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First, some sympathy for Australian Muslims. Your faith is being hijacked by violent criminals. Your leadership is being urged to join up to Team Australia as if that was in doubt. You are feeling wounded, defensive and isolated.

But all is not lost. In fact, great opportunities are waiting to be taken.

Australia is not witnessing a war between Islam and the rest. It is witnessing a war between extremists and the centre. The centre includes the vast majority of Australians of Islamic faith. It is in the interests of all of us to reinforce that centre, and to isolate the extremes.

I was born in Sri Lanka and my childhood was spent mainly there and in New Zealand. I make the point only to make another one – that I  know it is not only the native born who love this country and all it represents.  I know I stand here among patriots from a joyous array of backgrounds, and I am deeply proud to share this room – and this nation – with you.

We  live in a political environment. That environment is shaped by myths and popular narratives, the stories we chose to tell ourselves, the stories we chose to believe about ourselves.

Islam has enemies in Australia. They come from two directions. One is a purely bigoted view of Islam, from those who reject the presence of Muslims in Australia. You don’t want to believe their version of your story. The other enemy comes from within Islam itself – from the violent and criminal extremists who claim to find justification for their acts from the traditions of their faith. You don’t want to believe their version of your story either.

Islamic State, like Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda in Iraq, like Al-Qaeda itself, wants us to react. It wants a reaction against Muslims that will in turn feed its propaganda and its recruitment.

There are therefore two things we can and must do. First, the West must not over-react. It must discriminate between violent extremists and Muslims in general. Second, Muslims must recognise the dangers and must never miss a chance to denounce these criminals, to strengthen the centre and isolate the extremists to the fringe.

Let us speak plainly about the dangers to the Ummah here in Australia. A popular narrative is forming in this country that Muslims are bent on doing their fellow citizens violence; that Muslims reject Australian values; that Australia has become a battleground in the Clash of Civilisations – and battle will ultimately be unavoidable. This narrative is already more advanced than we may wish to acknowledge.

It is all our interests to combat it and it is in our interests to do it wisely, tirelessly and vociferously.

Unless we are successful, the myth will suck into its vortex politicians who will seek to shape policies  to that narrative.

The Prime Minister recently said that if you want to come here, you must be “part of the team” – Team Australia. For some,  that is a reasonable call. A place in Australian society means signing up to our liberal traditions and values. Others hear the binary tones of George W. Bush after 9/11 – you are with us or against us. There is no room to move.

Even if Tony Abbott was being rhetorically clumsy, it is a mistake to suppose that he is not picking up on the popular narrative that Muslims, by their faith, are not to be trusted until proof is delivered.

“ …the West must not over-react. It must discriminate between violent extremists and Muslims in general.”

The Prime Minister wants to introduce security measures that include reversing the onus of proof on people who travel to Syria and Iraq.

By the mere fact of their travel, citizens might be deemed to have been supporting terrorists. It is not clear if the values of Team Australia require unthinking obedience to the government of the day.

Certainly, when he was in opposition, Mr Abbott supplied no such obedience. And the Labor party, now back in opposition, is returning the favour.

Make no mistake, the right to peaceful dissent is very much part of being on Team Australia.

In an interview this week with SKY’s David Speers, Keysar Trad delivered an articulate and reasoned rebuttal to the proposed reversal of the onus of proof. Indeed, Attorney General George Brandis, in his former life as a defender of liberal freedoms, would have applauded him.

Leaders of the Islamic community in Australia can and must defend their freedoms and their rights because their freedoms and rights belong to all of us.

Australian society must not allow itself to over-react in ways that are counter-productive, generating angry new  adherents to a nihilistic cause. But Australia is entitled to defend itself. Muslims within Australia must see this challenge as an opportunity – a chance to emerge from the current conflagration in Iraq and Syria with a clear status within Australian society – as part of the strong, central fabric of Australian life.

People will accept the good faith of the Muslim community leadership in Australia much more readily if at every turn, at every opportunity, the leadership is making that distinction between Islam and its violent fringes, denouncing it, isolating it, condemning it.

It won’t make you popular with the extremists. Dr Jamal Rifi has emerged as one of the Islamic communities strongest  voices and has received threats because of it. That is precisely why other voices must rise with his. Dr Rifi’s courage and leadership do not go unnoticed.

Members of all communities represented within Australian society – and that includes the  Anglo-Celtic strand, should and must support the Islamic leadership within our community. We must all work hard to ensure that hatred and prejudice does not take root against people of the Islamic faith. That is a job for all of us, to engage in in good faith and with good hearts.

The Muslim leadership within Australia must unceasingly denounce the violent extremism of the so-called Islamic state and its ilk. It must unceasingly denounce, in public and in private,  Australians who sign up to religious-based violence.

If we all play our part, we show the fringes that we are the many and they are the few. We will together reinforce the Centre. We will stop things from falling apart. We will prevent mere anarchy from being loosed upon our world.

We will show that the values that make Australia a great place – of freedom, of pluralism, of liberal humanity, of humour, of the great adventure of making friends with people from backgrounds not our own – that those qualities will stand and will abide.

*(Short edited version of the Keynote address at the 14th Annual Symposium of the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW on 20 August 2014 at Novotel Hotel, Parramatta.)

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First, some sympathy for Australian Muslims. Your faith is being hijacked by violent criminals. Your leadership is being urged to join up to Team Australia as if that was in doubt. You are feeling wounded, defensive and isolated.

But all is not lost. In fact, great opportunities are waiting to be taken. Australia is not witnessing a war between Islam and the rest. It is witnessing a war between extremists and the centre.

The centre includes the vast majority of Australians of Islamic faith. It is in the interests of all of us to reinforce that centre, and to isolate the extremes.
Here we should turn, as in all times of strife, to the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats.

Writing as the echo of the guns from the Great War was still fading, Yeats mused on the causes of chaos.

“Things fall apart,” he wrote, “the centre cannot hold/mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

In a prescient warning. he observes:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Nearly a century ago, he was writing of our times.

The worst are certainly full of passionate intensity. There is Satanic exuberance in the malevolence working its way through Syria and Iraq.

For the best, though, there is a job to do: to ensure that we do not lack conviction. We, in this room, must remain passionately committed to the very great strengths of Australian society. It falls to all of us to ensure Australia’s highest ideals are preserved and enhanced.

So how might that be done?

Like many of you, I am a migrant to this country. I got here when I was 22.
I was born in Sri Lanka and my childhood was spent mainly there and in New Zealand. I make the point only to make another one – that I know it is not only the native born who love this country and all it represents.  I know I stand here among patriots from a joyous array of backgrounds, and I am deeply proud to share this room – and this nation – with you.

We live in a political environment.
That environment is shaped by myths and popular narratives, the stories we chose to tell ourselves, the stories we chose to believe about ourselves.
Philip Gourevitch, who wrote compellingly about the Rwandan genocide, put it this way: “True power comes when you convince your enemy to believe YOUR version of HIS story”.
Islam has enemies in Australia.
They come from two directions.
One is a purely bigoted view of Islam, from those who reject the presence of Muslims in Australia.
You don’t want to believe their version of your story.
The other enemy comes from within Islam itself – from the violent and criminal extremists who claim to find justification for their acts from the traditions of their faith.

You don’t want to believe their version of your story either.

The so-called Islamic state has been successful in its short-term military goals. It has been even more adept at getting itself noticed.
The slaughter of unarmed prisoners, the massacre of Yazidis, the threats to Shias and to Christians, the gothic horrors of little boys holding severed heads, the unspeakable cruelty in the murder of James Foley – these are designed to get our attention and they succeed.
Social media is being used by I-S not to claim atrocities are being committed against them but to display atrocities they themselves commit.
Islamic State, like Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda in Iraq, like Al-Qaeda itself, wants us to react.

It wants a reaction against Muslims that will in turn feed its propaganda and its recruitment.

It is plain these murderers pose some level of threat to the world outside Islam.
It is equally plain the far greater threat is to Islam itself.
There are therefore two things we can and must do.
First, the West must not over-react. It must discriminate between violent extremists and Muslims in general.
Second, Muslims must recognise the dangers and must never miss a chance to denounce these criminals, to strengthen the centre and isolate the extremists to the fringe.
Let us speak plainly about the dangers to the umma here in Australia.
A popular narrative is forming in this country that Muslims are bent on doing their fellow citizens violence; that Muslims reject Australian values; that Australia has become a battleground in the Clash of Civilisations – and battle will ultimately be unavoidable.

This narrative is already more advanced than we may wish to acknowledge.
It is all our interests to combat it and it is in our interests to do it wisely, tirelessly and vociferously.
Unless we are successful, the myth will suck into its vortex politicians who will seek to shape policies to that narrative.

The Prime Minister recently said that if you want to come here, you must be “part of the team” – Team Australia.

For some, that is a reasonable call. A place in Australian society means signing up to our liberal traditions and values.
Others hear the binary tones of George W. Bush after 9/11 – you are with us or against us. There is no room to move.
Even if Tony Abbott was being rhetorically clumsy, it is a mistake to suppose that he is not picking up on the popular narrative that Muslims, by their faith, are not to be trusted until proof is delivered.
The Prime Minister wants to introduce security measures that include reversing the onus of proof on people who travel to Syria and Iraq.
By the mere fact of their travel, citizens might be deemed to have been supporting terrorists.
It is not clear if the values of Team Australia require unthinking obedience to the government of the day.
Certainly, when he was in opposition, Mr Abbott supplied no such obedience. And the Labor party, now back in opposition, is returning the favour.
Make no mistake, the right to peaceful dissent is very much part of being on Team Australia.
In an interview this week with SKY’s David Speers, Keysar Trad delivered an articulate and reasoned rebuttal to the proposed reversal of the onus of proof. Indeed, Attorney General George Brandis, in his former life as a defender of liberal freedoms, would have applauded him.
Leaders of the Islamic community in Australia can and must defend their freedoms and their rights because their freedoms and rights belong to all of us.
But we must also have a little sympathy for the government.
Gerard Henderson, the conservative commentator, pointed out on the ABC’s Insiders program that if a teenager from Melbourne can kill people as a suicide bomber in Baghdad, he can do it just as easily in Melbourne or Sydney. Henderson is right.
There is ample evidence that extremists, blooded in foreign wars, return to their home countries to lead atrocities – the planners of the Bali bombing are just one example.
The government has both a right and a solemn duty to protect us by whatever legal means it can.

So there is the tension and the challenge.
Australian society must not allow itself to over-react in ways that are counter-productive, generating angry new adherents to a nihilistic cause. But Australia is entitled to defend itself.
Muslims within Australia must see this challenge as an opportunity – a chance to emerge from the current conflagration in Iraq and Syria with a clear status within Australian society – as part of the strong, central fabric of Australian life.

No opportunity to do that work should be wasted.

It is probable a terrorist outrage will strike in Australia at some stage. The morning after that event it will be too late for Muslims in Australia to announce they reject terrorism.

That denunciation must be so well established that every Australian, outside the lost extremes, rallies to enfold Muslims within the grieving whole.

How is that done?

The people who work hardest at shaping popular narratives are politicians. Let’s learn from them.

Political communicators know that repetition of a simple position, works.
Before his election victory in 2007, Kevin Rudd used the phrase “working families”. There was barely a sentence in which it did not appear and certainly there was never a speech or TV interview in which it was absent.
If nothing else, by the time they went into the ballot box voters knew – or thought they knew – that Kevin Rudd cared about families who worked for a living.
Tony Abbott, from the moment he took the Liberal Party leadership used and developed the same simple techniques – the dreaded three word slogans.. axe the tax.. stop the boats.. end the waste.
It worked for him as it worked for Kevin Rudd six years earlier.
It cannot work if people don’t believe it. Julia Gillard entered the 2010 election with the slogan “moving forward.” It was worked into every utterance and it was a disaster. People saw it as devious – an instruction to ignore the brutal toppling of her predecessor.

My recommendation to leaders of the Muslim community is a simple one – and it is guided by the lessons of politics.
Never miss an opportunity, never – in any interview, in any article, in any speech, in any sermon, to denounce the savagery of this so-called Islamic State and its supporters. If you cannot do that, you should not be in a leadership position.

Consider the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh. He declared this week that Al-Qaeda and Islamic State were the “number one enemy” of Islam. He said “extremism, radicalism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam.”

If the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the Holy Places, a man who stands at the very centre of the Sunni Arab world can denounce these punks, who is not to denounce them?

Violent extremism is to Islam what outlaw motorcycle gangs are to wider Australian society: a carbuncle, an odious outgrowth and a threat. Motorcycle gangs with their violence and organised crime rise out of the body of a community, feed on that community, despise that community and do that community violence. It is an impulse that is hard ultimately to eradicate but it must be fought by every legal means.

People will accept the good faith of the Muslim community leadership in Australia much more readily if at every turn, at every opportunity, the leadership is making that distinction between Islam and its violent fringes, denouncing it, isolating it, condemning it.
It won’t make you popular with the extremists. Dr Jamal Rifi has emerged as one of the Islamic communities strongest voices and has received threats because of it. That is precisely why other voices must rise with his. Dr Rifi’s courage and leadership do not go unnoticed.

So when is the denouncing of extremists finished?

The answer is never.

Any seasoned politician will tell you that when your words have dulled in your own ears – when in the words of one politician, you feel if you say it again you will vomit – that is the moment when you might just be starting to be heard.
So here is the covenant.
Members of all communities represented within Australian society – and that includes the  Anglo-Celtic strand, should and must support the Islamic leadership within our community.
We must all work hard to ensure that hatred and prejudice does not take root against people of the Islamic faith. That is a job for all of us, to engage in in good faith and with good hearts.
The Muslim leadership within Australia must unceasingly denounce the violent extremism of the so-called Islamic state and its ilk. It must unceasingly denounce, in public and in private, Australians who sign up to religious-based violence.

If we all play our part, we show the fringes that we are the many and they are the few.

We will together reinforce the Centre. We will stop things from falling apart. We will prevent mere anarchy from being loosed upon our world.

We will show that the values that make Australia a great place – of freedom, of pluralism, of liberal humanity, of humour, of the great adventure of making friends with people from backgrounds not our own – that those qualities will stand and will abide.
(Full version of the Keynote address at the 14th Annual Symposium of the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW on 20 August 2014 at Novotel Hotel, Parramatta)

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