Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison shot off a series of tweets on Wednesday criticising some leaders of the Muslim community for boycotting a meeting that he called on Thursday to find ways of de-radicalising members of the Muslim community.
Mr Morrison's strategic presence instead at the unveiling of the Gandhi statue today is sure to make great optics. He met with President Ramnath Kovind this morning which again was not the first engagement in the President's initial schedule for the day.
He will accompany the Indian President at three events today. Besides his first bilateral delegation level meeting, Mr Morrison will be in Paramatta, a Sydney suburb, for the unveiling of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi and then in the evening he will attend the Australian Financial Review India Business Summit.
President Kovind's earlier schedule had him inaugurating the statue on Wednesday but with Mr Morrison deciding to participate as well, the unveiling was pushed to Thursday. Coincidentally, perhaps, it was also to be the day that Mr Morrison was to extend the olive branch to the Muslim community whose leaders have been smarting after Australian Prime Minister's blunt comments after the Melbourne terror attack.
After visiting Pellegrini's cafe in Melbourne where the owner Sisto Malaspina was stabbed to death last week allegedly by Islamic terrorists, Mr Morrison called for Imams and other members of the Muslim community to be better at identifying radicalised people in their congregations and alerting the authorities.
"I won't cop the excuses," Mr Morrison warned. "For those who want to stick their head in the sand, for those who want to make excuses for those who stick their head in the sand, you are not making Australia safer. You are giving people an excuse to look the other way and not deal with things right in front of you," he said.
"If there are people in a religious community, an Islamic community, that are bringing in hateful, violent, extremist ideologies into your community, you've got to call it out," the Australian Prime Minister added.
A group of nine, including the Grand Mufti, have now told him they're deeply disappointed by his comments and want the meeting deferred until their concerns have been addressed.
The Imams called for a boycott of the Thursday peace meeting, criticising Mr Morrison's comments. "These statements have achieved nothing to address underlying issues, but rather, have alienated large segments of the Muslim community," the group wrote.
But the war of words continued late on Wednesday with the Prime Minister tweeting sharply.
[1/6] Extremist radical Islam is a serious problem. We all have responsibilities to make Australia safe, and that means making sure Muslim communities do not become infiltrated with this dangerous ideology.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) November 21, 2018
[2/6] That's why I privately invited Muslim leaders to attend a meeting, in good faith, to talk honestly about what more we should be doing together to protect our communities.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) November 21, 2018
[3/6] I have always respected and worked with Muslim communities, and at the same time, been honest and upfront in my dealings about the problems that need to be addressed.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) November 21, 2018
[4/6] Some have chosen to publicly boycott this meeting. Continuing down a path of denial only lets their communities down. It makes their communities less safe and more vulnerable.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) November 21, 2018
[5/6] I expect all leaders in Australia, whatever religion they come from, or whatever community they represent, to do everything they can to keep Australians safe.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) November 21, 2018
[6/6] The meeting is going ahead with those who want to deal with this issue seriously rather than look the other way.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) November 21, 2018
And where some can genuinely not attend, I look forward to following up with them at a later time, including with key Ministers.
In such a charged atmosphere, Mr Morrison's presence at the unveiling of a statue of a man of peace and non violence who dedicated his life to integrating people of all faiths will send out a strong signal to his people that he is for inclusiveness in Australian society and polity.
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