By Philippa McDonald

A new social media campaign has been launched to counter messages of extremism within the Australian Somali community.

Religious leaders and youth workers have teamed up with the Community Relations Commission to send a positive message to young people who are struggling with a sense of belonging.

Malik Osman, 24, who came to Australia when he was three, is leading the podcast project.

“What we try to do with the Somali podcasts is try to promote positive messages to try and challenge any negative or bad messages that are out there,” he said.

Mr Osman says the podcasts focus on home-grown success stories and engaging with the “mainstream”.

“You’re a Somali, you’re a black person, you’re a Muslim. All of these things can coexist and there should not be any strife. You can have a balance between all three,” he said.

When three men were convicted in 2011 of conspiring to plan a terrorist attack at Holdsworthy Army base, it sent shockwaves through the Somali community.

All three men had been members of the Somalia-based terrorist organisation Al Shabaab, which has links to Al Qaeda .

Melbourne-based Sheikh Issa Musse, from the Virgin Mary Mosque in Melbourne, says the word “shabaab” is attractive to young people because it means “the youth”.

In 2011 the Federal Government moved quickly to list Al Shabaab as a terrorist organisation.

“Before the legislation came into being people were attracted by the Shabaab and their ideas,” Sheikh Musse said.

“It’s hard to get a young person who openly sympathises with the Shabaab to say so openly. The first thing to do is to talk to the family to make sure they’re aware of this change and talk to the person to canvas why.”

But he says religious leaders can only do so much and social media can play a crucial role.

“They are on it day and night,” he said.

“The young are susceptible to ideas – if there’s social media they can connect.

“There is a proverb in Somali [that] says ‘have information first, then you will be able to make the right decision’. So once the message is out people can make up their own mind and see where they fit.”

‘Identity struggle’

The Community Relations Commission’s has almost 1,000 members.

Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has labelled it “an online alternative to violent extremist ideologies”.

Mr Osman says it is about urging young Somalis to find alternative ways to resolve complicated issues.

“What we are trying to say is success is achievable in Australia, there are a lot of opportunities and if you do take the right step and if you take the opportunity in both hands you can be one of these successful young people, making a great life,” he said.

One of the podcast’s participants, artist Idil Abdullahi, says a sense of belonging is missing in a lot of young Somali lives.

“You realise all of a sudden that you look different – you don’t belong here,” she said.

“You somehow have this feeling of not belonging here and it’s been quite a difficult journey.

“I feel a lot of the younger kids are growing up, the only reflection they see is the poverty and war and terrorism and they don’t want to identify as a Somali kid.

“They just want to run away because they don’t see anything positive.”

Ms Abdullahi, now 33 years old, came to Australia when she was a child.

“Identity is one of the things you struggle with and I also have a daughter and I don’t want her to struggle with that for the rest of her life,” she said.

Over the past two decades almost 8,000 people have fled war-torn Somalia to call Australia home.

Source: ABC