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Brisbane Sunni community group winning against extremism

A Sunni Australian Muslim community group in Brisbane believes it's winning the fight against radicalisation by providing guidance to young people that couples social activities with religious teaching.

Ali Kadri, of the Queensland Islamic Council, believes that camps and nightime events he's been organising are lessening the influence of irresponsible ‘backyard sheikhs’ and the extremist online messages aimed at susceptible young men.

The events attempt to overcome the feelings of alienation and marginalisation that he believes are key traits among young people ‘at risk’ of radicalisation.

But the process is sensitive and young people should not feel targeted or stigmatised, he warned. He's called for an increase in communication between government bodies and community organisations.

Winning the 'hearts of minds' of young people

Ali Kadri’s community events in Brisbane’s Holland Park Mosque – one of the oldest in the country - generate a “counter-narrative” to violent messages and he believes he’s winning the information war, and the “hearts and minds” of young Australian Muslims.

“We counter the propaganda that (the terrorist organisation) ISIS spreads... Burning pilots and beheading innocent people have nothing to do with Islam,” he said.

“It’s important in the CVE (counter violent extremism) space to let Muslims know that there’s not a war against Islam, and the Middle East conflict has a lot to do with politics.”

Young Australian Muslims who regurgitate the violent online messages of irresponsible preachers are being “shouted down on Facebook”, according to Kadri.

Kadri's group camps and Tuesday night events teach the basics of Islam from historical sources – rather than the internet – attract around 100 young Muslim lads. Friday night sermons by Imam Uzair include political meditations as well as traditional Islamic teaching, and are attended by around 500 Australian Muslims.

Kadri said Imam Uzair is “not your typical imam. He’s a gym head, plays golf and cricket, and he’s memorised the Koran. He’s spiritual yet modern – someone (young people) can connect to and be friends with. He mingles with the boys, plays sport and then he starts teaching religion.”

Islam can provide solutions to countering radicalisation, Kadri said, but many young Australian Muslims “don’t know Islam.”

“But there’s not one factor (in radicalisation),” he added, and believes it's important to help boys overcome social issues by guiding them through training and employment programs.

“They’re marginalised and feel like they’re getting nowhere in life. They can turn to crime - it happens to non-Muslims, too, and they join bikie gangs,” he said.

Sometimes radicalised individuals can slip through such community programs, in spite of best efforts. Kadri said he had dealings with one of the men who was arrested in Brisbane by a counter-terrorism operation in September and charged with recruting foreign fighters. “We’d spend hours debating religious issues, but he didn’t come to the lectures.”

He invited him to local workshops “to try and involve them in the democratic way of life, but he was feeling alienated and started chatting to people on the internet.”

“He changed his phone number and stopped talking to people who disagreed with his views,” Kadri said.

Getting it right in the future

The work of bringing young men into the peaceful fold is not without challenges. Kadri said. When Muslims, particularly women, feel like they are being targeted it can have a polarising effect on young Muslim men. “It kills what we do,” he said.

He believes there needs to be more interaction between levels of government and community organisations like his, and believes good communication can go a long way.

He cited an Australian non-Muslim who works as a cultural liaison officer for the Australian Federal Police in Brisbane, and has built strong relationships with young boys in the program. “It’s worked well – he’s changed some of their views and he’s made a huge impact,” he said.

He believes more partnerships are needed for prevention programs like his to ensure those ‘at risk’ of violent extremism can be brought back to achieve a truly fulfilling life.

The Point

A Sunni community group that works with young people in Brisbane believe they're winning the information war against the irresponsible messages of backyard and online preachers

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