By: Michael Safi and Nick Evershed
Source: The Guardian
Muslim Australians believe overwhelmingly that they are unfairly targeted by counter-terrorism laws but say terrorist groups distort the true meaning of Islam, a survey of community attitudes has revealed.
Around one in five of the 800 Muslims polled believed that terrorist groups sometimes have legitimate grievances, the survey found, hinting at the delicate task Australian community leaders face in countering the propaganda war waged by groups such as Islamic State.
The researchers, including University of Queensland criminologist Adrian Cherney, said the findings showed that police, especially those in Sydney, needed to do more to build trust and a willingness to cooperate among Muslim communities.
The study involved focus groups and surveys of Muslim Australians from a range of backgrounds, including Pakistanis, Syrians, Indonesians and South Africans. The participants were evenly split by gender and ranged in age.
Close to 75% believed that counter-terrorism laws – of which 64 separate pieces have been passed since the September 11 attacks – were unfairly aimed at Muslims.
Though few had ever come into contact with these measures, the sense of being “under siege” was felt by a majority. Nearly half said they consciously changed the way they dressed to avoid scrutiny. Almost as many said they avoided certain mosques and a significant number said their travel, too, was altered.
Those who believed that terrorist groups sometimes had legitimate grievances were also likely to agree that the so-called “war on terror” was really a war on Islam. Unsurprisingly, they were also less trusting of police counter-terrorism efforts and more likely to feel “under siege”.
“Muslims who feel their faith is under attack by authorities, the public, or by foreign policies or actions, are more likely to empathize with terrorists (although it does not mean they support the use of violence by terrorists),” the report said.
Most agreed with counter-terrorism laws in principle and believed that police “have a job to do”. Nearly nine in ten agreed “terrorist groups distort the true meaning of Islam”.
Almost 60% rejected the idea that “jihad” permitted violence and more than 90% disagreed that it referred to a “militarized struggle that can be conducted by individuals”.
Fewer than one-third felt the media treated Muslims fairly, but most felt Muslims were treated fairly by authorities and in their schools and workplaces.
Sydney-based Muslims generally had the least favourable views towards police and their handling of counter-terrorism compared to their counterparts in Brisbane and Melbourne. They were also more likely to report feeling under siege and believe that terrorists sometimes had legitimate complaints.
Willingness to cooperate with police to stop terrorism was strong across the board, but least so in Sydney, suggesting tensions were particularly high in that city.
The survey was conducted before the largest counter-terrorism raids in Australian history in September, which may have sharpened the sense among some Muslims of being targeted by law enforcement.
The authors said the survey showed that “any level of collective goodwill that Muslims may have towards efforts to prevent terrorism and extremism is being eroded by the social and political responses surrounding terrorism”.
“There is a real risk that the types of experiences reported above play into the hands of Islamic violent extremists by providing fuel for a key narrative they use to justify their actions: that Muslims are a suppressed and victimized minority,” they said.