Minister Dutton says that 2/3 of people recently charged with terrorism in Australia have Lebanese Muslim backgrounds. However, the first rule when considering dramatic statistics should be to think “compared to what”. In this case, where else might we expect Islamic extremists to come from? A quick look at the Australian Census tells us that this statistic is not so exceptional. Now that Islamic terrorism has arisen and spread (in a small way) to Australia, it is not at all surprising that most people involved will be of Lebanese background. This is simply because they are the largest relevant population group in Australia.
Simplifying somewhat, the majority of people seeking to undertake terrorist acts in the name of Islam in Western societies have been young adults (mainly men) who are second or third generation migrants. Moreover, such violent acts are just as much political as religious acts and have been concentrated in the diaspora of countries with on-going political-religious conflict.
The table below shows the self-reported ancestries of young people who were born in Australia and reported Islam as their religion in the 2011 Census. Lebanese was the most common ancestry (about 18,000), followed by Turkish and then Australian. (Up to two responses were permitted, of which Australian was often the second). If we exclude those parts of the world which have not been sources of Islamic terrorism, Lebanese youth make up 47% of the total, followed by Turkish at 26%.
Why have Lebanese, but not Turkish youth, appeared in Dutton’s statistics? The answer is much more likely to be found in the political environment of the home country than in anything inherent to the migrant population in Australia. Despite a range of groups exercising political violence in Turkey, it has not been a country where Islamic violence has focused on Western interests (until very recently, and even then it is probably not ‘home grown’).
Interestingly, if we include Turkey as a non-starter as a source of terrorist recruits, Lebanese youth make up just under 2/3 of the ‘population at risk’ in the table – the same as Dutton’s statistic.