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Let's share the burden of overcoming Muslim extremism


Let's share the burden of overcoming Muslim extremismForeign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer recently gave the keynote address in the opening ceremony of the Peace and Harmony Interfaith Conference in Sydney. His speech ended with a plea to Australia’s Muslim leaders and community members to take the lead in eradicating the community’s extremist fringe. "Of course this all of our problem," Downer assured. "But you are uniquely placed to counter their narrative."

Mr Downer’s comment, no matter how well intentioned, is part of the greater narrative advocated by the current government: "Muslim extremists are a Muslim issue - not ours." The fault with this view is that it transfers ownership of this challenge from the elected leaders to a minority group who simply don’t have the resources to deal with such a global crisis.

Contrary to popular perceptions, it is the vast majority of Australian Muslims who suffer most from the views of Muslim extremists. The latter have taken a leaf out of the current government’s book, for they also specialise in driving wedges between Muslim communities to suit their own agendas. Further similarities can be found in their use of the media, which also promotes the adversarial ‘us versus them’ approach relished by most politicians and newsrooms. Hence it is always the same ‘Muslim spokesmen’, the same political reactions and the same newspaper stories.

With this narrative so entrenched within the political and media climate, it is extremely difficult for any fresh perspectives to emerge – unless you are the odd Muslim AFL player or hijab-wearing police officer.

Recently, Mustapha Karra Ali, member of the now-defunct Muslim Reference Group, continued this pervasive narrative. Ali claimed that up to 3,000 young Muslims are at risk of becoming radicalised by hardliners, a figure that even Australian Federal Police chief Mick Kelty was cautious in supporting. The ill effect of Ali’s claims is that it casts suspicion on all young Australian Muslims and undermines their continuous efforts to build bridges with the mainstream.

While the media and politicians predictably feed on this news, they neglected to cover the many powerful stories of how Australia’s young Muslims are breaking stereotypes and contributing to Australian society. Recently, the 65th annual International Council of Christians and Jews took the brave step of inviting a delegation of Australian Muslim youth to attend the conference in Sydney. These young Muslims played an important role in laying down the framework for a dialogue which has long been branded as taboo by a majority of Muslim elders.

Let's share the burden of overcoming Muslim extremismCurrently, twenty Australian Muslim youth are engaged in Latrobe University’s Centre for Dialogue Muslim Leadership Program which had them visit Parliament House, the High Court and the Australian Catholic University for some robust discussions with Federal Minister of Immigration Kevin Andrews, Chief Justice Kirby and numerous other political and civic leaders.

The youth involved in this program come from diverse backgrounds. Faza Fauzi works for a Catholic not-for-profit organisation caring for the elderly and children with special needs. Sumeya Koc was the Victorian delegate for the United Nations Youth Association, and Mohammed El-leissy touches hearts and minds as a Muslim cleric and stand-up comedian.

While some might choose to view these as token stories, the majority of Australia’s young Muslims are working hard to ensure that their contributions are never viewed as other than part and parcel of being an Aussie. We all must stand behind and empower these young people in order to counter the pessimistic overtures of the extremist fringe. The fact that their stories are seldom told illustrates how all sectors of Australian society have a role to play in fighting against all types of extremism, no matter how politically and religiously inconvenient this narrative is to some.



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Existing comments

thank you and well said.as long as governments keep sending people to kill other people, the problems will continue. the people must say," stop,we will pay for this no more."we must all work together.my viet nam lesson.

mike dunford | 26 July 2007  

What a brilliant piece of timely analysis by Saeed Saeed. The media in general should pay heed to this voice from the grassroots. We need to dialogue with the diverse voices of Australians working on crucial issues in their communities who themselves just happen to be Muslim. The young leaders now being empowered by these courses are the exciting new face of post-Howard Multiculturalism.

Larry Marshall | 30 July 2007  

Saeed Saeed is presenting an one sided, goody, goody image of Islam...all along to hide the reality. The basic question is why from India to Russia, Phillipines to Nigeria Islam is propagating violence and seperatism.. The onus lies on that religion or cult. Why Hindus, Buddhists or Christians are never perceived as extremists anywhere in the world!In Australia Muslims are a miniscule minority,that is why so much restraint. Go to any Muslim majority country in the Gulf, no other religion is allowed to practice, prosetalysation is punishable by death, non Muslims cant hold a maor official or any constitutional post and this is a stark reality. Just an ostrich outlook wont help to perceive the real threat.

Deep Basu | 03 October 2010  

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