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Muslim integration: Australian immigration policies need tightening, Islamic Council founding president says

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

As authorities grapple with the threat posed by Islamic State, there are calls from within the Muslim community to tighten Australia's immigration policies.

The founding president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), Haset Sali, who also served as both a president and legal adviser to the organisation, said moderate Muslims had been sidelined by an Islamic leadership promoting more fundamentalist views.

I really do believe we have to be more careful about who we let into this country and who we grant refugee status to.

Mr Sali also said there was a widening gulf between Muslims who had integrated into Australian society and those who had not.

"Sometimes the truth has to be faced and if the truth is awkward, then it has to be faced anyway, and I really do believe we have to be more careful about who we let into this country and who we grant refugee status to, because I think it's just getting beyond a joke quite frankly," he said.

"There are people who unfortunately don't appreciate the great freedom that we have in this nation and the opportunities that are available if people live by the law and do the right thing."

He said a classic example was Sydney siege shooter Man Haron Monis, the self-styled radical cleric with a violent past who he said Australian authorities "tolerated to the nth degree".

Consequence of non-discriminatory migration policy

Associate Professor Halim Rane, from Griffith University's Islamic Research Unit, said the gulf was even broader.

"Interestingly enough Muslims used to be better integrated into Australian society a number of generations ago than they tend to be today - that's a consequence I think of migration policy," he said.

"In attempting to have a non-discriminatory migration policy we've allowed into the country many people whose values and norms are simply inconsistent with Australian values and norms, so they would obviously find it difficult to integrate into Australian society.

Immigration issues, issues around multiculturalism, integration, particularly when they concern Muslims, are very contentious subjects - it's not an easy conversation to have.

Associate Professor Halim Rane, from Griffith University Islamic Research Unit.

"They've projected their ideas onto Muslims here in Australia, so we're seeing second and even third generation Australian-born Muslims who have adopted ideas that have their origin in the Islamism in the Muslim world in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s."

He said immigration should not be restricted from particular countries or regions, but there was a case for Australia to be more selective about who it allowed in.

Associate Professor Rane acknowledged it was a provocative argument.

"Maybe we need to look more carefully at the individual who's coming," he said.

"If they express particular views, particular values, display particular norms, that would suggest to us they wouldn't integrate well and would be ultimately happier somewhere else.

"Then we should exercise our right to deny those people entry into the country for their benefit and ours.

"Immigration issues, issues around multiculturalism, integration, particularly when they concern Muslims, are very contentious subjects - it's not an easy conversation to have."

How do you think Australia's immigration policies affect the integration of migrants into society? Have your say.

Associate Professor Rane said it was a necessary conversation if Australia was to counter the threat of Islamic State and understand its allure to some young men.

They include 18-year-old Oliver Bridgeman, the Caucasian teenager from Queensland who recently converted to Islam and left the country under the guise of doing aid work in Indonesia.

He is now suspected of joining an Al Qaeda-linked terror group.

Professor Rane said some of Australia's Muslim leaders were promoting conservative ideas about segregation of the sexes, holy war, and the establishment of an Islamic government or caliphate, which originated from socio-political roots rather than the Holy Koran itself.

He said while they did not necessarily advocate violence and most Muslims denounced Islamic State, the entrenched conservatism in the leadership could result in more young Muslims becoming alienated.

"Many of the people who are part of the leadership of the Muslim community come from overseas, and potentially are not as familiar with Australian society and culture as they need to be," he said.

"This raises concerns that the people that are making some of these rules clearly don't have a good sense of how Islam should be done in a way that is conducive to the Australian social and cultural context.

"This creates a tension within many young people where they don't feel as though they can be a Westerner or an Australian and a Muslim at the same time, they don't feel content in that identity.

"So they're left with choice, and this is part of the problem."

He said there was a lot of stake if Muslim leaders did not rethink their teachings.

"We'll continue on a trajectory where there is a widening gap between Muslim communities here in Australia and wider Australian society," he said.

"I think that Muslims will follow a trajectory where they adhere to values and norms and they'll develop a subculture that puts them at odds with the values and norms of wider society."

Mr Sali said he was concerned more extreme values were gaining prominence due to a power vacuum in the current Islamic leadership and moderate Muslims needed a bigger role.

"They definitely have been marginalised or sidelined in the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils by the extreme group who've taken over AFIC and promptly disenfranchised over 60 per cent of their member societies and councils," he said.

Keysar Trad, from the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, said many Muslim leaders were working hard to counter the threat of Islamic State, which he said only a minute proportion of the world's two billion Muslims supported.

But he acknowledged that more could be done.

"There are some people in leadership positions who should not be," he said.

"Some people in leadership positions have failed their duty to the community and their duty to the organisations they lead, I have no doubt about that.

There are some people in leadership positions who should not be. Some people in leadership positions have failed their duty to the community and their duty to the organisations they lead.

"We have a right to blame some of the leadership for falling short of their obligations, but to make a quantum to suggest they're extremists or they support extremism, I'd like to see more evidence for that before jumping to that conclusion.

"In the end, we have a very important goal and that is to save our children from the pull of extremism and make our children understand they have a very important role to play in Australian society.

"They can contribute to the betterment of Australian society, and we value them and the nation values them."

Mr Trad said a lot more could done.

"Undoubtedly - there's a lot more that can be done by established community organisations, especially those organisations that are well funded," he said.

"For example, there can be many more youth camps and youth activities, and there can also be more interfaith events involving young people - there's only a few of those at the moment."

Mr Trad said moderate Muslims wanting a greater say needed to take back control.

"Looking at traditional organisations and societies to rescue the community, that's not going to work anymore," he said.

"The community - the grassroots in particular - are creating their own leadership and that effort needs to be supported by a process of engagement.

"We are engaging with them and very soon, the grassroots movement will move us forward."

Mr Trad said the concept of a caliphate was a part of Islamic tradition, and supporting the idea did not have to be at odds with multicultural society.

He said a proper caliph would be a religious figurehead, similar to a Catholic pope.

"The intention behind it is to use it for a positive purpose," he said.

"Whilst a caliphate or caliph might look out for the rights of Muslims, the caliph also makes sure that Muslims understand the boundaries that we have, and going outside the authority of a caliph."For example, if a caliphate was established and there was a caliph with a proper mandate, and he says to Muslims worldwide that IS is not according to Islam, stay away from it, anybody who decides to join it would end up committing a very, very serious sin."

Source: ABC News

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