HAYDER SHKARA, at 21, is busy as a journalism-law student and the Australian welterweight taekwondo champion, but this year he is finding time to spread messages of peace, with federal government counterterrorism funding.
Mr Shkara works with a bank's senior business analyst, Fouad Nagm, and fellow worshippers at the al Rasool al Adham mosque in Bankstown on a project to reduce the appeal of terrorists' ideology to disaffected young people, using a $100,000 grant from the federal Attorney-General's Department.
''I am a big believer in doing things from the inside rather than the outside … I feel like I am constantly under pressure to do something for my country to protect it,'' said Mr Shkara, whose father is Iraqi and his mother Japanese.
The group has promoted talks by a moderate Iraqi-born cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Al-Ansari, about Islam's central message of non-violence, and runs art workshops to teach teenagers how to channel their frustrations peacefully.
It is establishing a website carrying messages to counter terrorism, and there are plans to have victims of violence speak publicly about their experiences, so those who become radicalised and are exposed to hate messages do not tip over into destructive acts.
Dr Nagm, who helped set up The Youth Centre eight years ago for disadvantaged 12- to 25-year-olds in Sydney's south-west, said he and his fellow board members had been devising ways to counter extremist ideologies for some time, because they were upset by the negative perceptions of Islam created by a small, violent group.
''We thought since we're working with the youth, we've got an opportunity to make sure that avenue is closed in their mind,'' Dr Nagm, 33, said.
''The only way to get that message across is to have a very, very clear argument against extremist violence from an Islamic point of view, and the arguments for taking a peaceful approach always,'' he said.
Ayatollah Al-Ansari, who lives in Sydney but presently is in Iraq, says no question or topic is out of bounds when he gives talks.
His teachings in Arabic are being translated into English, Persian and Urdu for the website. It is designed to contest extremist messages online, which the federal counterterrorism police chief, Steve Lancaster, has warned can inspire violence among people who do not share their plans with anyone, making them difficult to detect.
''With the online world, you don't have to be part of a network [to get your message across]. That works both ways and it's good for us as well,'' Dr Nagm said. ''We don't want to restrict ourselves to Sydney, even though the focus is on Canterbury-Bankstown.''
The point of religion was to reform oneself, not to try to rule the world, he said. The group mounted arguments, based on Islamic theology, against terrorist leaders' messages that people holding different beliefs had no legitimacy, were enemies and the only path was violence.
Mr Shkara has worked with an artist, Kurt Brereton, in four workshops at Bass Hill High School and has approached other schools, including Islamic colleges, about taking part.
He would like the chance to display the students' work in public as outdoor murals so they can become permanent monuments to hope.