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Anti-extremism policy an expensive recipe for disaster

5 November 2015
School deradicalisation plan risks cutting Muslim teens off

NSW will spend $47 million to combat violent extremism in schools, but as Hussain Nadim explains, this approach has its problems.

The only thing more disastrous than having no policy to counter violent extremism is having a bad policy. 

NSW Premier Mike Baird's $47 million funding announcement towards countering violent extremism at schools is not only questionable in terms of its humongous spending, but for the likely backlash it could produce. 

Under the new program, five expert teams of specialists and trained counsellors will identify students "at risk" in schools and refer them to support groups for "deradicalisation". And $8 million is also earmarked for community resilience programs for capacity building and training to be done through numerous organisations.

This program is not only bound to fail, and even lead to violent extremism, but it is also inherently against Western democratic values.

There is no way to define who is "at risk" of radicalisation, especially at school when students are undergoing teenage crisis. How will the government profile the students "at risk"? Is it going to be the students with Muslim-sounding names or will it be based on religion or ethnicity? 

Under the full media glare, program managers will be under pressure to produce quick results. Radical or not, the program risks arbitrarily identifying students to be "at risk" and sending them to support groups. Such racial profiling based on religion, and race with pressure to produce results is a recipe for disaster.

School is the only forum for Muslim students to integrate into the mainstream Australian society by making friends and immersing into the Australian ethos and culture. Running a deradicalisation program in schools could not only securitise a school but also severely isolate and destroy the only chance for its Muslim students to feel Australian. 

There is no way to define who is "at risk" of radicalisation, especially at school when students are undergoing teenage crisis.

Muslim students could be singled out, bullied and even labelled as terrorists right at the school level – a disaster that is bound to happen if the NSW government proceeds with this policy. In essence, the Australian government risks helping militant organisations produce more extremists with its own public money. 

Deradicalisation and preventing violent extremism does not require a hefty $47 million waste of public money, especially when there is no way to gauge the effectiveness of such programs. 

What is instead needed is cost-effective, soft measures that will have an impact to root out the problem, instead of further aggravating it. 

A prime way to go about this is by focusing on promoting "right parenting'" in Muslim communities. There is a little question that the radicalisation starts from home, and families play a pivotal role in the deradicalisation programs – something that has been tested in numerous countries. The government must engage Muslim parents and provide them with tools for such counselling. 

Crucially, deradicalisation can really work by integrating Muslims through unconditionally reaching out and developing confidence in the community that they are as much part of Australia as anyone else. 

This has to come, not from any government department, or from multimillion-dollar programs, but directly from political leaders including the Prime Minister and NSW Premier. 

Look at the newly-elected Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, who through charisma and an ability to reach out to the Muslim community, has ushered in hope and more inclusiveness in Canada, without spending a penny on a deradicalisation program. 

Hussain Nadim is a PhD candidate and co-ordinator of the South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney. This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Luke O'Neill

Media & PR Adviser (Humanities and Social Sciences)