Evidence of Islamic terrorism continues both In Australia and overseas and, as a result, Premier Baird’s decision to investigate the impact of Islamic extremism on NSW public schools is, while overdue, very welcome. Last year the British government faced the same problem with the so-called Trojan Horse affair, which centred on a number of Islamic schools in Birmingham that fell under the influence of Islamic fundamentalists and propaganda. A subsequent government review confirmed a significant problem.
And hundreds of disaffected youths from Europe and Australia are still flocking to the Middle East to spread jihad against the West and moderate Muslims. Additional evidence of the rise of Islamic radicalism in Australia came with the police raid on four homes across Melbourne by police investigating an alleged plan by Islamic youths to target police on ANZAC Day.
What’s to be done? In a keynote speech last week delivered under the title ‘Extremism’, British Prime Minister David Cameron detailed a four-point plan to “defeat extremism and at the same time build a stronger, more cohesive society”. An essential aspect of the strategy is to ensure British government and non-government schools better teach tolerance and respect for difference and give young people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds a clear understanding of the values and institutions that safeguard freedom and democracy.
Ofsted, the body responsible for inspecting schools, has been given both the task of investigating all schools and the power to penalize those that fail to follow government policy. This approach, involving the whole of a school’s curriculum, is far more extensive than what is being undertaken in NSW where the government plans to limit the investigation to an audit of prayer groups active in public schools.
Young Muslims, in particular, need to be properly educated, find employment and given the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. Living and attending schools in suburbs segregated by ethnicity and race is also an obvious a danger. Cameron also believes that, even though Britain is a multi-faith/multicultural society, like Australia, everybody who lives there, especially migrants, must adopt core British values and support British institutions. “We are all British,” says Cameron, “we respect democracy and the rule of law. We believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of worship, equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith”.
Firstly, promoting diversity and the right of migrants to celebrate their own culture only works if there is integration and a commitment to those values that underpin tolerance and equal rights. In an earlier speech, Cameron also argued that Britain is a Christian country and Judeo-Christian beliefs must be supported. Cultural practices sduch as arranged marriages and under-age brides, female genital mutilation (of which there where 4,000 last year in Britain) and honour killings, Cameron argues, must be seen as totally unacceptable and punished.
Secondly, the Cameron argues that home-grown apologists for Islamic terrorism must be dealt with. Islamic religious leaders spreading hatred and those in schools indoctrinating students, like those in Birmingham schools last year, must be identified and stopped.
Thirdly, unlike those arguing that evil terrorist organisations, such as Islamic State, have no relationship to Islam as a religion, Cameron argues there is a connection. The Prime Minister puts it simply: “Denying any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists doesn’t work… it is an exercise in futility to deny that.” Cameron continues, “We can’t stand neutral in the battle of ideas. We have to back those who share our values”, arguing that the government needs to do more to support moderate Muslims — including giving parents the right to confiscate their children’s passports. Ways must also be found to involve more Muslims in the political process, he says.
The fourth part of Cameron’s strategy to confront and overcome Islamic fundamentalism involves building a “more cohesive society, so more people feel part of it and are less vulnerable to extremism”. A key part of this, he suggests, involves combating what is described as “racism, discrimination or sickening Islamophobia”. Cameron concludes his speech by arguing that all those living in Britain, regardless of culture, religion or race, must defend and promote “shared British values”. He also argues that Muslim communities have “crucial parts to play” in promoting such values.
To date, most of Australian state and commonwealth strategies to fight Islamic terrorism have focused on military and intelligence responses. Equally as important, as Cameron argues, is the necessity to fight that battle of ideas and promote an integrated, cohesive society with shared beliefs and values.
Many of the submissions to last year’s review of the Australian national curriculum make the same point. Hence Recommendation 15 that involves placing to a greater emphasis on moral and spiritual values in the national curriculum, especially Judeo-Christianity, and the benefits of Western civilisation.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum.