops to support U.S. and British forces in the 2003 Iraq invasion. The opposition Labor Party has pledged to withdraw combat troops if it wins the elections.
Atwan, author of book “The Secret History of al-Qaida,” and one of the last Western journalists to interview al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, was flying to Australia to attend a writers' festival in the east coast city of Brisbane.
Brisbane Writers' Festival director Michael Campbell said Atwan will fly to Brisbane Saturday.
Campbell said he had been about cancel Atwan's weekend addresses when the visa was granted.