We can’t condemn some arms bearers and not others, like Jewish Australians fighting overseas

7 Jul

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We can’t condemn some arms bearers and not others, like Jewish Australians fighting overseas
The Courier-Mail
July 07, 2014

DURING recent Senate estimates hearings, ASIO’s head David Irvine announced that 150 Australian citizens were being scrutinised for suspected military activities in the Syrian conflict.

He cautioned that young recruits could return with “heightened commitments to jihadi terrorism”.

The self-declared caliph of the ever-expanding Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has called on Muslims to “rush” to arms with “heavy boots”. To try to combat home grown terrorism, Attorney-General George Brandis met with Imams who pledged to use their Friday sermons to help de-radicalise youth. Unfortunately, these Imams are more likely to preach to the converted.

Each time ASIO raises these alarms, echoes rebound with broader questions about Australians in foreign armies.
Sympathisers of the Muslim Australians taking up arms in Syria ask why Jewish Australians taking up arms in Israel experience immunity rather than scrutiny.

Nominally, the two situations are deemed incomparable: the Muslims are taking up arms with illegitimate and criminal terrorist organisations such as the al-Qa’ida-linked al-Nusra and ISIS and al-Qa’ida itself, whereas the Jews are taking up arms with the legitimate army of Israel. But this black and white branding belies the many shades of grey in between.

The atrocities committed by the loose affiliation of brigades and foreign mercenaries in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are undeniably immoral and inhumane. They have been incriminated for beheadings, kidnappings, crucifixions and cannibalism, as propagated on their own videos.

But the activities of the Israel Defence Forces and its official brigades are well documented by many human rights groups. They have been accused of collective punishment, illegal occupation, imprisonment of minors, torture of prisoners, bulldozing of homes, expansions of settlements and deployment of cluster bombs. Smart uniforms, badges and stripes do not make this right.

Just when does loyalty to a foreign country become disloyalty to Australia? Our homegrown “jihadists” are neither the first nor last to take up arms abroad, as borne out in the recent book Foreign Fighters by Dr David Malet.
Australians fighting with Iraqi jihadists 0:26

This longitudinal study covering 200 years, concludes that most responsive recruits tend to be “marginalised in the broader society”.

Spanish Australians fought on both the Communist and the Catholic side of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Jewish Australians fought in 1948 to establish a homeland. Australians fought on all sides of the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s with Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Albanians, Slovenes and Macedonians. But who decides if this military service is moral and justified?

Most Australians now concede our participation in the “Coalition of the Willing” against Iraq in 2003 was unjustified given the false weapons of mass destruction pretext, which has precipitated a spiralling regional and sectarian war.
Since Saddam Hussein was toppled, Western governments have deemed those who have taken up arms against the Iraqi government as insurgents and enemies. But if those same mercenaries crossed the border to fight with the Free Syrian Army, they would be deemed as Western allies.

We can no longer pretend military service by dual citizens will not present conflicts of interest. Even by serving in the ostensibly benign Israel Defence Forces, our citizens would be inadvertently enforcing a one-state solution when Australia officially upholds bipartisan support for a Palestine/Israel two-state solution.
So rather than continuing this subjective policy of selectively condemning some arms bearers while condoning others, our government needs to take the more moral position of banning all such activities.

It is time to review the bilateral agreements regarding dual citizens and their duty for foreign military service. If our young citizens are seriously interested in taking up arms, then suitable candidates could be recruited into our national service. As citizens, this is both their right and responsibility.

Joseph Wakim, a founder of the Australian Arabic Council, is a freelance writer.

Originally published as What of Jewish Australians fighting overseas? Comments

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