This week the ABC screened Jihad Sheilas, the story of two Australian women who became caught up in a whirlpool of religious extremism. They were among a tiny proportion of a generation of Muslim youths and converts radicalised by people linked to past conflicts in Afghanistan.
Certainly the Afghan jihad was presented by Western media in the 1980s as a just war. I still recall an episode of Channel Nine's 60 Minutes profiling the courageous freedom fighters facing a superpower with First World War weapons. A coalition of right-wing think tanks and Western and Arab governments promoted the jihad.
By the early 1980s, when I entered my teens, the Afghan jihad and the plight of Afghan refugees were causes heavily promoted by religious foundations, imams and spokesmen for various Afghan mujahideen factions. In Sydney and Melbourne, representatives of the competing factions were a regular feature at mosques.
My "home" mosque, the King Faisal Mosque at Surry Hills in Sydney, regularly hosted "Afghan nights" where mujahideen representatives provided updates on the conflict and sought donations for refugees.
Indeed, at a 1987 Muslim youth camp organised by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, a representative of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's faction gave a speech and delivered the Friday sermon. In my mind, this effectively meant the jihad had religious sanction.
However, it would be wrong to generalise about all converts. Islam attracts people from all walks of life. Prominent Australian converts include former diplomats, prominent sportspeople and a former ABC foreign correspondent.
People turn to Islam and other non-Christian faiths for any number of reasons. They might feel outcasts in conventional society or disillusioned with aspects of mainstream culture. They might be searching for an alternative lifestyle.
Most Muslim Australians treat their faith as intensely personal. The core of Islam is the deeply spiritual tradition, which Sunni Muslims describe as tasawwuf and Shia Muslims describe as irfan, and which is known as "Sufism" in the West.
To this day, translations of Jalaluddin Rumi remain the biggest selling poetry books in the US. Many converts enter Islam after exposure to Sufi teaching for reasons similar to the attraction of Tibetan Buddhism.
Fringe politicised Islam has few followers among migrant Muslims, whose exposure to mainstream Islam means they know a fringe sect when they see one. Australia's radical "thick-sheikhs" tend to attract Muslim youth and converts.
New converts with no family support and on the fringes of Muslim communities can fall into a dangerous twilight zone. Muslim communities need to be more welcoming to converts. Support services should be set up and mosques should break down their cultural and linguistic barriers.
When Islam becomes a genuinely Australian religion and not just a set of foreign cultural artefacts, fringe extremists will look elsewhere for recruits. Perhaps then people can make personal decisions about religion without being sucked into a whirlpool of political hysteria or media frenzy.
Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer whose book proposal on young Muslims navigating into and out of political Islam won Allen & Unwin's 2007 Iremonger Award.