In light of the recent news about the IS and terrorism scares in our own backyards, we invited an Australian Muslim to present his religion, work in the police force and how he is a peaceful member of society. We recognise how difficult it is to stand up at this time and we applaud Barry’s effort and thank him for telling us his story.
Sergeant Barry O’Meara is a former police officer who was stationed at South Hedland until his retirement in 2005. He is also the Secretary of the Islamic Association of North Western Australia. This is a unique situation as Barry was the only police officer in Australia to hold an executive position on an Islamic Association.
World attention focused on all Muslims in the aftermath of September 11 2001. It was inconceivable that an Islamic extremist group used crowded passenger airlines as bombs in an attack on the World Trade Center and other targets in the USA, killing innocent people.
The attack on the World Trade Center brought immediate response by the major employers in the Pilbara. Bulletins were issued to employees in relation to racial and religious tensions, calling for harmony and tolerance in the workplace and the community.
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There was a fear that acts of revenge or retaliation may be directed at Muslims living in Australia, and as Port Hedland has the largest population of Muslims residing outside any capital city, the Police Service responded by initiating talks with the local Islamic community.
Sergeant O’Meara attended a meeting with the Islamic Association and addressed the committee on increased awareness and security measures for the Mosque and their own personal safety. It was at this meeting that he was invited to become a committee member of the Islamic Association of North Western Australia Incorporated.
Police monitored the situation over several months and it was noted that the community attitude remained unchanged towards the Muslims. There were no acts of retaliation although one resident refused to accept delivery of the community newspaper as Muslims were delivering it. There have been minor incidents where racial comments were address to Muslim women whilst they were shopping, and an arson attack on the Mosque where a window was smashed and accelerant splashed onto the curtains and carpet. This was ignited causing minor damage. It has not been established if this attack was racially motivated, as no person or group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The word Muslim is associated with terrorism and whilst efforts have been made to dispel this belief, current world affairs tend to confirm an association between Muslims and terrorist acts. Whilst an analogy could be made with Christian groups in Belfast, these acts of terrorists are not worldwide.
Sergeant O’Meara is a Muslim and confirms that Islam practiced in Australia is a religion of peace promoting justice, equality, forgiveness and tolerance. He asserted that true follower of the faith could not in any way, justify heinous acts of terrorism and the subsequent loss of innocent lives. It needs to be stressed that Muslims in Australia should not be held accountable for the actions of terrorist groups operating outside the boundaries of their faith.
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Since becoming a committee member, Sergeant O’Meara has strived to increase community awareness and involvement, and assist with integration for the Muslim community within the town whilst retaining their unique culture. His community work was rewarded when he was elected Secretary of the Islamic Association at the AGM in August 2003.
The Port Hedland Regional Hospital has worked closely with the Islamic Committee and now provides a Halal diet for all patients. The wards have been fitted with a directional marker for prayer time, and cultural awareness sessions have been conducted with the staff relating to the special requirements of the major ethnic groups. The program at the hospital is being used as a benchmark for hospitals throughout the State dealing with multicultural communities.
A ‘buy locally’ program was introduced and two take-away chicken stores are catering for the Islamic community. The manager of the major supermarket was approached and the store is now stocking a larger range of Halal products. Prior to these initiatives, most of the meat and smallgoods were purchased in bulk from Perth and road-transported to Port Hedland. McDonald’s now has 12 halal outlets throughout Sydney and Melbourne.
Whilst conducting business of behalf of the Islamic Committee, Sergeant O’Meara became increasingly aware of resentment by other ethnic groups. Many of the projects he had undertaken, could easily be applied to the entire community. It was time to consider other options. What alternatives were available locally to cater for all ethnic groups? Simply answered, there were none.
Talks were initiated with welfare, ethnic and support groups. Many of the organisations had the same objectives, although they were working independently for individual groups. The vision of forming a multicultural group was starting to materialise.
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This vision became a reality and it was during the Premier’s visit to Port Hedland on May 25 2003 that he met with community members and the committee at the launch of the Multicultural Association of the Northwest Inc. The Pilbara MLA Mr Larry Graham and the Town of Port Hedland Mayor, Mr Brent Rudler, attended the launch.
The launch was the culmination of several months of research into the viability of uniting ethnic groups under one banner. The Premier gave positive feedback to the President, Sergeant O’Meara and Mr Larry Graham confirmed his support for the Association.
The Multicultural Association was established to help support and maintain the many different cultures that make up the town. The association’s objectives are to establish local partnerships and national networks to raise funds for community events and provide support to the youth and the elderly, and to continue to promote and enhance the harmony in this diverse community.
Please appreciate the strength it has taken for an Australian Muslim to share his story with you today. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions however any disrespectful comments made will be deleted.