A young man, likely no older than 21, lost in a society where he repeatedly experiences personal harm in the form of taunting and discrimination. A young man who finds solace in his religion. An Australian citizen, yet with conflicted emotions about where his homeland is. A person whose longing to make a difference, leads them down an unknown path.
When Scott Morrison seeks to revoke citizenship from Australian-Syrian citizens for purely political motives, he damages the relationship the government has to Australian people. Some estimates put the number of Australian citizens fighting in Syria at over 200. These cases will differ. Many may be younger people, heavily religious and egged on by others within the community. They are likely to include those influenced by extreme islamic teachings. However it is also likely there are idealists amongst them, fighting because they believe the Syrian government is an oppressive regime, one deserving of overthrow. A modern day George Orwell they might not be, but they are certainly not evil personified. As has been well noted, the Syrian opposition is a pluralistic, ‘the enemy of your enemy’ grouping of disparate organisations. This Daily Telegraph article makes a good attempt to explain some of the complexity:
Andrew Zammit from the Monash University Global Terrorism Research Centre said most fighters who returned to Australia would not become a threat, but others “could be very dangerous”.
“They can get skills, connections, and may decide to carry out violence,” Zammit says. “Authorities are very worried. They are aware that this is the greatest mobilisation of Australians to fight with jihadist groups that we’ve ever had.
“They could be travelling there with all sorts of motives, often after having watched footage of people they identify with being killed by the Assad regime. The big issue is what groups they get involved with once over there.”
This is not an apology for those who seek deliberate harm on others through radical Islam. However as Mr Zammit notes, most fighters are unlikely to become a threat.
I don’t know very much at all about Middle Eastern politics and the situation in Syria. What I do know, is that governments have a responsibility to their citizens, perhaps above anything else they do. The reason for nation states, and the reason why a population can be so riled up against migrants, are the complicated notions of sovereignty and citizenship. A grouping of people, protected (by force if necessary) by the state. In an ironic twist, the party of ‘stop the boats’, appealing to the notion of a shared community, is now threatening to expel those who are already members. While the numbers of people concerned are low, this is perhaps the most distressing policy change I have seen from the Abbott Government, given the majority are likely not to pose a threat to Australian society.
Morrison (via the Guardian and Katherine Murphy):
“We are looking right now at all the options that are before us to strengthen powers when necessary,” Morrison told 2GB on Monday. “We are looking at every option available to us. We don’t want those troubles in this country and people who bring them here should not come.”
By implying people who fight in Syria will import “those troubles” back into Australia, Morrison is ignoring the responsibility of government to its own citizens. He is appealing to base instincts, knowing hard questions rarely penetrate populist positions. Further, he is traveling on ground already explored and rejected by then-Foreign Minister Bob Carr. Currently, the Australian government cannot forcefully withdraw citizenship from these people. Of course, changing the law to accommodate such a position, while burying the complex relationship which dictates the decisions these people make, is not beyond this government. In all likelihood this will be achieved with a cheer-squad, with those opposing any action labeled as unpatriotic, trouble makers.
Is the threat to Australian society from these people so sufficient as to reject the very bond between citizens and their government? No. It is the easy path, one where the difficult decisions to engage with citizens of Australia, of other dispositions, is ignored.
What is the difference between an Australian-Syrian and simply an Australian who fights in Syria? Very little, yet this is the distinction which will determine entry to where both call home.
These are the actions of a government, and a man, which knows no boundary. Scott Morrison is leading the mob, and the results are not pretty.