The Sydney Opera House and The Rocks would be locations to visit and learn about Sydney’s early history and cultural triumphs.
The Sydney Opera House and The Rocks would be locations to visit and learn about Sydney’s early history and cultural triumphs.

Cultural immersion plan to stop Muslim youth being radicalised

Young Muslims at risk of being radicalised by terrorists would be given free tours of Australian cultural icons such as the Sydney Opera House and parliament under a plan by Islamic leaders to turn them away from ­extremism.

The tours, which would aim to "re-engage" disaffected youth with broader society, were among a raft of ideas presented to Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a meeting with Islamic leaders last week after Melbourne's deadly Bourke Street attack.

The suggestion comes despite several of the suggested landmark sites, such as Melbourne's Federation Square, already being the focus of thwarted plots, or involved in brushes with previous terror attacks, such as NSW parliament, which had to close to the public during 2014's Lindt Cafe Siege.

Other proposals included a hotline for members of the Muslim community to dob in friends and relatives who showed signs of radicalisation, and enlisting community leaders to be mentors to youth at risk.

The NSW state parliament in Sydney. Picture: AAP
The NSW state parliament in Sydney. Picture: AAP

The meeting went ahead last Thursday despite a boycott by some of Australia's most senior Islamic leaders in response to comments Mr Morrison made after the Bourke Street attack and the arrest last week of three men accused of an ISIS-inspired plot in Melbourne.

Dr Jamal Rifi, a respected leader in the Sydney Muslim community who helped collect ideas for the meeting, said the proposal for visits to iconic places involved giving vouchers for free trips to ­parents and children who ­attended information meetings to help identify signs of radicalisation.

Muslim community leader Dr Jamal Rifi helped collect ideas for the meeting of Islamic leaders with the Prime Minister. Picture: Chris Pavlich
Muslim community leader Dr Jamal Rifi helped collect ideas for the meeting of Islamic leaders with the Prime Minister. Picture: Chris Pavlich

The places could include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the War Memorial in Canberra, Federation Square and the Islamic Museum, and state parliament houses.

"Mr Morrison said it was a thumbs-up in principle and the proposals were music to his ears," Dr Rifi said.

"If we foil one terror attack and catch one lone wolf, it will be work and money well spent."

A spokesman for Mr Morrison said the Prime Minister welcomed the ideas.

"The Prime Minister was encouraged by the willingness to work together to address these serious ­issues," he said.

In the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra the story of one person is told at the Last Post Ceremony. Picture: AAP
In the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra the story of one person is told at the Last Post Ceremony. Picture: AAP

But psychologist Dr Rose Cantali, an expert on Muslim boys and their connections to school, said relying on parents and community leaders to spot the signs of radicalisation was doomed to fail.

"Parents don't always know if their child is disengaged, it's the teachers who are trained to spot the signs," she said.

"Drugs and mental health problems are often an issue among extremists and getting counsellors and experts into the home won't work - we need a group that will look at every case on merit to decide best practise for each individual family."

 

Visiting targets of previously thwarted terror attacks like Melbourne’s Federation Square would also be part of the plan. Picture: AAP
Visiting targets of previously thwarted terror attacks like Melbourne’s Federation Square would also be part of the plan. Picture: AAP

 

The Islamic Museum of Australia would also be on the list of cultural tours for young Muslims.
The Islamic Museum of Australia would also be on the list of cultural tours for young Muslims.

 

The community leaders' ideas are now being compiled into a more formal proposal to be presented to Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Minister David Coleman.

Nick O'Brien, associate professor of counter terrorism at Charles Sturt University, said the security risks would have to be "tightly" assessed before allowing people at risk of radicalisation to tour government buildings.

"The biggest problem is the interest factor - what young person wants to visit a museum? That's not a way to engage someone who feels disconnected."