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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COMMENT: Scattered facts on Muslim Australia

From the Aussie Mossie blog published 23 May 2006 ...

When talking about Aussie Muslims, it’s important that commentators have accurate information based on proper research. Sadly, Muslim institutions claiming to represent Muslim communities haven’t seen the task if researching Muslims as being a priority.

Hence, the task has been left to governments and individual researchers. One such research effort was carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne and led by Professor Abdullah Saeed.

The results of this research were published in a 2004 study entitled Muslim Australians: Their Beliefs, Practices & Institutions. The study was based largely on the 2001 Census.

It would, in my opinion, be the height of ignorance for anyone to write or comment on Muslim issues without having read this study. So many myths are shattered just on pages 5 and 6.

For instance, many people presume that Lakemba has the highest concentration of Muslims of any suburb in Australia. In fact, the highest concentration is found in Dallas, Melbourne (39%). In terms of Sydney, Auburn has a higher Muslim concentration than Lakemba or Bankstown.

Often Muslim loyalties to Australia are questioned. Yet an overwhelming majority of Muslim migrants (221,856 out of a total of 281,578, some 79%) have obtained Australian citizenship.

The terms “Muslim” and “Lebanese” are often used interchangeably. It is assumed that most Lebanese are Muslims and vice versa. Yet the most frequently cited country of birth for Australian Muslims is Australia (some 103,000). This is over three times the number of people born in Lebanon (29,321).

It is also assumed that most Muslims speak only Arabic. Yet the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proficient in English, both written and spoken.

Muslims are often accused of being hostile to mainstream Judeo-Christian Australian values. Yet Muslim rates of marriage are far higher than the national average. 51% of Aussie Muslim males are married by the age of 34. Some 41% of Muslim females are married by the age of 24. De facto relationships are uncommon.

The historical presence of Muslims in Australia is also not well-known. On page 7 of the Saeed study, mention is made of Saib Sultan, a settler who arrived in Australia in the early 19th century. After arriving at Norfolk Island, he later settled in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) in 1809 where he worked on 30 acres of land with his wife and family.

Muslims arrived in Australia as both convicts and settlers. Later, during the 1870’s Malay Muslim divers were recruited to work on Western Australian and Northern Territory pearling grounds. By 1875, some 1,800 Malay divers were working in Western Australia.

Australian troops are part of a Coalition force seeking to restore order in Afghanistan. Yet little of the Afghan contribution to Australia is taught in schools. Those complaining about the over-emphasis on Aboriginal culture and history are themselves almost always guilty of neglecting non-European contributions to Australia.

The Afghan (and in many cases, Baluchi and Pathan from what is now Pakistan) cameleers were recruited to assist in early European exploration of the inland Australia. During the late 19th century, they controlled the camel transport industry and played a vital role in the economic development of early Australia.

Afghans were largely responsible for the transport of goods through inland Australia, for laying telegraph and railway lines and for establishing many outback settlements. Cameleers transported goods and supplies to gold miners and to outback settlements.

The contributions of Muslim Australians to our economy and well-being are also not mentioned enough. Often this is caused by a reluctance of Muslims in senior positions to identify themselves by their faith. There is a perception that being open about one’s Islamic faith can be a career and social liability. Negative remarks made by a tiny minority of political and church leaders don’t help in this regard.

Words © 2006-10 Irfan Yusuf

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