The Syrian civil war (2011-), just as the civil war that wracked Iraq after the toppling of Saddam (2003-11), and the civil war that toppled Col. Gaddafi in Libya (2011), act as magnets for foreign fighters, people drawn into the conflict, often because of a shared sense of loyalty to the ethnic or sectarian value of one or the other side. Presently Australian intelligence suggests that there are some 200 Australian-born/or permanent residents who have found their way into Syria, most to fight against the incumbent government of Bashar al-Assad. These same estimates purport to know that of these 200 individuals, most have joined the ranks of the hardcore jihadist elements – the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and the Al-Nusra Front. That the handful of people who have committed themselves to the ‘cause’ might potentially pose a threat to Australia upon their return from the Syrian battlefields is obvious. Armed with jihadist ideology that is anti-Western, and with the practical knowledge of how to rig IEDs or conduct small-scale paramilitary assaults, people who have volunteered their service to groups like ISIL or Al-Nusra, are rightly considered ‘suspect’ in their enduring loyalty to the state in which they reside – for the sake of this blog – Australia. But what made these volunteers volunteer in the first place? Many are of Sunni Lebanese origin. Many are economically disadvantaged and socially alienated. Life in Australia can be tough and people need to hold onto something to give their lives meaning and hope. In this case they turn to extreme Islam and to the struggles of their ancestral homes. Realistically though, even if one were to argue that of the 200 individuals, 50 were fighters, what threat do they pose to Australia? Of our hypothetical figure of 50 fighters, some would have come home with physical or psychological trauma from the conflict. Some would have come home thoroughly jaded with political Islam and abandon it altogether, perhaps leaving as many as 10 jihadists. From these 10 jihadists possibly as few as 5 able-bodied, radicalised fighters may consider to take up arms against Australia. Assuming that 5 hardcore fighters exist, they would probably attempt to attack large, soft targets like open markets, malls and places of symbolic value. However, since 9/11, the Bali (2002) bombings and the London (2005) bombings, these soft targets are now covered by CCTV cameras – all linked to state and territory policing agencies. Local intelligence agencies are also confident of identifying and tracking those they believe pose some threat to Australia. There are no guarantees of perfect information, but it is better than total ignorance. Coming from the school of thought that prevention is better than cure, one has to wonder, why did the Australian government subscribe to multicultural theory, when the practice of multiculturalism is fraught with issues of national discord and discourages social cohesion? A strong country that values its own people from whatever background, and actively integrates them into the rich tapestry of one over-arching national culture, is surely better than a country that breeds disgruntlement, resentment and allows ancient feuds to fester under the guise of minority rights and freedoms. But then again such a country would probably have an economic model that allowed its human capital to be gainfully employed rather than trapped in the crushing dependence of welfare.
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