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Blocking Aussie Jihadists is overdue

By Joseph Wakim - posted Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Picture this scenario at an Australian international airport arrivals terminal:

"Excuse me sir. We are the Federal Police. You are under arrest."

"Are you serious? What for?"

"Participating in illegal military activities while in Syria."

"I was on a humanitarian mission!"

"You will need to prove it."

But this scenario will not happen while politicians drag their feet in a legal quagmire.


The Abbott government is renowned for its simple and clear statements, especially pertaining to border protection. The incarnation of the 'stop the boats' war-cry was to launch Operation Sovereign Borders, deploy a three-star general and render the sea-faring asylum seekers 'illegal arrivals'.

So what is the incarnation of its 'baddies versus baddies' banner over-arching Syria? Why have we not seen the government launch Operation Foreign Fighters, deploy a three-star general and render the returning mercenaries 'illegal combatants'?

In his book 'Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civil Conflicts', Dr David Malet from Melbourne University claims that the 200 Australians participating in the Syrian war outnumber all other Westerners. He contends that "the biggest danger is that they return home as recruiters" and are hailed as "heroes in their local communities".

Surely, this must render them more dangerous than the 'illegal arrivals' who are desperately seeking life for their beloved families, not martyrdom for their 'brothers in arms' and a 'ticket to paradise'. Already four Australians are known to have been killed in Syria since the uprising began.

It was rich of former foreign minister Bob Carr to urge his successor to revisit the idea of legally blocking these Australian citizens from returning home from the Syria war zones. He had his chance. What has been the result of his strategy of intelligence gathering and merely monitoring their recruitment activities after their return? The number of fighters swelled from single to double to triple digits.

While our intelligence agencies need to keep their confidential information and control orders out of the public domain in case the radicalised recruiters go underground, the public deserve more than blanket response of 'trust us – we are doing much more than you think'. Regardless of reality, there is a prevailing perception that Australian jihadists come and go with impunity.


Community advocates sounded the alarm when there were two high profile Australian fatalities in the battle zone in 2012. We amplified the alarm when that number increased tenfold to twenty this time last year. So why would anyone be surprised if that number has now increased tenfold again to two hundred? The 'wait and see' strategy revealed a gaping loop hole and made a mockery of our federal laws.

Those opposing the Syrian government did not want their sons to slip down this hole, as virtually all embraced Australia to flee from war. Those supporting the Syrian government also opposed this loop hole because of their general concern over foreign mercenaries and terrorists allied with al Nusra and al Qaeda.

One Arabic language newspaper declared that Australia's inaction on this loophole was driven by another policy: good riddance to bad rubbish. If the Australians are helping to topple the Syrian regime, then this is in line with the Australian partisan policy and Bob Carr's suggestion of a presidential assassination. If these Australians are killed in combat, then that character never belonged in our country, so either way we win.

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About the Author

Joseph Wakim founded the Australian Arabic Council and is a former multicultural affairs commissioner.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Joseph Wakim

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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