This was first published on the Aussie Mossie blog on 29 November 2005. It concerned a youthh summit organised by the former conservative government of John Howard as part of its response to the fear of home-grown terrorism following the July 2005 London bombings.
Flippant Thoughts on this Friday's Youth Summit
This Friday, young Muslims from across Australia will be gathering in Sydney for the inaugural National Muslim Youth Summit. They will discuss a range of issues affecting young Aussie Muslims. These issues include drug & alcohol addiction, family crises, the Anti-Terrorism Bill and Muslim coverage in the media.
You’d think such a summit would be organised by a peak Muslim body such as the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. Think again. This talkfest is being financed by the Department of Immigration Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). It is being organised by a non-Muslim NGO called the Australian Multicultural Foundation.
Around two-thirds of Australian Muslims are aged under 40 and were born in Australia. Many Muslim communities – Turks, Bosnians, Albanians, Afghans and Lebanese – are into their 3rd and 4th generation. They have high levels of education and employment and integrate well in mainstream Australian society.
Yet the very fact that AFIC and other Muslim bodies have never organised a Muslim youth summit is indicative of how out-of-touch these migrant-dominated peak bodies are. It also explains why they find it so hard to send the right signals to the broader community understandably seeking some kind of reassurance that the London bombings will not be replicated in Australia.
When asked if any single event changed his perceptions toward national security, Prime Minister John Howard spoke of the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005. What made the London attacks so different was that the alleged perpetrators were not foreign terrorists but local boys. The phrase “home grown terror” became part of our vocabulary.
And it wasn’t just in Australia that the shockwaves were felt. Across the Tasman, at least 4 mosques were vandalised in different parts of New Zealand.
Within hours, a small group of grassroots Muslim organisations led by the Islamic Council of Victoria condemned the attacks unconditionally. These organisations had one thing in common – they were managed by Australian-born Muslims who knew how to engage with the Australian mainstream and could address the legitimate concerns Australians of all faiths and no faith in particular held on national security issues.
However, other Muslim peak bodies were much slower in their condemnation. It took the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils around 3 weeks to issue an open letter signed by its president and its mufti (chief imam) to various Muslim groups and associations. The letter made mention not just of the terror attacks but also of the alleged grievances of those carrying out many attacks. A similar letter and with similar timing was issued by the Islamic Council of NSW.
The conditional nature of the condemnations and their delayed release led to suggestions that Australian Muslims would only condemn terrorism when embarrassed into doing so, and only on a conditional basis. The suggestions were, of course, unfair but understandable. What Muslim bodies did not realise was that their management of Muslim affairs was now regarded as a national security issue.
The most recent raids and arrests conducted by ASIO and police raised even more questions about Muslim community management. The majority of those arrested were young men born and brought up in Australia. A number of these men were known to attend youth groups managed by imams and volunteers deemed to be more “radical”.
This naturally led many commentators to ask certain questions. What attracts many local Muslim youth to attend such classes and become part of such groups? Why aren’t mainstream mosques attracting more young people? What facilities and programs are being run by mainstream imams? Are mainstream imams equipped to provide programs to younger home-grown Muslims?
One troubling aspect of Muslim community leadership is that it has not yet figured out exactly who or what it represents. Both AFIC and its New Zealand equivalent (the Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ or FIANZ) are umbrella bodies representing mainly societies responsible for the management of mosques.
At least in Australia, the majority of mosques are divided along ethnic and linguistic lines, and leadership is dominated firmly by first generation middle-aged migrant men with an interest in maintaining the ethnic divisions. The leadership tends to regard mosques and religious activities as cultural artefacts which run parallel to their cultural perception of Islam.
The mosque associations tend to employ imams who fulfil a cultural role. As such, the imams of different mosques will perform different cultural roles depending on the dominant cultural group of the association. Most Friday sermons and other lectures are given in Arabic and another language (usually not English).
Indeed, most sermons being given this Friday will also tend to be in a language most young Muslims will not understand. The inability of mainstream Muslim institutions will be just one of the topics to be addressed this Friday at the National Muslim Youth Summit in Sydney.
Delegates will be divided into 6 subgroups and will brainstorm a number of the issues selected. The summit is perhaps the first time young people across the ethnic and linguistic spectrum of Muslim Australia will be able to discuss and pass on their concerns to the Australian Government.
One would have expected the topics discussed at the summit would form part and parcel of the deliberations and decision making of these bodies. The inability of peak Muslim bodies to involve and engage the youthful Muslim majority will ensure these institutions will become irrelevant in the Australian Muslim landscape. The fact that a government agency and a non-Muslim NGO are taking this initiative is yet another indication of how hopelessly out-of-touch the migrant and middle aged male dominated Muslim leadership is with the community it claims to represent.
Words © 2005-11 Irfan Yusuf
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