Wednesday, November 24, 2010

COMMENT: Why some young people get pushed toward extremists

My views have changed a fair bit on this subject. What follows is what I thought on Thursday 10 November 2005 whrn this piece was first published.

Dr Ameer Ali, President of the migrant-dominated Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, is worried about the spectre of rednecks hating Muslims.

He should be more worried about young Muslims who may be tempted to blow themselves up and take a whole heap of innocent people with them.

Rednecks are a problem. They do bin Ladin’s work by making ordinary law-abiding mainstream Aussie Mossies feel isolated and marginalised. Bin Ladin wants Muslims to feel isolated in the hope they will join his mad pseudo-jihad.

But why should young well-adjusted educated Australian-born youth be attracted to the message of hate? Is it a few government foreign policy blunders or paranoid tabloid columnists that push young people toward extremism?

The fact is that the leaders complaining about the backlash are themselves largely responsible for the radicalisation of some young Muslims. These leaders have a lot to answer for.

On 2 March 2000, the Supreme Court of NSW delivered its judgment in a marathon case between two peak Muslim bodies. The Islamic Council of NSW took on Dr Ameer Ali’s body, spending thousands of dollars arguing over a range of matters.

Who knows how many thousands of dollars were spent in legal fees. Both sides hired big-city law firms, and both had senior barristers appearing for them at the hearing.

These two bodies consist of member societies which are dominated by first generation migrants. Virtually all mosques have imams trained overseas with poor command of English. Most imams have very little understanding of the problems faced by young people growing up suspended between parental cultural pressures and mainstream Australian life. These imams practise a cultural form of Islam with little relevance to Australian conditions.

The imams are employed often on short-term contracts and are poorly paid. They must support the existing executive committees managing the mosque. The imams deliver their sermons in Arabic and the language most commonly spoken by the ethnic committee members managing the mosque.

Many mosques bar or discourage women from attending. Young people are often discouraged from participating in the executive committee.

These societies join together to form State councils which come together to form the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). But in recent times, AFIC has spent much of its time and resources trying to remove councils it doesn’t like.

In New State Wales, AFIC had formed 2 Islamic councils in a space of 5 years. It created the Supreme Islamic Council (often jokingly referred to as “the Supreme Pizza Council”) to replace the original Islamic Council. It then kicked out the Supreme Pizza Council and replaced it with the Muslim Council of NSW (often jokingly referred to as the “Super-Supreme Council”).

A bit like John Howard having a fight with Morris Iemma and then kicking out New South Wales from the Commonwealth to be replaced by New Zealand.

While all these silly political games are being played, young Muslims are searching for answers and meaning to their lives. Most mainstream imams cannot help them, and many are forced to learn themselves by reading books. And so many books freely distributed in Australia by peak bodies and others teach an isolationist theology that encourages Muslim youth to emphasise their differences from their fellow Australians.

And because the imams cannot speak English and the mosques are dominated by migrants disinterested in the problems of young people, many youth are attracted to those whom Sydney Radio personality Mike Carlton describes as the “thick-Sheiks”.

Whatever we think of these thick-Sheiks, one thing most have is the ability to speak English. Also, the thick-Sheiks have established centres where activities and support services for young people and Muslim converts are provided.

The thick-Sheiks make use of modern technology and means of communication to get their message across. Because they actually listen to young people, the thick-Sheiks are able to provide services young people want – sporting and fitness activities, multimedia products, internet access and other facilities you would find in any local youth centre.

But most important, the thick-Sheiks are able to communicate their fringe ideas in a language young people can understand. And because the thick-Sheiks have a simplistic and volatile theology, their charisma often wins over young people with little exposure to mainstream Islamic ideas.

You rarely see thick-Sheiks preaching in mainstream mosques. They know that Muslim migrants brought up on mainstream Islam can recognise a fringe sect when they see one. In fact, many thick-Sheiks have been banned from local mosques.

The migrant parents may recognise the thick-Sheiks as representing a fringe cult. But what would young people know? They can’t understand the sermon down at the local mosque. And the elders at the mosque arrange things in a manner local kids simply cannot relate to.

So you have young people reading isolationist literature distributed free by peak bodies. They are often made to feel unwelcome at the mosque, and the imam can’t help them with the normal problems most young Aussie face. Yet a few suburbs away is a centre where the imam speaks English and where you can play some sport and meet other young people in the same predicament.

And so you have very Australian kids being pushed by migrant Muslim leaders into the waiting arms of fringe extremists. Yet some peak bodies continue to complain about being marginalised by rednecks. But so many peak body leaders have been part of community structures that isolate and alienate Aussie Muslims, both the young and converts.

Methinks the only rednecks out there (apart from some Liberal backbenchers) are those migrant leaders who divide their faith-community along ethnic lines and push young Aussie Muslims toward fringe groups.

Words © 2005-10 Irfan Yusuf

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