Shocking Survey Results From Australia

A Great Fallacy and a Sense of Being Under Siege
The Media is Unfair – What About the Christian Terrorist(s)?
Don’t Call Me a Moderate
Attitudes Towards Terrorism and the War on Terror
Treatment of Australian Muslims
Opinion of Terrorism and Jihad
Opinion on Foreign Policy
Profile of Australian Muslims


Three quarters of Australian Muslims think counter-terrorism policing and laws unfairly target their community according to a new study funded by the Australian Research Council. [1] Muslims in Australia feel under siege. This has generated a community backlash.

The authors say the findings show what the Australian authorities can do to minimise these impacts and generate community cooperation with counter-terrorism strategies.

The police should treat Muslims with respect, impartially, in a trustworthy manner, and give them an opportunity to have a say in counter-terrorism policing. This way Muslims are more likely to trust the police, less likely to feel under siege, and more willing to co-operate.

There is more to the study than this. A lot more.

The study is based on field work of 14 focus groups, totalling 104 participants, and a survey of 800 face-to-face interviews with Muslims living in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. [2]

Part 1 – What Muslims Think

A Great Fallacy and a Sense of Being Under Siege

The focus groups provide examples of what Australian Muslims typically have to say, verbatim comment, about their views and feelings. It gets off to a good start.

The very first verbatim comment in the opening section is:

“…. we need to separate Islam and separate it from people because these al Qaeda and whoever else, they’re the ones who are saying they’re Muslims and doing these acts, but a true Muslim wouldn’t do that ….”

“… and that’s why I think it sounded to me that these events September 11, the London bombings, all the things that are coming…making people think that Muslims all around the world believe in these acts and follow them, we’re all evil, but in actual fact, doesn’t have to be like that, and these groups and whoever else, all they’re doing is causing us grief” (female).

Focus group participants spoke about an atmosphere of fear and suspicion towards Muslims they experienced in their day-day interactions. Several examples are given. One participant remembered how his friend had told him that his non-Muslim neighbour’s son stopped coming to play after 9/11. One young female participant recalled “a couple of weeks ago, I had a customer tell me that he’d rather be served by an Australian”.

The qualitative survey following the focus groups asked no questions to give a measure of the extent of these experiences.

A sense of Muslims being under siege and attack was expressed in a variety of ways.

“Why is the world against us, why are we seen to be the bad people?…God does not accept people blowing themselves up in the name of God. …. The whole notion is to destroy Islam and its followers. The whole world is against us.” (female).

For some participants it reflected a long history of persecution against Islam and was interpreted as part of a broader effort by governments to suppress Muslims.

“…it’s the same old story of them just lop siding the news and just singling out the Muslims because you [i.e. western governments] simply don’t like them.”

The study provides no elucidation of this belief in a “history of persecution”. The historical dimension of some of the results is discussed below.

The Media is Unfair – What About the Christian Terrorist(s)?

The focus groups concentrated on a number of topics including the “Media”. There was a strong belief across the groups that media reporting exacerbated the stigmatisation of Muslims. A male participant said:

“I think the media has a big impact on the Muslim community here. Every time we watch media, they associate Islam with the terrorism, they say Islamic terrorism, Islamic terrorism, Islamic terrorists. They don’t say Christian terrorists, they don’t say for example like Jewish terrorist, although we have seen lots of Christians they are doing terrorist acts… they want to show that Muslim and Islam is a source of terrorism, so this has a big impact on the way people are thinking.”

And another said: “I think the media is very hypocritical….You get a guy in Norway [in reference to Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011] who kills so many people and he’s just sick, he’s not – whereas if it was a Muslim guy it would have been he’s a terrorist.”

As invidious as it is one has to ask just how many Christian terrorists are there compared with Muslim terrorists? How many Breiviks have there been? Is there a trans-national Christian organisation such as al Qaeda responsible for terrorism on an industrial scale?

The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) [3] gives a wide definition to terrorism: “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation”.

Worldwide there are thousands of causes and organisations involved in such violence. In a high proportion of incidents the perpetrator is simply listed as “unknown” and it is easy to come up with a variety of statistical conclusions, but what is very clear is that in 2012 and 2013, for example, the major proportion of terrorist outrages occurred in Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries, 74% of 8440 incidents in 2012 and 76% of 11,952 in 2013. There is good reason to associate the label “terrorist” with Islam.

Concentrating on large scale “terrorism” (like blowing up an aircraft) carried out for a religious reason or with a religious justification in the shape of attacks on innocent civilians in Western countries or places frequented by Westerners, Islam wins handsomely.

Focus group participants also complained generalisations made in the media about Islam and terrorism, distorted the fact there were many different denominations and “branches” of Islam, all of which did not interpret or practice Islam in the same way.

It would be interesting to know what they meant by this. Are they trying to say that some interpretations of Islam permit violence (“terrorism”) to further Islamic objectives? This would of course be at odds with the “no true Muslim” explanation mentioned above. Table 4 in the next section shows 26% of Australian Muslims believe the concept Jihad in Islam supports use of violence as a means to an end.

Don’t Call Me a Moderate

Australian Muslims don’t like the “moderate” label. The term is often used to mean Muslims who are anti-terrorist but when used by the media, governments or police, it can give the impression Muslims are being told how they should practice Islam. As one participant put it:

“When I hear the word – the term moderate Muslim, it makes me think of a lazy Muslim. . …. So to call us moderate Muslims is a bit of in your face and it’s something that’s not appreciated by the majority of Muslims” (male) .

And another: “I do think it’s unhelpful, because I identify as a Muslim. I don’t identify as a moderate Muslim. I identify as Muslim, period. I identify as Muslim because I understand that Muslim – sorry, Islam – teaches me peace and it teaches me to be a good person and to conduct my way – myself in a way that is fair to everybody around me, fair to myself. So yeah, it’s just – I think it’s an unnecessary label, again” (female).

It would have been useful here to say more about the meaning of “moderate”. Terrorism can be viewed as violence in the cause of big things, such as the removal of infidels from Muslim lands, the declared objective of al Qaeda. Some Muslims also believe in and practice violence in regard to “small things” on a human scale; flogging as a punishment, amputation for theft, death for apostasy, death for blasphemy, stoning for adultery, etc.

To most non-Muslims the term moderate means these ancient violent practices have been dropped. Would Australian Muslims be happy to be called moderate in this case or are they, as “regular” Muslims, in favour of, for example, the 1000 lashes being administered to Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger, for ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s religious police and insulting Islamic religious figures. [4]

Attitudes Towards Terrorism and the War on Terror

The study aimed to understand how the Muslim community felt about terrorist groups and events such as 9/11, 7/7, the Bali Bombings and other high profile terrorist events and whether they believed Islamists distort the Islamic religion, and what they saw as motivating their actions.

Participants were adamant that terrorists who called themselves Muslims were distorting the meaning of Islam as a religion of peace. As one respondent stated: “They weren’t practicing Muslims.”

Other comments included: “These guys [terrorists] are minorities. They don’t speak on behalf of one point something billion Muslims around the world. You know what I mean?” (male).

“There are a lot of people that are doing these things [in reference to terrorism] are obviously not true Muslim because as earlier we spoke, Islam means peace, so if anybody says that I’m a Muslim and goes to war and does things like that, is really a non believer” (female).

“…a person cannot commit suicide and blow themselves up and other innocent people up it’s completely, haram, suicide is haram, and the scholars have absolutely condemned it, so I mean that’s wrong” (female).

The “no true Muslim” belief runs very deep.

The response to the question “what motivates individuals or groups to commit terrorist acts” is equally strong.

In the opinion of participants the act of terrorism could not be divorced from broader events that fuelled resentment and frustration among Muslim populations. These events included:

[1] The Israel and Palestine conflict and the death of Palestinians due to what respondents regarded as Israeli aggression and unwillingness on the part of the international community to sanction Israel.

[2] The death of Muslims in wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and

[3] The lack of public and political outcry shown towards Muslim victims of overseas conflicts and government oppression compared to other religious on non-religious groups.

The quote below from a young female Muslim, sums up these sentiments expressed across the focus groups and the level of frustration they evoked:

“…..a lot of it is political and it’s – you have to – you can’t just go from one thing and say, that’s why it’s started. So you can’t just start from September 11 and say, oh, September 11 happened and that’s when it started. Yeah, we have to really look back into history and look at the history of occupation and invasion throughout the Middle East, which resulted in September 11.”

“…. it’s really interesting how since September 11 happened till now, every year it’s always – people remember it …. and say that we lost so many people. But people – the invasion of Iraq does not – there is no such thing about, oh, maybe we did kill millions of people, not 1000, millions … no one talks about that. Maybe we should commemorate that loss and that invasion day. Nope, you never hear that.”

“About Afghanistan, more than 30 years of occupation and invasion throughout history from different countries. You never hear about that. That’s the injustice. That’s where injustice happens and that’s when you feel a lot of – I feel, inside, I feel that there’s a lot of – what’s the word? There’s like I’m boiling from inside. It infuriates me” (female).

A male participant also summed it up well: “Every terrorist act we need to think what is the reason behind that first of all, the oppression against Islam everywhere around the world, every Muslim country has been attacked in the world from [inaudible] and now Syria and Libya, and after all the Muslim countries in a mess because of the western countries, so they play a big role” (male).

All this displays a shocking ignorance and a strikingly one sided view of history. The present writer in a few words here is not going to throw any new light on the Israel and Palestine conflict, but it’s worth a few remarks on the big picture to counter a belief in a “history of occupation and invasion throughout the Middle East”, and the deaths of “millions” of Muslims caused by or at the hands of outsiders.

The Islamic world including the Middle East has governed itself since the mid-sixties, and the invasions, occupations, and Muslim deaths since then have been overwhelmingly the work of Muslims themselves. Here are a few examples: Pakistan and Bangladesh (1,250,000 deaths); the Iran-Iraq war (1,000,000); Saddam against minorities (300,0000); Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey (300,000); Islamists and Algerian government (200,000); Invasion of Kuwait (140,000); the Lebanese civil war (150,000).

There is a range of estimates regarding the Iraq war since 2003 and the ensuing insurgencies and civil conflicts. Respectable sources do not run into “millions”. The greatest number of deaths is the result of Muslims fighting amongst themselves for tribal or religious reasons.

Further research to establish if the views of Australian Muslims are based on any reasonable reading and knowledge of the facts, and their reactions to other historical accounts would be helpful. [5] How much of their outlook is the result of cultural baggage rather than genuine historical knowledge?

“Ignorance of History Fuels Australian Muslim Backlash Against Counter-Terrorism Laws” would be a reasonable headline for a report on this study.

If they had a better grasp of history, would they be more inclined to understand and support the Australian counter-terrorism policing and laws? Perhaps the Australian government should undertake a public education campaign. Perhaps that would be just as effective as polite and civilised policing.

The above is worrying but there is worse.

For a minority of participants the “war on terror” arises from “manufactured events” being used by governments and powerful interests to discredit Islam and further justify the singling out of Muslim communities. These sentiments were particularly pronounced among young participants.

The comment below reflects this theme and its relationship to the ongoing perception that rose throughout the focus groups that Islam was under attack:

“But first, can we confirm that these people committed these crimes. How do you know that some Zionist movement or American people haven’t paid their people to commit these crimes [in reference the September 11 attacks] in the name of Islam to show how bad we are?”

“We must create a balanced view and all terrorist crimes can be confirmed that Muslims committed them. September 11 attacks to me are very suspicious, when you hear that many hundreds of people where [sic] not in the building at the time of the planes crashing into them. …. I really hate what is going on at the moment, as we, the Muslims are being targeted every single day, people are looking down at us, they hate us, we always have to give reasons to why this happened” [in reference to acts of terrorism] (male).

Any society produces eccentrics, nutcases, and people with strange beliefs, and usually they can be ignored, but here the authors of this study go to the trouble of drawing our attention to what this “minority of participants” has to say. A significant number of Australian Muslims think like this.

Truly, a shocking result.

And as if to rub it in the March 23 edition “The Age”, an Australian newspaper, carries the news that the principal of Victoria’s largest Islamic school told students not to join Islamic State because it is a plot by Western countries. He told the newspaper he believed IS was a scheme by Israel and America to control oil in the Middle East. Unbelievable, except it backs up the findings of this study. [6]

Part 2 – How the Numbers Add Up

This section summarises results from the 800 face-to-face interviews with Muslims living in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The aim of this part of survey was to assess how Muslims in Australia see themselves in society and how they believe others in society view them. The Tables show the percentage of Muslims giving a particular reply to a question. [7]


Muslim Australians identify much more strongly with their religion than they do with being an Australian.

Table 1 shows pride in being a Muslim has the edge over pride in being an Australian. And Table 2 shows seeing oneself as a Muslim first clearly beats seeing oneself as an Australian first.

Table 1
I am proud to be: Strongly
Disagree Neither Agree Strongly
An Australian 0 2 14 48 37
Muslim 0 0 2 39 60
Table 2
I see myself as a Strongly
Disagree Neither Agree Strongly
Muslim First 0 2 6 33 59
An Australian First 4 22 21 25 28

Treatment of Australian Muslims

More than half of Australian Muslims think they are treated fairly at work, at school and by the authorities. There is a degree of reserve associated with this, not many going for “very fair” just “fair” and a quarter staying neutral.

A clear majority think they are treated unfairly in the media.

Table 3
How Fairly Do You Think Muslims Are Treated? Very
Unfair Neutral Fair Very
At Work or in School 3 11 27 43 17
When Dealing With Authorities 3 12 29 39 17
In the Media 32 27 12 20 10

Opinion of Terrorism and Jihad

21% think terrorists sometimes have valid grievances, but more interesting is the 26% who think “the concept of Jihad in Islam supports use of violence as a means to an end” and the 25% who say Jihad is more than a “personal struggle for righteousness”.

This suggests a quarter or so of Muslim Australians believe the use of violence is justified in furthering the aims of Islam. So much for the “religion of peace” and the “no true Muslim” conceit.

Table 4 – Here are some statements that describe different views on terrorism and the Muslim religion
What most closely resembles your own view? Strongly
Disagree Neither Agree Strongly
Terrorists sometimes have valid grievances 32 35 14 15 6
Islam is often misinterpreted as a religion that advocates violence 0 1 2 30 67
The concept of Jihad in Islam supports use of violence as a means to an end 28 32 15 16 10
Jihad is solely a personal struggle for righteousness 3 22 27 35 13
Jihad is a militarized struggle that can be conducted by individuals 63 29 5 2 1

Opinion on Foreign Policy

Over a third (36%) of Muslim Australians believe the “war on terror” is a “war on Islam”. It seems however polite the police are it will not earn the support of these Muslims for Australia’s counter-terrorism laws and procedures.

Table 5 – Here are some statements that describe some people’s views of Australia’s international policies
What most closely resembles your own view? Strongly
Disagree Neither Agree Strongly
Australia made the right decision to align itself with the US with respect to military force in Afghanistan 27 53 15 5 1
Australia made the right decision to align itself with the US with respect to military force in Iraq 34 53 9 4 1
The War on Terror is a War on Islam 30 22 12 24 12

Profile of Australian Muslims

The survey also collected demographic and profile data of the sample which the organisers of the study had gone to considerable lengths to make representative of Australian Muslims. Table 8 delivers one more shock.

English is not the main language spoken at home for well over a half (57%) of Australian Muslims. This is a stark indicator of the troubling gap between many of Australia’s Muslims and the rest of the Australian people.

It suggests other questions that should be explored. If they speak Arabic at home do they get their news from Arabic sources? Do they take in the poisonous propaganda that pours out of the Middle East especially in regard to the Israel and Palestine conflict. [8]

Table 6 Yes No
Were you born in Australia? 58 42
Table 7
How would you best describe your ancestry? %
Lebanese 38
Pakistani 11
Indonesian 10
Iraqi 7
Egyptian 5
28 other ancestries Each less than 4%
Table 8 Yes No
Is English the main language you speak at home? 43 57


As this report concludes, polite and civilised policing can do a lot to encourage Muslim citizens to support Australia’s counter-terrorism laws and measures. It might be added this is true for all citizens who probably believe polite and civilised policing should be the norm for everyone.

It does not address the bigger barrier to support and co-operation for counter-terrorism laws and measures. A substantial proportion of Australian Muslims out of ignorance of history, cultural baggage, and their religious beliefs, in their hearts or in their heads, don’t agree with them.


[1] “Avoiding Community Backlash in the fight against terrorism: Research report” March 2015: Kristina Murphy, School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Griffith University; Adrian Cherney, School of Social Sciences, The University of Queensland; Julie Barkworth, School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Griffith University. Available here.

Media coverage: The Guardian (UK); The Conversation; Islam Today.

[2] The focus groups were carried out between October 2013 and September 2014 and the survey between 17th of June and the 9th of August 2014

[3] The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) at the University of Maryland. See here.

[4] Amnesty International UK – Saudi Arabia, Free Raif Badawi. See here.

[5] Knowledge of earlier history is relevant. What do Australian Muslims know of the centuries of failure of Islamic government to make political, economic or social progress that culminated in the Caliphate’s declaration of war on Britain and her allies in 1914? The foundations and divisions of the Middle East we know today were laid during those centuries of backwardness.

Do they know who abolished the Caliphate, the act that so exercised bin Laden? And, what do Australian Muslims make of Anzac day?

[6] “Islamic State is a plot by Western countries, Victoria’s Al-Taqwa College principal tells students”. Media coverage: The Age; Brisbane Times; 3AW.

[7] The survey consisted of four sections. Section 1 collected data on the demographic background of the respondents. Section 2 assessed how Muslims in Australia see themselves in society and how they believe others in society view them. Sections 3 and 4 covered Muslims’ attitudes toward the police and the policing of terrorism. Only sections 1 and 2 are summarised here.

[8] “Corrupting the land”. Imad Hamato, Professor of Quranic Studies, University of Palestine in Gaza, and the host ‎of a weekly PA TV program on Islam. See here.