Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Muslims in Australia not so extreme

OVER the past six years Australians have watched some of theworld's most terrifying events unfold, from our doorstep inJakarta and Bali, through the Middle East, in Madrid,Istanbul, London and now Glasgow.This global trend has forced many Western nations such asAustralia to rethink security strategies and laws. Connected to this, much mention was recently made of ayet-to-be-released report which suggests that up to 3000young Muslims in Australia are lying dormant, waiting to beradicalised.Do we really believe that 3000 people are in sleeper cellsawaiting the green light from Osama bin Laden?I have lived and worked with the Muslim community in Sydneyall my life and in more recent times I have met many Muslimsfrom Melbourne, Perth, Darwin, Canberra and other capitalcities.I have worked as a high school teacher in private schoolswhere there have been a majority of Muslims or at least as alarge percentage in other schools. I have run youth programs and worked at the AustralianFederation of Islamic Councils and I can safely say that Iknow and understand the Muslim communities of Australiabetter than the average person. And I have made documentaries about Muslims.My research leads me to believe that while there are Muslimswith extreme ideas in Australia, by and large they do notadvocate violence or any form of terrorism. People with violent tendencies and knowledge of bomb-makingtechnology, let alone the conviction to die for a cause, areextremely rare.This does not mean we should just relax and hope for thebest. We should still be vigilant and ensure that youngpeople are given as much support as possible in school.But we can definitely tone down the fear-mongering rhetoricwhich does little for the average Mohammed and Fatima whohave to live with the stares and the taunts on a dailybasis. The very grave issue of over-stating the facts,particularly if it can create a negative backlash againstMuslims, must be addressed. It is simply not acceptable to make unfounded statementsthat create fear or suspicion of the Muslim community.One very simple reason why Australia is an unlikely placefor homegrown terrorism to take root is that Australia hasone of the West's most integrated Muslim communities.Muslims in Australia cannot be compared to the Britishmodel. In some British cities, such as Birmingham andBradford, hundreds of thousands of Muslims live inmarginalised ghetto-like suburbs which provide deep coverfor dissent and rebellion.Here in Australia the comparatively small and localisedMuslim community lives in relative affluence and comfort.About 15 per cent of Australian Muslims possess a degree,which raises their incomes. In Australia, most Muslims whose parents migrated here inthe '70s have grown up in a society which has nurtured afairly easygoing nature and world view.In Australia we do have nutcases and radicals who preachthat we should protect ourselves and our children from theevil influences of a non-believing society. They are relatively harmless, albeit distasteful.More usually, the average Australian Muslim lives aninvisible life. On the fringe, however, those who hold strong views aboutgovernment policies and feel passionate about internationalaffairs tend to be more vocal and conspicuous. In terms of numbers they are significantly small and only atiny percentage within that tiny percentage have thepotential for extreme violent behaviour.More people are likely to die from road rage accidentsinvolving Middle Eastern drivers than from a home-grownMiddle Eastern terrorist.The argument that Muslims are more prone to radicalisationin Australia because it is a new country with no traditionalbase for Muslims to fall back on is exactly the reason whyMuslim terrorism instigated by Australian Muslims will nevereventuate here.In Australia, the fact that we do not have a long history ofIslamic traditions and that the Muslim community is made upfrom a wide spectrum of cultural and ideological viewpoints,makes Australia a place where difference can be toleratedand opposing groups co-exist in harmony.Australia does have one great tradition that transcends allreligious boundaries, and that is the freedom to believewhat you want and to live your life the way you want as longas you don't try to stuff it down others' throats.A great motto to live by, don't you think?

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