Changing Islam: the quest for a moderate, Australian Islam

The Australian Government has stated in unequivocal terms those aspects of Islam it considers the antithesis to Australian values. It has, in turn, undertaken measures to normalise the adoption of, and adherence to, an Islam devoid of key Islamic values and concepts.

Before the current tide of politicians, academics, journalists and commentators coming out and openly calling for the secularisation of Islam, this objective was certainly noticeable over a period of the last 15 years.  Inshallah we will revisit this trend so that the current direct attack upon Islamic ideals can be seen in light of a historical trend that emanated from both sides of the political ‘mainstream’.


 

Policymakers recognise that Islam is a comprehensive and unique ideology that seeks to challenge the existing orders, established by the West, prevalent in Muslim lands. Tony Blair alluded to this in his speech to the Australian Parliament in March 2006,

“Their case is that democracy is a western concept we are forcing on an unwilling culture of Islam.  The problem we have is that a part of opinion in our own countries agrees with them.”[1]

There is an overt effort to detach key Islamic ideas from Muslims. This is done by on the one hand supporting, financing and promoting key non-Islamic ideas, such as secularism and liberal freedoms, as being Islamic and on the other hand by targeting, challenging and characterising key Islamic ideas, such as ultimate sovereignty being for Allah alone, the Khilafah, the implementation of Shariah, and Jihad, as being non-Islamic and extreme.

The means employed for this are various: establishing state-funded Islamic studies centres, training Imams and other community leaders in Australian values, establishing Islamic Studies curricula to be taught at primary and secondary Islamic schools, and funding programs within the community that aim to ‘challenge extremist ideology’. Whatever the means, these efforts are all channeled towards one objective; altering the understanding of Islam by stripping away ideas that clash with the secular liberal nation-state framework to which Australia subscribes.

‘Islam in an Australian context’

This was done by introducing the concept of teaching and practicing ‘Islam in an Australian context’.

John Howard and Brendan Nelson first introduced the idea. In the press conference following John Howard’s famous meeting with Muslim leaders in Parliament House, Canberra, in August 2005, he noted,

“There is a problem, there is a concern and it’s shared in the Islamic Community that there is not a sufficient Australian perspective felt and conveyed by some of the imam’s. And that’s why this issue is raised initially by Dr Nelson, and is one we’re going to take forward.”[2]

From 2006, and corresponding largely with the announcements to establish a government-funded university Islamic Studies centre, the Government began to push this idea of ‘Islam in an Australian context’ to be taught to the community, particularly to students, religious leaders and aspiring ‘home-grown’ Imams – as the following articulations show (italics emphasis ours).

“The courses will provide many subjects relevant for those training to be Muslim religious leaders, providing an important vehicle for the teaching of Islam in an Australian context, applying the usual academic rigour of the Australian university system. This will be particularly helpful to young Australian Muslims who want to understand the role of religion in Australia. It will also help religious leaders and teachers understand the context within which their adherents practice their faith. The centre will attract eminent, moderate Islamic scholars from around the world who will provide an authoritative community reference point.” Andrew Robb, July 2006[3]

“Local training of Imams would be greatly assisted by the creation of a world class Institute of Islamic Studies, established within a prominent Australian university. Such an institute would attract eminent, moderate Islamic scholars who would provide an authoritative community reference point; scholars capable of expanding the circle of reference for the impressionable — those young Muslims questioning their identity, challenged by the question of “who am I?”

Australia can provide a bridge between the West and many of those countries in the region with large Muslim populations. It will also help to put Islam into an Australian context. Many Muslim young people have grown up in Australia and some of the teachings of Islam and the customs of some Islamic countries have no relevance for them. Or that’s what I’m hearing from them.” – Andrew Robb, April 2006[4]

“Religious leaders from these communities may therefore be inappropriately trained, in some cases, to meet the needs of their congregation in an Australian environment. Action under the National Action Plan (NAP) could include: providing professional development opportunities in an Australian context, which will promote greater understanding of Australian values and culture.” – Department of Immigration and Citizenship website.[5]

“My Religion, Our Country: a Resource for Islamic Religious Education in Australia is designed for teachers of Islam in an Australian context. The aim is to identify in broad terms, against the back-stop of Australian law, the issues that underpin life in a harmonious, multi-faith, cohesive, multicultural society and make explicit the links between those issues and the teachings of Islam in an Australian context.”[6]

Muslim academics affiliated with these government programs also used the language.

“The Centre will be instrumental in graduating students who are well-versed in both the Australian and Islamic contexts – a necessary requirement for bridging the gap between the two cultures.” – Dr Mohamad Abdalla, January 2007.[7]

“It will also function as an important think tank in relation of Islamic issues particularly in the Australian context.” – Abdullah Saeed, January 2007.[8]

“…and one of the dilemmas that the Imams have had in the past was having perhaps representatives, be they spokesperson or otherwise, who are not able to articulate the, I guess, the needs and the requirements of Islam and the Muslims within a socioeconomic political Australian context…I think that is the underlying point. In the past I think we have failed to look at the idea of contextualisation. How can we look at Islamic law and Islamic thought in a way that allows the Muslims to work with, and not in confrontation with, the system and the context that we live in.” – Dr. Mohamad Abdalla, spokesperson for ANIC, March 2007.[9]

Dr. Mohamad Abdalla was the vice-president and spokesperson for the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) at the time as well the Islamic Studies Program Director at the Griffith Islamic Research Unit, which was the Queensland node of the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies (NCEIS) and which had the same objective of promoting ‘moderate Islam’.

“The core element of this program area is the Griffith Islamic Research Unit (GIRU), which was established in 2004 as part of the Key Centre to encourage research on issues that relate to Islam and the Muslims in an Australian context. The central aim of GIRU is to promote a Wasatiyya or “moderate” Islam, and a true understanding of Islam and Muslims.” – The Owl’s Beak, Griffith University newsletter, 2007.[10]

“The aim of Griffith University’s Islamic research unit, established in 2005, is to promote a balanced and contextualised understanding of Islam and Muslims.” – Ian O’Connor, then Vice-Chancellor of Griffith University, April 2008.[11]

The NCEIS

The National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies (NCEIS) was established in 2007 with $8m of funding from the Howard Government. It was a major development in the efforts of the Australian Government to promote a state-sanctioned version of Islam. One of the stated aims of the centre was to produce home-grown Imams and Muslim leaders well versed in this ‘moderate’ version of Islam.

Andrew Robb described the centre’s objectives as Islam finding its place in modern society. In other words, how to refine Islam so that it can exist in the modern secular liberal context.

“The creation of a world class centre of research and educational excellence in Islamic studies within a major Australian university, to play a leadership role in exploring the place of Islam in modern society.” Andrew Robb, August 2006.[12]

The centre was a government initiative, funded by government and with objectives set by government.

“The negotiation of a funding agreement will include a requirement for the Centre to adhere to a clear set of objectives, against which it will report annually.” – Minister for Education media release, January 2007.[13]

The centre was modelled on the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington as a think-tank on Islamic issues advising the government and facilitating Muslim integration, as explained by Andrew Robb, then Vocational and Further Education Minister, at the launch of the centre in October 2007.

“I found the governments in the United States relied heavily on the wisdom and the insights of a lot of those scholars of all religious backgrounds who have benefited from understanding one another. And that meant within the US, they are making more balanced decisions and helping the integration of Muslim members of their community in an effective way.”[14]

The launch of the centre was attended by university administrators, academics, politicians and Muslim community leaders such as the then Mufti.

“On Tuesday 23 October, Professor Paul Mazerolle, represented the (Griffith) University at the official launch of the National Centre of Excellence in Islamic Studies which was held at the University of Melbourne. Professor Mazerolle joined University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor, Professor Glyn Davis to celebrate this milestone, along with Commonwealth Government Minister for Vocation and Further Education, Andrew Robb MP, Professor Abdullah Saeed, Director of the Centre, and the Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam.”  The Owl’s Beak, Griffith University newsletter, 2007.[15]

The centre was even welcomed by the Jewish community leaders, evidently because the goals of the centre pleased those who had an interest to see the Islam reformed and moderated.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) president Grahame Leonard said the initiative, which has the backing of the Federal Government “has objectives we very much applaud”.

Leonard said the appointment of Professor Abdullah Saeed, an acclaimed Islamic educator at the University of Melbourne, as the centre’s director “is comforting and a good appointment… we have had dealings with him and find him to be a moderate”.[16]

The choice of those who led the NCEIS is also indicative of the objectives of the centre. Abdullah Saeed and Shahram Akbarzadeh have been Director and Deputy Director of the centre from the beginning in 2007 till present.

Abdullah Saeed is openly secular. He believes that Australia is already an Islamic country and favourably views the belief that there is “no problem at all in living as good, committed, practising Muslims within a non-Muslim legal framework and among non-Muslims”, that “there is no need for Muslims to follow classical Islamic law, including family law, if this is not in line with existing Australian law”, and that, “Islam is primarily a relationship between an individual and God, a relationship based on a set of ethical-moral values and norms, and that this can be practised anywhere where there is religious freedom and justice,” irrespective of whether one lives under Islamic law or non-Islamic law.[17]

He also advocates “re-reading” the Qur’an as a means for Muslims to “embrace modernity”.[18] He is the author of “Focus on Islam in Australia”, a book published in 2003 in which Professor Saeed emphasises the need, in his view, for the Muslim community “to demonstrate that commitment to Islam does not jeopardise their commitment to Australia and its core values”, even to the extent of changing aspects of Islam, as he notes,

 “The challenge for religious leaders is justifying this commitment theologically and religiously. This may require rethinking of some positions taken in classical Islamic law in relation to these core Australian values.”  – Abdullah Saeed, June 2003.[19]

Shahram Akbarzadeh adopts similar views. He believes in re-interpreting Islam, that secular British and Australian law is already Islamic[20], and that the majority of Muslims want secular law.[21]

The centre even went as far as having a reformist lesbian academic teach a course – Women in Arabic and Islamic Literature – wherein she promoted reforming Islam by changing its position on homosexuality. Dr Samar Habib,

“…received her doctorate from the University of Sydney, Australia. Her monograph Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations was published by Routledge in 2007…Her Islamic Texts on Female Homosexuality 850-1700 AD was published by Teneo Press in 2009. Her critical translation of the Lebanese novel Ana Hiya Anti / I Am You by Elham Mansour was published in 2008.”[22]

 Dr Habib also promoted her new book Arabo-Islamic Texts on Female Homosexuality, 850 – 1780 A.D to her UWS ‘Muslim Harmony Group’ colleagues. The book’s synopsis notes,

“The question of gay and lesbian human rights in the Muslim world is a topical and pressing one, and the need now for alternative ways of approaching Islam in the modern world is more important than ever. The answers to today’s modern crisis in human rights for LGBTIQ people lies in looking at the past and highlighting elements that can assist in the creation of a more equitable future. This publication discovers and brings to the English reader an array of surviving texts penned by Muslim scholars discussing female samesex desire. From the tolerant days of the Abbasid caliphate to the celebratory text of Yusuf Tifashi in the thirteenth century and onwards toward growing strictures and greater intolerance, Arabo-Islamic Texts reveals a dynamic and lively discourse on sexuality in the Arabo-Islamic empire.”[23]

This episode registered a qualified objection by the Australian National Imams Council, which said in a statement,

“The University of Western Sydney is a University of good repute amongst the mainstream and Muslim community, and therefore we would like to place on the record our deep concern with regards to a course taught at the University under the course name ‘Women in Arabic and Islamic Literature’… The subject’s emphasis on sexuality and its explicit sexual content is not reflective of normative Islam which is what we thought the National Centre of Excellence in Islamic Studies would attempt to portray.” – Shaykh Moez Nafti, President of ANIC, April 2008.[24]

Director Abdullah Saeed, however, responded,

“Everyone has a right to express their opinion and views and that is what is happening. One of the essential things is to uphold academic freedoms and intellectual freedoms of students and the staff.”[25]

Secularising Islam

Policymakers leading the development and implementation of counter-extremism and integration policies have also been quite clear about their seeking to change Islam.

Laurie Ferguson, then Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, noted in March 2008 in quite clear terms his objection to the “unthinking adherence to what the Quran says” and his preference that the Quran’s reading be adapted to the modern secular society. In response to a question as to whether it was wise that he had introduced Tariq Ramadan at the government-funded Griffith University Islamic Research Unit’s first international conference he said,

“No, well his detractors have made certain allegations against him. I actually didn’t listen to the detractors, I went and heard him. I introduced him, but I didn’t walk out the door straight afterwards, I heard him speak, and I am confirmed in a view that he is a force for the better. It is very rare that Islamist fundamentalists advocate that their students should go to the secular education system rather than religious schools. I thought his whole message was that Muslims in the West have to adapt to that society, his view is not one of kind of total unthinking adherence to what the Qur’an says, his view is about adaptation…I think this guy was worthwhile, I defend totally my decision to introduce him. I think he’s got a good message.”[26] [Italics emphasis ours]

In Andrew Robb’s address to over a hundred Imams at the Conference of Australian Imams in September 2006, he charged the Imams with the task of demonstrating to their congregation that Islam and the western way of life are not in conflict. He then went further to criticise and label as extremist those that take as their reference the Prophet’s, peace be upon him, 7th century era,

“As the spiritual leaders of Australian Muslims you carry major responsibilities. In some ways those responsibilities are daunting, but they are also rich with opportunity: the opportunity for you to demonstrate that the true expression of Islam is not in conflict with a western way of life…

“The extremists want to take the Muslim community back to the 7th Century. But, there are many hundreds of millions of other Muslims supportive of democracy, who are economic modernisers, who want to see Islam regain its long lost prominence in world sciences, the arts, in commerce.”[27]

In perhaps the most telling example of policymakers’ desire to see Islam change, Peter Costello, then Federal Treasurer, in an address to the Christian Lobby National Conference in September 2006 expressed plainly his wish for the Muslims to take Mustafa Kemal Attaturk as their example in adopting the secular nation-state construct despite the Prophet’s example being in complete contradiction to this.

“The Prophet Muhammad was also persecuted for his religious teaching. From Mecca he was put to flight to Medina. There he gathered supporters, formed an army, led it in battle, defeated those that had forced him out, and conquered Mecca. He became Head of State. ‘As such he governed a place and a people, dispensed justice, collected taxes, commanded armies, waged war and made peace.’ His teachings cover how and when to fight military battles.

“Early Islamic history is quite different from early Christian history. From the outset Islam instituted government. Establishing the rule of Islam in Mecca was seen as the intervention of God. It was a victory won by military force.

“This does not mean there is no experience of a secular state separate from the religious domain in the Muslim world. The most outstanding example would be the establishment of modern Turkey out of the old Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal Atatrk [sic], well known in Australia as the Commander of the Turkish victory at Gallipoli in 1915 went on to found modern Turkey as a secular state – a path he believed would lead to modernity. In this regard he is one of the great leaders of the Twentieth Century. He should be held out as a model of leadership for the modern Islamic world.

The separation of the state from religion liberates both. It preserves freedom for religion. It liberates the church from the baggage of unpopular and difficult political decision making. It liberates the State from the religious dogma which at times, has held back scientific progress.

“I believe, that a secular national state can be adopted by Muslim societies and, what is more, that doing so will lead to greater technological and economic progress.”[28]

Before his current blunt statements on Islam,  Tony Abbott too, then Federal Minister for Health, was clear about the objective of secularising Islam,

“There never seems to have been the Islamic equivalent of the Enlightenment. Islam doesn’t seem to have a well-developed concept of pluralism, and the separation of church and state. And pluralism and the separation of church and state are central to modern western society. So, this is an issue and it’s something that all of us are going to have to work through together.” – Tony Abbott, October 2006.[29]

This notion of contextualising Islam and Muslims has also been propagated within the Muslim community through projects funded by the government as part of counter-extremism efforts. June 2012, for instance, saw the Contextualising Australian Muslims Summit 2012, with a keynote from Aftab Malik who is an advisory board member of the British Council’s “Our Shared Future” project based in Washington, DC and a UN Alliance of Civilizations global expert on Muslim affairs.”[30]

Thus we see a concerted effort by the government to change Islam from what it is – a complete way of life with its own worldview, including an ideological and political outlook distinct from that of western secular liberalism – to one that leaves off those aspects which conflict with secular liberalism. A secularised Islam which informs the theology and morals of Muslims but not their politics and ideology more broadly. This state-sanctioned version of Islam is promoted as ‘moderate Islam’ and ‘Australian Islam’ and ‘contextualising Islam’ is the cover used to justify it.

Targeting Islamic ideas

The stated target of counter-terrorism policy is violence as well as the ideas believed to lead to violence. Originally, after 9/11, the overwhelming focus was on the former but with time that focus has shifted to the latter; targeting ‘extreme’ ideas is now a major part of counter-terrorism policy. Violence, of course, is easily identifiable; the ideas leading to it not so. This is where the policy takes on ideological colour as policymakers tie various ideas, many of them Islamic, with violence and terrorism, and make them a target for critique, attack, demonisation and criminalisation.

Western leaders have been at pains to negate the notion that they target Islam. This is because such a notion taking hold amongst Muslims would result in a major backlash, rejection and, in turn, failure of the policy. Getting Muslims to work with them would be out of the question. Hence, they have repeatedly said that their target is ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ versions of Islam, not Islam itself. However, in reality a different picture is observed.

One, words such as ‘radical’ and ‘extreme’ are highly subjective and can only be applied through one ideological lens or another. For western policymakers, this lens is secular liberalism. Two, in practice the ideas these policymakers speak against and identify as problematic include many ideas that are clearly Islamic. Hence, those Islamic ideas that conflict with secular liberal ideals find themselves in amongst the ideas counter-terrorism policy, and counter-extremism policy more specifically, seeks to attack, challenge and eliminate to the extent possible.

Targeting not just violence but the ideas that purportedly lead to violence as well has been a point emphasised in counter-terrorism policy from the beginning.

In an address to the National Press Club in April 2004, then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said,

“It is crucial that we challenge the ideas by which terrorists seek to justify their actions. Otherwise we vacate the important intellectual battleground in the war against terrorism – allowing terrorists to exploit the politics of despair. In our engagement internationally with other governments, Australia makes clear our understanding that the campaign against terror must be fought on the battleground of ideas – side by side with efforts on law and order and security.”[31]

In a speech in London entitled ‘Ideas as Weapons: Meeting the Ideological Challenge of Extremism’ in December 2006 he said,

“Ordinary Australians…want to know what is fanning this violent extremism. The answer is: ideas. Even though they are couched in religious terms, the ideas that drive terrorist groups like JI and al Qaeda are political in nature. Their ideas are based on a distorted and selective interpretation of Islam.”[32]

Tony Abbott, then Federal Health Minister, wrote in a December 2006 opinion piece,

“It’s now glaringly obvious that the war on terror will not be won by armies and security services, important though these are. The war on terror will only be won when people no longer feel that terror is justified. That’s why this debate about being Muslim and being Australian is part of Australia’s potential contribution to a safer world, along with our military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.”[33]

Robert McClelland, then Attorney-General, said in 2011 in a ministerial statement on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks,

“The Australian Government, like its counterparts in the United States and United Kingdom, understands that addressing the causes of radicalisation that lead to violent extremism is critical to tackling terrorism. Immediately after 9/11 there was much focus on international law enforcement, tough terrorism laws, and physical security measures, all of which have delivered results through the detection and deterrence of terrorist activity. What was less appreciated was that a strong counter-terrorism response needs broader strategies to lessen the appeal of extremist ideologies that fuel terrorism in the first place.”[34]

This notion was reflected in policy.

The National Action Plan (NAP) of the late Howard and early Rudd eras included targeting ideas. The more recent CVE strategy placed further emphasis on this aspect of the policy. It seeks to counter ‘radicalisation’ which is defined as relating to the ideas that allegedly lead to violence, not the violence itself. The Government’s Resilient Communities website states,

“When individuals’ beliefs move from being relatively mainstream to being radical and they want a drastic change in society, this is known as radicalisation. It doesn’t necessarily mean these people will become violent. If they decide that fear, terror and violence are justified to achieve ideological, political or social change – this is when they become followers of violent extremism.”[35]

The Australian Attorney-General’s Department has repeatedly re-iterated the government strategy of addressing the radicalisation process,

“…we are actively working with the States and Territories to develop initiatives geared towards the de-radicalisation of individuals within the correctional system.  Working with respected community leaders is an important part of this project.[36]

‘”our goal is to help members of our communities to be less vulnerable to the process of radicalisation and violent extremism.”[37]

“Immediately after 9/11 there was much focus on an armed response, tough terrorism laws, and physical security measures, all of which have brought results through the detection and deterrence of terrorist activity. What was less appreciated, however, was that a comprehensive counter-terrorism response needed to include broader strategies to lessen the appeal of extremist ideologies that fuel terrorism in the first place.”[38]

“The Australian Government’s Countering Violent Extremism program works with these agencies and local communities to prevent radicalisation of those in Australia who are targeted by extremist messages.”[39]

As for the fact that part of the ideas targeted are Islamic ideas, we have already seen how entirely normative Islamic concepts such as the Khilafah and resisting foreign occupation and interference have been tied to terrorism and the alleged terrorist narrative.

The 2004 Terrorism White Paper characterised the very legitimate Muslims aspirations of removing western neo-colonial influence from Muslim lands and establishing the Caliphate as the goals of the ‘terrorists’,

“Although they act in the name of a religious cause, these terrorists have political goals. They want ultimately to establish a caliphate—a pan-Muslim super-state that unites all Muslims and all lands now or ever part of the Islamic world. This includes the Middle East and North Africa from the Red Sea to the Atlantic coast. It includes Andalusia in Spain, parts of the Balkans, Central and South Asia through to the Indonesian archipelago, and parts of the Philippines in South-East Asia.

They seek to drive the West’s presence and influence from these lands. They oppose governments in Muslim countries—criticising them for being ‘un-Islamic’ and therefore illegitimate—and seek to replace them with ones that accord with their extremist views.” [40]

Alexander Downer, then Foreign Minister, in a Speech to the Centre for Muslim States and Societies at the University of Western Australia in November 2005, said,

“Let’s be crystal clear about what the terrorists are seeking. Let’s strip away the rhetoric and focus on the type of world they want to create. Their goal is to create a new extremist Caliphate in the Muslim world – a Taliban style theocracy. In South-East Asia they want to drive out western influence and establish a fundamentalist regime across Indonesia, Malaysia, Southern Thailand and Southern Philippines. The same for the Middle-East – a Caliphate stretching from the Caucuses to North Africa. They want to get rid of democracy in these countries and replace it with a puritanical regime that denies individual freedoms.”[41]

In an address to the Sydney Institute in November 2006, he said,

“So what is Extremist Islamism…these are some of the things we commonly hear that make up the terrorist narrative:

  • Islam is under attack from the West. The Islamic world is divided, and Muslim countries are either occupied by or under the sway of the morally corrupt West. The reason for this is that Muslims have strayed from the “correct” religious path and most Muslim countries are run by leaders who are servile to the West and have renounced Islam.
  • Democracy is a false religion because only God can exercise sovereignty over worldly communities. The personal liberties and materialism that characterise the Western way of life, including the freedoms enjoyed by women, constitute a mortal threat to Islamic society.
  • The West is responsible for the eviction of the Palestinians from their land and has occupied Iraq militarily in order to enslave its people and plunder its oil wealth.

The terrorists argue that the only way to unify the “Islamic nation” is by eliminating all Western influence in Muslim countries and overthrowing the current regimes.

“In place of the old regimes, the terrorists want to found a new order – Islamic states based on extreme interpretations of religious Sharia Law. Some dream of recreating the Islamic Caliphate that existed in the seventh century and extending this into our region.[42]

The suggestion that the call for the re-establishment of the Khilafah and the political work exposing the reality of western foreign policy is responsible for the radicalisation of Muslim youth is nothing but a cheap attempt to deceitfully connect Islamic political work with terrorism and extremism.

Current policy follows the same approach.

The current Counter-Terrorism White Paper (2010) mentions the ‘extreme’ ideas the Government has in its sights. The paper refers to these ideas, three out of the four of which have no relation to violence and are perfectly legitimate Islamic ideas, as a ‘distorted narrative’. Anyone who believes in replacing the western-backed dictators in the Muslim world with true Islamic rule is judged as being an extremist and radical who subscribes to terrorist beliefs.

A distorted narrative

Many distinct terrorist networks with differing and often local objectives share a broadly common set of beliefs that narrowly and simplistically interprets history and current affairs through the lens of the alleged oppression of Muslims, principally by the West. Groups like al‑Qa’ida want people to believe:

– the West, led by the United States of America, is engaged in the systematic exploitation and repression of Muslims;

– governments in Muslim majority countries are illegitimate, corrupt and un‑Islamic;

– the solution is the removal of Western interference in Muslim majority countries and the establishment of ‘truly Islamic’ systems of governance; and

– it is the religious duty of all Muslims individually to use violence to attack the political, military, religious and cultural enemies of Islam anywhere around the world.”[43]

This type of characterisation is instructive. It sensationalises very legitimate Muslim aspirations and ideas and ties them with the use of violence in order to problematise them. If we consider each point separately only the last point could be called extreme and considered a problem because it involves the use of violence ‘anywhere’ around the world. As for the other three, every Muslim believes in point three, whilst most believe in the first two. Only a very small minority would subscribe to the fourth in the generality of its expression.

Yet if we do not consider them separately, but as a whole, as presented here, then each point turns out as extreme by mere association. As does the position holding the first three and advocating a non-violent response instead of point four. Thus we see non-violent Islamic groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, labeled as ‘extreme’, a fact indicating quite clearly that certain ideas are targeted for themselves, not because of their association with violence.

This is an intentional ploy to sully legitimate Muslim views and aspirations along with problematic ones.

Tony Blair did the same thing, mentioning a very similar list in his famous post-7/7 speech of what he said were the “barbaric ideas” of the “evil ideology” of the terrorists: that they demand the elimination of Israel, the withdrawal of westerners from Muslim countries; the establishment of Sharia law in the Muslim world “en route to one caliphate of all Muslim nations.”[44]

Alexander Downer, then Foreign Minister, also did the same in 2005 speaking at the International Conference for Peace and Harmony in front of Muslim community representatives. He outlined the “evil objectives” of the “Islamic- extremist terrorists,” in the following words,

“To understand this properly we need to understand the evil objectives of Islamic-extremist terrorists. What the terrorists want, their ultimate goal if you like, is to create a new Caliphate in the Muslim world. They want to drive out Western interests and influence from Muslim countries and they want to destroy moderate Muslim governments. And they want to establish in their place an extremist Islamic regime that would be brutal, tyrannical and intolerant. Such a regime would plunge these countries into a pre-modern world, where women and minorities would have no rights, where technology would be shunned and where personal choice and economic freedom would not be tolerated.”[45]

ASIO’s most recent annual report to Parliament, tabled in late October 2013, is another example of this type of approach. It makes a “particular note” of that ASIO “investigated several hundred mostly Australia-based individuals who are advocates of a violent Islamist ideology.”[46] These “several hundred” are those who were investigated, implying that there even more out there.

Anyone who has any length of interaction in the Muslim community knows how wrong this is. It is nonsense to suggest that there are hundreds of Muslims in the community who advocate violence on Australian soil or against civilians. What has been done here is to include those holding ideas deemed problematic as “advocates of violent Islamist ideology.”

Thus we see that government policy is to promote non-Islamic ideas as Islamic whilst characterising key Islamic ideas as being not only extreme but an aberration of Islam, all under the guise of counter-extremism and counter-terrorism.


[1] The Guardian. Tony Blair’s Speech to the Australian Parliament, The Guardian, 27 Mar 2006: http://bit.ly/1g4A7bQ

[2] Howard, J.  Joint Press Conference with Dr Ameer Ali President, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils Parliament House, Canberra, 23 Aug 2005: http://pmtranscripts.dpmc.gov.au/browse.php?did=21878

[3] Bishop, J. & Robb, A. $8m for Centre Excellence for Islamic Education National Action Plan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, 16 Jul 2006: http://bit.ly/Hap2qX

[4] Robb, A. Australian Migrant Integration — Past Successes, Future Challenges, The Sydney Institute, 27 Apr 2006: http://bit.ly/GKI0nQ

[5] Australian Government, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, A National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security, 2005: http://bit.ly/1gy8oz7

[6] Community Relations Commission. My Religion, Our Country: A Resource For Islamic Religious Education in Australia, Department of Immigration and Citizenship: http://bit.ly/1gSMadJ

[7] Three-state university consortium wins bid for $8m National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, The University of Melbourne, 22 Jan 2007: http://archive.uninews.unimelb.edu.au/view-63725.html

[8] Ibid.

[9] Crittenden, S. The Mufti of Australia?, ABC’s The Religion Report, 28 Mar 2007: http://ab.co/HkbclZ

[10] Griffith University. The Owl’s Beak – Highlights of 2007, Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, 2007, pg. 14: http://bit.ly/1im2izX

[11] O’Connor, I. Islam and the West need to engage, The Australian, 24 Apr 2008: http://bit.ly/1gSU4Uw

[12] Robb, A. Address to the Muslim Community Reference Group, Rydges Capital Hill Canberra, 2 Aug 2006: http://bit.ly/1gy9E5l

[13] Bishop, J. & Robb. A. Media Release – National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, Department of Education, Science and Training, 22 Jan 2007: http://bit.ly/1a8K2or

[14] Australian Associated Press. Islamic Studies ‘Will Counter Ignorance’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Oct 2007: http://bit.ly/19iU5sQ

[15] Griffith University. The Owl’s Beak – Highlights of 2007, Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, 2007, pg. 19: http://bit.ly/1im2izX

[16] Jewish leaders welcome new $8 million Islamic studies centre, Australian Jewish News, 25 January 2007.

[17] Saeed, A. Muslims don’t need separate laws, The Australian, 9 Apr 2008: http://bit.ly/1eXKGu8

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