This research explores Australian Muslim leaders’ perspectives on the Federal Government’s countering violent terrorism policies and program, the efficacy of the government’s community engagement strategies, and the impact of political/media rhetoric and foreign policy on community trust and engagement.

Using a mixed method approach, the study elicits recommendations from data provided by Muslim leaders for improving Government–community engagement and curbing key indicators that foster extreme and violent ideologies.

The events of 11 September 2001, Madrid, 2004, London and Bali in 2005 generated new government responses and approaches to the threat of terrorism by the United States of America and its close allies- the Five-Eyes Partners, including the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Central to these counter-terrorism policies and strategies is the importance that communities play in defeating terrorism.

Community engagement is an important component in the so-called ‘fight against extremism and terrorism’. Since 2001, Australian Governments has identified the community as an important player collaborating with government to defeat terrorism.

This is supported by literature in Australia and the UK, which has reiterated the importance of community engagement to the success of governments’ countering extremism strategies (Briggs, 2010; Gunaratna, 2011; Klausen, 2009; Pickering, McCulloch, & Wright-Neville, 2008; Spalek & Imtoual, 2007; Spalek & Lambert, 2008).

This research explores the Australian government’s counterterrorism policies and, in particular, the countering violent extremism (CVE) strategy that was implemented at state and federal levels. The CVE strategy commenced under the Rudd government in 2009 with the creation of a CVE national framework, which was the first of its kind in Australia.

Religious and community leaders in the Australian Muslim communities have expressed concerns about the negative impact counterterrorism policies and legislation have had on members of the Muslim community, resulting in a lack of confidence and trust in working with government authorities.

Political and media rhetoric in Australia has been negative towards Muslim Australians, often contributing to heightened fears and the alienation of Australian Muslims from mainstream Australian society.

This study examined the extent to which negative political and media narratives have reinforced differences and thereby contributed to distrust and radicalisation among Muslims. This study also investigated: how the language used in political and media responses to terrorist attacks has affected the trust of local Muslim communities; and the engagement of Muslim communities with the government as partners in countering extremism.

The research focuses on Muslim community leaders’ perspectives on the effectiveness of the CVE strategy and the engagement processes, in order to identify factors that currently impede or might improve the likelihood of its success. In particular, the research aims at identifying better approaches for engaging Muslim communities as partners in developing counter-extremist strategies.

The research employed a mixed method of gathering data. A purposive sample was selected focusing on leaders of peak, state and local organisations and its leaders (or representatives) from Australia’s diverse Muslim community. These leaders were first asked to participate in an online questionnaire, and then a one on one semi-structured interviews

In this study, a Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis method was used to analyse data collected from the research participants on the reasons, factors and suggestions for improving the government CVE programme’s approach to countering violent extremism.