YOUNG, Australia — On a rural road about two hours’ drive from the nearest major city, the small Australian town of Young has long been known for cherries and little else. But in recent years, the once largely white, working-class community has seen a steady influx of Lebanese Muslim families, many of whom say they have relocated from Sydney for a better and safer life.
Among them are members of the Zahab family. Now one of them, Haisem Zahab, a 42-year-old electrician, is accused of using the internet to try to help the Islamic State develop a guided missile. Officials suspect that some of his relatives traveled to Syria to join the extremist group, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The allegations about the Zahab family have rattled many residents of this town, who have long taken pride in its peaceful multiculturalism. They have also stoked some of the worst fears about homegrown links to terrorism in a country that is grappling with immigration policy and labor shortages.
“One argument developing is that Muslims cannot be trusted, they are all bad, and with so many in our town, it was only a matter of time before trouble raised its head,” Craig Thomson, editor of The Young Witness, the local newspaper, wrote in an opinion column after Mr. Zahab’s arrest. “The other point put forward is that hatred is not the way to handle this situation and one man’s actions should not condemn the entire town’s Muslim population”.
The case is playing out as Australia contends with the same nationalist, anti-immigrant forces that helped propel Donald J. Trump to the American presidency and that prompted voters in Britain to approve a withdrawal from the European Union. Visiting Australia last year, Mutuma Ruteere, the United Nations special rapporteur on racism, condemned Australian politicians as engaging in “xenophobic hate speech,” and likened the country’s mood to nationalist ideologies brewing in Europe and the United States.