Government MPs have accused Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, of promoting a “victim mentality” among extremists by claiming the Paris violence was provoked by discontent at racism, Islamophobia, security laws and foreign policy decisions.
The comments came as senior Liberal MPs applauded moderate Muslims for condemning terrorism and warned against alienating Muslims, who were “fellow citizens”.
In a statement, Dr Abu Mohammed and the Australian National Imams Council offered “deepest condolences” for survivors of the Paris attacks and stressed the “sanctity of human life”. “These recent incidents highlight the fact that current strategies to deal with the threat of terrorism are not working,” the statement said. “It is therefore imperative that all causative factors, such as racism, Islamophobia, curtailing freedoms through securitisation, duplicitous foreign policies and military intervention, must be comprehensively addressed.”
Philip Ruddock, the government’s special envoy for citizenship and community engagement, said Australia was the world’s most successful multicultural society but he feared the cleric’s comments sent the wrong message about extremism. “We want to be as inclusive as possible with social cohesion, but equally there can be no justification for terrorism and this victim mentality that somehow we are entitled to defend terrorism because of Islamophobia,” Mr Ruddock told The Australian. “I reject that past engagements involving the removal of gross human rights abusers such as Saddam Hussein, who had no hesitation of using chemical weapons, in some ways justifies some people in believing they have to attack us and our society.”
Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic said it was “naive and misconceived” to believe that Islamic State radicals could be “appeased”.
“ISIL’s strategy is to form a caliphate, a centre of strength from which they will either expand their domination into the broader world or die,” Mr Nikolic said. “This isn’t about rational actors or people you can negotiate with or people you can appease.”
Queensland Liberal National Party MP George Christensen branded the Grand Mufti’s comments a “disgusting” example of “playing the victim card”. “People from all walks of life disagree with government across a myriad of issues,” Mr Christensen said. “They don’t take to the streets and start shooting people as a result.”
Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said the comments were “reminiscent of the same vile rhetoric following the 9/11 tragedies … blaming the US and Western culture to justify the atrocities that were committed then, just like the Grand Mufti has sought to now.”
Attorney-General George Brandis said alienating Muslims would be “the worst thing we could do” in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. “They are our fellow citizens, and they are our necessary partners in combating this menace,” he told ABC radio. “The fact that a very small minority of fanatics defy the teachings of the Islamic religion by engaging in terrorist crime … should not reflect upon the Muslim community.”
Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou said mainstream Islamic leaders needed to voice the concerns of their communities, or risk driving young people into the hands of extremists. “It’s important that these concerns are not festering behind closed doors where people can use them as a narrative to manipulate more impressionable younger people,” said the member for Calwell, the electorate with the largest Muslim population in Victoria.
“I think he (Dr Abu Mohammed) is trying to articulate something and I think a lot of people who read and follow international news will understand what he’s trying to say.”
Scott Morrison, interviewed on Sydney talkback radio, said he appreciated that lay Muslims were calling in to distance themselves from Dr Abu Mohammed.
Labor’s Tony Burke, whose seat includes Sydney’s Muslim centre of Lakemba, said his constituents had “experienced the same shock and distress as the rest of Australia” following the atrocities in Paris.
“I don’t often find myself complimenting George Brandis, but he was correct to point to our success as a multicultural nation and the importance of maintaining that cohesion now,” Mr Burke said.
Labor frontbencher Jason Clare offered “heartfelt sympathies” to the people of France on behalf of his western Sydney electorate of Blaxland.