Friday, July 17, 2015

OPINION: Citizenship focus misses wider security issue

My road to Australian citizenship was long and hard. First I had to be born. Then I spent five months in a rather swish place called Karachi, then known for its trendy art deco cinemas and funky dance parties. Then I landed in northern Sydney, where I stayed until gaining something resembling a memory.

There was no citizenship ceremony. I did, however, attend the passport office to collect my passport. My father pulled me up to the counter, a task I doubt he could repeat now. He held the pen in my hand but I wasn't used to holding one. There were people waiting behind us in the queue, but my 4-year-old brain needed more time to ponder the subtleties of signatures. My father removed the pen from my hand and my butt from the counter, and I let out a God-Almighty sook. The passport arrived. On the signature line were typed the words "unable to sign".

So many of us have to be born here or come at a young age. We use our passport as ID when we lose our wallet. We use it to take holidays to Bali where many misbehave and harass the locals before returning with few memories.

But the idea of losing our citizenship just never comes to mind. Regardless of what crime we might commit, inside or outside Australia, there are courts waiting to try us and prisons to accommodate us. You can be an ex-student of Duntroon like Julian Knight (of Hoddle Street massacre infamy). You could be part of a paedophile ring, terrorising young boys at a Ballarat school or in the alleys of Yogyakarta.

Your actions can destroy the lives of entire communities, leading to suicides and broken lives. But as far as some 40 Coalition backbenchers are concerned, you are welcome to keep your citizenship. Your heinous crimes can terrorise generations. You can be a lone wolf paedophile or a mass murderer, as long as you aren't a terrorist.

Parliament's 'enthusiasm' for new anti-terrorism laws 

Because as we all know, terrorism is a major threat to our nation's security. No, I am not being sarcastic here. We have to acknowledge that there is a good chance someone could slip out of the country to a war zone and then slip back in after committing horrific crimes. A brainwashed kid with bombs strapped to his chest and unleash a blast that will kill and maim.

Let's remember that the first victim of the July 7, 2005 London bombing to be buried was a 20-year-old bank clerk of Bangladeshi heritage. Her name was Shahara Islam. The surname says it all.

The idea of stripping citizenship from people is being debated at a time when, in the popular imagination, terrorism is about al-Qaeda and the self-styled Islamic State. Foreign fighters have left and returned, but those fighting for Kurdish or other groups are largely ignored. Reports are now reaching us of non-ISIL parties, including Christian groups, engaging in such gruesome acts as beheadings.

Our politicians are always on the lookout for good excuses to expand the anti-terror laws to encompass more actions and more groups. As the learned authors of Inside Australia's Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials note:
… Parliament's enthusiasm for enacting new anti-terrorism laws has not been matched by its attention to their maintenance and refinement. Indeed, it is undeniable that Australian governments have found it much more palatable to increase rather than limit or remove national security measures, tending to ignore reviews which recommend the latter course. The result has been a steady ratcheting up of the power of the state when it comes to the prevention of terrorism.

Matters of national security 

Terrorism is seen as an advanced form of criminal activity, even if its outcomes can be just as easily carried out by those with no political or religious inclination.

The government's discussion paper, entitled Australian Citizenship Your Right, Your Responsibility, states:
Citizens who become involved in terrorism are rejecting Australian values and commitment to a safe and harmonious society.

I doubt the paedophile priests in Ballarat were showing much commitment to Australian values. The numerous victims who tragically took their own lives and the families and parishes must feel quite terrorised at this time.

The paper continues:
Support for, or involvement in, politically motivated violence is not acceptable to Australians.
Indeed no Sinn Fein meetings were ever held in Sydney or Melbourne. No Australians ever followed the lead of men like Eric Blair (who is better known by his pen-name George Orwell) to fight in the Spanish Civil War. And no mosques or Liberal Party branches ever hosted representatives of the Afghan Mujahideen fighting the Soviets.

And national security? Recently I spoke to an Australian friend who works as a journalist in East Asia. "How goes it there?" I asked her. "It's fabulous. I've got a front row seat to World War III in the South China Sea. Most of Australia's shipping passes through here. America and China are almost ready to go. How are things down there? Is Abbott still scaring everyone about terrorists?"

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin Unversity. First published in the Canberra Times on 1 June 2015.

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