Muslim leaders are furious at Tony Abbott’s suggestion that the community does not do enough to stamp out extremism, saying the statement is the “last card” of an embattled leader who is using dog-whistle politics to “inflame racism”.
On Monday Abbott delivered a speech on national security, in which he said: “I’ve often heard western leaders describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.”
The head of the Arab Council of Australia, Randa Kattan, said the comments were “promoting hatred and inflaming racism”.
Kattan said she had seen a sharp increase in racism leveled at Muslim Australians since the Martin Place siege in Sydney last year, and that the comments by the prime minister are “dog-whistling to the racists out there”.
“It’s not helpful, it’s divisive. It labels our community as being responsible for the actions of a few,” Kattan said. “It’s not helpful for anyone to make these statements … How much more can we condemn?”
The Islamic Council of Victoria condemned Abbott’s remarks, saying it was one in several community bodies which had constantly denounced all forms of violence and extremism.
“The PM’s lack of acknowledgement or appreciation of Muslim community leaders and members who volunteer their time to consult with all levels of government and enforcement agencies misleads and incites ill-feeling from the broader community,” said the council’s spokesman Kuranda Seyit.
The head of the Lebanese Muslim association, Samier Dandan, said the community “has had enough” of the prime minister using national security as a way of “scapegoating” Muslims.
“This is your last card, prime minister, your last card to save your career.” He told Guardian Australia that Abbott is blaming other leaders for his electoral unpopularity. “Stop asking us what we’ve done [to stamp out extremism],” Dandan said. “Mr Prime Minister, what have you and your government done?”
He said the community had done everything it could, other than getting “a tattoo imprinted on our forehead” to condemn violent extremism. “He’s living in his own cocoon where he wants to look for scapegoats,” Dandan said.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Mohamadu Nawas Saleem, spokesman for the Australian National Imams Council, also condemned Abbott’s statements, saying community intervention had a better successful rate than the security agencies in identifying people who have become extremists.
The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, stepped back from Abbott’s statements in question time on Monday. “I want to applaud members of our Muslim community here in Australia who are taking a stand against extremism and working with the government, with mosques and community groups to keep our people safe,” Bishop said.