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Radical fringe a challenge for all

By Saeed Saeed - posted Thursday, 30 August 2007

Addressing the opening ceremony of the Peace and Harmony Interfaith Conference in Sydney in June, Alexander Downer called on Australia's Muslim leaders and community members to take the lead in eradicating the extremist fringe. "Of course, this is all of our problem," Downer assured, "But you are uniquely placed to counter their narrative".

The Foreign Minister's comments, no matter how well intentioned, are part of the greater narrative that the Government advocates: "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 Australia's Muslims who suffer the most from the views of Muslim extremists. The latter have taken a leaf out of the 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, as they also promote the adversarial "us versus them" approach that most politicians and newsrooms relish. Hence, it is always the same "Muslim spokesmen", the same political reactions and the same newspaper articles.

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 rare Muslim AFL player or hijab-wearing police officer.

Recently, Mustapha Kara-Ali, a member of the now defunct Muslim Reference Group, continued this pervasive narrative. Ali claimed that up to 3,000 young Muslims were at risk of becoming radicalised by hardliners, a figure that even Australian Federal Police chief Mick Keelty was cautious in supporting.

The ill effect of Ali's claim is that it casts suspicion on all young Australian Muslims and undermines their continuous efforts in building bridges with the mainstream.

While the media and politicians predictably fed on this news, they neglected the many powerful accounts of how Australia's young Muslims are breaking stereotypes to contribute to Australian society.

The 65th annual conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews, held in Sydney this month, took the brave step of inviting a delegation of Australian Muslim youth to attend. 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.


In recent months 20 Australian Muslim youths have been engaged in Latrobe University's Centre for Dialogue Muslim Leadership Program which has led them to visit Parliament House, the High Court and the Australian Catholic University for robust discussions with Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, Justice Michael Kirby and other political and civic leaders.

The youths involved 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 UN 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 their contributions are never viewed as anything other than part and parcel of being an Australian.

We all must stand behind and empower these youths in order to counter the pessimistic overtures of the extremist fringe. 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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About the Author

Saeed Saeed is a Melbourne based freelance journalist and writer. He is regularly published in The Courier-Mail and has also had articles published in The Australian, Diversity, Australian Health and Fitness etc.

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