Howard Defends Spying on Mosques, Islamic Scholars

Australian Premier John Howard
CANBERRA, August 25, 2005 ( & News Agencies) – Australian Premier John Howard has defended his government's right to send people into mosques and Islamic schools under the pretext of fighting terrorism, drawing immediate rebuke from the Muslim minority.

"We have a right to know whether there is, within any section of the Islamic community, a preaching of the virtues of terrorism, whether any comfort or harbor is given to terrorism within that community," Howard told Australian radio, Reuters reported.

Howard, however, denied any intention to interfere in the freedom of religious practice in the country.

"I have no desire and nor is it the Government's intention to interfere in any way with the freedom or practice of religion," he told Southern Cross Radio.

The remarks came one day after Howard met with 13 leaders of the Muslim minority in Australia, who pledged to defend the country against "terrorism".

The two sides also agreed to examine the training of Muslim imams and what is taught in Islamic schools as part of a crackdown on the propagation of extremist views in the name of Islam.

Australian Treasurer Peter Costello, seen as heir apparent to Howard, said Wednesday Muslims who do not respect secularism should leave the country.

"If those are not your values, if you want a country which has Shari`ah law or a theocratic state, then Australia is not for you," he said on national television.

Muslims, estimated at 300,000, make up just 1.5 percent of Australia's population of 20 million.

Muslims Rebuke

Howard's defense of monitoring mosques and Islamic schools in the county has drawn fire from the Muslim minority.

"Such hardline talk only isolates some parts of the Muslim community even further and makes it harder for cooperation between the Muslim community and the government," Waleed Kadous, convenor of the Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network, told Australian Associated Press.

He stressed that the Australian government should be consulting more with the Muslim minority in Australia.

Australian Muslims are preparing for an all-inclusive meeting to consider a plan of self-policing young Muslims in the country.

Following the July 7 terrorist attacks in London, Australia has been contemplating tougher anti-terror legislation.

Australian Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison has proposed amending laws to enable security authorities to prosecute imams involved in religious preaching and writing "inciting violence".

Australian Muslims have decried anti-terror measures, which include detaining people on terror-related suspicion for up to seven days and questioning them for up to 48 hours without charges.

They maintain that security measures create a climate of fear and apprehension among the Muslim minority in the country.

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