This statement from within the Muslim community expresses the position of the undersigned with respect to the government’s  continuing counter-terrorism ‘reforms’ in schools aimed at facilitating the recognition and reporting of ‘extremist’ behavior and views. 

We – the Muslim women professionals, mothers and students state the following in this regard:

As part of the Federal Government’s counter-terrorism reforms, schools have now been issued directives to report and monitor their students for “extremist” behaviour and to prevent the proliferation of “extremist” views. Most recently, on the 27th July, NSW Premier Mike Baird announced a sweeping review of all prayer groups in NSW schools, detailing plans for a state-wide audit. This was followed with a reported memo sent to all state principals urging them to report any instances of possible student radicalisation or extremism to police and a hotline was setup for this purpose.  In addition, the NSW Police and the NSW Government are coordinating a training program for the Education Department on how to recognise and prevent radicalisation and extremism.  

Over many years we have witnessed government policy tread a dangerous path. Initially targeting violent terrorist acts, then later widening to encompass ‘extremist’ thought, until we now find that the act of prayer in schools is effectively being viewed through the lens of national security.  The most vulnerable and innocent in our community are being positioned on the frontline of a policy of open discrimination. 

Teachers carry a heavy burden in the community, committed to educating and shaping capable and caring members of society.  Added to this is the responsibility of providing a safe and comfortable learning environment amid safeguarding their pupils from harm. It is not the role of teachers to police their students, nor is it to act as intelligence officers spying on children on behalf of the government.

Teachers are deliberately being exploited under the Government’s ‘war on terror’ policies. Rather than building a deep and trusting relationship with their student populations, the role of teachers will now lead to more suspicion, creating more animosity, and institutionalise the policing of Muslim children.

Schools are not raising ‘radicalisation’ fears as any significant areas of concern with governments.  Nor do such fears fall into the day-to-day real struggles that schools and their communities face. In a time where schools are crying out for additional funding for important educational programs, where teacher burnout, online bullying, youth suicide and substance abuse are rife, one must seriously question the government’s allocation of vital funding into countering what appears to be a highly inflated and politicised threat.

These reforms have further contributed to the creation of a climate of suspicion and distrust of anything Islam and Muslims.  The simple act of gathering to perform the Muslim obligatory prayer at lunch time, a fundamental tenet of the faith, now requires that a Muslim child’s name be placed on a State school register.  In the current institutionalised Islamophobic climate, we hold serious concerns and suspicion as to the purpose of such a register, and the potential for such a register to be exploited in the future.

Members of the Muslim community have already received concerns regarding the effects these policies have had on their children.  Significant levels of anxiety and even instances of distress in children have been reported by parents following teachers projecting discriminatory and intimidating comments onto students.  Innocent child play has also not been immune to overreaction by teachers.  The disastrous consequences of this on the student-teacher relationship requires little evidence, effectively creating a school environment where open and trusting interactions are damaged and marginalisation is facilitated, leading to undesirable outcomes for all.

We are right to question whether the government has children’s welfare as its foremost concern when on the one hand teachers are threatened with two years gaol for reporting child abuse in detention centres, and on the other hand they are bound by duty to speak out if they come across ‘extremist” behaviour that accords with a highly politicised definition.

We call out the governments ‘reforms’ for what they are: further intimidation of the Muslim community into silence through the lowest most underhanded means possible – waving their own children under their noses with implicit threats of being caught up by the law. 

We ask all fair-minded people to continue to scrutinise the government scare tactics, fear-mongering and political machinations.  They not only do not bode well for societal harmony at large, but they increase the alienation experienced by the most vulnerable in the Muslim community – its children.  It is time the government stopped diverting the attention of the public away from its disastrous domestic and foreign policies by playing the ‘Muslim’ and ‘national security’ card.  If today’s ‘national security’ concern is a child as young as five in the playground, then what tomorrow?

24th August, 2015

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