Muslim doctor Jamal Rifi explains why arm yourself is a bad vaccine campaign in migrant areas


A hardworking Muslim doctor who campaigns against Islamist extremism has criticised the government’s ‘arm yourself’ slogan to promote vaccination.

Jamal Rifi has worked himself to exhaustion and delayed his retirement as the Delta strain of Covid turned Sydney’s south-west into an infection hotspot.

The Lebanese-born GP, 61, turned the front yard of his Belmore house into a drive-through testing centre under a tarpaulin and he has gone to the homes of the elderly and the disabled to administer jabs.

But when it came to the federal government’s ‘arm yourself’ television campaign to promote immunisation, Dr Rifi wasn’t impressed.

A hardworking Muslim doctor who campaigns against Islamist extremism has criticised the government's 'arm yourself' slogan to promote vaccination. Jamal Rifi has worked himself to exhaustion and delayed his retirement as the Delta strain of Covid turned Sydney's south-west into an infection hotspot

A hardworking Muslim doctor who campaigns against Islamist extremism has criticised the government’s ‘arm yourself’ slogan to promote vaccination. Jamal Rifi has worked himself to exhaustion and delayed his retirement as the Delta strain of Covid turned Sydney’s south-west into an infection hotspot

The doctor, who regularly translates confusing government messages into Arabic for his many patients, said the well-intentioned slogan from ‘some genius out there in Canberra’ undermined the campaign to tackle violent extremism.

‘Now how I’m going to translate this in Arabic? Arm yourself, that means get a gun or get a shotgun and arm yourself,’ he told the ABC’s Australian Story.

‘It sounds very well to the general population, but it sounds very bad to my side of the Arabic community. 

‘You can’t go and tell them “arm yourself” when you were fighting radicalisation for the last five years, and countering violent extremism. That was a bad decision.’

In one Department of Health image, a young man wearing a face mask and a Band Aid on his left shoulder is pictured with a militaristic slogan: ‘I’ve armed myself for my country.’ 

Dr Rifi received death threats when he spoke out in 2014 against jihadist Khaled Sharouf, after one of his sons was photographed holding a severed head.

In another twist, the GP knew Sharrouf’s family in Lebanon only to see the extremist from western Sydney travel to Syria in 2013 to join ISIS. 

The respected community leader has long been associated with efforts to improve relations between Muslim Australians and other groups. 

The doctor, who regularly translates confusing government messages into Arabic for his patients, said the well-intentioned slogan undermined the campaign to tackle violent extremism

The doctor, who regularly translates confusing government messages into Arabic for his patients, said the well-intentioned slogan undermined the campaign to tackle violent extremism

During the 2005 Cronulla riots, in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, street and beach brawls broke out between Lebanese and white Australians.

This spurred Dr Rifi to establish a Muslim surf lifesaving patrol in the suburb where the clashes had erupted.

The efforts at cultural reconciliation saw Dr Rifi in 2012 walk the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea with Cronulla’s federal Liberal member for Cook, Scott Morrison, forging a friendship with the future Prime Minister.

Sydney has been in lockdown since June 26, with residents of the city’s west and south-west living under harsher restrictions, including a 9pm to 5am curfew and a 5km limit on leaving home for exercise.

Dr Rifi received death threats when he spoke out in 2014 against jihadist Khaled Sharouf, after one of his sons was photographed holding a severed head. In another twist, the GP knew Sharrouf's family in Lebanon only to see the extremist from western Sydney travel to Syria in 2013 to join ISIS

Dr Rifi received death threats when he spoke out in 2014 against jihadist Khaled Sharouf, after one of his sons was photographed holding a severed head. In another twist, the GP knew Sharrouf’s family in Lebanon only to see the extremist from western Sydney travel to Syria in 2013 to join ISIS

This saw legions of young men in July vent their frustration by breaking lockdown rules to travel into the city centre, to campaign against lockdowns and vaccinations.

Dr Rifi is now fighting a new war against misinformation.

‘My reaction was, in my hand I have a vaccine against the Delta strain that is going to protect the most vulnerable in the community, but unfortunately, I don’t have a vaccine against these idiots who are marching in the middle of Sydney,’ he said.

‘No vaccine against stupidity.’

Former human rights commissioner Professor Tim Soutphommasane, who was raised by Laotian-speaking parents in Sydney’s south-west, said the lockdown restrictions needed to be lifted as soon as possible.

Sydney has been in lockdown since June 26, with residents of the city's west and south-west living under harsher restrictions, including a 9pm to 5am curfew and a 5km limit on leaving home for exercise. This saw legions of young men in July vent their frustration by breaking lockdown rules to travel into the city centre, to campaign against lockdowns and vaccinations (pictured is a man being arrested outside Sydney Town Hall on July 24)

Sydney has been in lockdown since June 26, with residents of the city’s west and south-west living under harsher restrictions, including a 9pm to 5am curfew and a 5km limit on leaving home for exercise. This saw legions of young men in July vent their frustration by breaking lockdown rules to travel into the city centre, to campaign against lockdowns and vaccinations (pictured is a man being arrested outside Sydney Town Hall on July 24)

‘We’ve got to be very careful about ensuring that all restrictions on people’s freedoms and rights are necessary and proportionate and, indeed, temporary,’ he told the ABC’s 7.30 program. 

‘We were only just starting to transition out of the measures that we were using last year to the measures that should be used in a vaccine world, which is we’ve got to get everyone vaccinated and doing that as quickly as possible and, when we do that, we should be able to lift these restrictions on people’s freedom.’

Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan said images of people enjoying themselves in Bondi and Coogee would make it harder for western Sydney residents to obey lockdown rules.

‘Are we really expecting people to continue to co-operate and willingly accept the disparity in treatment?,’ he asked. 

Dr Rifi’s Canterbury-Bankstown local government area is home to 2,812 active cases of Covid, making it an epicentre of the outbreak.

But 76.7 per cent of the population aged 16 and over had had a first dose of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer, a level slightly below the statewide average of 78.8 per cent. 



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