Neil El-Kadomi is exhausted. The chairman of Parramatta Mosque in New South Wales, Australia, slumps into his office chair behind a desk littered with half-drunk coffees and the remnants of takeout food. "It's been hectic," he says, breathing deeply.
A little over a week ago, 15-year-old Muslim schoolboy Farhad Jabar walked out of the mosque following a lunchtime prayer meeting and down to the NSW Police Headquarters. There he shot dead unarmed 58-year-old Chinese-born police accountant Curtis Cheng, only to be gunned down moments later by police. In his wake he has left a tangled web of hate and confusion for El-Kadomi and authorities to sort through. "Either he was harassed at school, or his parents didn't listen to him, or he had psychological problems. He goes out and someone says, 'You want to be a hero? Do this.' So to be known, he does this. It's not [due to] politics," he says.
The shooting of Cheng has been labeled a lone-wolf terror attack with likely links to the Islamic State. In the days after the shooting, El-Kadomi's Mosque came under fire for having allegedly been the place where Jabar was given the gun—something he disputes. In any case the damage was done, and an anti-Islamist protests was held outside the Mosque on Friday.
It's hard to imagine a more secular, multicultural vision than that the one you get stepping off the train in Parramatta. Indians, Sri Lankans, Afghans, Lebanese, Thais, Vietnamese, Chinese, Anglos, Italians, and Greeks wine and dine the Friday evening away. The only disturbance is the loud chop-chop-chop of the police helicopter monitoring the protest and counter-protest at either end of Marsden Street.
One of these anti-Islam protestors is Keith Piper, a pastor from the nearby Liberty Baptist Church in Carlingford. He walks around the perimeter distributing leaflets with highlighted passages from the Quran that instruct violence against non-Muslims.
"I'm against the Quran, which poisons normal peoples' brains and turns them into terrorists," he tells me. "(Jabar) attended the mosque and the mosque has told him he has to kill infidels in order to get into paradise."
While we talk the protest reaches a flashpoint when a group of Middle Eastern teenagers, roughly the age of the shooter, approach police with their phones out, taking photos of the officers and laughing. Police surround the youths and demand they desist, to which the youths respond, "Why? You do this to us!" and continue laughing and taking photos. More police confront the youths. One officer has a large tattoo of Jesus on his forearm. Rahim, a 27-year-old Kurdish demolitionist from Auburn, steps into mediate. He asks the teens to please go away, suggesting the police are inflaming the situation by taking the bait. For his troubles he ends up with three cops a few of inches from his face.
"Mate, it's some stupid little 15-year-old who went and got a gun and got excited and killed someone," says Rahim of the shooter. Rahim and Jabar share an ethnicity as Kurds, a group that also happens to be at war with the Islamic State. Why Jabar would carry out an attack in the name of a terrorist group slaughtering his own people is one of the most perplexing questions in this case. "I don't know if someone gave him the gun or what, but he did something stupid and shot a poor old Chinese man who'd done nothing wrong. I'm sure his family is against it, everyone in the Muslim community is against it," says Rahim.
The shooting of Cheng came almost a year to the day since Australia's last teen terror incident. The circumstances are eerily similar; both teens, both acting alone, both hailing from innocuous slices of Australian suburbia, and both striking out at police on their turf. Meanwhile, abroad, of the three Australian suicide bombers who have killed themselves overseas (all since 2013), two were teenagers from suburban Melbourne—one a Muslim, and one a white atheist.
When mosque chairman El-Kadomi told his followers after the shooting that if they can't respect Australian values "they should leave" his sentiments were quickly echoed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who told reporters: "Those who seek to gnaw away at that social fabric are not part of the Australian dream, they are not advancing the interests of our great country."
The problem gnawing at Australia's social fabric would appear to be disaffected youth, generally. This is something I found out firsthand while investigating a bizarre flourish in teenage youth gangs in tropical Tweed Shire back in 2011. "If you come to areas like Bankstown, Lakemba, Parramatta, you get Muslims killing Muslims but it's never called terrorism. It's just stupid," says Rahim, the Kurdish demolitionist.
As the fallout continues over the weekend, with anti-Islamist marches in Bendigo, Hobart, and Sydney, Turnbull has warned against the proliferation of hate toward Muslims while also pledging his support to stamp out terrorism through education.
"We must not vilify or blame the entire Muslim community with the actions of what is, in truth, a very small percentage of violent extremist individuals," he said. "Preventing someone from becoming radicalized in the first place is the most effective defense against terrorism."
The synchronicity of this approach with that of the Islamic community is heartening. "There's hate everywhere in the world, man. You can't get rid of it," says an Australian-born Afghan who didn't want to be named, "but the way to minimize it is to bring out the peace part of Islam. If people take the time to learn it, to understand what it really is—our goal of our religion isn't to kill non-Muslims, which most people think unfortunately. Education solves everything," he says.
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