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Australian citizen Neil Prakash (left) has been identified as a key recruiter for Islamic State (www.theaustralian.com.au)

• “It was an adventure,” said an old Australian soldier to the camera during a TV sequence retailing the tales of enlistment for war during the 20th century in the course of the massive media coverage leading up to Anzac day on 25th April 2015 one hundred years after the disastrous Australian participation in Allied operations against Turkey at Gallipoli.[1]

• “Are you a terrorist?” asked the film-maker in the course of a relaxed interview with an Algerian migrant from Britain netted by the police in Frankfurt before he and his colleagues embarked on a bomb-planting operation at the Christkindelsmärik beside Strasbourg Cathedral in 2000. “No, I am a mujahid” said the young man quietly in firm denial.[2]

• One of the vignettes above highlights one thread in the mix of motives that prompted Australian males to enlist in the Australian forces committed to support Britain and its Allies in the First World War in 1914. In surmise one could say that some young teenagers who bumped up their age in order to join the brigades were particularly inspired by a spirit of reckless adventure in embarking on this deadly pursuit.

Such lines of emphasis were among the motifs paraded in the media coverage in print, TV, You Tube and internet exchanges that subsumed the Aussie peoples in the days leading up to 25th April 2015, Anzac Day in its one/hundredth reckoning — the day deemed to be the mark of Australian nationhood and in effect, if not in form, Australia’s National Day. Why so? Because the historical record demonstrates that the Australians went to war in support of Britain in order to display their “manhood” by proving their worth in the baptism of fire.

The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) aboard one of the Sydney ferries that took them to Cockatoo Island before departing for New Guinea. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial A03272

It is an ironic twist, however, that in the days and months leading up to 25th April 2015 Australian media waves had also been bombarded with reportage

The move to enlist in a war or insurgency usually involves several inspirations in any single case and certainly encompasses many threads when summarizing the motivations of a mass of fighting personnel

Challenging question
Placed within this backdrop, the issue I raise for Australian reflection is this: were not, are not, some of these young Muslim men moved like the Anzacs by a similar spirit of reckless adventure in support of what they see as a worthy cause? ……leavened and founded upon a patriotic commitment to their community — namely the Islamicummah?

Moving on
So, we see two visions of commitment to a just war in two different contexts. These brief ‘takes,’ of course, simplify. The move to enlist in a war or insurgency usually involves several inspirations in any single case and certainly encompasses many threads when summarizing the motivations of a mass of fighting personnel. One must be alive to specific cultural nuances within each nation state or nation-state-in-the-making. The Australian public of 2015 were certainly exposed to the many threads spurring men and women to volunteer for military service in 1914/15. The spirit of adventure motivating individuals was matched by the sense of duty and the spirit of patriotism that influenced so many. Both volunteer fighters and Australian statesmen of that day were determined to prove to their British kith and kin that they were a nation of people equal to the task of serving a just cause (Kelly 2015; Blainey 2015). “Patriotism” to the Australian community-become-Federation (1900) was an overwhelming theme.

Likewise — but also with attention to different cultural foundations and contextual variations — we would do well to reflect upon three other instances of dedication to sacrifice in war-for-cause: (A) the Japanese who volunteered to fight for their state in the 1930s and 1940s and took the further step of becoming kamikaze pilots or kamikaze submariners; (B) the Palestinian and other Islamic men and women who committed themselves to suicide missions of assassination or bombing attack in step with the outstanding example of the truck bomb attacks on US and French army barracks in Beirut on 23rd October 1983 by a group calling itself “Islamic Jihad”

Bushido, Samurai, Kamikaze
Albeit founded upon different incentives and cultural groundings, personnel within these organisations were prepared to become precision bombs, high-cost weapons in the instance of kamikaze pilots seeking to defend Japan on the retreat, but mostly low-cost tools of trade in the other instances. Here, then was the ultimate sacrifice and an embodiment of dedication to cause.

Integral to the Japanese state’s imperial enterprise in the 1930s and the role of the kamikaze within this warring endeavour was the bushido culture of medieval Japan — with the Zen traditions serving as one medium by which these meaningful practices were nourished (Victoria 1997 & 2003). In this philosophical tradition-become-practice, dying for a cause was a virtue. Elaborate theories and practices were directed towards training in martial arts that sought to maximize strength through a fusion of body and mind. The concepts of mushin(no thought, extinguished self) and zanshin (following through) were key ingredients in the training of samurai and thus integral to

Tamil fighters
Among the varied Sri Lankan Tamil liberation forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam went further. Commitment to death for cause was de riguer and an integral part of induction into the fighting force after training. Apropos of the misleading interpretations of suicide attacks by Western commentators such as Robert Pape (2003), it is important to note that the act of suicide was initially adopted by the LTTE as a defensive tool to protect the organisation from the leaking of information after capture. It was not till 5th July 1987 that it was deployed as a low cost precision weapon when Miller (a nom de guerre) drove a truck bomb into a Sri Lankan Army encampment at Nelliyadi. This was but one instance of uyirayutham — “life as weapon” … a novel coinage by the LTTE propaganda arm which expanded the Tamil lexicon in ways that captivated its people.

It is in the light of these comparative excursions that I ask Australians to address the instances of Muslim Australians who have recently joined the Islamic insurgencies in the Middle East

The Australian Jihadists
It is in the light of these comparative excursions that I ask Australians to address the instances of Muslim Australians who have recently joined the Islamic insurgencies in the Middle East. As we know only too well, such individuals as Mohammad Ali Baryalei, Neil Prakash aka Abu Khalid al Cambodi and Abu Nour al-Iraq, have extended their reach backwards and worldwide: using social media and video to exhort like-minded faithful to strike a violent blow for Islamic jihad within the metropolitan heartlands of Australia.
Abdul NumanHaider’s repeated stabbing of a police officer outside the Endeavour Hills police station at Melbourne in September 2014 was one instance where an actual act of “terror” occurred.

It is likely that many Australians regard these Muslim personnel as “fanatics” or “terrorists” beyond the pale, just mindless killers. That is too facile. My goal is directed towards consciousness-raising. I do so here by aligning the dedication of these Aussie jihadists in qualified measure with that displayed by the Anzacs. Reckless adventurism and commitment to a just cause were among the inspirations stimulating both sets of warriors.

The community that the jihadists are serving, of course, is different. As vitally — and fearfully — their ummah is aligned in deeply hostile ways to the Western and Australian dispensations. These jihadists of today are motivated by the thinking embodied within the overlapping ideological strands known as “Salafi” and “Wahhabi.”

Numan Haider is an exceptional instance that highlights the more average story where the combination of youthful adventurism and devotion to a just religio-political cause has spurred a few Islamic Australians to war. This does not mean that Australians should admire the jihadists. Both ISIS and Al-Qaida are dangerous forces in the Middle East. Jihadists in the Australian heartland are enemies of society and state.