SYDNEY, March 9, 2006 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – The Australian government announced on Thursday, March 9, it would consider a proposal by its top policeman to "de-program" Muslims jailed on terror charges despite criticism from rights activists branding the idea as a form of brainwashing.Reply
"It is something that we will give thought to," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Police Commissioner Mick Keelty tabled the idea on Wednesday, March 8, in an interview with ABC Television's Lateline program.
He said the technique would involve using respected imams or previous militants to convert extremists to more moderate views.
"Essentially, it would be a threshold question in terms of policy as to whether we would engage in something that forces people into some sort of de-programming or de-radicalization," Keelty said.
"But it also opens up the opportunity to get information that would otherwise not be available."
Twenty-four Muslims are facing terrorism charges in Australian, which has never suffered a major peacetime attack on home soil.
Downer said similar programs are being implemented successfully in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Both Downer and Keelty maintain that similar programs are being successfully implemented in Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Britain.
"Those governments have made an attempt to persuade extremists and terrorists who have been held in prison to change their point of view and to understand that it's not the Islamic way to kill, it's not the Islamic way to murder," the minister said.
"And in some cases that process has been successful," he told reporters.
Keelty said Indonesia's anti-terrorist squad now had former Jemaah Islamiah (JI) commander Nasir bin Abbas working for them and re-educating arrested JI recruits.
"It's somebody they would have otherwise looked up to as a natural leader, in terms of a terrorist, and they've turned him around and used him to convert the others," he added.
Indonesia had convicted around 200 people of terrorist-related offences since the 2002 Bali bombings, in which 88 Australians were among the 202 killed.
Keelty said Jakarta had to do something with those offenders before they could be released back into the community.
"Two hundred people incarcerated presents a problem if they haven't been reformed by the time they come back out into the community."
The proposal, however, drew immediate rebuke from the Australian Council of Civil Liberties.
"It's not the sort of thing that should occur in a democratic nation. It is just the sort of thing that totalitarian regimes engage in," council's spokesman Cameron Murphy told Reuters.
"It is not the role of the government to impose its views on citizens," he said.
Fellow council activist Terry O'Gorman agreed.
"These countries the police commissioner mentions are involved in torture," O'Gorman told AFP.
"This de-programming is part of the same basket of procedures."
O'Gorman maintained there was no evidence to suggest that the practice, which he said was better described as "brainwashing", was effective in deterring terrorism.
Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network spokesman Waleed Kadous also had reservations.
"It's important to highlight that already many respected scholars in the Muslim community are informally deconstructing terrorism and condemning terrorism to their congregations already," he told AFP.
"If it's voluntary we have no objection to it, but the problem once you make it compulsory is it just won't work, because religious leaders who do so will be seen as instruments of the government and will lose credibility to those people."
Australia, a close ally of the US with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, has strengthened its anti-terror laws since the 9/11 attacks.
Most Australian Muslims blame Prime Minister John Howard for fostering an image of the minority as the enemy within through his hard-line policies.
Rights groups condemned as draconian Howard's new anti-terror law while pundits have blamed the law for creating an atmosphere of fear toward the Muslim minority.
Australia is home to some 300,000 Muslims out of a population of 20 million, most of whom live in the biggest city of Sydney
03-10-2006, 01:20 AM
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