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The blame game

By Irfan Yusuf - posted Friday, 21 July 2006

A year ago, more than 50 people were killed in a terrorist attack on London's public transport system. The attack represented a turning point in the international struggle against terrorism.

All evidence points to the attack being the work of disillusioned and frustrated children of nominally Muslim migrants. These young men found themselves in what Australian Treasurer Peter Costello described in a February speech to the Sydney Institute as "a twilight zone where the values of their parents' old country have been lost but the values of the new country not fully embraced".

The attacks led to assaults on Muslim targets across the Western world, including vandalism on several mosques across New Zealand. These assaults represented extreme expressions of understandable fears and concerns of ordinary non-Muslim citizens.


Muslim institutions, dominated by first-generation migrants with poor English-language skills and limited understanding of media and government processes, found themselves unable to allay the fears of their fellow citizens.

The phenomenon of "home-grown terror" has seen a fundamental rethink by governments and security services of how the war against terror has been fought. Western governments are seeing engagement of Muslim communities (especially youth) as a security imperative.

The difficulties government and media face in understanding Muslim views arise from a number of factors. Unlike other faiths, Muslims have no priesthood and no central hierarchy. There is no such thing as a Muslim "church".

Further, mosques across the Western world are generally divided along ethnic and linguistic lines. Few imams speak workable English. Women and English-speaking youth are often sidelined from community management.

In Australia, the Howard Government has been forced to set up a special Muslim Community Reference Group under the auspices of its Ministry of Multicultural Affairs. The group is composed of the usual middle-aged male leaders. However, the government has also recruited women and young people.

Yet the presumptions underlying the establishment of the group underscore the government's relative ignorance of a faith community that makes up hardly two per cent of the population. According to a government website, the group is "among a series of initiatives which will assist Australia's Muslim communities to build a common future with all Australians", as if such a common future has not been built in over 150 years of Muslim presence in European Australia.


Further, it seems the only purpose of government consultation is "to explore how we can best challenge intolerance and extremism". Sadly, more focus has been placed on challenging intolerance and extremism from within Muslim groups than from within sections of the government and the media.

"Home-grown terror" has triggered many conservative commentators (and even politicians) to call for a new cultural revolution. Liberal democratic values are being reinterpreted in a manner which, if implemented, would hand victory to the terrorists themselves.

This conservative revolution seeks to displace decades of multicultural status quo embraced by many Western democracies. Like all revolutions, the conservative counter-culture is based more on myth and perception than reality. To understand the extent of the fiction involved, it is appropriate to focus on one victim of the London bombing.

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First published in the Press on July 7, 2006.

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About the Author

Irfan Yusuf is a New South Wales-based lawyer with a practice focusing on workplace relations and commercial dispute resolution. Irfan is also a regular media commentator on a variety of social, political, human rights, media and cultural issues. Irfan Yusuf's book, Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist, was published in May 2009 by Allen & Unwin.

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