Some thoughts on the Parramatta tragedy

The latest news suggests that more is to emerge about the unbelievable events that have taken place over the past days in Sydney’s west.

Police investigating the fatal shooting of an employee outside NSW Police headquarters in Parramatta have arrested five people in early morning raids across western Sydney.

More than 200 officers raided properties in the western Sydney suburbs of Guildford, Wentworthville, Merrylands and Marsfield at 6:00am AEDT.

Those arrested include a 16-year-old boy and an 18-year-old man from Wentworthville, a 22-year-old man and a 24-year-old man from Merrylands, and a 22-year-old man from Marsfield.

The four men and one boy have been detained and will be taken to various police stations where they will be interviewed.

In a statement, NSW Police said the five had been arrested “in relation to the fatal shooting of Curtis Cheng outside Police Headquarters at Parramatta on Friday 2 October”…

The central tragedy is of course the utterly inexcusable killing of an innocent IT worker, Curtis Cheng. That a fifteen-year-old schoolboy actually did it beggars belief – but he did. That the motive was “religious” is also clear.

Space precludes my repeating my own earlier thoughts on teenage Muslim boys, of whom I had considerable and mostly positive experience in Sydney especially in the years between 9/11 and the Cronulla riots. See such past posts as Recycle and prelude: nine years ago, Some reflections on the late teen suicide bomber, Bringing it home, From omnishambles to pizza…, London ten years on and Go back, lunchtime prayers, Adam Goodes.  Also the reactions to this tragedy from NSW Premier Mike Baird and the revamped administration of Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra have been in marked contrast to the rhetoric Tony Abbott would have come up with. See my June post Contributions to a wiser, cooler look at IS and terror. This can only be for the good of all.

7.30 has had some good coverage and discussion. For example:

GREG BARTON, MONASH UNIVERSITY: Parramatta has been a bit of a hotspot for radicalisation. We had the Street Dawah group and Mohammad Ali Baryalei strongly involved there and that means there’s a chance of detecting recruiters and identifying their operations and their victims ahead of time. Now that didn’t happen in this case clearly, but trying to figure out who was involved in his radicalisation may help us stop the radicalisation of others.
DYLAN WELCH: One thing that has struck investigators as unusual is that the attack has yet to be claimed by Islamic State or any another terrorist organisation, and, as far they can tell, Farhad Jabar didn’t record or write a martyrdom message. They’re also concerned that his sister left Australia the day before the killings and his brother is also believed to be a radical.
Greg Barton believes the Friday shooting and other recent events in Australia are a reflection of a disturbing but increasingly apparent pattern.
GREG BARTON: We’re seeing this pattern of attack around the world, a series of attacks attempted in America, an attempted attack on the Amsterdam-Paris high-speed train, we’ve had a series of close calls ourself, a number of – fortunately, a number of attempted plans thwarted. We have of course, going back a year, the Numan Haider case and the Martin Place siege in December. But it seems as if the tempo is increasing globally and the age of those being recruited for the attacks is coming down. So, yes, sadly, this is the new normal.

And also:

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Few people have spent more time with teenage boys, and some troubled ones at that, than Jihad Dib, former principal of Punchbowl Boys High School in Sydney’s west. He’s credited with turning around a school that was on the verge of closure when he arrived, building a real sense of community about it. He’s now the New South Wales Labor MP for Lakemba and he joined me in the studio earlier.
Jihad Dib, thank you very much for coming in.
JIHAD DIB, NSW LABOR MP FOR LAKEMBA: Thank you, Leigh. My pleasure.
LEIGH SALES: Firstly, let me just ask for your thoughts about the terrorist incident at Parramatta.
JIHAD DIB: Oh, look, it’s an awful incident, certainly very shocking. The fact that it was committed is shocking enough, but the fact that it was by a 15-year-old boy is just unfathomable. And obviously our heartfelt sympathies go out to the Cheng family. This is something that’s beyond belief.
LEIGH SALES: Few people have as much experience as you do with teenage boys. What are your thoughts on how to stop the radicalisation of young Muslim boys?…

Do read on. I have posted before about the truly admirable Jihad Dib. See Some thoughts on Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl. Coincidentally SBS begins a FICTIONAL series tonight, The Principal. I would say it is a must see!

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That’s one of the characters in The Principal, 16-year-old Tarek Ahmad, played by 22-year-old Sydney actor Rahel Roman.

Rahel Romahn wonders if he is suffering from “Benjamin Button syndrome” – as in, ageing backwards. At the age of 16, while still at school, he played a 22-year-old drug dealer in Underbelly. Now that he’s 22, he is playing a 16-year-old student in a fictional Sydney high school in the The Principal, a murder-mystery series starting this week on SBS.

“I’m looking forward to playing fetuses in a couple of years,” he says.

Another crazy coincidence:

Both those jobs happened because Romahn is, as the police might say, “of Middle Eastern appearance” – born in the Kurdish part of Iraq, from which his family escaped as refugees in 1996. In The Principal he plays a troubled refugee from Syria.

“There’s not much I can do in Australia about looking Middle-Eastern,” Romahn says. “That has its own set of connotations, regardless of me and the character. Every actor will tell you they will be typecast when they start out in their career. And in Australia the most exciting way of storytelling about Middle-Eastern people is usually that they’re involved in a colourful crime life. The beautiful thing about this character in The Principal is we get to see past this facade of hostility and delve deep into the understanding of what makes an individual so hostile and so isolated. That hostility is actually the yearning for connection.”

Romahn’s background is identical with that of the Parramatta shooter! Their life paths have obviously been different.

Finally, as a retired teacher my heart really goes out to the staff and students at Arthur Phillip High School, Parramatta. Not the sort of thing we would ever have expected to deal with as teachers.

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