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Islamophobia: undermining our countering-terrorism efforts

Posted By on September 1, 2016 @ 14:30

Image courtesy of Flickr user rachaelvoorhees.

Recently, Today Extra host Sonia Kruger made headlines of her own [1] stating Australia should close its borders to Muslims to prevent terrorism. As Australian governments and community leaders work to counter terrorism and violent extremism, the social phenomenon of Islamophobia threatens to undermine their efforts.

So what is Islamophobia and why is it a problem?

Islamophobia [2] means to dislike or prejudice Muslims or Islam. The phenomenon has become more visible in recent years due to a direct association being made by some, such as Kruger, between the religion of Islam, and the terrorism of violent Islamist extremism. Note the operative word, extremism, is a noun which has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity.

Statements that come from fear and misunderstanding can have inadvertent consequences. Such statements can be interpreted as Islamophobic because of the hurtful impact they may have on our Muslim community. It’s important to remember, however, that all Australians—Muslims and Non-muslims—are exposed to terrorist threats in our community.

Any cause can engender violent behaviour. The current global Islamist terror threat emanates from radical ideology—not religion. Religion is brought into the conversation when Islamist extremists cherry pick verses of the Koran or Hadith (Mohamed’s traditions) and interpret the meaning to fit their ideology.

Extreme views, and extreme acts, may exist in all parts of society, irrespective of religion, gender or ethnicity. Prior to 9/11 [3], for example, the most devastating terrorist attack in the US was the politically-motivated 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh [4]. In fact, an FBI report [5] reveals that 94% of terror attacks in the US between 1980 and 2005 were conducted by non-Muslims.

The Global Terrorism Index 2015 [6] notes that, with the exception of 9/11, only 0.5% of terrorism-related deaths over the past 15 years occurred in Western countries. Significantly, Islamist fundamentalism wasn’t the primary motivator for lone actor terrorist attacks in the West over this period; 80% of the deaths were attributed to drivers including far-right extremism, nationalism, political extremism and supremacism.

I have firsthand experience of the ideological nature of the current terror threat. While deployed on military operations fighting Islamist extremists across several countries, I worked and lived alongside Muslims who shared the same mission as me. We were fighting the same enemy, and they and their families were subject to the same terrorist threats as me. Terrorists don’t discriminate based on religion or ethnicity, regardless of whether they’re in Sydney, Baghdad or Kabul.

The effect of Islamophobia on Australia’s Muslim communities paints an interesting picture. Research [7] shows that since 9/11, many Australian Muslims feel isolated and insecure due to social marginalisation, and fearful because of verbal insults and discrimination. In some cases, those feelings can affect identity and force victims to change their behaviours or other aspects of their life. That could mean, for example, relocating to another suburb or even another country where they’ll be able to wear a hijab without standing out.

In some cases, Islamophobia can make people vulnerable and more likely to become radicalised and influenced by Islamist extremists. That often plays out in the virtual world where people turn to the internet in search of solidarity. While there’s no templated path to radicalisation [8], extremist recruiters target vulnerable people because they’re more likely to radicalise or form extreme views when they feel disempowered. While discrimination may not be the primary driver for radicalisation, it’s proven to be a complex, contributing factor.

I recently met a young Muslim woman at the Women and Violent Extremism: Myth and Reality [9] conference at the Australian National University. She shared with the conference a series of vignettes dating back to 9/11, when her experience with Islamophobia began. An Australian-born Muslim, she had been raised feeling she was a valued citizen of our country. But that changed after 9/11 when her appearance and her religion began to attract negative comments and attention. She’s an intelligent, valuable contributor to society, yet she sometimes feels isolated in her own country and, at other times, even ostracised.

I found her story particularly powerful as she described her experience of discrimination intensifying immediately after a terrorist attack. She’s outraged by all acts of terrorism, yet she’s discriminated against because she chooses to wear a hijab and is of Middle Eastern descent.

The federal and state governments have taken significant steps to implement countering violent extremism (CVE) [10] programmes, yet Islamophobia is indirectly undermining those efforts by marginalising the very people local governments are trying to work with.

So what’s the way forward? Part of Australia’s counterterrorism machinery [11] focuses on CVE. Good progress has been made to bridge gaps between the governments, academia and vulnerable communities, but more work still needs to be done. Highlighting the importance of this issue, Prime Minister Turnbull told Parliament [12] this morning ‘we must not link all Muslims with the crimes of a terrorist minority.’

Education and communication through mentoring programs and open dialogue is the key. Community leaders and young Muslim Australians need to be given a platform to speak up and share their stories. The right voices speaking at the right time can be an extremely powerful tool.

Governments should continue to invest in vulnerable communities and bring people from all sides of the argument to the table. Better collaboration is needed to stamp out racial discrimination of all kinds and to stop Islamophobia from widening the cultural seams in our society. We must work together to build resilience across communities and to educate all Australians that it’s not okay to discriminate against others.

As Australians, we pride ourselves on giving people a fair go. It’s now time to pause and listen. You can’t have an informed view if you aren’t prepared to hear both sides of the argument. It’s time for change because greater understanding and cooperation at the grass roots community level will help the Australian governments’ CVE efforts as part of a broader counterterrorism strategic plan [13].

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/islamophobia-undermining-countering-terrorism-efforts/

URLs in this post:

[1] Sonia Kruger made headlines of her own: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/today-extra-response-to-sonia-krugers-muslim-controversy-typifies-mess-20160719-gq8y17.html

[2] Islamophobia: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/islamophobia

[3] 9/11: http://www.history.com/topics/9-11-attacks

[4] Timothy McVeigh: http://www.history.com/topics/oklahoma-city-bombing

[5] FBI report: https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005#terror_05sum

[6] Global Terrorism Index 2015: http://economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Global-Terrorism-Index-2015.pdf

[7] Research: http://mams.rmit.edu.au/54r0iwshz36j.pdf

[8] While there’s no templated path to radicalisation: https://www.livingsafetogether.gov.au/informationadvice/Documents/understanding-the-radicalisation-process.pdf

[9] Women and Violent Extremism: Myth and Reality: http://cais.anu.edu.au/node/687

[10] countering violent extremism (CVE): https://www.ag.gov.au/NationalSecurity/Counteringviolentextremism/Pages/default.aspx

[11] Australia’s counterterrorism machinery: http://www.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/190215_CT_Review_0.pdf

[12] Turnbull told Parliament: https://twitter.com/SkyNewsAust

[13] counterterrorism strategic plan: https://www.aspi.org.au/publications/agenda-for-change-2016-strategic-choices-for-the-next-government/Agenda-for-change-2016.pdf

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