On 25 November 2016, two young men, Ahmed Mohamed and Abdullah Chaarani, deliberately set fire to a mosque, the Imam Ali Islamic Centre, in a predominantly residential street in the mid-northern Melbourne suburb of Fawkner. They failed to destroy the building when the fire burnt out. Three weeks later, the same two arsonists and another man they had recruited, Hatim Moukhaiber who was not involved in the earlier episode, succeeded in setting fire to the mosque leading to its substantial destruction. (For present purposes, it is not necessary to do more than note in passing that in their joint trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria at which they were convicted of terrorist offences contrary to the Commonwealth Criminal Code, the unsuccessful defence of Chaarani was categorically different to that of his two co-accused.)
On 26 July, Justice Andrew Tinney sentenced the three offenders to long terms of imprisonment. Referring to the second fire, his Honour found that the three were adherents of Sunni Islam and had been motivated by hatred, intolerance, malevolence and misguided piety. Their intention was to terrorise the persons who met at the Imam Ali mosque who were adherents of Shia Islam the minority branch of Islam whose origins can be found in the ancient schism relating to who was the rightful successor to the Prophet Mohammed – the leader of the faithful from time to time and who, in later centuries, came to be known as the Caliph.
Justice Tinney's sentencing reasons should be read in conjunction with the decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal in DPP v MHK (23 June 2017), his sentencing remarks in R v Abbas (20 September 2018), and two other Victorian cases: first, the sentencing remarks of Justice Michael Croucher inR v Cerantonio, Dacre,Granata,Thorne and Kaya (3 May 2019), and, secondly, the sentencing remarks of Justice Lesley Taylor inR v Shoma (5 June 2019). All five decisions deserve far more detailed attention than they have hitherto received in the mainstream media.
It seems likely (and not in the slightest degree surprising) that very few Australians have found the time or felt the inclination to read the foundational scripture of Islam,The Koran in one of its well-known English translations. More specifically (but excepting perhaps some of the Arabic-speakers among them), it also seems likely that many if not most public commentators who adhere to the widely held superficial view that "real" Islam has little if anything to do with Islamic terrorism have not bothered to read The Koran. There is something fishy in the fact that, if their negative thesis can be made good, the numerous apologists for absolving The Koran, are content to rely on reflexive denialism.
The background to the Fawkner mosque prosecution was the strong embrace of, and continued adherence of the three young men to, the extreme and abhorrent ideology of ISIL, theIslamic Stateof Iraq and the Levant/Syria(IS), the militant terrorist Sunni organization which is committed to reinstituting the Caliphate (the KhilÄfah) which had been dissolved in 1924.
That ideology is anchored in The Koran. It is a book which its followers, not surprisingly. regard as perfect and beyond critical examination. As the Grand Mufti of Australia indignantly remarked earlier this year in answer to a suggestion by Justice Fagan of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in sentencing two other young Islamic terrorists that violent verses of The Koran needed to be publicly disavowed, Muslim leaders would "never, ever, ever" disavow verses of The Koran.
Readers who have the stomach to confront the content can consider the IS English language publications Dabiq and Rumiyahand make their own judgment. It would be a brave soul indeed who would seek to make the case in an IS stronghold that its jihadist ideology was unrelated to the religious supremacism which is the central message of The Koran.
At the commencement of his sentencing remarks, Justice Tinney made the following observation:
The crime you committed on that morning was motivated by a strong belief in extreme views which have no place in this or in any civilized society. Your particular purposes were to advance what to most sensible people can only be seen as being a perverse ideology, and more particularly, to strike a blow against, and to intimidate and cause terror to, Shia Muslims. Stated thus, your crime was a heinous one. However, there is more to it than that. What you did reflected an attack upon a fundamental value in our society, namely, religious freedom, an attack upon the conventions and beliefs that all Australians hold dear, and indeed, an attack upon this society itself, a society under whose protection and sharing whose benefits you have lived throughout your lives in Australia. Looked at rationally, your crime is very difficult to understand, and quite impossible to excuse.
The judge found that the "misguided piety" was embodied in the three offenders' active support for IS and its evil version of Islamic ideology and were motivated by their hatred of Shia Islam whose adherents they regard as intolerable apostates.
Justice Tinney accepted the prosecutor's submission that Shia Muslims living peacefully in our community, whether a minority or not, are an integral part of that community. An attack upon them was an attack upon the community. It was an attack which would cause a great sense of discomfort to all fair-minded members of our community. It followed that the destruction of the mosque was an exceedingly serious offence, involving a very high degree of moral culpability, and deserving of condign punishment.
His Honour emphasised that no material had been placed before him which pointed to the prospect that the convicted men had renounced their former extreme beliefs and support for IS. Nor had they gone any way down the path to de-radicalisation: