John Lyons, The Australian (Sydney), October 29, 2007
AUSTRALIA faces a “London-type bombing” if relations between Muslims and the intelligence and police authorities do not improve, an influential Islamic youth leader has warned.
Fadi Rahman, who runs one of Sydney’s biggest youth centres at Lidcombe in the city’s west, said overseas Islamic elements were attempting to radicalise Muslim youth with their hardline ideologies.
But in a warning that will resonate with Australian authorities, Mr Rahman said Muslims did not trust ASIO or the Australian Federal Police and that the bungled terror case against Gold Coast doctor Mohamed Haneef had worsened the situation. “The biggest problem ASIO and the federal police have is that no one in the Islamic community trusts them enough to give them a heads-up about anything,” Mr Rahman told The Australian.
“Look at the Haneef thing—why would we trust these guys when all you see is one fumble after another? People are afraid.”
Dr Haneef, an Indian national, was detained in July on suspicion of having played a role in the foiled terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, but the case fell apart after a series of prosecution mistakes.
Mr Rahman said a battle for the hearts and minds of young Muslims was under way in Australia between influences from overseas wanting to radicalise youths and more moderate influences in Australia.
Mr Rahman said he believed he had been the target of a recruitment attempt but when he responded “defensively” those talking to him said they had merely been joking.
Asked about the anatomy of a recruitment, he said: “Most of the time they start at the local mosque in small groups—they move quickly into the garage, then people’s homes. You get sucked in.”
He said the typical recruiter was in their 40s or 50s, “from overseas, well-educated and tapping into young people’s frustrations and anger”.
“I think we are very similar to London,” he said. “There are these individuals from overseas who are basically in their mid-life who have these ideologies and because of the animosity they have experienced in their own countries have deep hatred of the Western world. It’s very easy to tap into the mind of someone who has a low education level, unemployment and who has basically given up on life.
“The right ingredients are there. We need to do something or what happened in London, a London-type bombing, will happen here.”
The “something” includes programs to give opportunities to Muslim youth and a “less hostile” attitude by the federal Government. Mr Rahman said the Government was spending too much on campaigns directed at people who did not know what was going on—such as the Be Alert, Not Alarmed campaign—but not enough in communities such as southwestern Sydney, where about 250,000 Muslims live. “It’s not like it will be John Smith on the north shore of Sydney who will have information, it will be Mohammed or Ahmed out here,” he says.
Mr Rahman said he and Toufic Mallah, the man he brought into the youth centre to stress moderation, preached non-violence.
About 50 of the youths at the centre, which has about 460 members aged 10 to 35, are former criminals who have done time in jail. Mr Rahman said they could go “either way”.
At the Independent Centre of Research Australia, he runs anger-management programs and has opened a prayer room run by Sheik Mallah. Sheik Mallah said the second chapter of the Koran stressed that “we have made a moderate nation”.
He says non-Muslim Australians should approach their local sheiks if there was anything they did not understand or like about their local Muslim communities. “Come and speak to us,” he said.
Mr Rahman brokered a deal with IBM last week under which the computer company will mentor 10 youths from the centre and offer three traineeships.
Mr Rahman said this sort of support gave the young people and their families and friends hope. In the aftermath of the Cronulla race riots in Sydney in 2005 there was progress between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, but since then “things have taken a nasty turn”.
“The blame game” of all Muslims being blamed for terrorism “will only put people offside”, he said.
“When the shit hits the fan we will all be covered with it. It’s just a matter of time before someone says I’ve had enough. Unless something is done and attitudes change something will happen.
“We haven’t learnt our lesson post-September 11, the Bali bombings, the Cronulla riots and the London bombings. There’s deep-seated hatred on both sides. When young Muslims go into other areas they go in with force.
“I cop it from both ends—who do you please? Do you please your own community or the wider community? A lot of them are saying don’t waste your time, you will never get anywhere with these people.”
Mr Rahman said one of the biggest problems in the Lebanese community was that many of his generation, although they loved their parents, felt caught between two worlds.