ASIO · islam · terrorism

How many times must a Muslim apologise, before you can call him a moderate Muslim? -as featured in ABC’s The Drum

My latest piece in ABC’s The Drum on the recent terror raids and the controversy around Senator Jacqui Lambie’s comments. Let me know what you think! If you’re confused by my headline it’s a play on Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the wind’ :p

UPDATE: Breaking news- One dead, two stabbed in Endeavour Hills.

How many times must Muslim “moderates” distance themselves from the atrocities of people who call themselves Muslim but who so often demonstrate a feeble understanding of the faith? 

The recent terror raids in which 800 police officers were needed to charge four men was reminiscent of an episode of Homeland, while our political leaders appear to be enthusiastically beating the drums of war with rhetoric that will only inflame community tensions.

And it hasn’t taken Jacqui Lambie long to jump on the hysteria bandwagon.

Senator Lambie’s nonsensical outburst equating sharia law – a set of ever-evolving legal precepts by which Muslims live – with terrorism was staggering in its ignorance, as was her assertion that those who get “mixed up” in it should “pack their bags and get out of the country”.

For most Muslims – especially Muslim migrants in the West who sought to escape the legal dysfunction of their home countries – sharia is about the religious rituals that regulate personal matters like fasting, charity, praying, finance and family life.

This understanding of sharia is a far cry from the gruesome images that have recently dominated headlines.

By equating Muslim practice with terrorism, Lambie casts suspicion on the vast majority of ordinary, law-abiding Muslims. In fact, UK Huffington Post political director Mehdi Hasan cites research suggesting a proper understanding of sharia could actually work to combat radicalism. Hasan notes that wannabe jihadists are rarely motivated by religious fervour, and in fact tend to live unIslamic lifestyles:

Can you guess which books the wannabe jihadists Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed ordered online from Amazon before they set out from Birmingham to fight in Syria last May? Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies.

You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement … instead they (experts) point to other drivers of radicalisation: moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, for a sense of belonging and purpose.

One of the Sydney men in custody, Omarjan Azari, allegedly conspired with Kings Cross nightclub bouncer Mohammad Baryalei (who had appeared as an actor in Underbelly: The Golden Mile) to commit random public beheadings. They are hardly models for Islamic piety.

This doesn’t matter to Lambie. In the world according to Lambie, it’s not enough to reject extremism – the only way for Muslims to show their allegiance is to reject their adherence to sharia practices altogether. It furthers the feeling among Muslims that no condemnation, no disavowal, no distancing will ever be enough.

Muslims are obligated to apologise for every atrocity committed anywhere on Earth by anyone who calls themselves Muslim, in a way that is not expected of any other group. There is that constant refrain, “When will the moderates stand up?”

Every mainstream Islamic organisation in Australia and around the world has sent out press releases condemning the wanton killing of civilians. The efforts of Muslim communities to create bridges are tireless, from Twitter campaigns like #notinmyname, to UK Imams against ISIS, but they rarely make headlines.

This is the moment our leaders need to step up, to use the language of inclusion to get minority communities on board and to reassure them of their place in Australia. But instead we have had gung-ho Captain Tony with his own version of “with us or against us”.

We are told that no dissenters will be tolerated in the creepy cult-sounding ‘Team Australia’, which implies a suspicion of those not perceived to be onboard Team Groupthink. When our political leaders fan the flames of division, vandals and Islamophobes almost get tacit approval – it sends a message that some citizens are worth more than others, and deserve our disapprobation.

Beefed-up terrorism laws, graffitied mosques and cars, threatening letters and angry political rhetoric has made Muslim communities in all their diversity feel increasingly under siege, ironically fuelling the kind of alienation that sees young people fall into the arms of radicals.

The fact that street abuse and harassment has prompted communities to set up self-reporting mechanisms like Facebook’s National Islamophobia Register, rather than go to police, is a testament to the level of distrust between minority communities and the authorities that are meant to protect all citizens.

In this climate, what arguments can Muslim community leaders use to sway young men who could fall victim to the siren call of radicalism, and those who use Muslim victimisation and discrimination as a rallying call to disengage?

I am not saying the risk of terrorism in Australia isn’t real. But the spectacle of the Federal Government’s response to perceived threats – the rhetoric and ballast and heavy performance of power – risks sending people underground while alienating the very communities that could assist.

This performance around security points to a kind of politics of fear that is depressingly familiar in Australian politics, and is reminiscent of the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers.

The best way to shore up an unpopular government is to summon up something else for voters to fear and hate, so that we can turn to daddy with gratitude for rescuing us. If this means trashing decades of goodwill built up in our pluralistic society and smashing a few civil liberties on the way, then so be it.

This article was originally published on ABC’s The Drum ( Read the original article here

Facebook · social media · trolls · Twitter

It’s all fun and games until Twitter turns nasty- as featured in ABC’s The Drum

Check out my latest piece on social media trolling. Here’s what to do when social media gets nasty:

The harassment of Robin Williams' daughter and Charlotte Dawson reveal the nasty side of social media. Picture: AFP/ABC News.
The harassment of Robin Williams’ daughter and Charlotte Dawson reveal the nasty side of social media. Picture: AFP/ABC News.

The immediacy and reach of social media can be empowering, but when it’s used purely for harassment the flaws of the system are revealed, as too many have recently discovered, writes Sarah Malik.

There’s a reason why it’s advised to avoid religion and politics in polite company. Add self-appointed punditry and social media to the fusion and you have a recipe for immediate combustion.

Get together with any group of friends and you will hear war stories on friendships strained and out-of-control online debates that veer into a blood sport.

A recent piece in the New York Times suggested 69 per cent of social media users have witnessed digital cruelty. Moderators at the The Guardian recently considered whether online anonymity should be an option rather than the default position in commentary after noting an eruption of particularly vile contributions around controversial topics, like gender issues.

Barely a week goes by without a Twitter controversy that wrecks careers and even destroy lives, from the hilarious to the tragic. Who could forget the tragi-comedy that was Weiner-gate and most recentlyBotham-gate that forced spluttering explanations on why public Twitter accounts had been plastered with mysterious genitalia, the former that derailed a promising political career.

Most recently Robin Williams’ daughter was forced to quit Twitter after trolls hounded her online, and earlier this year the suicide of TV personality Charlotte Dawson shocked Australia amid reports of Twitter bullying. Disturbingly women seem to be the most common target of these attacks.

The swift brutality of internet campaigns can also claim high profile scalps, with Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton earlier this month quitting after coming under fire when he snapped responding tounprecedented internet trolling after writing a searing piece on the carnage in Gaza.

Alan Moran from the right-wing think tank, Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) was reportedly given the sack after allegedly tweeting “Is there ever anything but evil coming from Islam?”

Perhaps a little more strident than the IPA’s usual fare.

The online world has become inescapably woven into our social experiences and the way we process events in the 24-hour news age. For the punter unsure how to deal with it all, there have spouted a corresponding multitude of pieces advising on navigating social media and argument in the internet age from losing friends on Facebook over political differences, to dealing with online trolls, and cautionary warnings on the end of the columnist golden age.

#firstworldproblem, right? The immediacy of the internet means no more filters between your own thoughts and the world, or you and the object of your disdain.

The lack of filters is not an entirely negative. In the case of public figures, tweeting, Facebook, live radio and TV blunders can provide a delicious insight into a personality outside a perfectly crafted PR image. When it comes to the crazy and entertaining, you don’t get better than Clive Palmer, in hot water over his most recent bizarre outburst labelling the Chinese “mongrels” on ABC talk show Q&A. It follows Palmer United party cohort Jacqui Lambie, who seems to have taken a leaf from the Clive book of inappropriate comments, with her oversharing of her partner preferences on radio.

I can’t help but feel this is almost a flip side of a timid age where public figures and even private individuals unleash after being constrained in a world of tightly scripted image building and the niceties forced in IRL (internet speak for “in real life”) encounters.

But does the free-for-all have any limits?

Criticism is healthy. A hilarious send-up or a spot on critique furthers and enhances debate, provides room for growth and the contestation and banter of wits. Social media and blogging spaces in particular are powerful ways for minority communities to create counter communities against oppressive dominant discourses and empowering spaces for voices not traditionally heard.

You can see this with the creation of Facebook groups like A Man’s hijab, an internal send-up of gender double standards and the Lakemba mannequin man, lampooning a bizarre article in the Daily Telegraphtrading on tired stereotypes of the Muslim community and Lakemba, in Sydney’s south-west.

But it’s when commentary get vicious, repetitive and personal, with smear attacks masquerading as “critiques” veering on harassment that it seems to go beyond making a point once. The freedom of speech to make a critique should not assume the critique needs to be accepted or responded to and its aim shouldn’t be the trashing and destruction of the person who is the subject of the critique.

This seems to be attack on the right of free speech itself. Those privileged in this give and take don’t seem to be the minority voices, but the loudest bullies.

If going cold turkey online doesn’t appeal, perhaps the most apt advice comes from the unlikely Taylor Swift and her latest hit, “Haters gonna hate. You just gotta shake it off”.

If that fails, consider taking the disturbances as a perverse compliment, in the style of Oscar Wilde who embraced controversy with the droll riposte: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

This article was originally published on ABC’s The Drum ( Read the original article here (


Checkpoints and clashes: life in the West Bank- as featured in ABC’s The Drum

Here’s my latest for ABC’s The Drum on my recent trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank cities of Hebron and Bethlehem.

Little girl at Deheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem.
Little girl at Deheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem.

It’s easy to feel removed from the continuous coverage of instability and violence in the Middle East.

The never-ending conflict between Israel and Palestine has a depressing predictability that seems to blur into erupting cycles of deadly violence, acrimonious rhetoric and scenes of weeping mothers on both sides, paying the price in this seemingly intractable dispute.

In the latest escalation, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers found near Hebron in the West Bank last week sparked widespread calls for revenge, with protestors in Jerusalem chanting “death to Arabs”. A few days later, a Palestinian teen was burned alive in what is believed to be a revenge attack.

Since the June 12 kidnapping Israel has meted out collective punishment on the occupied territories, raiding hundreds of homes and demolishing those of suspected kidnappers, launching airstrikes on Gaza and road-blocking Hebron, as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to avenge the deaths.

Much of the media coverage focuses on covering bursts of conflict in a vacuum, with little context or historical analysis. Rarely do you get a picture of daily life on the ground in the territories and the impact of Israeli military presence and settlements in the region.

Hebron market vendor speaks about harassment from settlers who live above Hebron market.

Two months ago I was in Jerusalem and from there visited the two largest Palestinian cities in the West Bank – Hebron and Bethlehem. My entry into the most contested piece of real estate in the world was met with a six-hour detention, where I was questioned and interrogated along with dozens of westerners attempting to enter Israel. We watched two young Palestinian-American men, turned back and banned for five years. One of the boys, a medical student intending to volunteer at a Jerusalem hospital was told he didn’t have required embassy permits to volunteer.

Settlement in Hebron.
Settlement in Hebron.

During my stay, I have never seen more machine guns waved in my face or had my passport checked more often in my life. Young IDF soldiers with machine guns casually slung around their shoulders control access to holy sites, including the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site for Muslims.

Soldiers at Al-Aqsa entry gate at Friday prayer, Jerusalem.
Soldiers at Al-Aqsa entry gate at Friday prayer, Jerusalem.

Checkpoints to enter are dotted around the mosque. Along with many Palestinians, I got used to daily questioning as I entered. Sometimes I had to recite Quranic verses to prove I was Muslim, other times I had to show my passport. On Friday, the checkpoints are packed with soldiers and clashes are common as young men are arbitrarily turned away for juma prayer.

In Hebron, where among 160,000 Palestinians, about 700 Jewish settlers live, protected by hundreds of IDF soldiers, a steel mesh dotted with garbage covers an open air Hebron market.

Wire mesh covering Hebron market.
Wire mesh covering Hebron market.

When I asked what it was for, the Arab vendors told me the the mesh protects them from urine, faeces and rubbish thrown down by settlers living above the market.

Rubbish in wire mesh covering Hebron market.
Rubbish in wire mesh covering Hebron market.

The feeling of being contained continues in Bethlehem as we weaved our way through a confusing array of zones and checkpoints to visit the Separation wall. The massive eight-metre high concrete block, covered in protest graffiti snakes its way through huge sections of Palestinian territory, along with Israeli-only roads and checkpoints that bar Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Separation wall, Bethlehem
Separation wall, Bethlehem

In the nearby Deheishe refugee camp, an air of hopelessness pervades the cramped buildings, as aimless children kick soccer balls through the streets in front of walls scrawled with Arabic political graffiti. One mural includes lines from Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish that reads: “The war has taken everything from me. All I have left is my dreams.”

Arabic graffiti at Deheishe refugee camp, near Bethlehem. Lines from Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish which read, “The war has taken everything from me, All I have left is my dreams
Arabic graffiti at Deheishe refugee camp, near Bethlehem. Lines from Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish which read, “The war has taken everything from me, All I have left is my dreams

Water tanks dot the rooftop landscape to deal with fluctuating supply, as Palestinians are forced to buy back water diverted by Israeli pipes at inflated prices.

The collective fear and paralysis, the brutality of continued occupation breeds among a hopeless Palestinian population, and an increasingly militarised Israel is ultimately crushing to both sides. Continuous settlement and dispossession not only hurts Palestinians but must also create scars on those forced to implement it

I saw this in the scared faces of some the very young IDF soldiers conscripted for mandatory service and the aimless children in the refugee camp bound to grow up as angry teens. As the rhetoric of dehumanisation continues, it’s clear no one feels safe as innocents continue to suffer.