A recent report suggests that between 60 and 70 Australians may have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria
That 60 misguided individuals can hold a country steeped in multiculturalism to ransom, is indeed a study in frenzied media statements, politicians wanting to cash in on populist votes, and playing on the fears and insecurities of people.
No doubt, we must respect intelligence reports and ratchet up ways to make our community safer. More frontline police presence will certainly allay any fears which members of any community may be facing.
However, we need to focus on three areas so we can continue enjoying the freedom and openness that is a hallmark of our society, rather than the campaign of suspicion and fear that is currently on.
Let’s start with the leaders. Look at the marked contrast between how Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott articulated their concerns of home-grown terror threats.
PM Modi, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN, said, “My understanding is that they (Al-Qaeda) are doing injustice towards the Muslims of our country… If anyone thinks Indian Muslims will dance to their tune, they are delusional. Indian Muslims will live for India. They will die for India. They will not want anything bad for India”.
Asked why so few amongst India’s roughly 170 million Muslims have joined Al-Qaeda, Modi suggested the issue was one of a wider fight for principles, rather than a question of nationality. “This is a crisis against humanity, not against one country or one race”.
PM Tony Abbott on the other hand, articulated similar words of ‘Team Australia’, but rather than to drive home the message of being ‘one nation, one people’, only managed to antagonise a certain section of the community. While all Australians will agree that we need to fight this evil, true leadership can also be demonstrated by speaking softly but carrying a large stick.
PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie’s ill-informed comments about sharia law, and Liberal senator Cory Bernardi’s call to ban the burqa, rankled Muslim Australians and displayed ignorance at best or started a recruitment drive for ISIS at worst.
Second, the media needs to exercise restraint in feeding the fire. Case in point, the haste with which even a balanced group like Fairfax Media labelled an innocent young Muslim Australian man a “Teenage Terrorist”. In an apparent grab for eyeballs, competing against the more aggressive News Ltd stable of papers, this grave error by the Fairfax group, to be strongly condemned, highlights the need for those in charge of reporting and shaping community opinion to look beyond the headlines into what sort of society message they seek to send out. Shame on you, Fairfax, for what came through on your front pages.
Perhaps you could pick positive stories from multicultural Australia, about those who have contributed significantly to society. The doctors who perform miracles; the technicians who keep our IT systems running; the honest taxi drivers; the chefs who regale us with their culinary skills; the innumerable teachers who shape and mould the lives of our young ones – go seek out and expose these stories.
And finally, to us. There are many things we can do to enable ourselves and our children to live in a harmonious society. Google sharia law, so we can understand what it means, rather than to take Jacqui at her ignorant ranting. Learn about why the burqa is worn. Get to know our migrant neighbour. As 10-year-old caller Mohammed said on a recent ABC talkback show, “I am a Muslim Australian. Talk to us and get to know us. We are good people”.