Why are Australians being drawn to the conflicts in Iraq and Syria?
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 20:30

"Abdullah" is worried. The Melbourne man has a 17 year old son who has completely changed in the last year or so.

The teenager has grown a long beard and talks constantly about Shias and Sunnis.

"I’m worried - he wants to go to Syria and join those groups and he kill some innocent people and he (might) die himself," Abdullah tells Insight.

"He's quiet and depressed."

Australian authorities say there are around 60 Australians fighting in the conflicts in Syria. And the Federal Government is nervous.

'We are deeply concerned that this domestic security challenge will mean that Australian citizens fighting in these conflicts overseas will return to this country as hardened home-grown terrorists who may use their experience, the skills that they’ve gained, to carry out an attack in this country," said Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.

In response, the government is introducing new counter terrorism measures and has cancelled the passports of dozens of Australians.

Jenny Brockie asks why are Australians being drawn to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, either to do humanitarian work or join the fight?

Where are the influences coming from and what should be done about it?


Web Extra: Islamic State explained

The Islamic State, formerly known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was established in April 2013 and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

For a comprehensive look at the situation in Syria and Iraq, read these fact sheets by the BBC and ABC News.

Exit Syria

Since the eruption of the conflict in Syria in 2011, millions of refugees have fled their homes.

Za’atari, located on the border of Syria and Jordan, is growing into a metropolis and now hosts around 120,000 Syrian refugees. So what is daily life like for them?

Click here to experience Exit Syria, a real-time interactive documentary by SBS which takes you on an immersive journey into the heart of Za'atari.


JENNY BROCKIE: Welcome everybody, good to have you with us tonight. Abdul Salam Mahmoud in Syria, you're an Australian citizen, you've been there for about six months. Tell us what you're doing there?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: Yes, I'm doing humanitarian aid, we aid orphans and widows, me and a group of volunteers, some Syrians and some foreigners, basically we give monthly payments to families who have orphans and widows and we give them food packages, packages, and we see whatever they need. Some of them need medical treatment, we take them to Turkey. We're trying to open, open a little school here for the kids.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why did you want to go to Syria?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: Ah, to me it was an obligation that - it's obligation by me by my faith. In Islam we're obligated. Wherever our people have been harmed or been repressed it's an obligation to us to go and help them and fight tyranny and to fight oppression, it's a choice that we make.

JENNY BROCKIE: Which region are you in in Syria?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: I'm in Latakia, Latakia that's the coastal area of Syria.

JENNY BROCKIE: And that's government held territory?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: Ah, the city is held by the government but the province is mainly by the street area liberated area.

JENNY BROCKIE: What groups are in the area where you are?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: There's all different type of groups. Jabhat al Nusra, you hear about it a lot I guess, and there's Anser al-Sham and this is the main groups or names that are here from Latakia.

JENNY BROCKIE: Who do you support in the Syrian conflict?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: I support the Syrian people. I support the kids and the women who have been harmed by this war and I support the people who want to establish justice in the land and serve the people and give them their rights and give them their dignity back.

JENNY BROCKIE: And who is it that you think wants to establish justice in the land, which groups?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: Every group says they want to establish justice in the land. I can't tell you who establishes justice but I can tell who is working most effective on the ground with humanitarian aid and with the helping people right now is basically Jabhat al-Nusra, the branch of Al Qaeda in Syria. They providing people with food, they providing them with medical aid as much as they can, they're providing education, they are fighting the regime and all the grounds. Other groups are basically just trying to gain money through this, through this war.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you support them? So it sounds like you support them?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: I don't, I don't support them. I don't have a group that I belong to or I support and if they get control maybe they turn their back on the people, I don't know.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what's your background in Australia?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: Originally from Sudan, I lived in Egypt for my childhood and in Australia.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Mohamed Zuhbi, you're a dual Australian Syrian citizen. You're joining us from Turkey, what are you doing there?

MOHAMED ZUHBI: I work with Abdul Salam exclusively with aid and so on, humanitarian aid as well.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so you travel across the border into Syria?

MOHAMED ZUHBI: Yes, yes, I was living in Syria for more than a year.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what prompted you to leave Australia for Syria, Turkey and Syria?

MOHAMED ZUHBI: Similar, the same as Abdul Salam. We have an obligation on us to help the poor and the people that are being mistreated in the world, particularly Muslims.

JENNY BROCKIE: Who do you support in the Syrian conflict?

MOHAMED ZUHBI: Look, I'm not, I'm not a part of any particular group but I'm most vocal, vocally supportive of the Islamic state. I believe that they are the future of Syria and I believe that they're the future of the Islamic empire to come. I have full conviction that at the rate that they're going, they will indeed establish justice and establish the Koran of Islam in the land.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'd just like to get a little bit more of a sense of your own personal values. ISIS is a listed terrorist organisation in Australia, as indeed Jabhat al-Nusra is. Why do you support a listed terrorist organisation in Australia?

MOHAMED ZUHBI: Um, look, Australia chooses who they want to list as a terrorist organisation by, you know, they throw papers in a hat and they just pull it out and look, hey, we've got ISIS, hey we've got Jabhat al-Nusra, we've got Hamas. Any freedom fighting group that has emerged in the last ten years has been listed as a terrorist organisation when in reality, they're simply freedom fighters fighting for the state of Islam. I mean I'm happily, happy for Australia to list the Israeli defence force as a terrorist organisation but sadly they're not Islamic. So this is a personal choice and they can't limit someone from vocally or mentally supporting any particular group, this is ridiculous.

JENNY BROCKIE: Have you been involved in any of the fighting?

MOHAMED ZUHBI: No, I haven't.

JENNY BROCKIE: You drove an ambulance, I think you said, at one point, is that right?

MOHAMED ZUHBI: Yeah, yeah, I have.

JENNY BROCKIE: Have you been involved in any of the fighting either, Abdul Salam?


JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think about Australians fighting for ISIS?

MOHAMED ZUHBI: I think it's their personal choice. Look, just as the Israeli defence force has Australian members in it serving killing innocent children and women, we are, I mean if an Australian citizen wants to fight for ISIS and fight the oppressors like the Assad regime, look this is their personal choice.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, just quickly Abdul Salam what do you think about Australians going to fight for ISIS?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: Where ever there's a country or place that needs their help they must go and help them. They must aid them in any way.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you both think Australians should go over there to fight?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: No, I don't say Australians, I say Muslims.

JENNY BROCKIE: Muslims, well that would include Australians.

MOHAMED ZUHBI: Yes. Not if they choose to go, then they should not be stopped.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Abu Bakr, you're 19, you were born here, you grew up in Sydney. What do you think about Australians going over to fight with ISIS and I see you're wearing the ISIS flag on your shirt?

ABU BAKR: It doesn't really come down to what sort of flag, because this flag, this flag here is, yeah, you know, people might say you're a supporter of Jabhat al-Nusra and this flag here people might say you're a supporter of Dawlatul Islam and ISIS, you know, but these flags are all one, they're all the same flags. One Muslim nation and that's it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, tell me about that connection that you feel to Iraq and to what's going on in Iraq and Syria and to the connection with that flag. Where does that connection come from in you?

ABU BAKR: Well firstly, it comes from me being a Muslim, me standing up for my faith and, and, you know, it's mentioned in the Koran, in numerous spots in the Koran where the Muslims, the Muslims, it is an obligation upon them to go and help the needy.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that an obligation to fight as well?

ABU BAKR: Um, this is, this is a personal choice of anyone, whoever wants to go and fight, they, they go for. This is a personal choice and this is up to anyone that wants to go or doesn't want to go.

JENNY BROCKIE: You were born in Australia?


JENNY BROCKIE: How connected do you feel to the values here in Australia?

ABU BAKR: Well, the Australian government, you know, in order for me to be connected to the values here of Australia, the Australian government needs to stop picking on the Muslims here and they need to stop picking on, for example, you know, the, the sisters wearing a burqa for example, or whenever you want to voice your opinion on something and expose an oppression of a tyrant, then you are subjugated to being a terrorist, or you know, you are being subjugated to being a national threat of a country.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, tell me what you think of ISIS, I'm interested what you think of ISIS as an organisation.

ZALI BURROWS, LAWYER: Don't answer it.

ABU BAKR: Look, ISIS, they do not want to bring anything but justice. ISIS, they don't want to bring anything but justice.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what do you think justice is?

ABU BAKR: Justice is giving, giving the right of the people, giving the rights to the people, feeding the people, sheltering the people, clothing the people. This is what ISIS is trying to bring, justice, peace and humanitarian aid to the people.

JENNY BROCKIE: Alright, I wanted to give you a chance to say all of that before I showed some clips from videos from ISIS that have been recently released. Now some of these clips, I think it starts with ISIS fighters who are randomly shooting what they call their enemies in cars in one video, and I should warn people that some of this footage might be disturbing.


SUBTITLES: Between an assault that exterminates the tyrants and a silencer with a beautiful echo. Raafidah Hunters – Eliminating members of the Safawl (Shi ah) army on their way to join their military units. It’s a life which delights the guided or a death which enrages the enemies. The clash of swords is the song of the defiant and the path of fighting is the path of life. Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest and praise be to Allah!
Through it, my religion has been strengthened and the tyrants have been humiliated. So rise up oh my people, to the path of the courageous or it’s either a life which delights the guided or a death which enrages the enemies. Allah is the greatest!

Forward soldiers of the Islamic state! Your brothers all over the world wait for you to rescue them. He who commits a wrong first is the worse oppressor! And very soon, God willing, a day will come where a Muslim, anywhere, will walk as a master, honoured and feared, holding his head high and with his dignity preserved, and where any authority overstepping the mark will be disciplined and any hand harming him will be cut off. God is the greatest, praise God.

Run, run. Hurry up. God is the greatest, victory shines forth. It is the glad tidings of the caliphate, a promise and a certainty. Run, I’ll shoot you. Praise be to God. They are taken to their deaths, in groups. It’s all thanks to God.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, we've stopped the video there because it goes on to show those people being shot that we just saw and I've seen far more gruesome footage than that, that we can't actually put on screen by ISIS, ISIS videos that are out there on the internet. What do you think when you see that footage?

ABU BAKR: No comment. You want to have any other questions about it, just direct it to my lawyer.

ZALI BURROWS: Maybe you can ask someone else in the audience that question.

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: I can comment on these videos. This is basically a retaliation of something happening in Iraq, this is a retaliation of the people. The American government came and invaded and killed and tortured and put a certain group from Iraq in power which is the Shia in Iraq, and these people, or the government and they have been very, very violent with the Sunni people in Iraq. They have been very, very murderous with them and these are retaliation.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, I want to hear some other points of view. Yes?

NICHOLAS AL-JELOO: I mean I was going to say if these people really want to be humanitarian and help Muslims that are needy, where were they when the famine was happening in Somalia? If they are so concerned about human rights and helping the people, why is it that the only people that they're talking about are Muslims? Are non-Muslims not people? Are non-Muslims not human beings? Why were the Christians or the Assyrians of Morsel forced out of their homes and given the ultimatum either you convert to Islam? You may $450 a month, plus gold, as a tax called the Jizzia or you leave or we'll kill you. And these are people that are indigenous to Morsel, they've been in Morsel for 7,000 years and ISIS comes and kicks them out because they're Christian.

They are killing non-conforming Sunni Muslims. They are killing anybody that doesn't agree with their beliefs. They're a fascist state. For them to put an N or a Nun on the houses of every single Christian in Morsel just like what the Nazis did in Germany in WW2 when they were putting the Jewish star on Jewish houses and shops, they're singling out people that don't belong to their group. Just like they're putting the R for Arawaf, on the houses of the Shiites in Morsel, they're targeting people, this is ethnic cleansing, this is genocide.


ABU BAKR: Firstly, it says in the Koran, yeah, if you kill an innocent life it's like you've killed the whole humanity. He also said if you save an innocent life it's like you have saved the whole humanity. So ISIS, we can say that they are following the Koran and Suna to the best of their ability. You cannot judge their situation, whilst you're sitting here you can't say anything, you know, they're killing this, they're killing - you're sitting here.

JENNY BROCKIE: But how can"¦

NINVA YAKOU: We've got family in Iraq who have experienced all of this. You cannot say that they are following the Koran.

JENNY BROCKIE: Let her finish.

NINVA YAKOU: They are not and there are Muslim people who are supporting all of us in Iraq, and that is inclusive of Assyrian Christians, it is inclusive of Shiite Muslims, it is inclusive of even Sunni Muslims who are there that are being killed by them because they do not follow their way.

YEHYA EL KHOLED: I just want to say that the people that ISIS do kill are the majority of Muslim Sunnis. Yesterday a suicide bomber blew himself up, killed some Muslims in Dera Zore, they beheaded, these are Mujahedeen groups fighting Bashar Al-Assad. So ISIS declared that they're fighting for Islam is just a joke, they don't fight for anyone but themselves and their so-called state.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes, what did you want to say?

ALI MEHANNI, AUSTRALIAN MUSLIM YOUTH: I’M Ali Mehanni and I’m here on behalf of the Australian Muslim Youth. So how do you justify for the Christians in Iraq where they are either forced to convert into Christianity or pay tax or are slaughtered. One more thing, in the Koran it states clearly when it says when you're talking to someone else in religion, isn't it through wisdom and kindness? Is that wisdom and kindness kicking people out of their houses.

ABU BAKR: You're talking about politics? This is what happens when you're talking politics?

ALI MEHANNI: This is not politics, I'm talking about"¦. You're referencing in the Koran, we’re going back to the Koran.

YASSIR MORSI: We're talking about three years of war, a condition where people have to adapt to survive and I'm not glorifying or romanticising any movement. But surely any conversation has to happen within that context of an international community that has not done enough for Syria. Rather than come back to debates about is it part of the Koran, is it part of the Koran and Sunna.

JENNY BROCKIE: Greg Barton, you research terrorism, I just wonder, listening to all of this, what you think and what you think about, you know, the proposals that have been put up recently and also what you think about some of the things that have been said here tonight so far.

PROFESSOR GREG BARTON, MONASH UNIVERSITY: The question is a question of judgment, whether groups like Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS or really making it better and whether young Australians are at risk, out of the best of motives perhaps, going and joining those groups and ending up in trouble and perhaps harming others. There's a struggle for hearts and minds as to who you believe. Do we believe that ISIS is doing the right thing, or that Jabhat al-Nusra or any other group is doing the right thing. No doubt there's a lots of shades of grey. It's very complex but my concern is that young Australians, out of perhaps the best of motives, are getting caught up in that and their lives risk being destroyed. They risk destroying other lives, they risk coming back home to lots of families back here in Australia that risk being hurt.

JENNY BROCKIE: Leah, what do you think?

LEAH FARRALL, US STUDIES CENTRE, UNI OF SYDNEY: I think, I'm struck by the objectification of this situation a little bit and the fact that we're talking around the youth issue... Youth as threat, where's the discussion about families in this? Where is community help and liaison? I mean it's going straight to threat, it’s going straight to terror. I don't agree with this man's view but I will sit down and talk to him and I actually want to hear what it is he says and I will go toe to toe and have a debate any day of the week.

JENNY BROCKIE: Away you go.

LEAH FARRALL: I think the thing is, I want to know where he gets his information from.

JENNY BROCKIE: Where do you get your information from?

ABU BAKR: I just want to mention something in regards to Australia putting the terror level up, you know, whatever colour it is. I think the Australian government and the Israeli government and the American government, they need to stop, first of all they need to leave our countries, exit from our countries, go back to their own countries, stop killing and butchering the Muslims when you come to our countries.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, but if they don't, and there's no sign that that is happening, you know, I mean, if that doesn't happen then what happens here?

ABU BAKR: Well the Australian government is bringing, they're bringing harm to them self and they're bringing harm to Australian citizens here.

JENNY BROCKIE: In what sort of way are they are bringing harm?

ABU BAKR: Well they bringing physical, like whatever, anything, if they're going to leave their troops in Iraq, for example, or if they're going to leave in Palestine or if they're going to leave the Israeli in Afghanistan, they're going to do anything about this, what's happening to the Muslims, then something's going to happen here.

JENNY BROCKIE: What sort of thing? What do you mean by that?

ABU BAKR: I've asked, I've asked the detective, I don't know anything, I'm just saying, this is my opinion.

MOHAMAD TABBAA: I think what he's trying to say is they're creating a radicalisation.


JENNY BROCKIE: Creating radicalisation and what does radicalisation mean though, in practical terms what does that mean, how do you manage that anger?

MOHAMAD TABBAA: That's the question you see Jenny, that's our question. The question consistently becomes how do you manage your anger? Discourse is not with Muslims, it's always about Muslims, it's always about Muslims as a problem, something to be managed and controlled. How do we manage Muslim anger? How do we control them so they don't do something silly? So the only time we're allowed to speak, the only time we're allowed to actively voice our concerns is as problems.

JENNY BROCKIE: Dina, can I get a view from you on this? I mean what's your feeling about the way that this is unfolding?

DINA ELACHI, AUSTRALIAN MUSLIM YOUTH: Um, on, I guess well I take back on an individual level, on a more intimate level we want to kind of have the government response, connect more to the Islamic Council, let's say leaders of the mosques and Imams of the mosques and kind of go on one-on-one, have more of a connection and explain to them like this is what's happening, this is why we've raised our government response, and the youth that attend these mosques and these lectures they'll be more susceptible to receiving information from a familiar face.

YEHYA EL KHOLED: Can I just say that, it's because the government is so much into our community that he runs our leaders. So why would we listen to our leaders when they're just like the puppet for the government and that's why they take information from Facebook and from Twitter.

MALE: That's right.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you say that?

MOHAMAD TABBAA: I worked for the Islam Council for a while and I can tell you that the leaders are not politically trained. Okay, a lot of them, to be blunt are politically naive, yeah. They find themselves constantly on the wrong side of the table when it comes to these issues. The youth who are not very well connected to the leadership see this, and a lot of them get very angry. When government thinks it's speaking to Muslims by speaking to their leaders, it's actually not engaging Muslim community at all, it's actually make the rift even wider.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem, I want to bring you in because you're the spokesman for the Imams Council of Australia. I just wonder what your reaction is what you're hearing here?

SHEIKH MOHAMADU SALEEM, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL IMAMS COUNCIL: What I can say is that we wanted to open a dialogue with the government and we wanted to listen to the government. We are living here in Australia and we have a duty to our people, Imams are looked at their leaders so we wanted to hear the government. We asked the government to tell us what type of laws that you are going to introduce and how it is going to impact Muslims and we were very specifically asked the Honourable George Brandis whether these particular laws that you are going to introduce is going to impact the day-to-day life of the Muslim youth especially.

We did not approve anything, we just opened the door for discussion. We are listening to the community, we are listening to the youth, we are listening to those people who are professionally qualified to advise on these matters and then we are watching and we are engaging with legal professionals so that we will be able to make an informed decision on how we can advise and work with the government, not for the government.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, I want to get some views from over here, from this group over here. You've been listening to how this discussion's been going and I just wonder what you want to say about the way that this discussion has been going so far?

TAREK SAID: Right, I lived in both sides. I lived in Syria up to 2005 before I came to Australia and I think the main difference between the Middle Eastern way of thinking and the western way of thinking is that in the Middle East we used to have all these kind of fixed concepts about justice, about truth, it's very black and white. While in the west it's a bit more grey, even concept of truth and justice. So what I believe is in the Middle East there's a deep sense of injustice. Now how do we go and establish this justice? In the Middle East it's more like a matter of black and white, we want to support ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra or, like it's always one party has the justice and people want to support it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Basset, you've been sitting here very quietly listening. You were born in Afghanistan, you lived under the Taliban, you came here eight years ago. What do you think about what you've been hearing?

BASSET SAFI: Just let me take you very quickly to the time of the Taliban in Afghanistan. So what you see in Iraq today, it was basically the same thing there, we lived under the Taliban movement under six years doing same thing. Just hiding under veil of Islam, using the name of Islam, saying that this is Islamic, where that was created by themselves, self-interpreted to achieve a specific goal for themselves. And we saw that.

In Afghanistan, like anyone who would speak against them, look, this is not right, they will be killed, okay? Now they killed thousands of people in central and northern Afghanistan. Now can you even tell me that everyone's saying that those people who would bring justice? They were ruling for six years in Afghanistan, there was no justice. For example, I'm saying people of Afghanistan has to be, you know, free if they're oppressed. They were oppressed during the Taliban time. They're not oppressed now.

JENNY BROCKIE: Dina, you're nodding your head, you agree with this?

DINA ELACHI: I do, it just honestly shows that this not Islamically driven, this is politically driven. It's all for political power and gain and even financially driven and just as an example of the Taliban and the similar acts that are happening in Iraq and in Syria, there is nothing Islamic about it whatsoever and especially, I'm an Australian Muslim youth myself, I've come here with my team because we here to promote that. We're here to promote the peace that Islam teaches us. So these groups are acting on an Islamic name and on a basis saying we are here, we're committing these acts in the name of Islam. Islam does not condone these acts, we condemn these acts.

JENNY BROCKIE: Rodger, can I get a response from you to this because I know this is an area that you've looked at very closely too, I mean when you hear these discussions ranging across so much, so many different things, but I guess what we're trying to get to the bottom of is just why some young people are getting radicalised going to fight in those areas and what, to what degree that does represent a threat to Australia or not, what do you think?

RODGER SHANAHAN, LOWY INSTITUTE: I think the humanitarian assistance aspect is the question that doesn't get asked very often, why the government is trying to crackdown on the notion of humanitarian assistance is because it's in the Foreign Incursions Act, that is the kind of get out clause at the moment. If you want to provide humanitarian assistance to a country like Syria, which is commendable, there are a number of organisations that you can do it through and you have to be very careful because somebody has to due diligence on them and not wanting to make light of a very serious subject, but with the number of people who claim to be looking after orphans and widows in Syria, they must be the best looked after group of people because nobody will ever say that, well possibly some of my assistance, financial or otherwise, could be going to provide succour to armed elements because they know it's illegal to say that so they'll never ever say it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Where do you get your information from, Abu Bakr, about what's going on?

ABU BAKR: Well, as you can see it's all over the news, isn't it? And it's all on Twitter and Facebook.

ZALI BURROWS: So it must be true.

JENNY BROCKIE: Where else do you get your information?

ABU BAKR: That's all, that's all I get it from.

JENNY BROCKIE: Who do you listen to? If you don't listen to the Imams, who do you listen to?

ABU BAKR: I read books, I study, you know, I went to Egypt, I came back, I've studied a little bit in Egypt.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you go to a small Islamic community centre in Sydney?


ZALI BURROWS: Don't talk any more, okay? She's setting you up.

ABU BAKR: Anyway it all comes down to reading, seeking knowledge and that's it and once you've seeked that knowledge and not sugar coated the knowledge that you've seeked, yeah, and not sugar coated the preaching of Islam, then you'll know, you know, Islam. This is what Islam means and know what Islam, you know, he's got an opinion of what Islam, he's got an opinion of what Islam means. I've got an opinion but according to Koran and Sunar, that's it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Wissam Haddad, I wanted to talk to you and you only wanted to speak to us by phone. The run the centre that's formerly known as the Al Risalah Centre in Sydney that Abu Bakr goes to, why did you think that some young people are attracted to centres like yours rather than to say the bigger mosques?

WISSAM HADDAD, AL RISALAH ISLAMIC BOOKSTORE: Well if anyone's going to comment on Islam let them be a Muslim first to comment on it. Like I'm not a vet, if an animal is sick I'm not going to try to operate on it and tell you what's wrong with it. I know Islam, the Muslims know Islam, so let them comment on it. And especially Muslims that have knowledge, not just Muslims who claim to be Muslims or call themselves a Muslim and that's as far as it go.

In regards to the kids coming to places like Al Risalah and other places as well in Australia, the kids have had enough. Like our parents have lived for so long with inferiority complex or the defeated mentality and the youth have had enough. So when the youth see somebody who is willing to stand up for Islam, to stand up for the Muslims, to stand up for the youth, obviously they're attracted this.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what do you teach there?

WISSAM HADDAD: We teach people obviously to submit to the worship or the one true creator, which is Allah, and to follow the way of the prophet Mohamed, which is last and final messenger.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how is it different to the mosques then?

WISSAM HADDAD: Look, we've got nothing to lose, we don't own our building, we're paying rent, we're not government funded, we're not on any Imams Council so we can say and do whatever we want and not have to worry about the consequences except for being charges of a terrorist organisation or anything like that. So we can speak the truth where other people can't. We're not on anybody's payroll. I'm not on the Imams Council to receive any money so my words have to be chosen. So that's why we can speak the truth and we do and that's why people like it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Your centre has hosted Musa Cerantonio as a speak here was recently deported from the Philippines back to Australia. Here he is speaking, we've got a clip of him here.


MUSA CERANTONIO: If the Islamic Army or the Islamic State was attacked, our blood is not protected. Yes, they should not target us put if they happen to kill us, we are guilty of having lived in this land. It is a risk that we took and we are responsible for. So, was the Pentagon a legitimate target? There is no doubt about it that it was a legitimate target.

JENNY BROCKIE: Wissam, do you agree with that?

WISSAM HADDAD: Well I agree that there's, Muslims are sick of turning the cheek. Muslims are being killed and persecuted in attack and being droned and forced to implement democracy, as some saying earlier the same atrocities committed by Muslims, what about the atrocities committed by the Christians? Take a look at Spain, take a look at currently in Africa, take a look at Gaza, take a look at Burma, take a look at the Muslims in China. So why is it only, it's always a double standard that the Muslims are always the ones in the wrong? So obviously if you start a fight, accept that you get a punch in the nose back, very plain and simple. Now if you deserve it or not, we can agree or disagree, but you can't come into in a fight thinking that you'll never be touched.

JENNY BROCKIE: Can I just ask you, you grew up in Bankstown in Sydney?


JENNY BROCKIE: Do you feel connected to the values in Australia?

WISSAM HADDAD: My values are my Islamic values. I understand my first and foremost important values is that I worship Allah and I single him out in his right to be worshipped. So based on that, understanding that I live in Australia which is governed by other than the law of Allah, I understand that and I have to deal with that being here.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, and what do you think then about some Australians wanting to go and fight in Iraq and Syria?

WISSAM HADDAD: Well, first of all obviously in Islam we've got always, we have to go back to the Koran and to the Sunar and whatever the Koran says and they say that this fight is legitimate then I see nothing wrong with a Muslim going to do what his religion tells him to do.

JENNY BROCKIE: Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem, what do you think?

SHEIKH MOHAMADU SALEEM: And all those people who are probably going and fighting there, in the day of judgment probably they will ask why did you do this? Whether this is a Jihad, this is a legitimate war or maybe, I'm not judgmental on that but at the same time for the people in Australia, help them. Help them in many ways. Help them to alleviate their poverty. That is also Jihad, it is not only go and fight Jihad. We can do a smaller Jihad than that. People who are there in the ground they know the ground, they know what is happening, they know how to do, they know what to do and let them do their job.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think that some of the young people are not listening to what you're saying?

MALE: Because he's bringing fabricated ideas.

SHEIKH MOHAMADU SALEEM: I have no idea - there is a very small number of people, if you would appreciate, who are not listening. But the large number of people who are in schools, in the universities, doing the right thing, they are listening and world over, everywhere.

JENNY BROCKIE: Dina, do you want to say something about this?

DINA ELACHI: To some degree I would have to agree, there is definitely a lack of education within the youth which is causing them to want to go over. And it also revolves around, you take a look at some of the people that have gone over they've come from maybe broken homes or broken communities or criminal records and it's also the influence. You know, you go to Imams at the mosque that are preaching obviously the humanitarian acts. You go and you see your Imam about once a week but the rest of the days you're surrounded by your friends that are talking about these topics and they're finding out the information through social media, so that's obviously very biased. So you're surrounded by that six days out of the seven days a week, it's going to be more influential than seeing your Imams, from learning the actual peace sides of religion, more so than your friends.

MOHAMAD TABBAA: No, Muslims actually have a higher than average education than the average Australian.

DINA ELACHI: No, I want to - show me those stats, I want to show"¦

MOHAMAD TABBAA: Why are you making the claim with us then because we're working off caricatures here, and this is the problem, see this is going back to discourse. When we speak of government we speak of a very calm, rational, reasonable act, and when we speak uneducated, you know, black and white, really silly, irrational, you know, working off your emotion.


RODGER SHANAHAN: Yeah, I think you've missed the point in you're saying we're talking about a caricature about Muslims are this, Muslims are that. We're not. We're talking about the sixty Australians who have gone over to Syria, and I think the point made was here that of the twelve that we know or thereabouts, that have been killed, they're not particularly well educated. They come from relatively low socio economic background, so that is, that is the valid point.

JENNY BROCKIE: There is someone who hasn't spoken at all yet and I want to make sure he gets a chance to speak. Abdullah, I know you don't want to be identified and you're worried about your 17 year old son here in Australia. Can you tell us why you're worried?

ABDULLAH: I worried because he does want to go to Syria. I don’t want him to go there and kill some innocent people and he’s going to die himself as well. He’s changing in one year time, one and a half year he’s changing a lot.

JENNY BROCKIE: How has he changed?

ABDULLAH: He's quiet and depressed, he left his beard growing and he always talking about this Shia and Sunni, you know.

AHAD: The point here is that like he's making his son's only 17 and he doesn't know anything, like about life, you know? So there's a group of people that they encourage these people. Young guy here, just you're probably, how old are you?


AHAD: 19, they don't know anything about life. Do you know what I mean? They're sent there, it's a combat situation.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, why - you're a family, you're a family friend?

AHAD: I've got to tell him something, I've come from a country, our parents brought us from Afghanistan because it's always politics everything, we don't want to get into those deep issues. But we came here, our parents thought we can get a better education, better life. Australia has given it to us. You do you know what I mean?

ABDULLAH: I got my son exactly like him, brainwashed and he doesn't know what to do. We got him here in the room but I got one son like him, you know he doesn't listen to me at all.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you've contacted police though because you're worried?

ABDULLAH: Yes I did.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why were you worried enough to contact the police?

ABDULLAH: I don't know where he get brainwashed, where he's been taught like this to do these things you know.

JENNY BROCKIE: Have you asked to have his passport cancelled?

ABDULLAH: Yes, but they said to me that he's under age, he cannot, without my permission, he cannot get his passport without my"¦.

AHAD: There's a war going on in their house, there's a feud going on in their house. Every day, mother, father fighting, everything because of a couple of friends that they are selfish enough, they don't go to Iraq, they don't go to Syria, but just oh, because he's a bit, you know what I mean, wild headed, you know what I mean? He wants to make a name for himself because nobody ever gave him any attention at school, everything. Now all of a sudden because he's got a beard everybody respects him, you know what I mean? This is the kind of ideology that they're going by, you know.

JENNY BROCKIE: What was your son like, where did your son get the ideas that you're worried about from? Was it just from a couple of friends?

ABDULLAH: A couple of friends, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what was he like before?

ABDULLAH: He's a quiet boy, he goes to gym, he's playing soccer and everything he left behind.


BASSET SAFI: About Abdullah's son he's talking about, there are many individuals like that in Melbourne that are teenage and they have been, the word that he used, brainwashed, and they are thinking or saying something totally different to Islam. So they're injecting self-made, self-interpreted ideologies into his brain and just making him focus on one thing and they say that's the real Islam. But people are interpreting only to fulfil their goals, their specific goals which is made of hatred. They hate a group so they want it to interpret Islam in a way to attack, to target that specific group. That's all.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, some of the other views, yes?

TAREK SAID: I know the topic is about the sixty Australian fighters who went to Syria and Iraq but as the gentleman over there said it's actually, there's a deeper issue, it's the whole, Israel Palestinian issue, the whole Islamic injustice, people see there's injustice in the Islamic world and I think that these fighters just a bi-product of that issue.

JENNY BROCKIE: But I guess then the question is what do you do about that, because clearly the bigger problem, you know, the geopolitical issues are not going to be solved overnight and in the meantime there are issues to deal with here. Greg, can I get a perspective from you on this?

PROFESSOR GREG BARTON: Jenny, I think it's really important that our viewers understand we're trying to get to difficult issues, this is a broken world, Middle East, North Africa, particularly a lot of suffering. It's not surprising there's a lot of emotion and differences of opinion but it's really important that Australians watching this program understand that the vast majority of Australian Muslims respect Sheikh Mohamadu and agree with his position, or Dina's position.

MALE: That's blatantly not true.

PROFESSOR GREG BARTON: That's the voice of the majority. There's a right to have a difference of opinion but in the sake of getting balance we're hearing from a very loud minority and we could get a misunderstanding of a nature of Islam in Australia.

LEAH FARRALL: Can I just add to that, what I think is important for the audience to understand is this looks quite uncomfortable, it looks quite confrontational, but it's actually really good to be able to even have these conversations. And if we want to talk about terror laws and we want to talk about what the government's doing, team Australia, where's the funding for this? This is what is going to make a difference - this is going to make people engage.

JENNY BROCKIE: Conversations you mean?

LEAH FARRALL: Yes, in institutions, support for families.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. Can I just ask though, you know, we've got a parent here who is concerned about his son being radicalised, he has genuine concern about his son being radicalised and I just wonder what people think can be done to try to, to try to stop that?

ALI MEHANNI: I think you have to understand we can't blame the individual himself that his son, we can't blame the problem on him entirely. I think as what we believe is we always refer back to education. I think the best way of someone to govern themselves and actually fix the problem within themselves is self-education and I think once they start to realise and they start to educate themselves, maybe there are better alternatives than going and actually physically fighting in the conflict outside of Australia. Like doing stuff like charity work and going back into the community, I think people start to build a sense of who they are and what type of person they become.

There is a problem with the youth. Yes, they're all vulnerable. Yes, they can be brainwashed, which I don't like the term but I think that the best alternative in regard to this whole issue is the youth should come and join charity work and start to do things that are actually more beneficial to themselves and to the Australian wider community.

JENNY BROCKIE: I should just point out that Abu Bakr and his lawyer have left at this point, just wanted to make that clear in case anyone wondered why they suddenly weren't here. I want to spend a little bit of time on the legislation and Anthony, I will come to you, I know you've been listening very patiently?

ANTHONY WHEALY QC: I just wanted to say the question that's been raised is how do we save a young man from falling into a life of crime, that's what is really is because joining the fight in Syria is likely to be a criminal act. And so that raises the question whether you're Muslim or Christian of how we as a community save the vulnerable young people who are on the brink of falling into a life of crime. There are so many things that can be done.

JENNY BROCKIE: Such as, I mean you chaired the COAG Review of Counter Terrorism?

ANTHONY WHEALY: I'm not talking about laws now, I'm not talking about laws because I don't think enacting more laws saves a young person from falling into a life of crime. I'm talking about the community and the way the community can come together to protect that young boy, and there are Muslim people here and there are Christian people here, why can't they all take a role in this particular problem and see what they can do?


ALI MEHANNI: I have to agree with him. I think if the government and the Muslim institutions can come together and like actually educate and actually come hand to hand with these youth, I think they will have a slightly more different perspective of what they see.

YEHYA EL KHOLED: The problem exactly and everyone keeps repeating the same problem, thinking it's going to save a solution because it sounds smart but it's not smart. You don't need any my government intervention, this is bullshit, you know, seriously.

JENNY BROCKIE: Anthony, when you said you thought there were things that could be done, what sort of things do you think can be done?

ANTHONY WHEALY: There are so many things that can be done Jenny and we all know what they are. They begin with the family, they begin with friendships, they begin with providing alternative outlets for aggression and intolerance and so on. This is a more difficult problem maybe because religion's involved but it's still criminal behaviour. I don't see why it can't be cured and treated in the same way.

JENNY BROCKIE: Greg Barton, can you explain to us the thinking that's behind cancelling passports before someone leaves, keeping them here?

PROFESSOR GREG BARTON: It's basically thinking that prevention is better than cure. I mean if you can stop somebody from going to Syria, Iraq and getting into trouble, as with any other situation with a young person, I mean this is all a question of the company we keep and our peer networks, sometimes you have to physically stop somebody getting into a place that's more dangerous. By the time a young person has gone to Syria and Iraq they're in a very dangerous place and there's a fair chance they'll hurt themselves and hurt others.

So it seems a Draconian intervention to take their passport but in most cases the passports have been taken because family members have requested it because it's the best way of helping somebody. This is, in that sense, not unlike other youths problems where somebody has, you know people get into trouble with games, with substance abuse, with other problems, their peers can help them, their peers can be part of the problem. Sometimes we have to intervene to change their circumstances.

YEHYA EL KHOLED: Can I just say the Australian government is not solving any problem here again because for the likes of myself, when I went to Syria I get my visa stamped, we go in, that's how we work, right? But when you're in ISIS or Nusr you go in through the back door, you don't go through passports. So how are you going get these guys? You're not doing anything, you're just, again, it's just attacking and it's hurting people like myself or people who want to go see their families in Syria.

JENNY BROCKIE: Have you had your passport cancelled?

YEHYA EL KHOLED: No, I haven't had my passport cancelled because I haven't wanted to go anymore and that's why I won't go. But again, if I wanted to go I'll go through the stamps, I go the legit it way but Nusr and ISIS don't go through the legit way, they go around the borders and how you would ever find out they went through?

JENNY BROCKIE: Anthony, what you do you think?

ANTHONY WHEALY: Well I think that, as Greg said, this is purely a preventative measure. We don't want to have terrorist action in Australia, we don't want to have an extremist action where people are hurt, maimed or killed, and so we have a raft of laws that are there, designed to prevent it happening. And the cancellation of passports is a very simple way of doing it.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what do you think of the proposed laws?

ANTHONY WHEALY: Well we don't have much detail on them yet but I think that the idea of strengthening the control orders is a useful idea. The onus of proof issue is likely to be a difficult one. Most lawyers, including myself, don't find that we're comfortable with that at all.

LEAH FARRALL: I think there's a, just to point out one thing we have seen statistically, a little bit anecdotally, is that when people are prevented from going to fight, whether real prevention being they lose their passport or, you know, there's a control order or a sense of being able to go, that can actually contribute to more extremism in what they think and directing their anger to the country. So again, it comes back to this need for community to address things.

YEHYA EL KHOLED: That’s right, community – that’s the main thing.

TAREK SAID: I think cancelling passports really will inflame the situation as what was suggested. I think these young men and women really need the most to be understood. I think that's really the core issue, for someone to listen to them, to understand them more than to educate them and tell them this is what you should do. I think this will take a lot of anger because like I was young, I was in Syria and I did have a lot of anger myself, I didn't decide to go and do any kind of action but I know exactly what it felt like. I felt I was misunderstood all the time being from the Middle East and I think this is really the solution.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what did you do about that though, about feeling like that?

TAREK SAID: Well at the time nothing, just maybe went into demonstrations and that's all.

JENNY BROCKIE: But can I just ask, I'm interested in the process that you went through to deal with that anger.

TAREK SAID: Mainly like it was especially during the first Iraq war or the Iraq war in 2003 which we felt was a personal attack on us in Syria. We talked about, that's the main thing, like we kind of created like our friends, we will talk about it with friends, with taxi drivers, with everyone in the street, just kind of venting this kind of anger. But then when I came here I saw how it's seen from a totally different point of view and that kind of mitigated my anger as well.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what were the key things that connected you in and got you through that period of feeling really angry? I mean when you say talking to people and being connected with people, are there things that you remember that were really significant in terms of"¦

TAREK SAID: Actually mainly after coming here and started talked to people here, friends from Australia and from Europe, and I started seeing how things are not really again black and white which I was really accused of here. It's really grey a lot of here I started kind of expanding my way of looking at things and that's really what helped me. I really think, I think even here a lot of people feel that they are being misunderstood, I think that's really the core issue, just to listen, to listen to what they have to say, genuinely listen, not just listen to change their mind.

JENNY BROCKIE: Dina, I wonder what you think about this and about how to connect people more with one another?

DINA ELACHI: What I recently have seen, and actually myself participated in is peaceful demonstrations that have been happening all over Sydney, especially the ones for the Christians in Iraq. You know, my brother is, my brothers have attended those kind of demonstrations and that is what is really unifying, especially the Christians and the Muslims. As all of the government passports and the cancellations, it may heighten any potential risk for terrorist activity within Australia but the government is doing what is needed to secure its borders.

JENNY BROCKIE: Greg, you've said you regard this as one of the biggest threats we've faced, I think you said the biggest threat, yeah?

PROFESSOR GREG BARTON: Yeah, I mean we don't know where we're going because this is new space but we do know that when it came to something similar with Afghanistan that over thirty or so Australians who went, twenty five came back and two thirds of the Australians who'd gone to Afghanistan carried on when they came back home and involved in extremism. Eight of them unfortunately faced prosecution and charges. That suggests if we've got five times the number now in Syria and Iraq and the numbers are rising, it's going to be a considerable challenge.

JENNY BROCKIE: Mohamed Zuhbi, you're still with us, you've been listening to all of this. Are you planning to come back to Australia?

MOHAMED ZUHBI: Definitely not, definitely not, and I'll tell you something, I'll tell you a few facts. That the Islamic State is no longer something you can simply fix. It's growing, it's expanding every day, there is more than 600 people joining it. These people are educated, these people are not ignorant, they're not radicalised, they're not dumb, they're not - these are not the lowest forms of society. I've met Germans, I've met Europeans, British, I've met Kazakhstanis, Russians, I've met Australians, New Zealanders, I've met Americans, French, I've met all these sorts of people.

People are not united on ignorance, these people are united on conviction, they're learned men, I've met engineers, I've met TV producers, I've met all sort of teachers, scholars, every level of life has come to the Islamic State, people have brought their families, their kids, their wives. It is a state, you have to accept it. This is not your choice, Australia is so irrelevant to the Islamic state that it has no choice but to comply. So in all honesty it's no longer an issue of how we can fix it, it's how we can comply with the Islamic state.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, alright Abdul Salam, go on?

ABDUL SALAM MAHMOUD: The threat that you are worried about in Australia, I never met an Australian person who even thinks about going back to Australia or even thinks about Australia or his history in Australia or his life back in Australia or has ever told me that he's thinking about going back to do an attack or something like that. This is not even in their mind because they are so concern about the situation here.

JENNY BROCKIE: Rodger, you wanted to make a final comment?

RODGER SHANAHAN: Oh yeah, I mean there's a classic example of the assertion without foundation, you know, 600 people are joining the Islamic state every day, that's from a person in humanitarian organisation on the other side of the Turkish border so you have to ask how does he get hold of this kind of information? And the answer is he doesn't so he makes up those facts or cherry picks or invents these facts to support a narrative that the Islamic state is something here and permanent. I mean in Iraq the Islamic state, while it's been - had a degree of success, that wasn't military success that wasn't foreseen, it's still very reliant on a coalition of tribes and ex-Bathists who could leave at any change when the political winds change or they can get a bargain. So I don't think the Islamic state is here to stay by any stretch of the imagination.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yehya, will you go back?

YEHYA EL-KHOLED: If it wasn't for the Islamic state of, I call it lies and deceit, I would have gone back, probably stayed there, but it's just a bunch of criminals leaving their home countries, going to Syria, trying to earn street cred. And I know other people would disagree with me but I've been with these guys, I've seen them, I've hanged out with them and they're the worst people in the world and I can't stand the sight of them.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, and can we just a final comment from a couple of people about what next? Anthony, what do you think?

ANTHONY WHEALY: Well I think what we do next, there's been a raft of laws announced. I think we should have a broad community debate about those laws. Now is the right time to do it. The worst time to bring in new laws is after some terrible terrorist event. The best time is while there isn't one so we have calm, measured debate about it and we should engage every member of the community in it, especially the Muslim community. I think that will be the way ahead to make people understand why we need tough laws. And then we just have to wait and see what happens.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, can I have a couple of comments here?

ALI MEHANNI: I think when the government are passing or drafting these new laws, I think they should come and take a lot of various things into consideration and I think when cancelling people's passports there has to be evidence. I think they should come and reach out to them and I think there should be rehabilitation process afterwards and I think if there is evidence that this person is active with extremists, I think the government should step in and say okay, let's educate them, let's rehabilitate them, rather than labelling them as terrorists and as people they just going to bring terror into Australia.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, we do have to finish. We can keep talking on-line about this. I want to thank you everybody very much for attending this tonight. Thank you and thank you to our guests too on Skype and on satellite, thank you. And of course you can keep following all of this on SBS World News.