On Wednesday morning, in a speech to university students, Chair of the Community Relations Commission Stepan Kerkyasharian examined the impact of the two violent acts of terrorism committed over the weekend in Kenya and in Pakistan.
The speech was given as the Occasional Address to graduates at the University of Western Sydney.
Mr Kerkyasharian approached the subject from the viewpoint that the biggest challenge for community harmony in Australia is the integration of Islam as one of the religions of Australians.
“The First Gulf War, the invasion of Iraq, September 11, the war in Afghanistan and then Iraq again, the bombings in Bali, London and Spain, have left Australian Muslims feeling in danger of being isolated and rejected,” Mr Kerkyasharian said in his address.
“However, it has to be said that it has also made non-Muslim Australians feel insecure and defensive, fearful of the spectre of the unknown and the unexpected act of terror. The use of religion to pursue geo-political agendas, particularly through terrorism, is a fearful and ultimately uncontrollable destructive force. The impact of seeing pictures of what happened in Nairobi in the last few days on ordinary Australians cannot be ignored,” he added.
The Chair also argued that the words of the Taliban-linked TTP Jandullah, which claimed responsibility for the attack on Christian worshippers in Peshawar, Pakistan — “they are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them” — generate fear and has an impact on all Australians.
“It does present us with a challenge which we have to face collectively and for which leaders of all religions in Australia have a collective responsibility,” he said.
During the graduation ceremony Mr Kerkyasharian was also conferred with an honorary doctorate. The investiture took place at the School of Business, Ian and Nancy Turbot Auditorium, Parramatta Campus.
This is Mr Kerkyasharian’s second honorary doctorate, as he already holds a Doctor of Letters from the University of Sydney (Honoris Causa).
Mr Kerkyasharian is also a Fellow of the University of Technology, Sydney.
At the end of November, Mr Kerkyasharian will conclude 24 years in his post having served six New South Wales State Premiers.