13 August 2014

Muslim communities must face up to bad apples

From The Australian, August 14, 2014, by Tanveer Ahmed:

AS a psychiatrist who visits jails, I see a lot of overlap between locals who are lured towards terror and many clients from Middle Eastern backgrounds I see in the legal ­system.  
While the cries for calm and cohesion are laudable and the fears among the Muslim majority of being tarnished by a tiny minority appropriate, there remains a wholesale denial within sections of the Muslim community that the bad apples have any connection to the apple tree. Khaled Sharrouf was not an isolated individual, but a man with a family which was linked to a community.

There remains a marked difference in the way males are raised within some Lebanese groups which predisposes them to greater acts of anti-social behaviour. It is a fairly specific segment of the Lebanese community and a result of the migration of poorer farmers and lower-class Lebanese Muslims after the civil war in 1975. Their numbers and concentration are greatest in southwestern Sydney.

There is a rampant anti-social character to some youths from this segment which stems in part from unsuccessful child rearing. The horrific moves towards terror acts can be seen as an ideological extension of a propensity towards bad behaviour, combined with an unshakable victim mentality.

There are clear trends in the ­clients I see from Arab groups in jails. They come from large families. The fathers were often absent while they worked unskilled jobs trying to provide. The mothers lacked the extended family support they may have had in their ancestral lands. Parenting focused on the daughters, for in the world the mothers knew girls needed more discipline and attention for opportunity and marriage to beckon. The men were placed on a pedestal with few behavioural limits. The relatively absent fathers, who might have disciplined the sons, compounded the problems.

I see further key psychological differences among these groups, particularly the Lebanese or the children of refugees from Iraqi or Afghan backgrounds. They are likely to see anger in different ways to Westerners or migrants from more educated ethnic groups. While expressions of anger and threats are a quick way to lose face in polite Western society, it is more acceptable within Arab groups. At its worst, calm, measured responses to conflict may be seen as weak.

This is outlined by Danish psychologist Nicolai Sennell’s groundbreaking work visiting Muslim criminals in jail, where he makes reference to the Arab notion of “holy anger”, which is completely foreign to English.

Another key difference is the psychological idea of “locus of control”. This refers to whether we believe our lives are driven primarily by internal or external factors.

Western thinking teaches that we have some control of our destinies. In its most optimistic forms, it is the basis for the self-help industry. Applying these kinds of ideas to my Muslim patients, particularly first-generation or less educated migrants, is extremely difficult. There is simply no such concept in Arab cultures.

What Arab cultures have are strict external rules, traditions and laws for human behaviour. They have a God that decides their life’s course. “Inshallah” follows every statement about future plans: if God wills it to occur. They have powerful Muslim clerics who set directions for their community every Friday. These clerics dictate political views, child-rearing behaviour and whether to integrate into Western societies.

In societies shaped under Islamic influences there is little emphasis on guilt and a greater likelihood to demand that society adapt to one’s own wishes.

Muslim youths have unique difficulties in coming to terms with their identity, especially when they have conflicting value systems at home compared with school or work. This can produce greater deviance, a point better measured in Britain where South Asian youth suffer from mental illness at three times the rate of the general population.

But there are Muslim youths from many different countries living in Sydney. Other Arab Australians from Egypt, Jordan or Iran do not have the same problems. If you meet them, they will be quick to point out that their community’s migration was from a more skilled base. They had smaller families, focused on their children’s education and integrated more easily.

There is no doubt Muslim communities throughout the Western world have been under the pump since the age of terror unleashed itself this century. But for all the ­interfaith work, awareness building and cries for tolerance, there continues to be a significant tendency to externalise all blame.