Australia

#FreeKaren: Australians mock anti-radicalisation booklet

An image of a shark cull protest was used in the anti-radicalisation booklet Image copyright Australian Government
Image caption An image of a shark cull protest was used in the anti-radicalisation booklet

A government booklet linking environmental activism and alternative music to violent extremism has been widely ridiculed by Australians.

Australia's anti-terror minister Michael Keenan launched the Radicalisation Awareness Kit on Monday, urging it be shared in schools.

But the use of a case study of a girl called Karen - who gets into music and student politics before getting involved in criminal protests - has sparked both concern and humour.

The #freeKaren hashtag started trending on Friday, and inspired offshoots #IamKaren and #JeSuisKaren.

'Rebellion went further'

The publication, Preventing Violent Extremism and Radicalisation, says young people can become violent because of ideologies such as "environment or economic concerns, or ethnic or separatist causes".

Image copyright Greens Facebook
Image caption The Australian Greens took aim at the Karen case study

The case study says Karen grew up "in a loving family" but when she went to university "Karen became involved in the alternative music scene, student politics and left-wing activism. In hindsight she thinks this was just 'typical teenage rebellion' that went further than most".

"One afternoon Karen attended an environmental protest with some of her friends. It was exhilarating, fun and she felt like she was doing the 'right thing' for society."

It goes on to describe Karen's involvement in violent environmental protests, and how she felt like "a soldier for the environment", before describing how she eventually became disillusioned and cut ties with the group.

She struggled to "recover" from radical activism, but reconnected with family, found a job "broadly in the environmental field" and developed a "more moderate eco-philosophy".

Environmentalists, teachers and social media users were outraged that the publication lumped together environmental protest and violent extremism.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Australian author Wendy Harmer posted this picture of her children to Twitter
Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright @GreenpeaceAustP
Image copyright @roseoleary_
Image copyright @vanbadham
Image copyright @kateausburn

The International Association for the Study of Popular Music said it "strongly objects to the linking of participation in the alternative music scene to radicalisation of any kind".

"There is no reputable evidence to suggest that listening to certain types of music leads to particular political outcomes for the audience," it said in a statement.

"The idea that young people who like certain types of music are problems waiting to happen needs to be challenged, as it has consequences for them."

The Green Party called on its supporters to tell Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull "that everyday Australians who care about our incredible natural environment should be congratulated, not demonised".

'Disrupting Western democracies'

Minister Michael Keenan said in a statement the first step to preventing young people being radicalised was helping schools to recognise what radicalisation is.

"The potential radicalisation of young Australians to violent extremism, including those in our schools, is something all Australian governments are deeply concerned about," Minister Keenan said earlier in the week.

"It is important that anyone who is in danger of becoming radicalised is put on a different path as early as possible before they harm themselves or others."

The booklet comes amid concerns that Australia is facing an increasing domestic terror threat from people linked to or influenced by militant groups overseas.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Australia's new defence minister said the threat from groups like the so-called Islamic State (IS) was "very serious".

"There is absolutely no doubt that there are individuals, leaders in that organisation, who are intent upon disrupting Western democracies," Marise Payne said. "I don't think that the magnitude of the threat should be underestimated."

Australia has cancelled around 125 passports of people believed to be supporting IS and other groups, or seeking to travel to IS-held territory in Iraq or Syria.

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