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The extract below is one journalists perspective on the isolation that young people can experience, and the consequences that can occur, due our societies practices and policies.

What drives young Australian Muslims to join IS

Effective policies are based on respect, which in turn implies a feel for how human beings work. That is the starting point from which we should look at the Government’s developing response to the threat of terrorism in Australia.

I should begin with a small confession.  In my last school years as the Soviet troops were invading Hungary to put down the brief revolution there, I wondered uneasily whether it was not perhaps my duty to go to Hungary to fight for freedom there.

For an idealistic young man whose Catholicism was tightly intertwined with anti-communism, the thought was natural. To my relief, the possibility disappeared long before I even contemplated the practicalities of getting to Hungary and of finding a resistance group to join, let alone one with some ethical code. And before I needed to speak about the idea with people whom I trusted, who of course would have dissuaded me.

Still, the memory gives me some empathy with, and much dread for, young Muslims who might similarly be enticed by desire or duty to give themselves to overseas causes.  I sometimes wonder how I, and people more spirited than I, might have acted if the struggle for Hungary had have continued and resistance forces had sought overseas support. I try to imagine how we may have responded if a suitably Left wing Government had set out to stop people from joining the Hungarian resistance by threatening to deprive us of citizenship when we returned to Australia, calling into question the loyalty of Catholics in Australia, blaming people’s criminal behaviour on their Catholicism, raiding Catholic houses, mocking those who showed any empathy with them, banning some of the more passionately Anti-Communist priests, and trying to deport the most notorious Catholic of the time, Mr Santamaria.

My guess now is that such measures would have inflamed the residual sense of exclusion and discrimination felt by many of us Catholics at the time, exacerbated tensions between Anglophile Catholics and those who identified with the wrongs of Ireland, and have left the Catholic community resentful and afraid.  It would have encouraged young people like myself to listen to the strident call of those we saw as martyrs for their faith, and to dismiss those we saw as more cautious. We certainly would have sought the advice of like minded contemporaries rather than of our elders who seemed to compromise their faith. And the Catholic community would have remained divided, afraid and alienated as accounts of police raiding Catholic homes spread in a climate of media mockery of Catholicism.

In this atmosphere young unemployed and angry Catholics may well have found in the European expeditionary force a cause that gave meaning to their lives and directed their angers and resentments.  I am sure that I would have been fixed in my ideology, unable to detach over time my identification of Christianity with Anti-Communism, rather than with human freedom.  I suspect, too, that Australia would have long remained bitterly divided on sectarian lines.  All a heavy cost to pay for a disrespectful policy.

My point in labouring this imagined scene is not to compare the rights and wrongs of the freedom of Hungary and of the cause of IS, nor to compare the potential danger posed to Australia by fighters returning from Syria and those returning from my imagined Hungarian resistance. There is no comparison on these points.  The point is to imagine the likely effect on the human beings on whose good will, cooperation and wise counsel we depend for the effectiveness of our policies, and so on Australian society.

From this perspective, the insistence in policy on firm policing and appropriate surveillance is important, as it is in any threat to public order. There are real, finite risks that can be minimised but not totally eradicated.  To address them, though, we need above all to understand what might attract young people to join a cause and how they might be drawn to a better mind. To do this governments need to strengthen the links with the communities from which they are drawn, show a deep respect for their faith, encourage and consult community religious leaders, use the bully pulpit to discountenance public abuse and scorn  directed at these communities, and express trust and solidarity with the communities and their representatives.

In the current climate, to treat this as an issue of border security and to militarise our dealings with it invite Australians to think of our Muslims fellow citizens as honorary asylum seekers – as people unlike us who threaten national security and who at any time can arbitrarily be deprived of the protection of law.

That may have political advantages but, as I imagine my younger self, I fear for those Muslim young people who will so unnecessarily be driven into the arms of ideological extremists. Sow the wind and we will reap the tornado.

Andrew Hamilton |  25 February 2015

Here at TLC our aim is to support young people with the resources and personal skills that can enable them to understand and negotiate the world in which they live. Our task as Christians is to speak into those places where young people are isolated and disenfranchised so that they don’t become extremists for ideological change (Matt 25:38ff). When we speak of love and kindness, welcome and hospitality, we speak of God’s intention to welcome all.

Rev Ben Webb


Primary Musical – ANNIE 28 August, 2015
TLCCA Foundation Dinner 25 August, 2015

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