‘Terrorism Repugnant To Islam’: Muslim Summit

The summit of Islamic leaders and John Howard has broken up in Canberra. Speaking at a joint press conference, the Prime Minister said that “the education and sourcing of imams”, including the issue of what is taught in Islamic schools, was discussed at the meeting.

The President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Dr Ameer Ali, described the summit as an “historic event, first of its kind.” He said: “It was very constructive and very fruitful. We agreed to denounce extremism, terrorism and the teaching of hatred in this country. We believe in the Australian family, we are all members of the same family.”

  • Listen to the press conference following the summit with John Howard and Dr Ameer Ali (16m)

Transcript of the joint press conference held by the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Dr Ameer Ali, at Parliament House, Canberra.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen I’ve called this news conference with Dr Ameer Ali, the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, to say something of the very successful meeting we’ve had. I am releasing a statement of principles which will provide the framework for ongoing dialogue and contact between the Government and the Islamic community of Australia into the future. It’s fair to say that there was unanimous commitment from everybody present as fellow Australians to do all we could to tackle the problem and the potential for difficulty arising from the terrorist threat within our community. There was unanimous rejection and repudiation of terrorism in all its forms and a commitment to work within the laws of Australia and the framework of the Australian community to combat terrorism. And the statement of principles goes into some detail about the way in which that approach will be adopted.

I want to thank Dr Ali and his colleagues for the very positive, the very responsive and I think the very forward looking attitude that is being taken by the Islamic community. There is a problem, there is a concern that a small section of the Islamic community of this country could be a source of terrorism. The important thing coming out of this meeting is that we all agree on that and we need to work together. We need the assistance of the Islamic leadership and the Islamic leadership needs our assistance and we’ve agreed on a framework to move forward. That framework, that dialogue, will be convened by John Cobb as the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, but he will from time to time see the involvement of relevant Ministers such as the Attorney-General, the Minister for Education and the Minister for Family and Community Services.

There were a number of particular issues talked about. One is the education and sourcing, if I can put it that way, of imams in Australia. And we do believe that more can be done to bring an Australian perspective to that. There was discussion about what is taught in Islamic schools. I made it very clear that consistent with the maintenance of our non-discriminatory policy towards supporting all religious schools, providing they adhere to the curricula of the Australian states, that that policy would continue but we have sought as part of the dialogue advise from the Islamic community as to ways in which we can be totally satisfied that the appropriate denunciations and repudiation of terrorism occurs.

Overlaying all of our discussions was the acceptance from the very beginning that terrorism is absolutely repugnant to Islam. And that was stressed again and again, that terrorism has no place in the true Islamic heart and that’s a very, very important principle to work with. And the other very important understanding of course was that the common bond between all of us was our loyalty to Australia and our commitment to the traditions, the values and the institutions of the Australian nation. Now I believe that that is a proper basis to work together into the future, we face a difficult task and we need to work together and to maintain the dialogue, but I think we have made a very good start and I do want to thank my fellow Australians of the Islamic community who came to Canberra this morning to take part in this very valuable discussion and I would like to invite Dr Ameer Ali to say a few words.

DR ALI:

Thank you Prime Minister. This was a historic event, first of its kind. It was very constructive and very fruitful. We agreed to denounce extremism, terrorism and the teaching of hatred in this country. We believe in the Australian family, we are all members of the same family. We have an unreserved commitment to the safety and security of this nation, of all the groups that live in this country so that we can live in a peaceful, harmonious society in the future. There is no place for hatred, there is no place for terrorism, there is no place for violence in this country.

We discussed many issues. Of course there are differences of opinions, the Prime Minister himself opened the subject of Iraq and there were people who were supporting his policy, there were some people who were against the policy, that’s the matter of democracy, that’s how it functions – you are entitled to your own opinions, but we are not here to change the foreign policy of this country. We came here with a focus of discussing the security issues, the problem that the Australian community is facing–there is a problem with it, we recognise that, there is a problem, and we’ve decided to have this dialogue to continue in a smaller groups, (inaudible) groups in the future which will make practical suggestions to the Government with regard to training of the imam’s, the schools curricula, the youth problem, the women in our society, so on and so forth. So this is not the end, this is not a one-off thing, it’s the beginning of a long process. And to that extent Prime Minister, we thank you whole-heartedly for the effort you have made, and it came out (inaudible) that this brought to you when you were in London that we wanted to meet with you, you responded quickly and very positively, and the (inaudible) seen, with all the focus on the negative side of this, but the outcome was very fruitful, constructive and we hope that the Muslim community will have a bright future in this country and we live equally as other communities in all aspects. Thank you Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Any questions.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) express to you over the war in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there were two comments about it. One man said he very strongly supported the Government’s position, very, very strongly. And one other person said that he did not necessarily agree with that. And I said, that mirrors the view of the Australian community that is part of the dialogue, it’s part of the debate, it’s part of the debate that goes on in the Australian community. But as Dr Ali said, the meeting was not about finding our foreign policy, but it indicated to me that on that issue the people who I had invited were reflective of the range of views in the Australian community – and isn’t that good?

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) still some who are angry that they weren’t invited. What do you say, and perhaps I could also ask Dr Ali, what do you say to those people?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t really have much to add to what I said earlier, it’s a representative group, you have to put a limit on it, I make no apology for not inviting people with extreme views because they would’ve dominated the coverage–you know the way all of that works, and I think it was a very constructive meeting and there were a range of views.

JOURNALIST:

What role can the government have in the education and sourcing of imam’s?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s something we need to discuss with the community. I mean obviously we are not getting into the business of telling any religion how it should conduct itself, but… I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Security checks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh well that applies to a lot of people, not just imam’s. But there is a concern and it’s shared in the Islamic Community that there is not a sufficient Australian perspective felt and conveyed by some of the imam’s. And that’s why this issue is raised initially by Dr Nelson, and is one we’re going to take forward.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) discussion of deportation of those who do incite terrorism and have citizenship elsewhere?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, there wasn’t.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) discussion of the dialogue with the radicals and what were the views on that, and what’s going to happen?

DR ALI:

It is not a one off thing that the Prime Minister said. We can’t invite everybody because we would have to hire a stadium to have a meeting of this sort. So it’s a limited group but that doesn’t prevent us to have further dialogue with the other group, that’s our task to go and out with these people and talk to them.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) announcing Osama Bin Laden, has this been a common theme in the last…

DR ALI:

Because it implied, it is implied that Osama Bin Laden – no-one supports him. Of course there are one or two people who make the statements – it’s a stupid statement to make that. But we didn’t discuss that. But of course without saying that the majority of the community do not see him as a Muslim leader.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) clearly some people need to say it.

DR ALI:

Some people make the statement but we condemn that he is not in the main the group. His activities are not welcome, there’s no reservation in that, he is not an accepted Muslim leader.

PRIME MINISTER:

There was unanimous condemnation of terrorism, unanimous without equivocation it would be an unfair reflection on any of the Islamic leaders who attended this meeting, if it was said that they were the least bit equivocal in their condemnation of terrorism. We didn’t sort of name all the individuals, but as Dr Ali says that was clearly implied.

JOURNALIST:

Post September 11 a number of Islamic leaders who held extremist views have changed position due to some pressure imposed upon them. What is the Government doing in order to ensure that the community will not get double standard leadership?

PRIME MINISTER:

From whom?

JOURNALIST:

Those who held previously extremist views and then they changed their position afterwards.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is a limit to what any government can do about the double standards perceived or otherwise of any community leader, be it Islamic or otherwise. I think it’s important that communities themselves make the right judgements. In the end, we will win this fight if there is a determination within the Islamic community to shun and repudiate and reject people who hold extreme views and that cannot be mandated by legislation, you cannot legislate to change an extremist to a moderate, you have to change the person’s heart and the person’s outlook and you can’t do that by legislation alone. Legislation is necessary to protect the community but we have to win the hearts and minds of people, it’s an expression used in other contexts but applies here as well.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard how will the practical communication continue between the government and the Islamic community is there a panel or…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what we are going to do is that we are going to continue to, John Cobb is going to assume on behalf of the government, the responsibility of continuing the dialogue with the group that met today and for particular issues that group may divide into a small sub-group or sub-committee and they will talk about some of these individual issues and as required, the relevant Ministers will be involved, Brendan Nelson will be involved in Education, the Attorney General will obviously be involved, the Minister for Immigration, Family and Community Services, we will at a government level provide the necessary secretarial support for that to happen. It’s important that having got off to a very positive start, that we continue that process but in the end the debate within the Islamic community is crucial but I want that community to feel that we are with them and that as Australians together, we are tackling the problem. I mean this is a gathering of Australians concerned about the future of our country and that was the spirit in which the meeting took place and in which the exchanges occurred. One more question, then we might go you people have the benefit of a bit of sun, a moment ago.

JOURNALIST:

How can you convince young Muslims that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t an attack on their values and their people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well by explaining again and again explaining the facts. The war in Afghanistan is plainly a response to the terrorist attacks of the 11th September, it’s a commitment that enjoys the overwhelming support of the Australian community, the war in Iraq is obviously being debated more widely, you’ve heard my arguments about that before. I have no doubt in the world if the terrorists win in Iraq, they will then put enormous pressure on Saudi Arabia and that the future of democracy in the Middle East will be a hugely compromised if not fatally destroyed.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, was there any discussion of the importance of the flows of intelligence information from the Islamic community to the law enforcement agency and ways of improving it and encouraging it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me put in this way, I wouldn’t go into a lot of detail about that as you would understand but the Director General of ASIO and the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police were both present at the meeting and the need for continued cooperation of that kind was implied and understood at every stage.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] strengthened?

PRIME MINISTER:

There was in the meeting, one person did raise the question of Commonwealth Vilification Laws and I indicated that it was not the policy of the government to introduce those laws but obviously debate on that would continue and the Attorney General made the point that they existed in many other parts of the country, some of the states but they had not necessarily prevented some of those things taking place and I did explain my own philosophical reservations about anti vilification laws that go back to the time when they were being urged not by the Islamic community but in fact by the Jewish community. One more from Brendan, yes?

JOURNALIST:

Was there any concerns expressed about legislation generally that might be, were there any concerns about legislation that might be coming to deal with incitement or terrorism might be unduly harsh?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think so no.

JOURNALIST:

Did you discuss that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No we didn’t.

Thank you.

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