Melbourne — Muslim intelligentsia in Australia seem to be groping for answers to understand as to why migrants from South Asia or the Middle East consider Islam as a ‘security blanket’ for themselves, and their female family members in particular. The question arises, they point out, particularly because the religion back home hardly serves as a security valve in crime against women, unlike here in the West, a society anchored in fundamental rights.
Scholars as well as officials, however, do draw consolation from the fact that most of Australia’s over half a million Muslims do represent a pragmatic liberal citizenry that feels comfortable with the western notions of human rights.
Scholars as well as officials do draw consolation from the fact that most of Australia’s over half a million Muslims do represent a pragmatic liberal citizenry that feels comfortable with western notions of human rights
“For a Muslim boy or girl born here defence of fundamental rights for all is automatic because that is the foundations of the society,” points out Abdullah Saeed, Professor and director at the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, University of Melbourne.
The first and second generation migrants still view such a debate as western agenda that is in conflict with Islam, Saeed told us during an interaction here.
He has found memories of his stay at a Faisalabad seminary in the 1970s, where he learnt Arabic and also picked up Urdu during his year and a half.
It is the generation that finds it easier to blame others for the Muslims’ present plight and thus prone to embracing the jihadist, Al-Qaeda-inspired narrative of victimhood instead of looking at the internal socio-political problems and contradictions in the societies back home.
What most migrants also overlook is the collaboration between the religious and political establishments, say Australian scholars; both use faith as instrument to perpetuate their rule and protect own interests. This also stymies the socio-intellectual progress and hence condemns the Muslim societies to the status quo.
But, Professor Greg Barton, chair of the Global Islamic Politics/Faculty of Arts and Education at the Deakin University, and a counter-terrorism expert, also agrees that the majority of Australian Muslims continue to reject the jihadist preaching.
They find their lives here comfortable and thus stay away from the radical preachers who prey on young Muslims through social and peer networks.
“Fortunately, the dominant majority of the 250-260 Australian Muslims who slipped into Syria to join Daesh between 2013-2015 did not belong to educated and well off families", Barton said. Also, he pointed out, major mosques and nearly 30 Islamic schools have all rejected the so-called Al Qaeda and IS ideology.
Ms Sherene Hassan, a board member at the Islamic Museum of Australian, also concurred; nearly all of the ‘fighters’ had no or little religious knowledge and transformed for the worse overnight. Most of them also had criminal records on them.
She also quoted the instance of a young man who was sort of unwanted by the family after serving a seven years prison term. Rejected and looked down upon, this man eventually embraced the Daesh cause.
The Museum itself is a response to conscious efforts by the Australian public and private sector to fend off negative perceptions on Muslims, sort of fighting the so-called Islamophobia. It was also designed to help non-Muslim Australians understand the positive and peaceful side of Islam.
Nearly 75 per cent of visitors to the museum are non-Muslims who are exposed to an array of Islamic art and literature including sayings of the Prophet Mohammad on fundamental human and women’s rights and the primacy of the rule of law.
Ms Hassan hopes the museum becomes an instrument of effective messaging and serves as
a bridge between the Muslim and non-Muslim Australian citizens.
Most scholars nevertheless agree that this represents a constant struggle, particularly the compulsion to neutralize the jihadist narrative that serves as a big pull factor for vulnerable youth, particularly those in distress or faced with an identity crisis.
Daesh and Al-Qaeda do target such youth and the challenge is how to prevent the transition of such individuals from low to high risk, Professor Barton says. He was pretty candid when asked about views on the Daesh phenomenon as such.
“We still lack adequate knowledge on the Daesh leadership or its real cadres, who possess tremendous technocratic expertise,” Barton said. To what extent is Baghdadi or franchise heads elsewhere are genuine ISIS leaders and how much are they really wedded to the ideology they propagate and deploy to justify their actions, is a puzzle for every one hear. That represents a continuous formidable challenge to us all, Barton said, adding that Australia as a whole has done pretty well in pre-empting the proliferation of the Daesh and Al-Qaeda ideologies. The federal authorities have managed to pre-empt upto 400 terror plots is no mean achievement and that underscores the unusual coordination among the federal and state security agencies, Barton underscored.
The writer is Editor, Strategic Affairs, and also heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbu Tahrir’s Global Caliphate. Can be reached at Imtiaz@crss.pk
Published in Daily Times, September 14th 2017.