License article

Leaders 'have done nothing to fix riot causes'

LAST year's violent Muslim riot in Sydney could easily happen again because nothing has changed since the event, community leaders and security experts have warned.

Despite begging the public for space and time to work with disaffected youths who participated in the September protest, the Lebanese Muslim Association, which spearheaded a historic coalition of leaders in the aftermath, has done ''absolutely nothing'' to reach out to potential extremists, said a community leader, Jamal Rifi.

''There are too many things happening on paper and nothing on the ground with people,'' Dr Rifi said. ''They're all talk and no action.''

Several police officers were injured and relations with the Muslim community were strained when the protest against the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims got out of control in September.

Protesters carried placards with messages such as ''Behead all those who insult the Prophet'' and ''Obama, Obama, we love Osama''.

The head of the Lebanese Muslim Association, Samir Dandan, admitted after the protest that not enough had been done to engage with disaffected young Muslims.


He promised ''to place greater focus on developing specific programs which could affect positive change amongst the youth''. Yet Mr Dandan could not mention any programs that had been developed in the four months since.

He said three volunteer staff members had been conducting research and discussions into the causes of the protest but a lack of resources prevented more being done.

A security academic, Clive Williams, said counter-terrorism resources were dwindling in Australia yet the threat of extremism and terrorism was not.

''It is important to have recreational facilities where young Muslim people can meet and socialise and for them to be able to convey their thoughts and concerns to community policing officers,'' he said.

Detective Sergeant Alex Sarkis, from the Community Contact Unit, said police met Muslim leaders after the riot but have let the community police itself to identify possible troublemakers.

Kuranda Seyit, director of the Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations, warned against this approach, saying the Lebanese Muslim Association reaches only a tiny proportion of the state's 140,097 Muslims and was never in a position to fulfil a promise to ''fix the problems''. ''Their spectrum of influence is limited mainly to a few Lebanese Muslims,'' he said. ''It's too small to really count.''

Dr Rifi said the historic alliance formed after the protest was nothing more than a publicity stunt. By quickly denouncing the protesters, the leaders only pushed them further underground, he said.

''There is absolutely nothing stopping it happening again,'' he said. ''But this time they will probably be more careful not to look at the cameras and not to come in the daylight.''

Last year, a University of Melbourne PhD student, Mohamad Tabbaa, warned that Muslim leaders had sided against those who protested which further enraged and mobilised the fringe elements of the community.

''When prominent Muslim leaders cannot even begin to fathom how some Muslim youth have mentioned corpses when apparently protesting about a movie, we need to question whether the real problem is that such leaders are incredibly out of touch with the reality of Muslim youth in this country,'' he said.