How Muslim communities are trying to prevent radicalisation

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A Muslim community group that is working to stop disaffected youths from joining jihadist groups says it’s intervened in dozens of "at risk" cases over the past year alone.

 

As young Australian men fall prey to jihadist groups like Islamic State, millions of dollars have been spent on prevention programs. There are also many anti-radicalisation efforts within the Muslim community, including groups and individuals reaching out to alienated and troubled youth.

SBS goes inside some programs in western Sydney which aim to divert young Muslims from the path to radicalisation.

Muslims fight back against extremism

Youth Mentor Ahmad El-Hage has an anti-extremist message for the young men and boys who hang out at the Chester Hill Youth Centre in western Sydney.

"How many of us here were angry? How many of us here were deeply upset to see that there were people under the name of Islam killing people unrightfully in these disgusting ways, that we know," asks Ahmad.

At the Youth Centre, Ahmad urges young Muslims to follow the true teachings of Islam.

Ahmad and his organisation Australian Muslim Youth (AMY) also work with the youth centre to intervene in cases where young people are believed to be at risk of being radicalised.

"It's happened dozens of times where we have intervened, we've made sure that we've educated them.  And we have since been trying to grab others as well. Trying to turn them around," he told SBS.

Ahmad believes the extent of the problem goes far beyond western Sydney.

"If we are a single organisation, and there are dozens in the past year, and we were able to turn their lives around, what about the rest of the country? It's seriously worrying. Extremely worrying,” he said.

Ahmad and his group, along with others in the Muslim Community, work as volunteers to engage with and support young people.  They receive little or no government support.

This is despite millions of dollars having been spent on government programs to counter extremism and prevent radicalisation.

One of these federally funded programs is run by the Australian Multicultural Foundation (AMF).

It's held training sessions around the country, where young Muslim Australians learn about the radicalisation process and how to detect early warning signs.

"A lot of money has been spent but still we ended up with 70 people going to Syria. Seventy people probably here, whose passports have been confiscated. This is a total failure.”

Case studies are examined, along with how and when to intervene.

The students are shown how to identify behaviour in other young people that may be concerning.

"Approach them, and see if you can help them before they get too radicalised in the community, like, prevent it before it happens," said youth leader Mohamed Mehdi.

Student Sarah Al Zahab agrees early identification can be crucial.

"It's about reaching out to people who are at risk of going in the wrong direction, of becoming alienated,” she said.

“It can stop them, it can prevent them from later in the future doing something crazy."

 
 
 

The training sessions are based on a Community Awareness Manual, and are designed to have a flow-on effect.

"The young people who've taken part, to date, are all volunteers. They've come in, been trained, become trainers, gone out and trained two other volunteers themselves, so it's that cumulative effect," said Hass Dellal, AMF Executive Director.

Other government funded projects have focused on tackling extremism online where groups like IS are actively spreading jihadist propaganda.

This YouTube channel has been set up by a Perth-based group called PAVE.

"Sometimes the hardest thing to do is walk away....But when you walk away from violent extremism, you don't walk alone," the voiceover in the PAVE video says.

Government-funded prevention programs

Since 2010, $5 million has been spent on radicalisation prevention projects through the Building Community Resilience Grants program (2010-14)

Federal government grants were allocated to 44 organisations, to fund 59 projects, Australia-wide.

But is it money that's been well spent?

"A lot of money has been spent but still we ended up with 70 people going to Syria. Seventy people probably here, whose passports have been confiscated. This is a total failure,” said Lebanese community figure Dr Jamal Rifi.

Some in the Muslim community think government-funded prevention programs, while well-intentioned, have been largely ineffective.

"There is a battle at the moment to engage young people effectively. So, we need to have more understanding of the problem, so we can actually put in effective programs in place, rather than short-term, cosmetic solutions," said Kuranda Seyit from the Forum on Australian Islamic Relations.

Federal Multicultural Affairs Spokeswoman Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has been consulting Muslim communities about the government's counter-extremism measures. She says lessons have been learnt from past programs.

"We intend to build on what we've learnt from that. We need to work with the communities to target the activities and to target the assistance that we give those young people,” said Senator Fierravanti-Wells .

Under the government's counter-terrorism package, $13.4 million has been allocated for new prevention programs.

“It can stop them, it can prevent them from later in the future doing something crazy."

They'll focus on identifying young people, at risk of being radicalised.

But as those on the frontline against extremism acknowledge some battles can't be won.

"There were some unfortunately, that we weren't able to get back,” said Ahmad El Hage.

“We don't know where they are. We have been trying to contact them, on a regular basis. It's very upsetting."

WATCH Part 2 of Vesna Nazor's special report: School education is the key to keeping young people on the right track:

 

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Source SBS

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