Closer watch on schools, mosques Print E-mail
Thursday, 25 August 2005


Intelligence agencies will monitor mosques, prayer halls and Islamic schools "to the extent necessary" as part of the Federal Government's counter-terrorism policy, the Prime Minister said yesterday.


John Howard made the remarks as Muslim groups excluded from this week's summit said they would hold the biggest gathering of Muslim leaders seen in NSW on September 11.

The summit hosted by Mr Howard in Canberra on Tuesday denounced terrorism and called for community harmony and continuing dialogue about how to vet and train imams and promote Australian values in schools.


But speaking on Perth radio, Mr Howard said the Government would be prepared to go further.Asked if authorities were prepared to "get inside" mosques, prayer halls and schools to keep tabs on activities, he replied: "Yes, to the extent necessary, yes.


"We have a right to know whether there is, within any section of the Islamic community, a preaching of the virtues of terrorism, whether any comfort or harbour is given to terrorism within that community.


"Now it's very hard for a government or any of its agencies to penetrate every aspect of life and we don't want to interfere with people's enjoyment of life [but] if people are not willing to give their first loyalty to this country, then … that will arouse enormous concern within the rest of the Australian community."


Security agencies have long kept watch on suspects and the mosques and prayer halls they attend, but Mr Howard's remarks concerned some Muslims.


Waleed Kadous, the convenor of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network, said the comments were ill advised.


"It was a very poor choice of phrase," he said. "It's like the PM doesn't trust us.


"It makes the community feel isolated. People talk about integration but it's a two-way street. If you feel there's hostility then you will want to be with our own people."


But the head of the NSW Islamic Council, Ali Roude, said there was widespread public fear about terrorism at the moment and he "understood the reaction" of Mr Howard.


Mr Kadous criticised the make-up of this week's summit, saying many important moderate representatives had been excluded, such as those with education experience.


He said this might explain why much had been made about promoting Australian values in schools, even though there had been an explicit charter for Muslim schools to promote non-violence and harmony for several years.


The Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, also weighed into the debate yesterday, saying Muslims in Australia who did not want to accept local values should "clear off".


Tom Allartd and Linda Morris

Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 2005


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