Sheikh Mansour is not to be feared

The sheikh, a moderate Shia and Australia’s leading English-speaking Islamic cleric, has been pivotal in containing extremism in this country. He preaches love, tolerance and respect for different races and religions, and has worked for many years toward embedding Australian values into the new migrants who join his 1500-strong Australian congregation.


I deal with angry young people every day.

As an Anglican priest and professional boxer in Dulwich Hill, I teach violent young people self control through fighting.  Time and again I’ve seen these disaffected kids find a sense of worth, discipline and community by entering the ring.

Some of the angriest kids I work with belong to the Muslim community. I’m not surprised. These young people sense discrimination and suspicion every day: they are accused of being terrorists, their dress choices taunted, their safety threatened.

The best way we’ve found to tackle this is by building bridges between our communities. Interfaith outreach brings together Muslim, Jewish, Christian and indigenous leaders to create a dialogue across the religious divide and generate a climate of inclusion for everyone who lives here. The imminent deportation of my friend Sheikh Mansour Leghaei, whom we elected two years ago to head our Interfaith Committee, will put an end to much of this promising work.

Dr Leghaei has lived in Australia since 1994. He, his wife and one of their four children have never been granted permanent residency as the sheikh has received two adverse security assessments from ASIO. His time is now running out.

The sheikh, a moderate Shia and Australia’s leading English-speaking Islamic cleric, has been pivotal in containing extremism in this country. He preaches love, tolerance and respect for different races and religions, and has worked for many years toward embedding Australian values into the new migrants who join his 1500-strong Australian congregation.

Sheikh Mansour is the very force we need in this community.  The threat lies not in the sheikh’s presence in Australia, but in the vacuum which will be left behind once he is gone. Those with more inflammatory views are always ready to fill the gap.

And, for the young people who Dr Leghaei and I have joined to help, the consequences will be devastating. To remove the sheikh will provoke bitterness and entrench paranoia in a community already on the fringes of Australia society.

This is not just the sad case of one man’s battle to remain in Australia. It highlights a lack of natural justice amid a culture of fear and discrimination against Muslims in this country.

Dr Leghaei has never been told why ASIO deems him to be a security threat. Those of us who know him cannot imagine the reasons. He fought for 10 years to have the assessment revised – and in 2007 the High Court found that the rules of procedural fairness and natural justice should not apply to him because he is not a citizen!  Thus it appears only Australian citizens have a right to be treated fairly.

Subsequent events have shown us that there are indeed Islamist terrorist cells operating in Australia, but I am convinced Dr Leghaei is not part of them. If he were indeed a threat, why has he been allowed to live here freely for 16 years?

What has transpired from recent counter-terrorist operations, as important as they were, is an increased level of fear among the Australian community towards Muslims. And it’s this fear that is causing the simmering tension at the grass roots where I work.

Prejudice arises out of fear, and fear thrives upon ignorance. Of course we don’t expect that Christians and Muslims agree on everything. But it is important that we have dialogue and learn from each other, and work together to resolve common concerns in the community.

Mutual understanding and respect are the key to building lasting inter-religious harmony in this country.  We need to build bridges between Muslims and other communities. To deport Dr Leghaei is the last thing we should be doing in the name of national security.

First published on ABC’s Drum website – March 2010

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.

www.FatherDave.org

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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