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Jul 7, 2014

Brandis' call to imams will win no Muslim hearts and minds

Militant extremist group ISIS has certainly been successful at one thing -- it is terrifying Western governments and leaving Muslims in the West vulnerable and exposed.


The ability of the ISIS-proclaimed caliphate to wield authority over Muslims around the globe may be limited (for the record, I am withholding my personal pledge of allegiance from Caliph Baghdadi), but its ability to send Western media and political leaders into a frenzy of fear mongering is already on display. Which, of course, might have been at least part of the point. An atmosphere of moral panic leaves Muslims living in the West vulnerable and exposed, and while this sense of vulnerability may not induce loyalty towards the self-proclaimed global Islamic authority run by Islamist militants, it certainly undermines their sense of belonging in Britain or France or Australia.

Western governments were already in the process of stamping their authority over Muslim communities, alarmed by the departure of a growing number of young Muslims for the conflict in Syria. Australian Attorney-General George Brandis of course is signalling a hard power approach with the introduction of new anti-terrorism legislation and the proclaimed intention to detain any Australian citizens participating in the conflict upon their return to Australia. “We don’t want them back.”

But of course, hard power is nothing without soft power, so Brandis took the time hold a press conference in the halls of Parliament House alongside a cohort of Australian imams, who he described as “important partners” in the struggle to keep young would-be jihadists from the battlefield. “In your communities in particular you have a especially important role as moral leaders, as charismatic figures, as authority figures, as religious leaders,” he told them. That description did not resonate with many Australian Muslims, who knew little or nothing about the Muslim leaders in question other than that they were photographed alongside an Attorney-General who was about to introduce legislation targeting their communities.

While Brandis sought to harness the patriarchal authority of the imams, the British police are counting on the power of matriarchy. In April, Britain’s National Co-ordinator for Counter-terrorism Policing, Helen Ball, launched a campaign appealing to Muslim women to wield their influence over any of their menfolk who might consider joining the conflict in Syria. All of a sudden, Muslim women are not the helpless victims of their male relatives — they’re powerful figures who can stand between them and the battlefront.

This conflation of social work with security undermines efforts from Muslims themselves. Of course there is genuine concern among Muslim families and communities about the welfare of any young people who might travel to Syria and Iraq. The problem is that partnering with an Attorney-General who is seeking to water down the Racial Discrimination Act because people have the right to be bigots or a police force that has done little to win the trust of Muslims and other ethnic minorities undermines the very authority of the community leaders and mothers in question. And it heightens the fear among Muslims of hostile surveillance — not only via the computer at your desk but from the imam at your local mosque and even the mother who ruffles your hair as you leave the house. The fractured communities and families that result are not well positioned to provide a meaningful alternative to foreign adventures for a generation that has come of age in the shadow of post-September 11 hostility to Muslims in Australia.

And as the nation prepares to commemorate the Gallipoli centenary next year, Brandis should remember that there is nothing un-Australian about heading off to the Middle East to sacrifice one’s life in a pointless war.



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30 thoughts on “Brandis’ call to imams will win no Muslim hearts and minds

  1. SusieQ

    Oh I just loved the last paragraph…

  2. Isabel Jackson

    Some interesting points raised here. I like the slight tongue in cheek tone, but what else can one do in the face of so many daily absurdities. For example, I’m not quite sure if the women are being positioned as “powerful figures”. I wonder if women are being made being allocated the responsibility for male behaviour e.g. Adam & Eve, or any general off field footy incidents. I would love to be wrong on this one. Similarly making a show of the imams in this set up. Would it have a deterrent effect on decisions compared with the “hard power” experienced daily or encourage in the target group an idea of a complicit relationship with the government and agencies?

  3. David Hand

    While we are all musing on the finer points about how western governments might engage positively with Muslim communities, do you have anything to say at all about how to manage the very real risk of radicalised young men trained in how to wage an insurgent war bring it all back from Syria?

    Do you really think it’s just a “frenzy of fear mongering”? So there’s no risk then?

  4. zut alors

    How conflicted the imams must’ve been posing as the backdrop for Brandis’s photo.

    Your final paragraph is the knockout punch.

  5. Yclept

    “And as the nation prepares to commemorate the Gallipoli centenary next year, Brandis should remember that there is nothing un-Australian about heading off to the Middle East to sacrifice one’s life in a pointless war.”
    Now there’s a perspective Brandis wouldn’t have been expecting!

  6. Scott

    “And as the nation prepares to commemorate the Gallipoli centenary next year, Brandis should remember that there is nothing un-Australian about heading off to the Middle East to sacrifice one’s life in a pointless war.”

    Comparing fighting for ISIS to the Anzacs? Seriously?

  7. AR

    there is genuine concern among Muslim families and communities about the welfare of any young people who might travel to Syria and Iraq.” Mayhap a little concern prior to their departure might be appropriate?

  8. tonyl

    Well, at least 60000 young Ottomans died as a result of the allied invasion.

  9. Kevin Herbert

    Anyone have any thoughts on those Aussies with dual Israeli passports taking part in the ethnic cleansing & murder of Palestinians in the West Bank & Gaza…or aren’t we allowed to discuss Israel’s central contribution to the Middle East unrest?

  10. AR

    Fairfax (at least until recently) would often have laudatory puff pieces on some young, Oz born – not dual national – warrior off to join the IDF without, apparently, a moment’s reflection.
    Could some enterprising journo. not ask the Member for Haifa Points about his moral equivalency on this issue of foreign fighting?

  11. Steve777

    I like the punchline.

  12. Steve777

    Now that the boats have stopped, the Abbott Government needs a new bogeyman.

    We don’t want young Australians to join foreign wars. It is illegal now. Apply the law. We don’t need a moral panic.

  13. fractious

    “Comparing fighting for ISIS to the Anzacs? Seriously?”

    Oh dear, sacred cows eh?

  14. Scott

    You are hardly going to get much sympathy for your view when you have a shot at one of our most cultural and historically important legends.
    The article could have been written without the final paragraph. With its addition, the overriding tone of the article, in my opinion, moves from provocative to contemptible.

  15. James

    Poor muslim communities. They were welcomed to Australia as immigrants and refugees and enjoy perhaps the highest standard of living of muslims anywhere in the world. Yet now they are being persecuted by the Australian government just because their sons (who are good, honest kids) choose to fight in a violent terrorist organisation that seeks to create a medieval islamic state by any means necessary.

    These kids obviously had no choice in the matter and neither did the families who saw them off at the airport…Maybe if we Australians weren’t so racist we would just do the right thing and convert to Islam in order to prove how open minded we are, then we would certainly be safe from islamic terrorists (as long as we’re not Shia or Sufi).

  16. David Hand

    I’m with Scott.

    It’s oh so trendy to trash suburban values such as the Anzac legend. You might all be sitting in your bean bags in Newtown and Fitzroy furiously agreeing with each other about the futility of war and how these guys going to Syria are no different to the diggers who hit the beach at Gallipoli in 1915.

    The rest of us worry about us importing our own version of 7/7.

  17. klewso

    Personally and hypothetically speaking, I reckon that if I moved to an “alien land” for some reason, and Australia was suddenly faced with some danger, I reckon I’d try to do whatever I could to help?
    But, then, I’m obviously not normal?

  18. David Hand

    Patriotism for the country of ones birth is not what is worrying most people klewso.

    It’s devotion to a regime that aims to bring the world under one global caliphate and sharia law. Though that will never happen, what might happen is the despatch of radicalised young men trained in insurgent war to Australia, assigned with the job of starting the struggle.

    Then it’s bombs at Town Hall Station.

  19. Cthulhu Dreams

    Is there any evidence that people actually come back radicalised? I remember reading something to the effect that going overseas to fight is the most effective de-radicalisation method because in the majority of cases two things happen:

    A) You get seriously injured or killed, and are thus no longer a radical
    B) (or more likely) You get PTSD and are thus no longer a radical on your return.

    B is even more likely fighting in adverse circumstances than for ‘western’ militaries as you are without a fantastic in country support network or the care provided upon your return home.

    To me this feels like ridiculous panic about nothing. If some dude wants to get traumtised or killed, and you want to stop that, but worrying that he’s going to launch 7/7 upon his return when there is no evidence to that effect seems like a stretch.

  20. Ken Lambert

    Wow…I was moderated again….Crikey is really scared of the Caliphate and its promise of a virgin rich world….

    Not exactly defending the right of your subscribers to free speech eh… Crikey?

    It was true that the Anzacs in Palestine shot their much loved Walers when they could not be brought home, rather than give them to the locals.

    Crikey moderators can’t stand a bit of WW1 humour – you know the Frank Hardy style of ‘truthful Jones’.

  21. Eva Cox

    Careful that our generalizations and stereotyping do not create the situations we claim to be preventing. It is hard to feel you are defined as a potential terrorist because of your appearance, clothing or faith with no more proof than prejudice. So more ay become what they are assumed to be!

  22. David Hand

    Oh that’s right Eva.
    It’s our fault.

    Someone will blame Tony Abbott in a minute.

  23. klewso

    Isn’t a “patriot” a mystical creature – the number of times “nationalists” are mistaken for them?
    As I admitted I’m obviously not normal enough :- if these terrorists think I’m going to get around jumping at shadows and dog-whistles, in paranoid apoplexy, wondering what “that swarthy individual across the carriage is up too”, or if “there’s a bazooka under that burka”, they’ve got another think coming.
    And I’m definitely not going to agree that the likes of whatever-it-takes political opportunists of the MK47 calibre of Abbott, Brandis, Andrews, Morrison, Murdoch and pals should be in charge of control/defining them.

  24. David Hand

    Thanks klewso!
    I just knew it was Tony’s fault!

    It’s not about stereotyping. It’s about behaviour. It’s not what a soldier of ISIS looks like but what he does.

    The profiles of the 7/7/ London bombers are easy to find on the web. Have a look and you’ll get some insight why it is uncomfortable the have young Australians going to fight for the caliphate.

  25. klewso

    Don’t mention it, I didn’t.

  26. Ken Lambert

    David Hand

    Crikey keeps moderating my moderate comments

    “Have a look and you’ll get some insight why it is uncomfortable the have young Australians going to fight for the caliphate.”

    Uncomfortable all right David….the Abbott policy is I believe, AND SHOULD BE immediate cancellation of the boys passports and an invitation to stay there in the Caliphate until they enter the virgin rich world.

  27. Yclept

    “Thanks klewso!
    I just knew it was Tony’s fault!”
    Excellent David you’ve finally got it, after all, it can’t be Labor’s fault after all this time…

  28. Ken Lambert

    Eva Cox

    So your argument is that if there is an ignorant and prejudiced suspicion of you being a terrorist, then it is reasonable reaction to become one just to remove all doubt.

    Sounds like you should have been at the festival of dangerous ideas sharing a platform with the Imam.

  29. AR

    KenL – you mean like, “don’t call me violent or I’ll behead you!”?

  30. Ken Lambert


    Precisely. That explains why the post-pubescents from West Sydney rush off to do a bit of beheading and mass shooting hapless Iraqi captives.

    On the other hand, with the promise of a virgin rich world in the future, why wouldn’t manly young Westies with beards head for heaven instead of hostile surveillance by bogan coppers and suffocating mothers who keep ruffling your hair when you leave the house?

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