The Australian navy pulled the Twitter account of its most senior Muslim officer and “counselled” her on the way it was used after it attracted “a growing number of contentious comments”, the Department of Defence has confirmed.
Defence backtracked on an earlier statement that Captain Mona Shindy’s @navyislamic account was deleted as part of a strategy to “consolidate its social media platforms”.
The account’s disappearance around 21 December suggests a new, more tightly controlled direction for the navy’s use of Shindy as one of the public faces of its diversity push.
A defence spokeswoman said on Wednesday that @navyislamic, established in July last year, had initially received mixed attention. “But in recent months, in line with increased public debate on Islam, it has attracted a growing number of contentious comments,” she said.
“In administering the account, Captain Shindy was inundated with these comments and endeavoured to ensure a balance between policy and other comment.”
She said Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, the chief of navy, “counselled Captain Shindy on these issues” and initiated a review of the whether the service’s social media presence was ensuring “the necessary direct for navy and defence’s diversity message”.
“As part of the review, a decision to shut down the Twitter account was made by the chief of navy.”
Defence said Shindy had been counselled on 8 December, two days before an official complaint was lodged by the head of the Australian Liberty Alliance, a newly formed political party critical of Islam.
Shindy, who also heads the guided missile frigate system program office, had angered rightwing activists with her tweets, including one on 22 October describing the ALA as an “extreme, ill-informed fringe group”.
Days after Tony Abbott was deposed as prime minister by Malcolm Turnbull she tweeted: “Looking forward to a #PM that unites #auspol & #OZ”.
She also expressed support for Australia’s grand mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, who was attacked by government ministers for referring to “causative factors” behind terrorism in a press release expressing condolences for November’s Paris terrorist attacks.
A decorated officer, Shindy joined the navy in 1989 and was appointed its chief adviser on Islamic affairs in 2013, part of her role to “increase the appeal of the navy as an employer of choice among the Australian Muslim community”.
The Australian defence force has embarked on a push to broaden the gender and cultural diversity of its ranks, also appointing its first imam — an Islamic religious leader — in March last year.
At March 2015 just 5.7% of permanent defence force members identified themselves as being from a “non-English speaking background”.
A 2013 report by Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Holgin, commissioned by the army, argued that a more religiously diverse defence force would have a range of “capability benefits”, including in dealing with Muslim populations in future combat or humanitarian operations and in liaising with majority Muslim partner nations.
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