NEW PODCAST | Media coverage of gang wars in the South-West 'incited bias'

Journalist Mahmood Fazal, once a member of an outlaw motorcycle club, has investigated the bloody feud here in the South-West from 2001 to 2009 between three Australian Lebanese families, the Darwiche, Razzak and Fahda families. It involved murders and assaults and was covered widely at the time. Fazal's podcast No Gangsters in Paradise, just out on Audible, tells the story through the eyes and ears of those who lived through it, showing how culture, religion and migration shaped the events here and got the country's attention. Tough questions emerge: Does an "eye for an eye" mentality have a place in Australia? Was there police prejudice? And how the hell did Eddie Darwiche get his hands on seven rocket-launchers?

How much time did it take to research this story? I started working on this project almost two years ago. I've been working on it full-time since then.

What sort of access did you have to the main players? I was in communication with the main players, largely off the record. I met Naseam El-Zeyat's younger brother in Brisbane when he was released. He told me about his brother's life sentence and I was shocked because I didn't know people could be locked up forever in Australian prisons. He went on about the "corruption" surrounding his brother's conviction and what I discovered was a story where three Muslims were imprisoned with no hard evidence, just the statements of criminals who had major biases and in most cases financial incentives.

We got it wrong in the media. There are far more Muslims doing good in Australia than those committing crime, but that's not the impression you get when you flick through the paper or nightly news. Your opinion can have consequences that shape the people you've stereotyped.

MAHMOOD FAZAL, Journalist

How did it all end? It ended in bloodshed and trauma. A lot of young people lost their lives. Everyone involved is either dead or in jail. There's never a positive outcome from violence or war. There were, and continue to be, a lot of young people being buried as a result of gang violence. I wanted to know why this keeps happening in our communities. It's easy to blame the individual. It's very difficult to assess the social and cultural jigsaw that is assimilation.

Why did you decide to pursue this story as a podcast? This story felt like the moment the stereotype surrounding young Muslim men shifted, from the post-Skaf trial rhetoric of sexual predators to violent delinquents. With this podcast, I wanted to look into the most publicised caricature of violent Muslims and interrogate the social problems that fuelled that divisive stereotype.

What insights and understanding can you offer at this distance -- and what extra information did you have access to so long after the events? In the podcast, we dive into previously uncovered police documents that paint a clear picture of how the police viewed the Middle Eastern community in the Western suburbs. The police implemented a zero-tolerance strategy that was inspired by the way police acted in New York City to "reclaim the streets" of Harlem. It's a policy that does not work, it just breeds more vitriol between the authorities and the young people trying to make sense of their place in society.

How does the podcast show culture, religion and migration shaping these historical events? We're looking for the sociological patterns that might trap young people from disenfranchised communities in a cycle of crime.

How has covering this story affected you personally? It's very difficult interviewing a community that's suffered so much. It was hard sitting across from a woman who asks you whether her son will ever be released from prison, whether there's light at the end of the tunnel -- and you have to tell her there isn't.

When people were caught, and sometimes jailed, how were they treated? When these boys, all in their early 20s, were convicted they were sent to Goulburn prison -- one of the toughest prison systems in Australia.

You were once a member of an outlaw motorcycle club -- which one and why did you get out? I was a member of the Finks, then they became the Mongols motorcycle club. I left the club for personal reasons.

How does this experience inform your understanding of the events and people in your podcast? It gives me an insider's perspective. I hope this offers an uncomfortable insight into the mind of a young Muslim thug.

And, I've gotta ask, "how the hell did Eddie Darwiche get his hands on seven rocket-launchers?" The complacency of the Australian Defence Force is how Eddie Darwiche, now a convicted terrorist, might have access to seven rocket-launchers.

How has the South-West changed since those days? In the podcast, there's an interview with Ramzi Aouad's younger brother and he says when someone in front of you falls into a hole you learn to walk around it. I think the young people have learnt from the mistakes of the elders. But there's no denying a lot of young Muslims feel like they aren't accepted by mainstream Australian society. As long as there's that divide, I believe there are going to be young people who will act like the bad guys because that's how they're being portrayed.

And, wider, how does Australia still need to change in the face of increasing multicultural migration? I think more accepting policy from our political leaders would help more than anything. We want to see the government empower our communities, not vilify them.

In Australia we get so much right about multiculturalism. But where do we get it wrong? I think we got it wrong in the media. We propelled all the negative things associated with the Middle East and none of the benefits they brought to the Australian story. There are far more Muslims doing good in Australia than those committing crime, but that's not the impression you get when you flick through the paper or nightly news. It's all good and well to have an opinion about a religion or a race but know that your opinion can have consequences that shape the people you've stereotyped.

This story Coverage of gang wars 'incited bias' first appeared on Liverpool City Champion.

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