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Welcome to the Australian Arabic Council Website

Our organisation is committed to human rights and community relations issues affecting the Arabic culture and profile. You will note that we undertake a combination of proactive and reactive projects, whereby we are vigilant to changes in our environment, while endeavouring to make it a better place to live for all of us. We trust that your journey into our web site will be enlightening and inviting, as we welcome your participation and contribution to any of our initiatives.

Current Issues

AAC Members Attend AACCI Victoria AGM – 30/9/2015

  FionaHFiona&Iman barbara&IRoland    

Roland Jabbour Interview (Arabic) – CNBC Arabia – April 2014

 

 

AAC Members Nominated to Muslim Community Reference Group

Recently the Minister for Multicultural Affairs the Hon. Robin Scott wrote to the Australian Arabic Council outlining the Victorian Government allocation of $25 million over four years to develop a whole of community approach to enhance social cohesion and community resilience and to prevent all forms of violent extremism.

To support this work, Mr Scott is establishing a Muslim Community Reference Group. The aim of the Reference Group is to facilitate a deeper understanding of challenges affecting Muslim communities and the strength which may be harnessed in developing solutions to those challenges. The Reference Group will report directly to Mr Scott.

Applications of Expression of Interest from AAC members Mr Will Abdo and Ms Iman Riman have been lodged with the Minister’s office for consideration and short-listing. The AAC looks forward to working closely with the Victorian State Government on this positive and important initiative.

Media Releases

The questions we need to be asking about Islamic State

Joseph Wakim – Sunday Telegraph – December 6, 2015 12:00am

AS ISIS peddles conspiracy marketing that they are the masterminds behind the recent spate of all terrorist attacks, another conspiracy of silence abounds in our western alliance. In western conversations, we shine a light on the heated issue of where will the ISIS “menace” strike next.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reminded “Australians to be aware that a terrorist incident on our soil remains likely”, despite his calm and calculated reassurances.

But we don’t shine a light on the taboo questions that explain how ISIS does not thrive in a vacuum, but is dependent on a supply chain.

We need to reject the simplistic narrative about ISIS as a malevolent cancer that can be surgically amputated.

A bolder set of questions will enlighten us that many of our allies have blood on their hands and are hypocritical for condemning ISIS publicly but aiding them privately.

Let’s shed light on who is funnelling ISIS with funds and weapons. The oil-rich Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supplied ammunition and salaries to the Free Syrian Army in 2012.

They should have known the ancient Arab axiom, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and that ISIS would ultimately confiscate these weapons. Ironically, ISIS propaganda videos have flaunted American weapons which they now point at the manufacturing country.

Let’s shed light on which border is allowing ISIS into Syria. The infiltrations are mostly via Turkey which has allowed ‘jihadists’ and weapons across its border.

It has also hosted the launch of ISIS missiles into Kobane in Syria.

Therefore, we need to be asking why Turkey has aided and abetted ISIS supply chain.

Let’s shed light on who is buying the $50 million per month of Syrian crude oil that ISIS have seized. It appears that middlemen smuggle the oil to Turkey, Iran and even the Syrian government.

Let’s shed light on why the US President vows to ‘degrade’ before he destroys ISIS. It suggests that ISIS is serving some purpose in weakening the Syrian army and destabilising the Syrian government.

If they are as evil and threatening as the US rhetoric purports, then surely they need to be urgently obliterated, not gradually disarmed.

This may explain why the Russian jets apparently achieved in one week what the USA failed to achieve in a year of anti-ISIS bombings in Syria.

Let’s shed light on why ISIS have not vowed to rescue their Sunni brothers in Gaza against Israel.

Instead, we see ISIS propaganda threaten the ‘tyrants of Hamas’ with ‘the rule of sharia’. If ISIS genuinely cared about protecting its Muslim brothers from non-believers, Palestinians should be high on the list to be rescued rather than to be threatened.

If they are as evil and threatening as the US rhetoric purports, then surely they need to be urgently obliterated, not gradually disarmed.

Let’s shed light on why the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not actively accommodated the Syrian refugees.

Surely, it would make more sense that the predominantly Sunni Syrians seek citizenship in Saudi Arabia which already shares the Arab proximity, Arabic language, Sunni faith, and recognisable qualifications.

Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees and claims to oppose refugee status to these Syrians ‘to ensure their safety and dignity’.

It appears that the Syrian exodus prefers the prospect of distant European citizenship than nearby Saudi foreign labour. When we shine a light on these darker tunnels that feed ISIS, we replace fear with facts.

* Joseph Wakim is the founder of the Australian Arabic Council and former Victorian Multicultural Affairs Commissioner. He is also an author.

Compassion fatigue? Depends who’s asking

By Joseph Wakim – Posted Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Was the global sympathy for the 129 innocent victims of the Paris terrorism ‘racist’ because it was not extended to the 43 equally innocent victims of the Beirut terrorism a day prior?

Many of my compatriots from Lebanon took to social media, incensed by what they perceived as selective sympathy and blatant racism. It reinforced their perception that Middle Easterners are treated as less innocent and their lives less precious. Some even posited that there was a hierarchy of humans based on skin colour.

When it comes to Middle Eastern victims, we don’t see full page spreads on their faces, names, families and dreams because we are so conditioned to seeing them dehumanised as dispensable war fodder. We are so conditioned to seeing ‘them’ as oozing hatred, not oozing love.

We have seen the French flag adopted in solidarity as the updated Facebook profile. We have seen the French national anthem sung in solidarity at the Webley Stadium. We have seen ‘Pray for Paris’ slogans and floral tributes to the victims worldwide.

But is it the race of the victim or the region of the crime that incites our compassion? Here is the litmus test for our compassion meter.

Let’s say a Parisian victim was of Arab descent, which is very likely given the multicultural demography of Paris. Would our compassion valve be narrowed because this victim was not really one of us westerners, and presumed to be an (illegal) immigrant?

Conversely, let’s say a Beirut victim was a western immigrant, which is very likely around the American University of Beirut. After all, Beirut was embraced as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ since World War Two, as the tourist destination that boasts the best of Eastern antiquity and Western modernity with a French flavour. Would our compassion valve be widened with ‘you poor thing, trapped among them’ or with ‘what did you expect living in a hot spot like that?’

While no empirical evidence exists to answer these questions, my hunch is that the region trumps the race when it comes to our compassion meter. The region determines the instant response of the compassion valve, then the race of the victim either narrows or widens that response.

Paris is a familiar holiday destination and safe haven where many of us have walked those exact streets and drank at those exact cafes. There is an understandable emotional connection that has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with region.

When I was trapped in Lebanon during the 2006 war while visiting relatives, the compassion valve in Australia widened when we realised that Aussies were at risk, then narrowed when the Aussies were deemed to be of Lebanese origin.

Some research suggests a ‘racial empathy gap’ where white people assume that black people feel less pain. Other research defines compassion as ‘suffering together with’ the victim coupled with a genuine desire to relieve it.

Consider the mass shootings that tragically take place in the USA. The region and race are both western, but the shock-horror effect is lower because of the regularity of these crimes in these places. When bombings, shootings or terrorism attacks are repeated frequently in the same region, our reaction morphs from treating them as tragic to accommodating them as the new normal. Over time, we become numb and unwilling to muster compassion from our exhausted wellspring.

Even before we see the faces of the families and victims, we may roll our eyes think ‘how typical’ and narrow our compassion valve. And ‘typical’ leads to the pathway of ‘stereotypical’.

The missing link in understanding compassion is not about the victim’s region or race, but about the heart of the compassionate. If our definition of self is color-blind, our heart can be replenished and compassion fatigue will no longer be selective.

Joseph Wakim founded the Australian Arabic Council and is a former multicultural affairs commissioner.

If we treat people as outsiders, they become outsiders

Joseph Wakim – Published: SMH October 5, 2015

Anti-Muslim vitriol plays into the hands of radicalisation recruiters.

When an incident is imbued with a single drop of Islam, it apparently explains everything, and blinds us from asking the right questions.

We are so hasty to roll out the loaded labels, such as “terrorist” and “gunman”, even when referring to a 15-year-old boy. If Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar was a gun-wielding white teenager in school uniform, rather than a brown teenager in a black robe, would we have labelled him a mixed-up kid with mental problems or a radicalised, cold-blooded terrorist?

If a white teenager had opened fire inside a mosque, would we have labelled him an angry misguided youth?

If we are serious in wanting to break this cycle of violence and acts of terror, we need to stop using dehumanising labels and stop absolving ourselves by  shifting blame to Islam.

The complex reality is that many factors line up to trigger such violent acts, including broken families, mental health, perceived lack of alternatives, current circumstances, loneliness, detachment, exposure to violent videos and a twisted moral compass that defines heroism as a violent means towards a rewarding end.

These are the push factors that recruiters exploit, especially if the recruit is vulnerable and lacks a good parent.

The pull factors include the lure of adventure, power, belonging, respect, weapons and rewards in paradise. They glorify acts of “warriors” and encourage copycat behaviour.

Too often, the “go to” people for de-radicalisation have been community elders, established imams and elected presidents. But the real “experts” on this issue are the youth and their peers, who are more likely to understand and circumvent the cycle.

Youth peers are more likely to derail the radicalisation pathway by planting seeds of doubt and offering other pathways towards redressing injustices. These might include youth groups, political parties, fundraising for charities and letter writing.

Islamophobia might inadvertently feed into the recruitment propaganda, with predators reminding their targets: “We told you that they hate you, you are not welcome, you will never be one of them. Come home to us, come join your brothers and sisters where you will feel welcome, loved and honoured.”

Islamophobia and bombardment with hate messages communicating that Australia does not trust Muslims push “them” to the margins.

Our self-appointed vigilantes should stop giving oxygen to these lethal messages online and on talkback. Stop pushing people over the edge. Stop pushing people to denounce every crime committed by Muslims. Stop pushing people to feel that they are collectively guilty until proven innocent. Stop pushing people towards radicalisation and towards the Islamic State recruitment propaganda. If we treat people as outsiders, they become outsiders.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was keen to point out that venting at Muslims was not the solution to radicalised teenagers, as it could, ironically, be one of the causes.

“We must not vilify or blame the entire Muslim community … our absolutely necessary partners in combating this type of violent extremism.” Indeed, Muslim youth could be our frontline of defence.

This act of leadership was necessary, given the virulent online commentary about deporting Muslims, blocking the 12,000 Syrian refugees, and banning the religion. Any Muslim reading these rants may realise that they reinforce the message of the radicalisation recruiters.

NSW Premier Mike Baird is correct that radicalisation is a global issue and we need to remain open to ideas.

For a start, radicalisation and violent extremism have been treated as a national security issues by federal bureaucracies in Australia. In other countries, radicalisation is treated as a social issue, to be redressed from the ground up, in local neighbourhoods, using peer-to-peer influence as the frontline “weapon”.

At a community-initiated forum on radicalisation last Tuesday, youth, police and community leaders pooled their collective experiences to understand the cycle in order to break the cycle.

We recognise there is no one pathway to radicalisation, and Muslims have no monopoly, given the prevalence of white supremacists.

Hence, there is a need to build resistance and resilience among youth against the predators and recruiters.

The critical incident investigation by NSW Police, Strike Force Fellow, is yet to determine the motivation of the gun-wielding teenager. Just because a person chooses to pray at a mosque, or any place of worship, does not render that place a breeding ground of radicalisation. On the contrary, the Parramatta mosque willingly opened its doors, because it seeks the same solution as the rest of society.

But speculation based solely on religion offers no solutions. And it could perpetuate the problem.

Opinion: Path of least resistance produces least results in fighting radicalisation

Joseph Wakim – Published: Herald Sun October 6, 2015

THE gnashing of teeth over another radicalised teenager and another innocent fatality has triggered questions on how this could have been averted. While Strike Force Fellow rewinds the video footage in this critical incident investigation, authority figures rewind the recent years to see how this angry kid escaped their radars.

These authorities include police, politicians, imams and professionals who work with youth. Too often, the incubation takes place out of their gaze in the darkness of a bedroom and the glow of a laptop, where one beckoning voice to take up arms is amplified, while voices of reason are drowned out.

The counter-radicalisation authorities have knocked on many doors but they are the doors of least resistance and have produced the least results.

Ministers visiting respected imams have produced many meetings, consultations and photographs. But breaking bread together has not broken the radicalisation pathway.

These imams are often locked up in offices, late at night, holding committee meetings, planning religious events and fielding media questions. Like clergy in other faiths, they are more likely to be sitting at a boardroom table than sitting opposite an angry teenager who refuses to pray at the mosque.

ISIS recruitment videos have been “successful” because they use Western youth as their beckoning mouthpieces, appealing in English to their peers that they understand their isolation: “For all my brothers living in the West, I know how you feel … you feel depressed … the cure for the depression is jihad.” ISIS recruitment videos have been “successful” because they use western youth as their beckoning mouthpieces, appealing in English to their peers that they understand their isolation.

The young recruiters also tell their vulnerable targets not to listen to their imams or their parents. Hence, the youth are less likely to pray in the traditional mosques.

Community engagement with Muslim elders renders a similar result. Having been involved in these honorary roles for more than 25 years, we could point bureaucrats in the right direction and we could organise forums but we are unlikely to be personally acquainted with the youth in question.

Consulting with social workers and youth workers is a step closer to the grassroots but the teenagers in these environments have at least broken their social isolation and hear a diversity of voices. The youth on dangerous pathways are less likely to attend the PCYC or sports clubs but they may be in their social neighbourhood.

The suggestion by Attorney-General George Brandis that school teachers could be trained to “spot a jihadi” oversimplifies a complex pathway that is too often clandestine. Memos could be issued about this “de-radicalisation in schools strategy” but it risks creating false alarms and Islamophobia in school grounds, while missing other forms of radicalisation such as white supremacy. Engaging with all these adult groups who understand their responsibility to collaborate with police and politicians is the well-worn path but the path to radicalised youth may require detouring off these smooth surfaces.

When authorities intercept a teenager on this radicalisation path, there is often moral panic about homegrown jihadis and the threat that this dangerous disease may be contagious. But that situation presents a perfect opportunity to learn about the pathway from an “expert”. Which websites did they visit? What were they promised? Who are their recruiters? Such a person could be galvanised and later deployed as the frontline of defence in the grassroots and cyberspace resistance against radicalisation.

The defecting and disillusioned jihadis who have renounced ISIS are the true “experts” whose first-hand testimony from behind bars could be recorded as a counter-narrative. When isolated youth key in trigger words in the search engine of their computers, this pop-up video could automatically appear, from youth to youth, warning their peers about the three-dimensional reality, compared with the two-dimensional rhetoric.

These credible counter-narrative videos could refer to the imprisonment resulting from breaking the foreign fighters legislation.

They can inoculate other vulnerable youth against this dead-end street that was sold as a path to paradise. Youth peers are more likely to derail the radicalisation pathway by planting seeds of doubt and creating opportunities to offer non-violent alternatives to redressing isolation and anger.

This may include sports groups, political parties, prayer groups, social justice groups and even expert work in de-radicalisation.

In my first job as a street worker with runaway youth, my most effective outreach was done by former street kids whose understanding of the plight and emotions was lifesaving.

In my book What My Daughters Taught Me, I explain how teenagers have so much to teach – if we open our ears and listen. By helping me to become a better widowed parent with mutual honesty and respect, I did not need to discover any dark secrets second-hand.

Youth are a fountain of wisdom, waiting to be heard.