A meeting of Islamic Leaders has been held in Canberra today. The summit was called by the Prime Minister, John Howard, in the wake of the London bombings.
This is the transcript of remarks to the summit by the Prime Minister, John Howard, the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Dr Ameer Ali, and the representative of the Member Council for Multicultural Australia, Mr Yasser Soliman.
Well ladies and gentleman I would like to welcome all of you here for this very important meeting. I greet you of course as my fellow Australians, and this is a meeting of Australians to try and address an issue which if we can address it effectively, can be of enormous benefit to the future of our country. There is a terrorist challenge around the world; Australia is not immune from that, any Australian who imagines that we can escape terrorism on our own soil indefinitely is deluding themselves. Whilst the likelihood of a terrorist attack in Australia is less than in many other countries, it is nonetheless a possibility and I have never disguised the potential of a terrorist attack occurring on Australian soil.
But in saying that we have to keep things in perspective; there are many things working in our favour that do not work in the favour of other countries. We have a long history of community cohesion and harmony, we are a country that normally resolves its political differences and disputes through vigorous argument and debate rather than violence and physical intimidation and that is a characteristic that I want to maintain and I know all of you do. It’s very important that all sections of the Australian community work together in a spirit of goodwill and I approach this meeting and I know all of my colleagues do, in a spirit of total goodwill and friendship towards Australians of Islamic faith – I want to make that very clear. We are all Australians together, we all have the same obligations as Australians citizens and we all have the same rights as Australian citizens and it’s very important that that be said.
I think I owe it to you that there is concern in the Australian community and I know that you share that within the Islamic community there are some who do encourage violence and hatred, there are some who do give comfort and aid and encouragement and succour to terrorism and our responsibility is to work together to identify the causes of that to prevent the spread of it and to do everything we can to enlist the great mainstream of the Islamic community in Australia to fight the challenge of terrorism. There is a common thread to be found in acts of terrorism that have occurred around the world and that is that they are depicted in some perverted way as being done in the name of Islam. Now I know, and you all know that it is an obscenity on Islam to justify acts of terrorism and murder by reference to the Koran or by reference to the Islamic faith.
It is inimical to the Islamic faith as it is to the Judeao-Christian ethic which has had such a pervasive, informative influence on our country. So I see today’s meeting as very much about agreeing on some common principles that bind us all together and out of that, to try and identify some ways in which we can work together in the future. I would like a continuing dialogue. There are a number of people in our community who are a danger to all of us, not many but some, and we have an obligation to try and identify them, to neutralise them, to prevent them influencing others particularly the young, particularly the young, and in the process learn from the experience of working together effectively as Australians. But my starting point is that we come together as Australians with an overriding loyalty to the future of this country and to nothing else and that we will work together as Australians with that overriding loyalty to try and prevent problems that have occurred in other countries and I will finish on this note.
I was as many of you know in Britain immediately after the attack on the 7th July and at the time of the abortive attack in London a couple of weeks later, and the most arresting thing for the British public was that the acts of the 7th July were apparently carried out by people who had been born in the United Kingdom and were British citizens, they weren’t citizens of another country, and that brought a new reality as far as the British were concerned. Now I think the dimension of the problem in Britain is much much greater than it is in Australia but there are similarities and whilst we should keep perspective, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that it can’t happen here and our responsibility as Australians is to see that it doesn’t or to do all that we can to see that it doesn’t.
So it is in that spirit that I greet you, I want this to be a candid meeting, I will be as frank with you as I have been in my introductory remarks, and I expect you to be frank in return, that is the Australian way that’s the way we deal with these things, and if we conduct this as a meeting of Australians trying to find a solution to a common challenge, then I think we’ll make some progress. If we see it in another light, then we are not going to make progress, that’s how I come to it and I am sure that all of you ought to do the same. You know my colleagues, many of them are very very well known to you, infamously so, as they have said on some occasions but I am very glad to have their assistance, I am glad to have you, and I’d like to invite as I know he proposes to Doctor Ameer Ali, the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils to say something on behalf of our guests. Dr Ali.
DR AMEER ALI:
Thank you Prime Minister. The Honourable Prime Minister, the Honourable Attorney-General, Honourable Minister Amanda Vanstone, Honourable Minister Cobb, members of the Government and the bureaucracy. We thank you very much for this opportunity. I think this is a historic event. I don’t think in the history of this country no Prime Minister invited the Muslim community for open talks about the problems confronting the country and the community in particular. So in that sense in the history of the Muslim community it’s a milestone, this event. It’s a first of its kind and I hope this momentum created by this summit will continue in the future with many meetings.
The main focus of why we are here is to assist the office of the Government and also to seek assistance from the Government to the work that we are doing in order to keep away extremists views from damaging the society in which we live, the country which we cherish, so that every community in this country whether they are Muslims, Jews or Christians, Hindus or Buddhists can live harmoniously in peace and amity without inter-faith, inter-ethnic, inter-religious suspicion and intolerance. So we are here to look at ways and means, how we can achieve that objective, whether we can put up some mechanism by which we can eradicate (inaudible) and eliminate from our group these extremists elements that are a potential threat to the peace loving people of this country.
We are also thinking at the end of the process whether we can have a mechanism by which we can continue the momentum that we create at this summit so that there can be a direct link between a reference group from the Muslim community and the Government so that we can provide the inputs as the need arises and as and when the need arises from the Government so that you can assist us and we assist you.
And finally we expect a positive outcome from this summit so we can go out with the unified message that none of us here will tolerate any extremist element in our society or blatantly spreading hatred and violence. There is no (inaudible) reservation in condemning those efforts, all of us are united in that. What is the problem or what we are doing to discuss is how we are going to achieve that in the course of our discussion.
I don’t want to take much of the time because there is more time to discuss matters, and I also finally want to express the wishes by the Mufti who now in Cairo who couldn’t attend this meeting he said he uses prayer and blessings so that a positive outcome will come out of this meeting and we can work together as one united Australian group. We are Muslims but we are Australian Muslims, that identity must be preserved all the time. We have our differences but there are quite a lot that we share in the values and (inaudible) of society which is in tune with the (inaudible) and values of the faith that you practice, there is no contradiction at all. So we are a family here and we are no contradiction, we are no conflict, only because we are trying to look at the ways and means of achieving this objective hand in hand with the Government.
Thank you once again Prime Minister for giving us the opportunity and we hope that a lot can be achieved in the limited time of this (inaudible).
Thank you Dr Ali. Mr Soliman.
MR YASSER SOLIMAN:
Thank you Prime Minister for calling this meeting and the opportunity for us to come together and share the responsibilities of this common fight against the threats that face us all. Terrorism has threatened all parts of the world, including Australia and while we are not experts in counter-terrorism we certainly come here with an open heart and mind and willingness to be fully part of the fight against extremism and terrorism. There are some radicals obviously and we acknowledge that amongst our people here in Australia. There are not many. Some of the young people do give them an ear and we need to challenge that very strongly.
There’s obviously room for improvement in what we can do and what we should be doing. And obviously being together we can all improve in terms of our effectiveness, government authorities, communities and the Muslim community especially can improve in being more effective and have a bigger impact. We are an integral part of this nation and we are committed to this nation’s security, its shared future that we are part of it, its values and we will do everything within our power as Muslim community, as part of the Australian community to make sure that we are all safe and have a positive shared future together.
This meeting’s important, it’s a reaffirmation of our commitment, an embrace between government and the Muslim community to work together against the threats that face this nation. We are a vibrant community and we are concerned about being described only in the language of terrorism, we need and the Australian people need to understand we have much to offer, we are a fully productive community and we want to be fully integrated but for some sectors of the media and other people to only describe us or see us as being described in the language of terrorism and threat and security issues that is of a big concern to us and we need to position ourselves as partners with you as being fellow Australians and nothing less.
We have also been in some corners used to undermine multicultural policies and we do not accept this, we fully support the Australia multicultural policy, we see it as one of the most important elements in fighting against extremism and terrorism and we are fully behind the multicultural policies and thank you for being strong in those types of policies that give opportunity to everyone. We share in the values and we come here with an open heart and an open mind and a willingness to cooperate in all ways in ways that make this community a safer, one of the safest places on earth.
Thank you Prime Minister. Ministers, thank you.
Well thank you very much gentlemen. In closing the public opening of this gathering can I say again how very pleased I am that we have such a representative gathering of people. You can never invite everybody to a meeting like this unless you hire a cricket field or whatever because everybody wants to come. The important thing is this is a representative gathering of mainstream Muslim leaders. I quite deliberately made a decision not to invite people who had expressed extremists views for the very simple reason that extremists always hijack gatherings. Now that’s my view and that’s the basis on which we have proceeded and I think it will be a very productive gathering. I’d like to invite the media to leave, there will be opportunities for you to hear from us and question us later but we’d now like to go into a more closed session. But thank you very much for your support and patronage and interest.