Challenging Times for Islamic and Political Leaders

Islamic spiritual leaders in Australia must stand up, as they should right across the Arab world, and make it clear that the behaviour of those apparently fighting with Islamic State, is unacceptable.  More important, is the proactive work that they must do among both Australian Muslims and Australian non-Muslims to maintain calm and trust within the community.  Dr Jamal Rifi has already stood tall with his BBQ event Muslims4Australia in early September.  However, these sentiments need to be echoed over and over, far and wide by leaders of the community across Australia.  This is a long journey and it will be tough keeping safe the young, disaffected Australian Muslims who face, like all our youth, a period of high unemployment, rising education costs and economic uncertainty.

For their part, the Australian government and community leaders must continue the mantra that Islamic State is nothing to do with the average Australian Muslim.  And both sides of the political fence generally do it well, along with high profile organisations such as the AFL continually celebrating and promoting diversity and tolerance.

While all Australians must practice racial and religious tolerance because that is the fabric of our country, we must also be careful not to simply reject the important, passionate debates that come with these challenging times.  The Australian community has a right to question policies that allow detention without charge. Australians have a right to question the legitimacy of a religious ‘rule’ that requires a woman to cover her face. Australians have a right to question aerial bombing raids designed for the criminals that kill the innocent.  These debates mustn’t be silenced by either the political left or right.  These are legitimate discussions.

Prime Minister Abbot has made it clear that we will likely be required to balance the need for security with our right to freedom.  In other times it would be a huge statement but right now, with threats of public decapitations and the increased threat of terrorist attacks, the Prime Minister is on a strong footing.  The truth of the matter is that the danger may be no more significant than it was six months ago.

Amidst all this turmoil and debate the fair go attitude of Australian workplaces must prevail. Employers must continue to provide environments that protect the rights of every Australian worker.  That includes Muslim workers.  When fear prevails, emotional behaviour that is counter to our workplace laws is more likely. Niggling and provocative behaviour can become part of the culture. Hostilities can overflow and incidents can occur. One case in the Fair Work Commission this week highlighted the point as a worker fought his dismissal, which was enacted due to an offensive email he sent to a large group of colleagues in and outside the company, regarding Muslim people. Despite condemnation from his managers and Deputy President Asbury who heard the case, the worker maintained that the contents of the email were true and expressed no remorse for his actions.

It is probably a very good time for organisations, especially those with a diverse workforce that includes a Muslim contingent, to reinforce individual responsibilities around discrimination, harassment and bullying as well the organisation’s commitment to diversity.

In the meantime the wider community must be convinced that there is a true commitment by governments and community leaders to effectively managing the real risk.  While in no way wanting to trivialise the risk of a terrorist attack, the real issue is helping disaffected young people who are playing their frustrations out on a religious stage.  If you read the profiles of those who tend to gravitate to extremism, you are usually reading a profile associated with deep psychological fragility and vulnerability. This current challenge is more about the social structures and support systems of a society rather than Islam.  What becomes important from this point on is that Islamic and community leaders across the nation emphasise the notion of a diverse Australia and demonstrate, like every worthy social leader, transparency and a commitment to improving the opportunities available to the disaffected and vulnerable.


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