IMAMS WARN AGAINST RADICALISM OF ABORIGINAL INMATES CONVERTING TO ISLAM
Australia’s spy agency has been enlisted to help crack down on radicalisation in jails after revelations Aboriginal prisoners are converting to Islam and risk becoming extremists. Sheikhs and imams are being brought into prisons to deliver de-radicalisation messages during Friday prayers, but two prominent Sydney sheikhs have told a high-level forum that chaplaincy services are grossly under-funded and prison converts are misinterpreting the religion. A small but high-risk group of radicals are causing concern to Corrective Services NSW and it is believed recruitment to Islam is active, particularly among Aboriginal inmates.
Sheikh Omar Habbouche, who has worked with inmates and prison chaplains, says faith is a powerful tool in the reformation of prisoners but the lack of proper instruction means prison converts are misinterpreting Islam. There are just two Muslim chaplains spread across 10 of the state’s prisons. Sheikh Omar told a Corrective Services-sponsored forum at Sydney University’s Law School last month that Islam was primarily taught face-to-face and knowledge needed to be properly explained. He cited the case of one of British soldier Lee Rigby’s killers, who wildly misinterpreted a line from the Koran – “kill the unbelievers wherever you see them” – to justify the stabbing on a London street.
“There isn’t enough capacity to address the needs and the requirements of the Muslim inmates,” Sheikh Omar said. “When there are insufficient chaplaincy services appointed, we find that people rely on other means to get their Islamic education. You may be able to police the information they have, the books they receive but you can’t police the understanding they take from that or the application.” About 9 per cent of inmates in NSW are Muslim, even though only 3 per cent of the general population identifies as Islamic. Sheikh Omar said many had a poor understanding of Islam. “Dare I say, if they knew their religion … they wouldn’t be in prison in the first place so they need that face-to-face instruction.”
Some imams and sheikhs struggled to communicate effectively with inmates. Senior management began consulting with the Muslim community in western Sydney a year ago and sharing information and contacts with intelligence authorities. Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman, secretary of the Australian National Imams Council, told the forum many prison imams were avoiding hot topics such as jihad, Syria and Iraq for fear of being labelled jihadi supporters. “These are topics our youth want to hear,” he said. “If I’m not going to address it in the proper form, then they will go listen to someone else.”
Australian National University researcher Clarke Jones, who is writing a book on prison radicalisation, said extremist conversions were rare because terrorism inmates tended to be at the bottom of the prison pecking order in Australia. He cited the recent case of Sydney man Khaled Sharrouf, who posted images of himself fighting in Iraq and standing over slaughtered bodies, as an unusual case of an inmate committing acts of jihad upon release. Sharrouf served four years for his role in the Pendennis terror plot and recently said on Twitter he received weekly lessons from al-Qaeda leader Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi via the jail phone, a claim that had not been verified.
“The problem is a lot of these de-radicalisation programs are very generic … and tend to be a one-size-fits-all model,” Dr Clarke said. Asmi Wood, senior research fellow at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, was aware of Aboriginal conversions in prison and said elders were concerned that converts would join foreign jihad but he had seen no evidence of it. Rod Moore, chaplaincy co-ordinator for Corrective Services NSW, told the conference NSW had “a long way to go” to increase chaplaincy services but the program led the way globally.
Child sex victims have finally been vindicated after years of cover-up by the Anglican Church, with an official admission that one of its most senior clergymen was a paedophile who had been “allowed’’ to abuse children. Archbishop of York John Sentamu has written to victims of the late Robert Waddington — a former Queensland headmaster who later ran hundreds of Anglican schools in Britain — saying he was “deeply ashamed’’ the church had not acted on complaints of child sex abuse. The extraordinary admission follows a year-long inquiry into Waddington, the former dean of Manchester who died in 2007, and the mishandling of abuse allegations against him from former choirboys and students in England and Australia.
The inquiry showed Waddington’s trail of horrific rapes and beatings of boys over five decades and inaction by senior church officials, was headed by sitting English judge Sally Cahill QC. It also investigated the former archbishop of York, now Lord (David) Hope of Thornes who last year expressed regret at not reporting the allegations to police or other child protection agencies. Archbishop Sentamu wrote in his letter to Waddington’s victims that “we in the Church of England should face up to the wrong which has been allowed to be done to those children who were abused by the late Robert Waddington’’.
“The Church of England must face up to where it has failed to protect children from predatory clergy,” he wrote. “For my part I am deeply ashamed for the times when the church failed either to listen or to act where children were at serious risk.’’ In his letter, Archbishop Sentamu also opens the door to compensation and says the findings of Judge Cahill will be made public when the church receives responses from victims and others named in the report. Bim Atkinson, who was sexually abused and beaten by Waddington in the 1960s while a student at St Barnabas boarding school in Ravenshoe, north Queensland, said it was a “shameful indictment’’ on the church that it did not act until 15 years after he first reported the abuse.
“If my efforts in 1999 had been responded to, we now know that some children would have been saved from Waddington’s continuing offences in England,’’ Mr Atkinson said in a letter to Archbishop Sentamu. It is understood more victims came forward to the Cahill inquiry alleging abuse by Waddington from when he began as a curate in London in the 1950s through to the early 2000s, when he was molesting a former Manchester choirboy. North Queensland Bishop Bill Ray said he had referred the allegations against Waddington to the federal royal commission into child abuse and would hand over the Cahill report once he had received it.
Bishop Ray last year confirmed that all the files relating to the students and staff at St Barnabas, where Waddington was headmaster from 1961 to 1971, were missing and believed to have been thrown down a disused mine shaft.
“The inquiry has taken a very long time, it has been frustrating but it is important to get all of the truth and I believe there has been other victims from Australia and England that have come forward,’’ Bishop Ray said.
HALF A MILLION CHILDREN FACE ONLINE BULLYING EACH YEAR
Children are being increasingly exposed to online bullying that can leave them humiliated and depressed, according to new research that warns of growing risks to almost 500,000 schoolchildren a year. The university analysis shows the online scourge is growing fast and could have a lasting impact on young Australians who have embraced social media and the web while still in primary school. The federal government will air the findings in a challenge to companies such as Facebook and Google over reforms that will give parents the right to force the online giants to remove posts that bully or intimidate children.
Central to the results is an estimate that 20 per cent of children aged eight to 17 were exposed to online bullying last year and that the attacks peak towards the end of primary school and the first years of secondary school. Based on a survey of academic research, the analysis by the University of NSW Social Policy Research Centre suggests that the bullying took its toll on 463,000 children last year, with 365,000 of them in the most exposed group aged from 10 to 15. The parliamentary secretary making the changes, Paul Fletcher, will outline the results in the next step towards drafting reforms to set up an e-safety commissioner who would hear complaints from parents.
The results are certain to be disputed by critics of the government plan, who see the regulation of websites and social media services as a potential threat to free speech. The internet industry has fought against the creation of a government overseer in the belief that companies or an industry body can deal with customer complaints. Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), a non-profit free-speech group, has argued for more education and stronger parental supervision as better solutions to the problem than forcing websites to take down offensive content. “EFA is strongly opposed to any legislation relating to the take-down of content as this would represent a serious threat to freedom of speech,” the group told the government.
The Institute of Public Affairs has blasted the idea of giving an “explicit censorship power” to a government official. The government expects to have draft legislation ready for community consultation soon and to have changes pass the parliament by the end of the year. “When victims are physically bullied in the playground, at least they know they are safe when they get home,” Mr Fletcher said. “But if looking at your smartphone or computer exposes you to a stream of derision, or hatred, then there is nowhere you can feel safe.” The University of NSW estimated that 72% of schools reported at least one incident of cyber-bullying last year and that the rate was higher in secondary schools.