As promised yesterday.
There is much out there already; again I commend as a start ‘Jihadi’ Jake Bilardi – from Australian suburban schoolboy to Islamic State suicide bomber from ABC’s 7.30.
I looked at his school. Seems a good place. How hard it must be for them right now, and even more for the family.
Bilardi’s blog reveals a teen not unlike some I have taught or met over the years, especially perhaps since the 1990s. A digital native. It strikes me that he was “radicalised” as much by, say, John Pilger or Noam Chomsky as the Quran or Islamist sources — or by any of a whole range of left to far left news, history and current affairs sites – some of them often very useful as a counterweight (or counterpunch?) to the mainstream. The speed with which he worked through all this stuff over five years from atheist 13-year-old to 17-18 year-old fanatic ready to kill or be killed is quite amazing.
One really does wonder what realistically anyone can do about such radicalising influences. Shut them all down? Do a great firewall of Australia? Hardly likely, and hardly desirable as a lot of the stuff Bilardi must have consumed is in its own right legitimate.
I noticed too that some of what Bilardi says in that January 2015 blog post is not dissimilar to some of the things those students I knew in the mid 2000s were thinking and saying – not surprising since the issues and events that concerned them – and many of us who are not Muslims – are reflections of realities that are often highly unpalatable. But that such interests and views must lead to murder and suicide is clearly not inevitable, a proposition I tested by tracking what some of those students I knew in 2005 are up to now. What I found is encouraging.
There are more positive paths.
Here is the blog of one of those students from ten years ago* who seems as delightful today as when I knew him then. In one post he reflects on events we actually shared in, though from different sides in many ways – generational, and cultural. Here is some of what he says:
— I note this blog is now restricted by its author. In keeping with that I have anonymised some of it — a shame though, as it is excellent! — 14 Nov 2018
My story knowing F– [a fellow student] began in high school …. Whilst we played cricket and soccer together and undertook similar subjects (like French with the intimidating Mr. Davies) – I believe our friendship like the other MCs really blossomed through our involvement in setting up the Islamic Society of …, the only kind of such organisation at a high-school at the time. We organised social activities, provided prayer spaces and opportunities to share and learn about our religion. It was through our combined efforts along with our fellow Muslim and also non-Muslim classmates that we facilitated seminars on Islam to share Islamic culture and ideas and remove myths and misconceptions with the wider school community.
Despite all of our efforts, unfortunate external events generated much attention to our small organisation and our school. This situation blew out in 2005 after one of the seminars on Islam in the aftermath of the July London bombings. Whilst we saw the media attention and negative publicity, F– and his father were the ones who dealt with the media and the school principal, Dr. Jagger. It was actually many years later that we learnt about the pressures that he had faced. I think that it was incredible how a 16 year old was able to handle all of that pressure. And he went on to be School Prefect, GPS Debating champion and achieved such incredible results in the HSC and post-school. This is all part-and-parcel of trying to achieve success and to promote justice and the truth.
It was in those few years that our group of friends realised our potential, our purpose and duties growing up in Australia and what we would need to do as active citizens to hold Islamic values whilst fully functional in the wider society.
What made that experience special and the key qualities that developed was that we were truly all-rounded. We played sport together, hung out at recess and lunch, visited each other’s houses and studied together – and even sold chocolate boxes together.
F– and his multifaceted intellectual pursuits
In much of post-industrial societies, people tend to specialise in certain professions and as a result lose knowledge about other fields and the “bigger picture” issues. Writing at the turn of the 20th century, Emile Durkheim once noted “Not only has the scholar ceased to take up different sciences simultaneously, but he does not even cover a single science completely anymore”. This is something that I can say I’ve come to appreciate very strongly in F– and that inspires the friends all around us. He actively pursued Qur’an, Arabic and Islamic studies alongside law, economics and also philosophy. Moreover, he encouraged us all in this way. This is the sort of multi-disciplinary knowledge that we should all promote and inculcate a passion for in our youth today. So that they may have a greater impact as future leaders.
Non mutual exclusivity between religious and secular pursuits
The key lesson from our group was the pursuit of excellence in religious and secular pursuits. There is no mutually exclusivity in academic rigour, sport and culture and religious duties and community service. Everyone has the potential to make a contribution in their own way and this needs to be supported. This attitude and approach to life was very much developed through our group work starting back in high school – with F– at the helm of our group’s leadership!…
Interesting too is this 2013 post Reading Half the Sky is a Painful Experience (Part 1).
I would read a few pages at a time and would have to stop or look away. Seated 38 000 feet above the ground and after enjoying a warm meal on my flight from Sydney to Dhaka on Thai Airways – I wanted to look away into the distant sun or the large span of water (i.e. the Bay of Bengal) to find some sort of solace and hope. Why are people so incredibly cruel?
I have only gotten through the first 100 pages or so where sex slavery is being recounted by the authors. Whilst it was frightening and painful to read of the stories of these girls and young women who were brutally raped and mentally and physically traumatised – there was also hope in what some of them were doing to fight back and to bring positive change in their communities. I’ll account some of these in the next post Insha Allah. Whilst this comforted me a little – it also highlighted my own incapacities and how I could be doing so much more in my own enjoyable life. It saddened me that we didn’t come to the rescue of these women and that we simply didn’t do more!…
That spirit, I suggest, is many miles from the hate and disillusion that seems to have swallowed poor Jake Biladi. I say “poor” because it is such a waste of a boy who was obviously talented. But his way is far from the only way.
How the authorities can hope to monitor all threats in this world of unparalleled access to whatever information you want boggles the mind. They have taken to stopping and searching people at airports. Dr Jamal Rifi thinks this is a bad idea. Jake Biladi of course didn’t “look the part” so very likely would have got through. (He doesn’t fully explain in that WordPress blog entry how he did it.)
My former student does “look the part.” He is clearly sub-continental and may wear some kind of funny hat. He possibly carries Islamic literature. But of course it seems clear to me that he is a zero security threat – in fact, an asset to this country and, through his work, several others.
I just hope we can all make such distinctions: but unfortunately the common talk makes this difficult. We become obsessed with damnably stupid ideas about the significance of halal markings on chocolate – though not apparently by statements about the same item probably also being kosher. We start to see all Muslims as terrorists, or at best not to be trusted as not being sufficiently “Aussie”!
I do despair: but all praise to people like T– (the blogger quoted above) and friends. There may be the hope we need.