It's easy to point out flaws and criticise government policies. The harder part is to offer an implementable road map to solve the delicate problem of Islamic radicalism in Australia. The policy solution, however, can only come once the right diagnosis has been made and the roots of radicalism understood.
In my previous article, I did just that by challenging the myths of radicalism and arguing that home-grown radicalisation arose from an identity crisis, one that starts in the household and leaves some Australian Muslims unable to integrate into mainstream society. Such Muslims, I argue, are most likely to fell prey to radical Islamist propaganda through social media or through the physical networks of radical organisations.
The issue of countering radicalism, then, is really about how to integrate Australian Muslims into mainstream society.
My major criticism of the Australian Government's counter-radicalisation strategy has been its 'religious' nature. Trying desperately to find a religious solution to a problem that has social roots is likely going to fail. The Australian Government has been trying to fix Islam instead of fixing a small percentage of Muslims in Australia at risk of radicalisation due to their upbringing and exposure to a violent ideology.
This unconscious Islamisation by the Australian Government, emerging from misdirected advice from Muslim community leaders, has led to an overdeveloped focus on religion. For instance, if the aim is to integrate Australian Muslims into society, spending millions of dollars on community-building projects and Islamic centres just pushes and traps Muslims into their own community, leaving them feeling more isolated in Australia than before. The results of such a policy are quite evident, with radicalism at an all-time high in Australia.
What, then, is the solution?
For one thing, specialised campaigns and programs are needed for Muslim community leaders and parents whose very teachings to their kids in their early years have a major impact on how well these kids fit into Australian society. Influencing Muslim parents' approach to raising their children will have a long-term sustainable impact on de-radicalisation.
Second, having talked to young Australian Muslims, both men and women, I would argue that the permanent solution for Australia's growing Islamic radicalisation problem is a non-religious response based on sports, entertainment, and exposure (SEE). Why these three areas? Because not only will they get the quickest integration and de-radicalisation results, but most young Muslims will willingly participate.
Government investment in building sporting capacity for Muslim youth to support integration with the larger Australian population would be a tremendous start. Spending on creating local Muslim soccer leagues (the favourite sport of Australian Muslims), and having them play against universities or Sydney FC is the sort of exposure that will go a long way to taking hundreds of Muslim soccer enthusiasts away from the risks of radicalisation. It will also help Australians overcome their prejudices against Muslims.
Second, with the growing interest of youth in media, Government spending on providing a platform for Muslim youth who have a taste for such pursuits will get a great response. Recognising Muslim talent through a film competition, for example, would generate far more involvement from Muslim youth, and better results, than opening up Islamic institutes to further Islamise Australian Muslims.
Third and most important is exposure to government. The majority of Australian Muslims come from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East, where a government job is considered the most legitimate job – a symbol of respect and acceptance in society. The British Empire in India offered government positions to locals in order to pacify any revolt against the Empire, and it worked. Given the negligible presence of Australian Muslims in government and law enforcement, something as small as specialised fellowships or internships for Australian Muslims to spend a summer or winter break inside government will have an overwhelming and permanent impact on young Australian Muslims.
Two crucial factors underpin this SEE strategy, which together can have a major impact on de-radicalisation: first, by focusing on non-religious solutions, it neutralises the overdeveloped emphasis on religion; and second, it provides hope and acceptance to Muslims through programs tailored to their interests and culture – in short, it offers a chance to excel in Australian society.
If the Australian Government can create this sense of opportunity for Australia's Muslims, it will go a long way to not just assimilating the Muslim community but making it a highly productive part of society.
Photo by Flickr user Francisco Martins.