A government booklet designed to help teachers identify students at risk of radicalisation and terrorism has offended both teachers and environmentalists. The Radicalisation Awareness Kit for teachers was launched by Justice Minister Michael Keenan on Monday, but the examples it uses have not been well received. The “Preventing Violent Extremism and Radicalisation in Australia” booklet is part of the Living Safe Together program, and while it begins by talking up diversity and social cohesion, it takes a strange turn when it comes to the case studies.

The case study in the “Violent Extremism” chapter is the story of an environmental activist “who grew up in a loving family family who never participated in activism of any sort”. But when she moved to university and got involved with alternative music, student politics and left-wing activism, she was only steps away from leaving university to live in a forest camp and protest against logging:

“There was no intent to harm people but inevitably fighting broke out between protesters and loggers. Sometimes the locals and the police became involved in these incidents. Karen was arrested on numerous occasions for trespass, damaging property, assault and obstructing police. She said at the time she felt like she was a ‘soldier for the environment so breaking the law didn’t matter’.”

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Other case studies include a woman who gets involved with right-wing nationalism and hate crimes, and two examples of Muslim extremism. Environmental groups and the Greens have criticised the example, with the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Jonathan La Nauze telling the ABC: “It sounds like something that’s been dreamt up in the cigar room of the Institute of Public Affairs.”

Some social media users noted last night that the example used of Karen held quite a few similarities to Australian environmental activist Karen Alexander, who worked with Bob Brown in setting up the Melbourne branch of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society and the campaign against the Franklin Dam. Alexander was awarded an Order of Australia medal this year, after years working for environmental organisations.

When contacted by Crikey this morning, she was bemused to hear that Twitter users had made the connection.

“It’s sort of me,” she said, “but I wasn’t even involved in the Franklin blockade … I had to organise the election campaign, and there were plenty who wanted to go up river!” But Alexander wasn’t impressed with the government comparing her work to violent extremism. “This is shocking though … that as young people work through their issues in the way that is OK for them …  that this avenue is seen as anything like ‘terrorism’.”

The booklet says that violent extremism can be motivated by nationalist and religious ideologies, pointing to Christian fundamentalist Peter James Knight, who killed one person in an attack on a Melbourne abortion clinic in 2001. It also says that extremism can be “issue based”. “Supporters of this type of violent extremism can include groups that are anti-government, anti-globalisation or anti-capitalist,” it reads.

The case study featuring a young man who promoted terrorism is not nearly as detailed:

The brochure also classes behaviours as “notable”, “concerning”, or “[needing] attention”. “The individual begins to identify with a group or ideology that is very different from the mainstream” is a notable behaviour, while “They are very hostile towards people they see as the ‘enemy’ including law enforcement and the government,” is classified as needing “attention”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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