Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come out not once but three times in four days since the Bourke Street attacks, to declare the "greatest threat" to Australia's security is the threat of Extremist Islam, then he goes on to say that Muslim leaders are not doing enough. He even hints that he has access to intelligence that supports his assertion.
Firstly, "extremist" and "Islam" are two diametrically opposed concepts. To conflate these terms is an affront to the great world faith of Islam, which teaches peace and compassion towards our fellow human beings.
We have, sadly, succumbed to the dumbing down of complex ideas and to using sound-bite-like terms like Jihadists, Islamic extremism or radicalisation which fit into our 7 second attention spans, and we have become accustomed to these terms as being 'normal' and 'legitimate'. But they are far from the truth.
This brings me to the crux of my argument; Muslim leaders did not want to argue with the PM, however, they objected to his comments because they only reaffirmed this false dichotomy of peace and violence which feeds into the narrative of 'us and them' and the assumption that Muslims don't want to integrate they just want to change our way of life. Such codswollup!
But let's step back for a moment and just explore this assertion that Muslims are not doing enough to address radicalisation within the Muslim community. In fact, head of Victoria Police, Graham Ashton and head of the AFP Andrew Colvin will back me up on this. They have had umpteen meetings with Muslim leaders across the country and through these consultations the consensus has always been to assist as much possible. What does that assistance actually involve?
Well, a number of things; firstly our imams, the leaders of the mosques, are at the coalface of the community, they address all sorts of issues, such as domestic violence, divorce, youth issues, drug addiction and so on. It's a never-ending story of woe for our imams. They are the first port of call for many average Australian Muslims, and they have immense pressure on their broad shoulders. They do an amazing job dealing with it. They know their flock, so to speak, and if they were aware of a 'free-radical' in their midst, they would be outed before you could say "political assassination".
But here's the thing, these radicals are the last people to be seen at any mosque, a place of worship, a place of deep spiritual contemplation where one can become closer to God. No. These extremists, if they exist, would more likely be found at the local pub or at the races or even at a brothel. That is the stark reality. This notion of dobbing in a terrorist just does not work, although if one were to come across a person who was behaving suspiciously or violently, then of course this would be brought to the attention of the authorities, but these people are not easily identifiable because they do not frequent places that are frequented by Muslims.
The Muslim leaders are doing their level best to address the issue of violent extremism, there are a handful of people in Australia who have been arrested for terrorism related charges, this ranges from offences which breach the Commonwealth Criminal Code, such as 'providing material support' or to 'an act of preparing for a terrorist attack'. These people are now in custody and they are being treated just like a drug addict would be treated. They are counseled, mentored and guided mostly by our imams and prison chaplains. Their work is critical in assisting these people to change their attitudes and their extreme perspectives. There is a small handful who have fallen victim to the ISIS propaganda, while the rest of the Muslim community go about their lives in a peaceful way. We are dealing with this tiny group and we are making inroads.
However, the recent comments by the PM can potentially undermine the good work that is being done. They are not helpful and serve no purpose in the fight against terrorism. In fact they could alienate community leaders and cause a fracture between them and the authorities and potentially leave a gap in the process of dealing with radicalisation and they could also further alienate young radicalised people who are already feeling isolated and disenfranchised.
At times like these, when the nation is in shock and we are all grieving the loss of a wonderful human being, we need our national leader to unite us and to speak the language of consolidation, inclusion and optimism. Not throwing the Muslim leadership under a bus.
The work that Muslim leaders do in addressing violent extremism is absolutely genuine and sincere and without their invaluable work we may lose individuals to the point of no return. The sad fact is that young impressionable people have fallen prey to the dangerous ideologies of terror groups like ISIS and unhindered access to their on-line propaganda and brainwashing can turn them into a ticking time-bomb. No one can predict when a person is going to crack and do something stupid and regretful.
Combined with a complex array of issues like mental illness and criminality, this is when we get what we saw last Friday in the streets of Melbourne. We don't want to be finger-pointing. It does nothing to help us prevent such incidents and save lives. Its time to really roll up our sleeves and start working on this double time, together.