Here in NZ Islam normalises terrorism, and here’s another example of the media who promote the radicals as being tame by their own standards. The Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association took off during their time based in Avondale, and it’s leader, Te Amorangi Kireka-Whaanga, became one of the top 500 Muslims internationally for the money he was bring in from the Halal industry and positive publicity he was gaining for Islamic State.
Tomorrow, ministers consider new measures to stop Kiwis joining foreign battle fields, as intelligence agencies put Muslims under extra scrutiny. Those in the firing line speak to reporters Tony Wall and Blair Ensor.
In a small garage behind a semi-detached brick house in Avondale, West Auckland, a motley group of Muslim worshippers gather for lunchtime prayers.
They include adolescent boys, a European convert and elderly immigrants.
The one everyone looks up to is a striking figure dressed in white with a grey beard: Sheikh Abu Abdullah, also known as Abu Hamam.
Depending on who you talk to, the Egyptian sheikh who arrived here in 1998 is a firebrand preacher encouraging his followers to jihad against “infidels”, or a good man with a unique ability to engage youth.
Two men who’d attended Abdullah’s classes had their passports cancelled before they could board a plane to Syria – but he denies encouraging them.
Abdullah has been barred from the Avondale Islamic Centre, and one of his sons, Abdullah Hamam, is charged with threatening to kill members of the New Zealand Muslim Association after the family was trespassed. He has pleaded not guilty.
Another follower, Imran Patel, has also been charged with threatening to kill, and had his passport cancelled.
Patel claims intelligence agencies are harassing innocent people.
“They bug us, they follow us . . . they tell Muslim leaders. ‘we want you to spy for us’,” he says. “Look at everyone here,” he adds, pointing to his friends. “Do we have Kalashnikovs? Do I say ‘I want to kill a non-believer?’ Never I do this.
“We are being oppressed. We just want to live in New Zealand peacefully.”
Patel says innocent people have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan and he questions why New Zealand would want to get involved in Syria and Iraq.
“We are peaceful, but we will attack when we are attacked. The whole world now will be engulfed in flames sooner or later because you cannot attack people . . . for too long and they are going to do nothing about it.”
Abdullah Hamam says his father has been under scrutiny by authorities, but only because a rival faction at the mosque made “ridiculous” allegations that he was teaching extreme Islam and grooming youngsters to fight.
“My father is a very old-fashioned person, he’s very kicked back, he doesn’t have extreme views.
“He’s one of the only Muslim religious leaders who likes to engage the youth.”
Hamam is concerned by the scrutiny the Muslim community is coming under from intelligence agencies.
“They are trying to do their job, to ensure that nothing dodgy is going on, I can totally understand that. But when you’re just targeting Muslims and you don’t have evidence or facts, it’s wrong.”
Sheik Abdullah says Muslims in New Zealand just want to live peacefully. He cannot understand why Prime Minister John Key is planning law changes to combat terrorists. “What is terrorism, what does it mean? We don’t have tank, we have nothing. [But] America attack Somalia and Iraq, why [does it] attack people in their land?”
He laughs when asked if he preaches jihad. “Jihad in Islam is not meaning to kill people, jihad is to do with freedom.”
Does he have a message for Key?
“I don’t think about the Prime Minister. Our life is not in his hands – it is in the hands of God.”
Across town at a cafe in Mt Eden, Key is talking to the Sunday Star-Times about Islamic State, homegrown foreign fighters and domestic threat levels. As newly minted Minister for National Security, these are matters that occupy a good part of his time.
He is disturbed by a “worryingly large number” of New Zealanders wanting to join Islamic State or influenced by its “brutal” propaganda. He won’t give numbers.
“The vast, overwhelming bulk of Muslims are peaceful, good, decent people. We’ve got an extreme element in Isis and they are attracting a [local] group that is radicalised . . . but they are the outliers. The problem is, they’re growing in number and brutal in what they do.”
Muslim groups in Australia have called for stronger anti-hate crime legislation to counter-balance the impact of tougher anti-terror laws, but Key says he does not sense any open hostility to the Muslim community here. There is much greater unrest among ethnic communities in Australia, he says, where Muslims feel persecuted, caught up in counter-terrorism actions.
The challenge in New Zealand is to continue to “reach out” to the Muslim community, and to balance human rights against law changes around foreign fighters.
Key strongly suggests New Zealand will get involved in the fight against Islamic State in some way: “If we were to do absolutely nothing how credible would that be, when you consider all of our traditional allies are looking to get much more involved. It would be very odd for New Zealand to do nothing.”
But Federation of Islamic Associations president Dr Anwar Ghani says New Zealand should avoid joining the conflict.
“I’ve seen that the other countries that have intervened, they have radicalised some of the people living in those countries. So we are better off not being involved directly.”
Ghani says few Kiwis want to fight in Syria. “We’ve heard through media and one or two intelligence [sources] that there may be . . . three or four people who have gone and joined in.”
University of Otago senior lecturer and former Afghan cabinet minister Dr Najibullah Lafraie, who lectures about Islamic militants, questions the validity of recent terror raids in Australia.
“Was that a genuine anti-terror operation or was that part of a strategy to justify the unpopular foreign policy decision? In New Zealand I don’t see any sign of terrorism whatsoever. There is so much strong opinion against Isis because of what they are doing in the name of Islam – the atrocities against innocent people.”
Lafraie says sending New Zealand troops to the Middle East could make Islamic State more popular among some members of the Muslim community who might perceive the Government as anti-Islamic. “Even if they don’t have any tendency towards those areas there is the danger that they might start exploring those ideas.
“I believe we are lucky to be located in such a far away place and to have such a reputation as being a fair and just society. We should rely more on that rather than resorting to military and security measures which further alienate people.”
1. Daryl Jones: Grew up in a Christian family in Christchurch before moving to Sydney to work as an engineer for Qantas. Changed his name to Muslim bin John and travelled to Yemen, where he was killed last November in a US drone strike alongside al-Qaeda militants.
2. Christopher Havard: Died alongside Jones. Suspected of involvement in the Al Qaeda kidnapping of three westerners in Yemen in 2012. Australian, but his family claim he was radicalised at a mosque in Christchurch.
3. Mark Taylor: Known as Mohammad Daniel and Abu Abdul-Rahman, Taylor was arrested in Pakistan in 2009 for trying to enter lawless Waziristan. He later told media he only wanted to find a wife. Earlier this year he travelled to Syria for a jihad “adventure” and burned his passport.
4. Amin Mohamed: The former AUT business student is on trial in Melbourne charged with preparing to travel to Syria to fight. Intercepted phone conversations had him discussing travel arrangements with two other alleged recruits in New Zealand.