A panel of informed speakers has called on authorities to support community groups and to back more academic research in an effort to counter religious extremism in Australia.
The current issue of the susceptibility of young people to extremist ideologies was discussed at the SSI Speakers’ Series Radical appeal: young people and religious extremism on March 16.
Dr Jan Ali, a sociologist of Islam and senior lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, was joined by Maha Abdo, OAM CEO of United Muslim Women Association, and Lydia Shelly, who is a lawyer and community advocate. The panel discussion, which took place in Ashfield in front of a live audience of 85 people, was facilitated by The Point magazine editor Matt Khoury.
Dr Ali gave the opening presentation and provided a summary of research on religious radicalisation and definitions of extremism and terrorism. There are more than 100 definitions of terrorism, Dr Ali said, none of which were objective. He said more research and collaboration was needed to deal with the problem.
Ms Shelly said Australian Muslims should not be blamed or told they must fix the global problem of people turning to radical and violent ideologies.
“Radicalisation and terrorism is not a Muslim problem,” she said. “Australian Muslims are being asked to solve a global problem. It is not purely a Muslim problem. And the politicisation of national security and extremism is basically resulting in some very bad decisions that are not making Australia safer.”
Ms Abdo said the same conversations about radicalisation had been had since the 1990s. She said grass-roots programs that supported vulnerable people could counter the appeal of radical ideologies.
“We’ve been saying over and over again, that the issue is not about legalising or delegalising anything, it’s about putting your funding where programs are working,” she said. “There are plenty of good programs that are dealing with family restoration, domestic violence, mental health, and trauma issues.”