For a long time I have written and spoken about the issues that we, as advocates in the Race area have had to put up with. However we have never gotten any support from governments of a number of persuasions. Earlier today I was given a copy of a letter from a dear friend and colleague Dr Anne Aly. All of us know Anne as a person who has never shirked the opportunity to speak out against terror and related matters. This letter encapsulates exactly what it is that she has to put up with on a daily basis. Then to have her commitment or sincerity questioned by a Prime Minister prepared to forsake morals in clutching on to his job as PM is abhorrent. This is the text of Anne’s letter.- Suresh Rajan. The Hon. Tony Abbott, MP Prime Minister Parliament House CANBERRA ACT 2600Dear Mr Abbott
I am writing to you in my formal capacity as the Founding Chair of People against Violent Extremism Inc (www.pave.net.au) but also as a member of the Muslim community and an academic researcher and practitioner in countering violent extremism.
Specifically I am writing regarding certain comments made by you in your address on National Security (Canberra, February 23, 2015). In your address you state:
“I’ve often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.”[emphasis added]
In response to this comment, I would like to share with you my personal experience as a Muslim who has spoken out – and meant it.
Last year I was quoted in the Australian media in reference to Islam and the barbaric practices of Daesh. The article, in which I stated that beheadings are not part of the Islam tradition, caught the attention of an anti-Islamic group by Robert Spencer. According to Spencer’s website, Jihad Watch, my comments were “designed to comfort and reassure non-Muslims”.
Spencer and his followers claimed that my comments were fabricated, that I was “lying about Islam” and that I was “an expert at taqiyya”. Like many of my counterparts who have also spoken out, I have been labelled an “Islamist apologist” even though the majority of my media commentary is based firmly in academic research and practice.
In response to my public comments, I received a barrage of hate mail with comments such as “you are vile scum” and “I will dance on your grave when you die”. I was also put on a ‘who to kill’ list that has been published on the internet. Since then, I continue to receive regular hate mail – many from people reiterating your very words: ‘Muslims don’t speak out and they don’t mean it when they do’.
I have been insulted, threatened, verbally attacked and had my credentials questioned – all because I spoke out. I should also state that I have never received any threats from any member of Australia’s Muslim communities. Instead I have had messages of support and encouragement from Australian Muslims as well as Muslims in Europe and the United States.
Mr Abbott, I hope that this demonstrates the personal expense of speaking out about radicalisation and extremism. I can no longer walk the 30 minutes to my office or enjoy the 10 minute bicycle ride to campus because of the fear of being targeted by an anti-Islamic member of public. I have had to change the locks on my doors at home and move my team on campus three times in the last six months to different secure facilities each time our location has been revealed. I would like you to understand the fear and insecurity that my family faces each day because of my decision to speak out and because of the work that I do – but mostly because I happen to be a Muslim women doing it. Mr Abbot, I wish to express how deeply your comments hurt those of us who have sacrificed our own safety and security, as well as our time and resources, to make a stand against violent extremism. I wish that you could realise just how much damage those words have done to the good work we are doing on a daily basis to prevent young Muslims from falling victim to the scourge of Daesh.
Last month I was invited by President Obama to attend the White House CVE Summit in Washington. My nomination for this event came through the US Embassy and my travel was completely self – funded. I was the only Australian civil society representative to attend the event though I can point to many more Australians who are also making productive and positive contributions to CVE. In his inspiring speech to the White House Summit civil society participants on February 18, President Obama spoke of the importance of the civil society role in CVE. He also spoke positively of the great contributions that Muslim Americans are making to addressing violent extremism. Australian Muslims are also making positive contributions Mr Abbott. Just last week, PaVE sponsored a Muslim Your Voice Youth Forum here in Perth. The young people who attended spoke of their own fears of Daesh and the issues they are facing with radicalisation and violent extremism in their communities. Together they came up with some possible solutions to this issue – they are doing this in the context of consistently being defined as part of the problem, instead of part of the solution. We are not blind to the threat of Daesh inspired violence. We are not quiet about the threat. We are not sitting on our hands doing nothing.
I sincerely implore you Mr Abbott, to consider the impact of your words, for words have the capacity to change nations and inspire masses. I understand that you have a political agenda but please understand the damage that this rhetoric is doing in undermining the years of good work that we are trying to do as practitioners in CVE. Personally, I am deeply disappointed that my elected leader, a person to whom I should be able to look up to, considers my work not only insignificant, but even worse, insincere. Could you please explain to me Mr Abbott, how much more I need to do? How much more hate mail do I need to endure to prove to you that I am sincere? Please explain to me how many more insults and threats from those who support your views do I need to bear before you consider my efforts sincere?
I would appreciate a response to my letter at your earliest convenience.
Associate Professor Anne Aly
Founding Chair, People against Violent Extremism.