Actually Going to an Islamic Extremist Meeting

9 October 2014

I don’t know how Jamie found out about it but we went anyway. There was a war in Syria, ISIS was a big deal. 2 months after this meeting police [sieged the Lindt Cafe] in Sydney.

At 22 years old you’re invincible and curious. Are these Islamic fundamentalists portrayed correctly by the mainstream media?

That’s what we talked about on the train to Lakemba, one of the western suburbs of Sydney. Hizb Ut-Tahrir organise meetings advocating a global Islamic state under strict sharia law. They’re banned banned even in most Arab countries. But Ismail Al-WahWah is permitted to give his talk “The War to End a Blessed Revolution” in Australia.

I’m from Sydney’s northern beaches, where they film Home & Away. Jamie is from the wheat belt in Western Australia. Lakemba is different to both those places. From the train station, there’s graffiti on the metal roller doors covering the closed shops, and more graffiti on the small brick walls outside people’s houses. Steel bars covered their windows. The last time I smelled hookahs so strongly I was in eastern Turkey. Further from the station, it’s the usual Sydney suburban sprawl - with more satellite dishes on roofs and less rendered brick.

The police and TV crews arrived even earlier than us. Jamie and I loitered around the front of the mosque community centre building thing until it was time to go in. Young men covered their faces with their black hoodies walking in. We got ourselves in the background of most major news broadcasts.

(unfortunately can’t find the footage any more. Look for 7 or 9 news broadcasts for 9 or 10 October 2014).

“No phones or cameras” said the door marshal as we walked in. There’s nothing spectacular about the inside of the building. We entered into a featureless rectangular room with concrete walls, concrete ceiling, and harsh fluorescent lighting. Because we were younger men, we were marshaled to the front. All the women sat in the back corner behind a curtain.

They played some Arabic music too loud. Maybe there was a prayer. I can’t remember. More young men arrived late so they sat on the floor in front of us. But they weren’t too late to miss the main event. Ismail Al-Wahwah is a fantastic speaker. I’ll let an example speak for itself:

In the 2002 film Dude, Where’s My Car?, when bubble-wrapped Zoltan makes a big point, the followers should “Zoltan!”. It was kind of like that. But not really.

When Ismail made a powerful point, like that fellow muslims were ready to make sacrifices - “If you want to change, you have to pay the price” - somebody in the front would shout Inshallah. Then everyone else shouted it back again. The shouting was so loud it filled every corner and every little crack in the concrete walls. Everyone stopped shouting with military precision. The speaker paused some moments before starting again. I’ve never heard silence like that since.

I didn’t know what inshallah even meant until a few days later. But it didn’t really matter what it meant.

“Definitely something to think about, hey boys?”