How do you solve a problem like Elmir?

You know—the 17-year old Sydney goose who ended up doing this:


The Sunday Telegraph yesterday carried the story Teachers told to be on ‘student terror watch’ and dob in radical junior jihadis.

TEACHERS across the state have been placed on a “student watch” to report any unusual behaviour to police following the appearance of missing Sydney student Abdullah Elmir in an Islamic State video.

In an unprecedented move, the NSW Department of Education and Communities has issued the advisory to public, Catholic and independent schools amid community concerns some students could be plotting to join the IS movement or becoming radicalised….

The advisory, which gives principals the green light to take their concerns directly to police or CrimeStoppers, ­followed the recent increase in the National Terrorism Public Alert level.

The warning was also distributed to the Catholic Education Commission, Independent Schools Association and Board of Studies.

Elmir, a Condell Park High student, fled Australia for Syria with fellow teen Fayez of nearby East Hills High School. [Ian Thorpe’s alma mater, by the way.]…

Fayez, who The Sunday Telegraph has elected to not fully identify, has since ­returned to Australia, although has changed schools.

A departmental source denied claims within some sectors of the Muslim community that Fayez had been conducting prayer sessions on school grounds.

The source said the 17-year-old had been “extensively counselled” since returning to Australia and was being monitored at school.

The distribution of the ­advisory follows a high-level education meeting held on ­October 8 with senior representatives of the public, Catholic and independent schools to discuss ways to deal with the increased terror threat and students at risk of becoming radicalised….

A sober version is Terror reminder for NSW school vigilance

…NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Lila Mularczyk said the advice was a reminder of already existing procedures for anti-social behaviour.

“That may include anything that is disruptive behaviour in class or not abiding by the local school expectations of behaviour,” she said.

Which simply reblogs the AAP story. OK, I went looking at the Department of Education and Communities, formerly the Department of Education and Training, and formerly just the Department of Education… The site has inviting pictures, but is as byzantine as I recall from my working days, with a search engine that rarely turns up what you want. For example “antisocial behaviour” led me to lots about Shrek but not to anything even vaguely like what is in the stories above. Nor is there a relevant press release.

I then went to Secure NSW, a site recommended in that advisory – or so I am told, not having yet found the advisory where you would think it would be. I found another governmental site of bewildering complexity – and not a sausage about the story above. I did find the Police Commissioner exhorting us though:

…The security of NSW, Australia and the people that live and visit here is as much a challenge now as it has ever been. secureNSW, the NSW community’s one-stop-shop for counter terrorism information continues to be an effective way of delivering this information from a central, online location, and we intend to enhance this capability.

Some of the key objectives of secureNSW are:

  • To engage with the community and provide counter terrorism information and demonstrate our response capability
  • To engage with and educate communities at risk of isolation and marginalisation on counter terrorism and related issues
  • To engage with the business community to understand and reduce risks to our critical infrastructure and better protect places of mass gathering
  • To communicate key information before, during and after an incident, and support recovery efforts online

Terrorism never sleeps, and those responsible for protecting our community are also prepared 24-hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to the needs of the community.

Our best tools are vigilance and awareness, the same tools all the community should use.

I urge you to bookmark secureNSW in your favourites and keep checking for updated information and take note of the key messages we are promoting…

Back to the idea of reporting “anything that is disruptive behaviour in class or not abiding by the local school expectations of behaviour” or “any unusual behaviour “ to police. That is really not as simple as it may seem. For example, would expressing dark views about US policy, about Palestine, be sufficient triggers of suspicion? Would merely being religious – especially if you were a Muslim – be enough? Look back on times not all that far in the past. Is fear driving us in directions we really don’t need to go, directions that may indeed add to the numbers of the radicalised?

It is worth carefully reading recent posts by Irfan Yusuf.

The weblog of Irfan Yusuf, bush lawyer, humorist and award-winning author, once a small-c conservative but now politically left right out. His often irreverent take on things appears in some newspapers in Australia and New Zealand and online. His comic memoir “Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-fascist” was published in May 2009 and won the Iremonger Award for Public Issues Writing.

I have to say I did a double-take when I read in one of the stories above: “A departmental source denied claims within some sectors of the Muslim community that Fayez had been conducting prayer sessions on school grounds” — given that I sat in such prayer sessions of a Friday year-in year-out for some time in the 2001-2005 period. The room next door had a similar gathering of Orthodox Jews, and upstairs was the Inter-School Christian Fellowship. All these were extracurricular, lunchtime activities.  Why I visited the Islamic Society meetings was in the interests of helping counter radicalism, as well as the fact that I was actually made to feel welcome. See my earlier posts.

I am just saying we need to be careful and wise, and not be spooked into unhelpful over-reaction. And I have seen a few Facebook patriotic pages – Australian too – that make me despair. I won’t link them.


The problem with a post like this is that one can never say enough carefully enough. In that last paragraph I was particularly referring to people I would call extremists who advocate that Islam should be outlawed in Australia, a view that undermines several core values of Australian society. But one does hear this more frequently whenever the terror button is pushed.  I hasten to add I am all in favour of prudent management of risks and public safety – though whether that obliges a teacher to dob in a teenager if he/she expresses, say, on Facebook views like “that Australia is a ‘society of SHEEP, run by WOLVES, owned by PIGS’ ” – as one did: not the “Ginger Jihadi” in this case. There have surely been many disaffected teens/students have written or said things like that over the years; think for example in Vietnam War days. If the writer of that Facebook post had not been a 16-year-old Muslim, would the effect have been the same?

One of the most sensible people I know on these matters, Ramana, is Maximos Russell Darnley, a former colleague at SBHS who was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his work in the hospitals and morgue in Bali immediately after the terror attack there. See his 2012 post The Bali Bombings Ten Years on and my post of 2012 Seems like this is quite a week for remembering… Part of Russell’s post:

On Friday 12 October hundreds of survivors and their families gathered in Bali to remember the tragedy.  The ABC’s Lateline program provided some coverage

The Australian press ran hot with reflections and commemorations. The Bali Bombings 10 Years On – Newsline – ABC News provided a succinct account of the tragedy and some useful analysis of the security situation in Indonesia.

I thought also that Waleed Aly’s piece in The Monthly, In it together: Australia and Indonesia since the Bali bombings, shed an interesting light on subsequent Australia and Indonesia relations.

In a story entitled Bali residents recall Horror of Bombs the Jakarta Globe reminded us that “Worshipers at the Ar-Rahmat mosque in the Indonesian town of Kuta, Bali have prayed every night for the past 10 years for the victims of bombs that blew up in their tourist town on Bali island in 2002.”

I note that back in September terrorists allegedly may have targeted “four NSW hospitals – Prince of Wales Private, Royal Prince Alfred, Royal North Shore and Longueville Private, with at least one partially evacuated.”

  • Shane Cornell For me it’s the lowest of lows targeting or threatening our hospitals. So sick of what this world is coming to.

    5 · 15 September at 01:06

  • Maximos Russell Darnley What if these bomb threats were designed to generate fear of Muslims and hostility towards them? In whose interests would this be?

    5 · 15 September at 01:04

  • Gautam Berry besides blaming each other … did anyone got an update what happened and why these hospitals partially evacuated?…

As far as I know this didn’t really amount to much substantial, but the “better safe than sorry” mantra no doubt applies.

As for outlawing Islam in Australia:

The first mosque in Australia was built in 1861 at Marree, South Australia. The Great Mosque of Adelaide was built in 1888 by the descendants of the Afghan cameleers.

And elohim128: I do hope that no public school in Australia teaches that any of the Abrahamic religions or their texts are actually TRUE. Nor should they teach that they are false. Secular schooling, a great blessing we have had for well over a century, despite the witterings of some well-known conservatives.

In primary school around 1952-3, you will be pleased to know, I read a very respectful account of the life of the Prophet in a chapter in one of G T Spaull’s once ubiquitous Social Studies texts.  Another chapter was about Abraham. But I am amused to see not everyone loved Mr Spaull, apparently, as this spray that appeared in 1953 shows:

Mr. E. D. Darby, M.L.A., last night claimed that a social studies textbook, in use in N.S.W. Public Schools, was politically biased.

Mr. Darby said he would ask the Minister for Education, Mr. R. J. Heffron, to instruct State school teachers not to use the book, “Social Studies for Sixth Grade,” by G. T. Spaull.

Mr. Darby, a former school-teacher, said: “This schoolbook is one of several recently published in New South Wales which glorify political leaders of the Labour Party, write down those of the Liberal Parly and its predecessors, and seek to sow pro-socialist seeds in the child mind.

“Mr. Spaull, in one section of his book, mentions by name the Labour Party 13 times, but does not mention the name of the Liberal Party, the United Australia Party, or the Nationalist Party.” ….

Douglas Darby, eh! That brings back memories, and thoughts along the lines of “the more things change, the more they stay the same!”

Update 29 October

A couple of items.

Update 31 October

Waleed Aly is excellent today.

The dispiriting news feels like it’s coming in a torrent. Canada suffers two terrorist attacks in a week. Another attack in New York, this one with an axe, wounds two police officers before the attacker is shot dead. Immediately you recall the Melbourne case of Abdul Numan Haider, whose weapon of choice was a knife, but whose story had the same ending.  Meanwhile, a Sydney teenager plays a starring role in two ISIL propaganda videos in a fortnight, while the man who apparently groomed and recruited him, Mohammad Ali Baryalei, is now very likely dead. This, you might feel, is encouraging until you consider that his symbolic pull is likely only to increase as a result of his “martyrdom”.

But pause for a moment and you notice something about this picture. We’re a long way from all the talk of dirty bombs and nuclear weapons of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era. We’re nowhere near planes smashing into skyscrapers. We’re not even in the neighbourhood of bombs being detonated on buses and underground trains, or in nightclubs. This stuff is galling and tragic. It occasions the same public grieving and ceremony, but we’re talking about something qualitatively different, here. 

For the moment at least, mass-casualty terrorism is off the agenda. “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run over him with your car,” urged ISIL last month as it called upon Muslims to kill random Westerners. There’s a kind of desperate crudeness, here: one that seems to have lowered its horizons…

2 thoughts on “How do you solve a problem like Elmir?

  1. Coming as I do from a country where we are never too far away from terrorism and having personally experienced effects of Islamic terrorism, and I use the word Islamic there deliberately, I would rather be cautious than wiser by hindsight.

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