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Isolation a cause of radicalism – researcher

12 November 20150 comments

A sense of isolation among young people from marginalised Muslim communities is a major cause of radicalisation, according to leading Islamic scholar Professor Greg Barton.

Speaking at the 2015 Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) conference, in Sydney this month, Prof Barton said racial and religious tolerance was not enough to prevent radicalisation of young people.

Professor Greg Barton highlights the dangers of isolation

Professor Greg Barton highlights the dangers of isolation

“Looking at so many cases of radicalisation of young people it is clear they start out looking for a connection – maybe through a post on social media. But this can turn into something more sinister especially if these young people are befriended and manipulated by other people with ulterior motives,” Prof Barton said.

“We are happiest and healthiest when we are part of a community – especially young people,” he said.

“We want to feel connected and everyone needs to be respected and valued and everyone needs to develop social networks.

“So that means tolerance is not enough – we need to respect each other and to do that we need to understand each other.

“We have to open ourselves up – and that can be an enriching and positive thing,” Prof Barton said.

He said the current conflicts in the Middle East were about religion colliding with modernity and about Islamist politics.

“Religion is not disappearing and being religious is bound up with being human. We are living in a broken world full of need – so it’s important to care and to ask why bad things are happening,” said Prof Barton, of Deakin University.

Western Sydney Labor MP Michelle Rowland told the conference the rising tide of prejudice and intolerance across the globe could easily reach Australia’s shores putting at risk our diverse but cohesive society.

“The choices we make in the coming years will determine whether the future will be shaped by friction or by harmony,” Ms Rowland said.

“The challenge is to acknowledge the voices of intolerance can be persuasive and inviting to some but we must deal with these voices, not just dismiss them,” she said.

Ms Rowland said that Australian politics had been sullied in the past by xenophobia.

“Too many of our elected officials have used the threat of terror to demonise others and score cheap political points even though it risks damaging our cohesiveness,” she said.

“Politicians’ failure to meet this challenge has led to the creating of a vacuum which has been filled with negative voices.”

Ms Rowland said the ballot box was a great disinfectant and that Australians always saw through racist policies, citing research by the Scanlon Foundation which found 86 per cent of Australians favoured multiculturalism.

“The time is now for these sentiments identified in the Scanlon Report to be converted into sensible policies,” Ms Rowland said.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist