Since July, the NSW government has been conducting an “audit” of all prayer groups in public schools. Aimed at identifying students susceptible to “extremism”, the state-wide check was announced in response to reports about “playground preaching” at Epping Boys High School, in Sydney’s north-west.
At the time, media reports said that police had received information that a “boy of Afghan heritage was delivering religious sermons to other pupils”. This prompted the NSW Education Department and the police to issue a joint memo, warning principals that they have a duty to report information about suspected radicalisation to a dedicated security hotline.
According to the Education Department’s updated religious education procedures, parents must now provide a permission slip for all voluntary religious activities at schools. The content of prayers must also be monitored, and students are not allowed to “proselytise” or convert others to their religion. Principals from Parramatta, Marsden and Bass high schools have sent letters to Muslim parents outlining the procedures. Permission slips must be signed before their child can participate in prayer at school.
Now, the hysteria about radicalism in schools has found a new outlet with the release of the federal government’s “Radicalisation awareness kit”. The kit, launched by counter-terrorism minister Michael Keenan, is a booklet to be used by teachers, counsellors and others who work with young people.
The kit has been roundly criticised for its ridiculous content – including referring to anti-logging protest as violent extremism. But the absurdity of its content should not distract from its underlying purpose. This campaign is not designed to vilify environmentalists but is aimed squarely at young Muslims.
The prayer group audit and release of the awareness kit have in effect placed all Muslim students on a terror-suspect watch list. Expressing political views about imperialism in the Middle East or racism, or simply praying, can and most likely will be treated as a threat.
This has already had an impact. Recently, a group of students at Bass Hill High School defied the order to produce permission slips to pray. They prayed publicly and without authorisation in the schoolyard. A teacher quickly intervened to shut their prayers down.
One NSW teacher, Reem Allouche, has started an online petition in protest against the audit. “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”, it reads.
She told Red Flag: “The aim seems to be to pit the Muslim community against the wider community, creating a wedge that can be drawn upon for political opportunism. Teachers are from the most trusted professions. With these policies, the government is on the reckless path of destroying two of society’s greatest treasures: the innocence of a child and those they look up to”.
Islamophobia has become so entrenched, it’s now impossible for Muslims to express creativity, dress as they choose or simply perform the duties of prayer without being treated as a terror suspect. Hajj pilgrims leaving Australia were recently the subject of a specific communique from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection about “border clearance advice”. Unsurprisingly, the “border clearance advice” for pilgrims is in theory identical to that for the footy team travelling to Bali for an end of season trip. So why the special memo?
The answer is that there is no limit to the number of memos to be issued, articles to be written and laws to be passed painting Muslims as extremists to be feared. Meanwhile, dropping white phosphorus on civilians in Gaza, bombing the Middle East to oblivion and running concentration camps for refugees is passed off as mainstream and moderate.