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Editorial: Passing connections do not radicalise a mosque

Last updated 05:00 07/06/2014

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OPINION: People should take great care when considering views that an Australian and a New Zealander linked to an al Qaeda terrorist group and killed in Yemen had been radicalised at the mosque in Christchurch.

Mosque leaders say they are shocked and disturbed by the suggestion and that they have a policy of reporting anyone discussing jihad or extremist ideas to the appropriate authorities or the president of the Islamic association.

There is no real evidence that anyone in Christchurch is engaged in anything other than peaceful and religious activities at the mosque and the rest of the population should keep that firmly in mind.

Australian Christopher Havard and dual New Zealand-Australian national Daryl Jones were killed by a missile fired by a US drone in November.

Australia's ABC news reported this week the pair had been on an Australian Federal Police watchlist because of their links to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) terror group. Havard and Jones - who went by the name Muslim bin John - reportedly met in Christchurch after Havard converted to Islam.

Havard's mother and stepfather, Bronwen and Neill Dowrick, said their son joined the local mosque and told them that was where he first encountered radical Islam.

It is more likely that Havard radicalised himself, given the ready availability of extremist material on the internet.

Just because he was attending a local mosque while he was doing so doesn't make the people at the mosque responsible for the progress of his life or his eventual terrorist associations.

Most religions have extremists and an analogy is apt. Say a newcomer to Christchurch attached himself to a local Christian congregation but found more to his liking the reports online of the activities and views of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, which has become a byword for intolerance and Christian extremism.

We would not blame the Christchurch congregation for whatever he chose to do next. The worshippers of the Deans Ave mosque deserve no less consideration.

That is not to say that we can afford to be complacent about the reach of radical ideas into New Zealand.

We may be far away from the world's worst trouble spots, but we are not unconnected to them, and modern connectivity and communications allows the rapid spread of ideas even to the remotest corners of the South Pacific.

Prime Minister John Key has said that the security and intelligence services are alert to the possible radicalisation of people in New Zealand. He also says he does not believe Christchurch is a base for radicalism.

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There are about 2600 people in Christchurch who identify as Muslim, and about 46,000 in New Zealand.

A quarter of them were born in this country; many others come from the Pacific islands.

Some have arrived as refugees escaping the sort of strife that occurs when religious extremism of any hue takes hold.

There have been prominent news stories of late that some ignorant or bigoted people might latch on to - the kidnap of the Nigerian schoolgirls is one; the death sentence given to a Sudanese mother for "apostasy" another.

In fact, these have as much and as little to do with Christchurch Muslims as the history of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland does to Christchurch Christians.

Our local Muslim community are right to be vigilant and it is encouraging to learn they have procedures in place to report disturbing behaviour among people in their midst.

The passing connection with one or two known extremists should be seen for what it is - an aberration.

Now, it is hoped that the Christchurch Muslim community can be left to continue with their devotions in peace.

- The Press

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