Muslims debate building better relationshipsShaoquett Moselmane
ASHLEY HALL: Condemned by police, politicians and the Muslim community, last week\’s violent protest in Sydney has prompted a large amount of self-examination.
Two questions have dominated the discussion: What prompted the anger and what can be done to stop it from happening again?
Today, I\’m joined by a panel of guests who\’ve been working to foster strong relationships within and outside Australia\’s Muslim community to discuss these questions and some more as well.
Mohammed El-leissy is the youth engagement officer with the Islamic Council of Victoria. He is running a little late and will join us shortly from The World Today studios in Melbourne.
Sam Almaliki is a youth commissioner on the NSW Community Relations Commission (CRC) and he co-chairs the CRC\’s Multicultural Youth Network. He is joining us in Sydney.
Also in Sydney, Shaoquett Moselmane, a Labor member of the New South Wales Upper House, and a former mayor of Rockdale in Sydney\’s southern suburbs.
Thanks for joining me gentlemen.
SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: G\’day Ashley.
SAM ALMALIKI: Thank you Ashley.
ASHLEY HALL: I understand Mohammed you are there now.
MOHAMMED EL-LEISSY: Yes I am, yes.
ASHLEY HALL: You perhaps didn\’t hear Tim Cartwright mention but he was saying that police in Victoria have a very good relationship with Melbourne\’s Islamic Community. Do you agree with that?
MOHAMMED EL-LEISSY: I did hear that and I absolutely agree. We have a, we generally I think in terms of the leadership, we have cultivated for many years a wonderful relationship. Every year we come together in Ramadan, we have a dinner. We also serve on a multi-faith advisory committee with the police, so we do but it is not an easy situation to be in. It takes many years and I think we are grateful in these times of crisis to start cultivating the fruits of those efforts.
ASHLEY HALL: Is that a relationship that exists organisation to organisation or individual to individual?
MOHAMMED EL-LEISSY: Oh, on both levels but predominately organisation to organisation but as I think as the years have gone on they have certainly become a lot more personal.
ASHLEY HALL: Sam Almaliki, the academic Rachel Woodlock says that one of the big differences between the two cities, Melbourne and Sydney, is in the approach of police – while they\’re organising football games and dinners in Melbourne, they\’re cranking up a Middle Eastern crime squad in Sydney. How would you characterise the relationship between police and the community in Sydney?
SAM ALMALIKI: I think overwhelmingly as we\’ve seen post the riots, it\’s a very strong relationship that has been building over the years. I am always prepared and willing to support the judgement of law enforcement authorities in preparation of events that we saw on Saturday and again this weekend. I think the police are taking a precautionary but the right response because we don\’t want to see violence in our cities irrespective of its source.
ASHLEY HALL: But I asked a broader question about the relationship between the community and the police – on an everyday basis are there good relationships there?
SAM ALMALIKI: From what I could see and where I\’m at through my involvement in the community, absolutely and we\’ve seen that through the united press conference that was held by community leaders and also the New South Wales Police yesterday.
ASHLEY HALL: Shaoquett Moselmane, there\’s been a lot of discussion this week about how there\’s a group of disenfranchised young Muslim men, particularly in Sydney, who aren\’t being heard by Muslim community leaders. That\’s the claim. Is that what you believe, how would you describe that relationship between young men and the leaders of the community?
SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: Look, I think there\’s certainly a connection there but overwhelmingly the community works extremely well. You know, when you are talking about the Muslim community, there is half a million in Australia. There are 60 ethnic different backgrounds and…
ASHLEY HALL: It\’s wrong to describe it as one community in many ways.
SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: That is exactly right. There\’s many, many different communities out there and the example you saw on the weekend is absolutely an outright not reflective of the community. They are a harmonious community and I agree with Sam and Mohammed what they said, the community works extremely well at all levels of government, whether with the police or government departments and so forth but you\’ve got a fringe group that are, have gone out expressed their anger about a video, about hatreds that have been expressed on the Islamic religion and as a result have expressed them in a way that is unacceptable and that\’s why we\’ve condemned it in the Parliament and the community have condemned it outright throughout whether it is religious and non-religious leaders have condemned those actions.
ASHLEY HALL: Sam Almaliki, is that how you see it? Are the traditional pathways to communication still working?
SAM ALMALIKI: Look, to go back to your original question, I think there is always disaffected youth in any society and in any community. We know that for example in regional New South Wales that young people feel disaffected and not included in the broader community. The same applies for the Muslim community. I think where there is a particular void is the communities work and reach out to those who engage in antisocial behaviour and end up facing law enforcement authorities and being imprisoned and while they are in prison, I don\’t think we as a community are doing enough and certainly could do more to connect with those people as they try, more often than not, to pursue a righteous path post-prison.
Unfortunately the people who are engaging them are those with extremist ideologies and those who are on a recruitment drive non-stop. That\’s a void that certainly, as a person who is involved with the Muslim community that the mainstream Australian Muslim community should fill and not leave it to be filled by extremists who simply have nothing to spread other than hate and violence in our community.
ASHLEY HALL: Mohammed El-leissy, you\’re a youth engagement officer. How do you measure success in that task and do you take your message into prison?
MOHAMMED EL-LEISSY: Well, we do. I think one thing that the ICV (Islamic Council of Victoria) does incredibly well and I hope it sort of gets replicated in Sydney is we have a very strong prison chaplaincy service but we also have a post-release program that we offer to Muslim people coming out of prison.
That may have been a, that could very much be susceptible to the targets of more radical elements or fringe elements so it is about really being there and supporting people and it is certainly, I think with us, the way we are measuring it is, I think we are making progress. I think we can, we\’re being able to measure that because we are seeing a lot more people being engaged with our organisation, we are seeing and that\’s also thanks to many things like social media and the sort of more transparent world we live in. People are also, along with being able to connect with their wider, the broader media and leadership and that, they are also able to connect with the leadership of the Muslim community so I think we are seeing a lot more young people use those tools to engage with us, whether it is through Facebook or Twitter and I think that is a very positive thing.
ASHLEY HALL: There is a perception, Mohammed El-leissy that there is a hierarchy within the Islam, within the Muslim community that makes it difficult for the senior leadership to engage with younger members, that individuals are not encouraged to speak their own mind. Is that an accurate perception?
MOHAMMED EL-LEISSY: It is hard to really answer that clearly because where the fault lies or the blame lies is really quite questionable in the sense that I certainly agree that our leadership do not seem as accessible as they should be.
That is incredibly problematic and I think that does cause young people to be hesitant to reach out to them but having said that I think the mentality of the leadership is they do want to be engaged and I think they certainly aren\’t putting up brick walls.
So I think we need to sort of find a common ground where we can encourage young people to engage much better with the community leadership and sort of maybe facilitate ways for that leadership to make themselves even more accessible.
SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: Just jumping in on that, Ashley, I agree to some extent with Mohammed with what he said, but there is different levels of leaderships that exist like in any community. You\’ve got the hierarchical religious leaders and then you\’ve got community leaders. There is so many community groups and organisations out there that do reach out to the young and the old and you know, the females and others in their community.
So there are opportunities but I think the real key to that is education, you know, and supporting those groups to provide that bit of education to strengthen the understanding between different communities, not just those young disenfranchised people.
Like we saw in the Cronulla riots, it is the young people that went out and were violent in a very racist attitude against the Muslim community at the time and we all condemned it and the unfortunate thing is that what will this create now is a spiral of violence or hatreds as we\’ve heard from the white supremacists groups that are putting out there that, you know, and others, that it\’s, these Muslims are not Australians and they should go back to their countries.
Well, you know again, let\’s not generalise. As I said there is half a million Muslims out there. There is a handful of disenfranchised people, it\’s those people\’s problems that we need to address.
ASHLEY HALL: Staying with you Shaoquett- sorry, go on.
MOHAMMED EL-LEISSY: No, I just wanted to add to that as well that I think the issue we are facing is not actually dissimilar to any other community. I mean if you do look at white supremacists, where are the greater leadership in our nation as well to sort of stop them from acting on the fringe or carrying out acts of violence.
I think that people that are on the fringe will always struggle to engage with leadership. That\’s the nature of the situation that we\’re in. I think we can sort of run programs to help them get out of that but the situation at the Muslim community is not too dissimilar I think from the wider community in the way that wider community or the Australian community engages with fringe elements whether they would be white supremacists or any other groups.
ASHLEY HALL: Shaoquett Moselmane, I wanted to come back to you again on the question of the senior members members of the community groups coming out and criticising the protests during the week. We\’ve seen that a couple of times in different incidents and the call for no more protests. It has happened much more quickly and in a much more united way than we\’ve seen in the past with other incidents.
How important has that been and what\’s the risk though that the leadership is seen to be contriving or siding with the police who have been accused by some people of being heavy handed and indeed baiting protesters?
SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: Yeah, look I think there is a difference between the leadership that we have today and the leadership we had 20, 30 years ago. They were the original generation, first generation Australians that had a lot on their minds in terms of the overseas, international issues but now you have a young generation of leadership, religious and otherwise, that are well spoken, articulate, can really come out there and speak and address the issues as the way they did in the last few days.
So you have a new, talented, experienced and well spoken leadership and that\’s why you had them come out quickly to address those problems and that\’s the way they have been acting throughout the community on many levels and their cooperation with the police and as I said earlier with the Government and other departments has been key to ensuring that, you know, the Muslim community, like any other community, is well part of the Australian community.
SAM ALMALIKI: Ashley, can I add that the response from the Islamic leadership community has been commendable and one of the things and one of the positive things that have come out of the events that have occurred in the last week or so is that this is a community that for this time being for a change has a strong leadership and people like Samir Dandan of the Lebanese Muslim Association who are prepared to stand up and say the community will not tolerate the lunatics that exist, as all communities have lunatics and we saw some of the ones that exist within the Muslim community over the weekend.
That\’s important in generating goodwill with the rest of the Australian community and saying that the Muslim community, as all communities should be in our multicultural society are united in their efforts to stamp out and stand against extremist and violent elements in our society. It\’s a very good response and one to be proud of, whether you are Muslim or non-Muslim in our society.
ASHLEY HALL: Let\’s stick you Sam. We talked a little bit about the notion that these are disenfranchised young men. There is another point of view that is put in today\’s Sydney Morning Herald by the commentator Graham Richardson and he suggests these are not disenfranchised young men but they\’ve actually themselves outside of the mainstream.
They\’re blokes who\’ve chosen to stand apart, constantly in search of a fight, running amok, unchecked by parents or imams or police and that\’s made them vulnerable to being recruited into what he calls “the lunatic fringe”. Does he have any, does that hold water for you at all?
SAM ALMALIKI: To some extent it does but nobody goes walking on their own free will away from any grouping or any community unless they are assisted by a certain set of conditions and a social environment that allows them to say well, I don\’t want to be part of the mainstream and that\’s the key whether it be for the Muslim community or our broader community when we are dealing with younger people at a general level.
We\’ve got to make sure that we give every young person in our society the hope that they can be included, they can be part of our community as productive citizens and the same applies to the Muslim community. If these people feel that they are being connected at home and at a more broader community level, they won\’t make that choice that Graham Richardson talks about.
ASHLEY HALL: So are they lacking that connection at home or at a community level?
SAM ALMALIKI: I believe that we can always do more to connect with our younger people, including at home, and what sort of values we foster among these young people. You know, we all need to strive more to make sure that we emphasise the importance of having a strong Australian identity among our young people, the importance of education to opening a window of opportunities throughout one\’s life.
We can all do more of that and emphasise less on material well-being.
ASHLEY HALL: We are running short of time so I did want to move onto to another area which is that of legal protection and there have been some calls this week for laws against religious vilification and indeed the French government is urging people who are unhappy about the latest cartoons which mock the prophet Mohammed to take to the courts rather than to the streets and there have been calls here for further laws against religious vilification and including from the Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and a similar call from you Shaoquett Moselmane for the inclusion of religion in anti-discrimination legislation. Why do you feel that would make a difference?
SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: Well, I\’ve been calling for that for some time now. It is not because of this incident. I just think that, you know, we have a very successful multicultural society in Australia to the envy of the whole world, that we are a truly harmonious society but in our legislation, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, it does not have religious ground against discrimination and I\’ve been running a petition on that and we\’ve got about 3,000 signatures and great support coming through and we\’re at the moment going through a consultation process before we introduce a private members bill or a bill that would deal with that.
The reality is there are legislation in all the states, in almost all the states bar one I think, that has religion as grounds of discrimination except New South Wales and that\’s why I\’m calling for that and by having religion in there, at least it provides a bit more protection for those people who feel that they\’re being targeted.
ASHLEY HALL: Sam, very quickly, how important is it to have that sort of legal protection?
SAM ALMALIKI: I think it\’s important to have the right legal protection. It is very important that vilification laws are drafted in a very careful and considered way because what we could end up seeing is more litigation and in fact more community animosity as a result of a bill that is not drafted appropriately.
MOHAMMED EL-LEISSY: I agree.
ASHLEY HALL: Thank you all for coming in then. That\’s a great, agreement is a good point to end. Thank you very much for coming here.
Mohammed El-leissy, the youth engagement officer with the Islamic Council of Victoria in our Melbourne studio, thank you.
MOHAMMED EL-LEISSY: Thank you.
ASHLEY HALL: Sam Almaliki a youth commissioner on the New South Wales Community Relations Commission, thanks for joining us in Sydney.
SAM ALMALIKI: Pleasure.
ASHLEY HALL: And Shaoquett Moselmane, thank you for joining us here as well. Shaoquett is a Labor member of the New South Wales Upper House.
SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: Thank you Ashley.
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