Speech delivered by Dr. Berhan Ahmed at the Islamic conference dinner on 13 October 2016 on ““The Role of Community in Countering Radicalisation”
Welcome…I am extremely grateful to be breaking bread with all of you, as we share our open views. It behooves me to begin this conversation by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people, traditional owners of the land, and the community and religious leaders, friends, colleagues, and countrymen. It is a distinct honor to address you all on this day.
Radicalisation is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that reject or undermine the status quo, which also includes the rejection or undermining of contemporary ideas and expressions that jeopardize freedom of choice.
We must understand that this is a fairly innocuous and basic understanding of the word radicalisation, mainly because of its subtlety, since most, or all, of us in this room could be called radicalised individuals. For some of us who say that men and women should be segregated, then we are undermining an expression of freedom of choice as being radical. For those who say that mosques shouldn’t be built, apart from being unconstitutional, are also undermining freedom of choice, and are in a sense radical. For those who wish to oppose marriage equality, ban abortion clinics, allow asylum seekers with permanent visa or stop immigration, they can be considered radical. In addition, some of the known individuals or organisations, such as Donald Trump, one nation party, the United Patriots Front, Hizbut Tahir, or Exclusive Brethren, can all be considered radical. We all have radical thoughts, and depending upon which side of the spectrum we emanate from, our radicalisation is never as bad as the other, in fact it is simply all about one's perspective.
During Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) time at the start of the Islamic civilisation, Arabia and its’ surroundings experienced changes that they had never seen before. The prophet introduced major social changes within that world, women had a choice in marriage, had ownership of their dowry, could inherit property, paganism was abolished, a social security system was introduced, usury was outlawed, alcohol was banned, and men were limited to 4 wives if they could afford it. The idea of slavery was challenged and changed, female infanticide was abolished, state taxes were introduced, and a constitution was initiated that protected freedom of religion, security of the individual, security of the community, and a judicial system. The prophet (PBUH) was radical in his views and thoughts, but had legitimate concerns and was able to exercise his thoughts into deeds that benefitted the society and mankind in general. Throughout history, radicals in the western world have changed slavery, women’s rights to vote, minimum wage, the 40 hour week, indigenous rights, equal rights, and much more. Pankhurst, King, George Washington, JF Kennedy can, and should, be considered radicals who succeeded in changing society for the better. People who have unpopular thoughts and express those thoughts should not create a state of alarm. It is a healthy sign of a liberal, democratic, and free society. That society must be a just society, a fair society, and it cannot continue to allow hatred and vitriol to go unpunished or go unchecked. Allowing a 13 year old Muslim kid who does a Google search about terrorism or the Palestine Israel conflict should not immediately end up on a government watch list. I remember after 911, the University of Melbourne library requested the authority not to put research students on the watch list. With Muslim name, my current research would put me on the watching list. I think not and hope not, but we must all accept this possibility.
Many instances indicate how we are far too willing to blame others. That does not mean others do not have faults, but it is our task to look for the fault that lies in us. Except in the case of only one United States Republican candidate, the vast majority of the world's citizens would agree that only insignificant percentage of Muslims have been radicalized, along with others outside their religion. But sadly, in the opinion of one over defensive and paranoid man such as Trump, all Muslims must be scrutinized and deemed untrustworthy, demanding supreme vetting.!!!
We “Muslims” are also prey to delusions and misinformation. For example, I was always told that Islam created universities and schools. It is true that these were carried to the West by Islam, but I now know they were created in India 800 years before the birth of the Prophet. I also hear many excuses for Islamic extremism, such as that it is because of the Western military intervention in the Middle East, or due to prejudice, poverty and lack of employment or bad living conditions. Although these do play a part, the fact is that there has been Islamic extremism almost as long as there has been Islam. Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist Hindi countries, Communist countries, and others, have extremist.
When we talk about misguided Islamists who preach against Australian values, we vilify them, and rightfully so, but are we were quick with our vilification when Danny Nalliah suggests that 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, which killed 173 people, were caused by Victoria legalising abortion or Kevin Rudd’s rebuff of Israel. In reality, they should both be condemned for their stupidity.
On one TV show recently they were interviewing some people from different religions. There was a Buddhist nun and a Muslim man offering their comments. The Muslim man said that he constantly met rejection and intimidation. The Buddhist nun in her robes interrupted him and said: “And do you know why? It is because you radiate defensiveness. What she said had an element of truth in it (psychology 101). I think there is nothing more dangerous or damaging to a community than to develop defensive attitudes.
Terming people, especially our youth as radicalised, and expecting everyone to become the thought of police who only seek to further alienate them, is wrong and unjustified. If young people can’t go to schools and universities and have open, frank, honest debates, and talks about provocative issues, especially when universities are considered a hotbed of radical thought without the suspicion of being dobbed in. It then makes it more difficult for those of us in the community to educate and enlighten them with dialogue, free thought, rationality, and common sense.
Why don't we have a look at real life examples of how our youth are treated differently.
Daniel Fing was a troubled young man who went to jail for planting a bomb in his girlfriend’s car in 2006, and was sentenced to 4 years in jail. In 2014 a property he was renting in Pullenvale, in Brisbane’s western suburb, was found to have 50 kgs of explosives, the same type of explosives that were used in the London bombing. Maps of underground rail systems and the QLD Police bomb squad were found, and the Defence Force personnel had to execute 17 planned and controlled detonations to clear the area of future damage. However, Daniel in July 2016 was sentenced three years jail?.
Let us also look at another troubled young man, Farhad Jabar. He was the murderer of a NSW Police employee, Curtis Cheng, the Parramatta Shooting 2015 in Sydney. Farhad was 15 years old when he unfortunately shot a man, and was shot himself in return. Let me quote from the ABC news online report at that time. This was from the NSW Police Commissioner: "We believe his actions were politically motivated and therefore linked to terrorism," Mr Scipione said: "We have no current information that this individual posed this type of threat, but we will investigate thoroughly."
So here we have the Police Commissioner, before a final investigation was even conducted, stating that his actions are linked to terrorism. They didn’t know much about him, apart from his ethnicity, name, and address. Please remember as well that he is dead. He can’t be interrogated, but all that was observed was a young kid dressed in cultural dress. It was then immediately assumed that his actions were politically motivated and linked to terrorism. There was no evidence, no motivation, nothing, and yet the guy with the 50 kgs of explosives was not charged. Misjudgment and biased conclusions made this a stark example of how society acquires prejudiced results.
I am not for one moment suggesting that we should dismiss plots to blow up landmarks or the murder of innocent people, not at all, but I just want you to get them, hunt them down, prosecute and jail them. I also want you to be just as diligent with other suspected criminals who have conventional, every day names and appearances. Why is having or espousing radical thoughts so threatening, especially when drug dealers, who destroy the very fabric of our society for many over so many years, are treated so leniently. Treat them all for the criminals they are, regardless of their motivation, as if that justifies it, just as you would if Daniel Fing’s name was Mohamed?
Of the many raids that have taken place, such as where 800 or so armed police followed by media crews have raided houses across Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, we’ve seen very few people taken into custody, and those who have been are in isolation or supermax prisons. Every day, about 80 people die from drugs in Australia, but drug dealers are not seem as bad?
Ashley Dyball arrived in Melbourne in 2014 after reportedly fighting with a Kurdish YPG militia group called Lions of Rojava during the Syrian conflict.
Under Australian law it is illegal for anyone in Australia, including Australian citizens and dual citizens, to travel to certain declared areas in Syria unless it is solely for legitimate purposes or to provide any support to an armed group in Syria. That includes engaging in fighting for either side funding, training, or recruiting someone to fight in the conflict, supplying or funding weapons for either side, or giving funds or financial assets to either side. Ashley Dyball walked free…
Matthew Gardiner: A 43 year old ex-Army soldier and former Northern Territory Labor party president who allegedly travelled overseas to help Kurdish forces, returned to his home in Darwin in early April 2015. He was questioned by the AFP on his return, but not charged.
Melbourne man, Khamis Gewargis Khamis: A father of two returned to Australia in March 2015 after travelling to Iraq allegedly to join an Assyrian militia group, fighting against ISIS. He was questioned in UAE and on his return to Australia was not charged.
Former Australian soldier A 28 year old Ashley Johnston killed in Syria; originally from Queensland who was killed in February 2015 fighting with Kurdish forces. The Kurdish community in Sydney held a funeral in his honor in April 2015.
Reece Harding: This Gold Coast man, 23-year-old left home in May and was killed by a landmine in Syria in June during an operation with Kurdish forces. His family believed he was doing humanitarian work. Reece Harding has been remembered at his memorial service as a man who risked everything to fight alongside Kurdish forces in Syria against Islamic State.
These double standards alienate our kids. These hypocrisies make kids feel on the outer fringes, and it’s unfortunate when it’s your own government doing it, supporting it, encouraging it, and systemically helping to ingrain it. We must be just for all citizens and treat all citizens with the same brand of justice. The rules are there, the legislation is there, the enforcement agencies are there, so let’s not discriminate by racial profiling.
I must say to the Muslim youth and Muslim leaders and the community at large; stop playing the victim and stop being reactive. Whilst there are some issues, and yes there are some double standards, we need to call them out, and also call out our own. I have no sympathy for anyone in the current climate. If you get caught with evidence that is going to see you go to jail for a long time. Don’t try to justify your actions, for you won’t win.
You have to step up, talk about inadequate leadership in the community, put your hand up and be your own leader. Learn your religion, and I sincerely mean that … really learn your religion and understand the beauty of Islam. Islam is not about rituals, it’s not about a particular style of dress, but it's a code of ethics to live a good life. No matter how disaffected you might think you are (and believe me, at 14 - 16 you are not mature enough to understand anything), there are ways and means in this country to protest and let your voice be heard, rather than planning some dire act where people are going to die, namely yourself, and believe me, you won’t be hailed as a martyr. Act with respect for a society that honors freedom and self expression, but not irrational acts.
Fathers and mothers; Don’t tell your girls they have a different standard to meet and let your boys stay out all night doing evil acts. Don’t talk about not buying a house because you don’t want to deal in interest, and then make shady deals, fail to keep your word or cheat the system. Don’t tell the world that a woman has a right to choose when and if she wears a hijab, and then make it a mandatory uniform in your schools. Appreciate the good life that you have, and don't hate or have false envy for those who aspire to work hard and live good.
Be a leader yourself and be the best Muslim you can be, a model who embodies the best of Islam, with the ideals of compassion, mercy, integrity, honesty, justice, softness, humility and piety. Our country allows us to be the best Muslims we can be. This country is more Islamic in its attitudes than the so called Islamic countries in the world, where people are free to dress and pray how they want, where the government doesn’t command you a standard of dress, a level of education, a social system where the poor have no safety net, and a gender segregated community. All the things that Islam implores us to have, like equality, justice, charity, freedom are all here.
For hundreds of years Muslims have contributed a great deal to this country. The time has come for so many of us to stop segregating ourselves, and to enjoy the liberties that this country offers. None of this interferes with our right to live to the best of our religious ideals. I do believe that this is essential to our survival and sense of dignity.
What I have said might be very confronting and disagreeable to many people here, but I am only interested in supplying you with “food for thought”. Please take the time as you move around in our society to look at the way other ethnic groups behave on public transport, in the streets, or in restaurants, and compare that with the way we Muslims behave. We must hold our heads high, and realise that these are only the perceptions others have about us, perpetrated by evil destructive radicals that tarnish our image.
Thank you all, and let us enjoy the evening, and the pleasure of our gifts to each other.