Turnbull Government Asks The Muslim Community To 'Own The Problem' of Violent Extremism

10/10/2015 9:21 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's prime minister, speaks during the launch of the On-Market Bookbuilds app in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. There are 'powerful arguments' in favor of Australia being a bigger financial center than it is, Turnbull said in answer to question during the forum. Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg via Getty Images

SYDNEY -- Language is everything and it is ever changing.

It is being hungrily dissected as Australia comes to grips with yet another terrorist attack on home soil.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been clear that Sydney Police accountant Curtis Cheng was murdered two Fridays ago in “an act of terrorism by a 15-year-old boy, motivated, we believe, by extremist political and religious views”.

While the investigation into the young shooter Farhad Jabar is underway, Turnbull on Friday joined Muslim leaders in inviting extremists to exercise Australian democracy and leave, denounced terrorism and stressed that division in the community must end.

"Mutual respect is the glue that binds this very diverse country together," he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

"It is what enables us to be so successful."

Please, the myriad of Muslim community members have been pleading, “include us rather than exclude us”, we are not “under siege”, “we are not victims”, and “we want to work together”.

On the Government’s side, it recognises Australia is at a crossroads moment and wants the Muslim community to “own the problem” of violent extremism, saying it can only do so much.

It is hard to think relations could get any worse.

All boxes were ticked when it came to enraging the Muslim community.

There was outrage in February when the muscular former Prime Minister Tony Abbott talked up “Team Australia” and told Muslim leaders that they must do more to explicitly condemn violent extremism, and further, “mean it”.

That, and the stoush over the burqa in parliament, the raft of new national security laws centering on foreign fighters and a series of terror raids all hurt.

“From the community perspective, the relationship between the Muslim community and the government hit the lowest point,” said Ahmad Malas from the Lebanese Muslim Association.

“The position, the statements the (then) Prime Minister had made alienated the community even further.”

Turnbull has dismissed comparisons with his predecessor as “mischief”, but his moderate views since being elevated to the top job are resonating.

“It was quite refreshing and it was very welcomed,” Malas told The Huffington Post Australia.

“However what people are anticipating is the actions that are going to come out of things that are being said.

“We don’t want to see just statements, we want to see it followed up by genuine and sincere actions.”

Maha Abdo, the head of the Muslim Women’s Association, has been working in the community for more than 30 years.

“What we're seeing at the moment as women, parents, mothers, young people, we're seeing a narrative that has been written for us,” she told reporters in Sydney.

“What we are saying as Muslim women in Australia, and Australian Muslim women is that we have our own narrative.”

Abdo believes trust, respect and understanding need to be restored.

“Yes, the language does have a big compact. Compact and an impact because the way it comes about it's like either we alienate you or we include you,” she said.

“I know who I am, young people know and are very much confident of who they are, but it's the way that we are perceived and I see here all of us and all of us here have a major role to play in.”

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is no newcomer to multicultural affairs. The Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs has been engaged with Australia’s myriad communities for years.

She’d been having “frank discussions” with Muslim leaders all year, and stresses that Abbott had already been moving to change the tone of the national discourse.

Fierravanti-Wells wants the radicalisation of young people seen as a social issue, not just a national security problem.

“This is a turning point," she told HuffPost Australia. “This is a crossroads moment. We are in this together. We can’t go into schools and homes.

“The Muslim community need to own the problem.”

The Minister does not want to preempt the investigation into Jabar, but believes young people like the shooter are an easy pick for terrorists.

“It could be that they are being bullied. There could be problems at home,” she said.

Perspective, she believes, needs to change.

“We are not going to solve this as a national security issue alone," she said. “We have to ask why?”

Government frontbencher Christopher Pyne has denied the government now has a “softy, softly” approach to Islam.

"We're trying to get the tone right which is we want Muslim communities too be on board with the battle against,” he told Channel Nine.

“We don't want them to feel marginalised and go further on the edges. We want them to be on the centre of it, families, communities and mosques, Muslim leaders which need them to be part of the agenda.”

This is not an easy subject for the Coalition Government. Some government members could be described as hostile to Islam; others like Liberal MP Craig Laundy, have embraced the very large Muslim communities in their electorates.

Laundy’s electorate office in Burwood was used on Friday for Turnbull to meet seven Muslim leaders, four women and three men.

“All of them spoke of their determination to ensure that we work together as part of the Australian family to prevent the spread of extremism and including violent extremism," Turnbull said.

“Now, it is a very complex problem, in an age of social media and the Internet, those seeking to preserve social harmony have to be very agile.”

Security and intelligence agencies will meet with senior Ministers and officials in Canberra next Thursday, while community members say there is hope.

“Australia can play a major role globally about the fact that we can be a real multicultural society," Maha Abdo said.

“A multicultural society is not about sharing food only. It is about sharing our thoughts and allowing those differences to come together in the most uniquest of way.”

Young Sydney writer for The Point Magazine, Widyan Fares, told The Huffington Post that the community is listening with hope.

“The change of language is not about avoiding the issue,” she said.

“It’s about recognising that when 15 year olds are getting involved in violent extremism, then there are clearly complex social issues at play that we all have a role in addressing and that extend far beyond traditional questions of national security or counter terrorism.”

Australia’s most senior Muslim leader, the Grand Mufti Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, rejects any assertion that extremist ideology is taught in Australian mosques.

“The misguided teaching is imported to us. It is not made by us. It is Sheikh Google, Sheikh Twitter, Sheikh Facebook and not made here in Australia. In addition to that, the developments in the international arena contribute also,” he said.

If nothing else, the dialogue is open.

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