At a time when New Zealand is passing ‘under-urgency’ new laws enabling the SIS and police to have intrusive powers that adversely affect the privacy and travel rights of New Zealanders, it is interesting to see how other countries are dealing with the problem of returning ‘terrorists.’
Extract from The Guardian on 5th December. “Two British men who travelled to Syria to join an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group have been jailed for nearly 13 years. Mohammed Nahin Ahmed and Yusuf Zubair Sarwar, childhood friends from Birmingham, travelled to the war-torn country in May last year after contacting Islamist extremists…They were sentenced at Woolwich crown court in London on Friday to 12 years and eight months in prison with an extended licence period of five years”
New Zealand’s situation is somewhat different from that of the UK. Rather less than 50,000 (around 1%) of New Zealanders are Moslems. This is in marked contrast to Britain, with its nearly three million (4.5%) Moslem citizens. Also in contrast to the UK, at least up until now, New Zealand governments have maintained a low profile in the on-going Western assaults on Islamic nations that have been such a prominent feature of post-WWII international relations and which have done so much to radicalise young Moslems.
It is the nature of the government beast to always seek to expand its powers over the lives of individual citizens. By magnifying a feeling of insecurity in the American public, the American government was able to pass the Patriot Act and set up the omnipotent Homeland Security industry, thereby putting itself into a position of almost dictatorial power over the American public.
Unfortunately for any NZ government with ambitions in that direction, due to geographic isolation, the diminutive size of the NZ Islamic community and its generally unalienated nature, our government is hard pushed to make a convincing case for draconian anti-terrorist powers. Even the most alarmist government spokesperson has to admit that the threat of domestic terrorism is an exaggerated ‘low.’ Only future acts of reckless folly by the government would manage to raise that threat by a further point. It is to be hoped that this is just a blip in New Zealand’s constitutional history and that the relatively minor piece of New Zealanders’ freedom under the law, which is being taken away under this government’s emergency legislation, will be returned to them under the next.
In the meantime the UK would appear to have a problem. The ardently Roman Catholic Tony Blair did much to persuade British Moslems that they lived in a state, which together with its allies, was hostile to Islam. Certainly, Britain’s policies and those of the allies it encouraged, became, directly and indirectly, responsible for, the deaths and suffering of hundreds of thousands of their co-religionists overseas.
The two, young men featured above, appear to have been caught up in the resultant, resentment-induced, religious enthusiasm and to have followed the path dictated by their religious consciences. Their families did not share their enthusiasms and it was they who informed the British police that their sons had gone off on Jihad. The two families are now understandably dismayed at the extent of the punishment dished out to their sons by the British legal system.
It is indeed bizarre that Britain and its allies should have been doing all in their power to overthrow the legal government of Syria, but at the same time, should imprison these two men who did risk their lives by using weapons (probably provided for the purpose by the Western allies) to achieve the same end. From the court case, it would appear that they are not being punished for any crime committed (or even demonstrably intended) in the UK – but simply for travelling overseas to participate in a civil war.
Kataib al-Muhajireen (KaM), the Islamic faction for which the two men were fighting, though a Sunni extremist outfit, is distinct from al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State (IS.) No doubt all parties to the civil war are guilty of atrocities – but there is no evidence that KaM indulged in international war crimes on a scale in any way comparable to those we have seen being committed by IS. Just as paedophiles returning from a child-molestation mission in Asia, should face trial and conviction on their return to their home jurisdiction, so too should those who travel overseas to participate in war crimes, or to act as accomplices to the criminal gangs that commit them. However, there are degrees of criminality.
Why for the first time, is Britain (and let us hope that New Zealand doesn’t follow down the same path) punishing those who follow their consciences, commit no crime on British soil, but participate on what their conscience tells them is the right side in a civil war? Was Lord Byron imprisoned on his return from the Greek War of Independence against the Turks? Were George Orwell, Laurie Lee or Stephen Spender, or any of the other hundreds of British left-wing, anti-fascist sympathisers, imprisoned for fourteen years on return from the Spanish Civil War?
What was the intent of the British justice system in this case? Were these two men lumbered with an exemplary draconian punishment to discourage others, or were they placed in extended preventative detention on the grounds that they might indulge in a terrorist act on British soil? Are Britons no longer to be allowed to travel overseas to fight for causes in which they believe; or to join the French Foreign Legion or to join the myriad Western mercenary organisations such as Akademi (aka. XE Services; aka Blackwater?)
It would seem that somehow, at least in Britain, and in lockstep with the coordinated and evident campaign to demonise Islam emanating from Israel and the USA, justice is not being done; that there is one rule for Christians and another for Moslems.
It would not be surprising should such unbalanced judgements generate further resentments, which will have an effect diametrically opposed to the one desired. That is assuming that the main intent is, in fact, to prevent terrorist attacks in the UK. A viewer less inclined to view the system as irrational, might instead see such apparent injustice as being deliberately intended to widen the expanding divide between Islam and the West, thereby prolonging the war on terror, in which so many western interests are now vested.