I live in Australia, where we have a Prime Minister (Scott Morrison, pictured) who is admired for winning an election against the odds and almost single-handed. But few people like him and fewer trust him. Like Boris Johnson, he won because people couldn’t stomach the alternative.

We were recently visited by the Prime Minister of our smaller, poorer sister-state New Zealand (Jacinda Ardern, also pictured). I’d hazard a guess that if the Australian electorate were given the choice they’d vote overwhelmingly for Jacinda to replace Scott. She comes across as sincere, principled, compassionate, straight-talking… the qualities that seem to be disqualifications for high political office in Australia.

Now I’ll come to the point. As well as making amicable noises about our common values and regional interests while she was here, Jacinda raised in public a very sharp-edged issue. Many New Zealanders live in Australia and some run foul of the law. If they are imprisoned for a year ior more, and have not obtained Australian citizenship, they are expelled to New Zealand on their release. Most of these people are long-term Australian residents and have little if any connection with New Zealand; in some cases they came here as babies. Jacinda Ardern asserts – reasonably in my view – that these people have made Australia their home and should be accepted as Australia’s problem. She threatened to introduce a reciprocal law in New Zealand if we did not change ours.

Scott Morrison stood firm, as he is wont to do (unless radio shock-jocks tell him not to). But there is another, equally hard-edged issue that undermines his intransigence. There are Australians among the ragged remnants of Daesh/ISIS held as prisoners in Syria. They are not wanted there, but are considered too dangerous to release. If citizenship is the criterion, surely Australia has a moral duty to take these people back, charge them with crimes, re-educate them, hand their children over to foster parents, keep them under surveillance, or let them go. But the Government says, “No.”

Scott Morrison likes to talk about keeping Australians safe. That’s fine, but as one of the world’s richest and most stable countries I’d say we have a bigger responsibility than that. Am I wrong?

ISIS Brides and Babies


There are thousands of them: foreign women who married Daesh (aka IS, ISIL or ISIS) men and who are now sitting in refugee camps, in many cases with their children.  Some are alleged to have attacked other refugees whose behaviour does not conform to Daesh norms, and even to have set firs to those people’s tents.

Mother and Child in a Kurdish-run Camp

Their home countries are reluctant to take them back, for understandable reasons. It’s hard to believe the claims that they were too young to know what they were getting into, or were taken in by the propaganda about the creation of a perfect Islamic state and somehow missed the bits about murder, torture, rape and slavery.

The case of Shamima Begum has hit the headlines in the UK, whence she fled at the age of 15 to join Daesh. Her Dutch husband survived the fighting and has renounced Daesh. Shamima wants to go home with her baby. The UK doesn’t want either of them. It’s a similar story with Australia Zehra Duman. An estimated 9,000 are nationals of the Russian Federation (mainly Chechnya) and other former Soviet Republics.

My view is pretty simple. These people, however wicked, deluded or gullible they may have been, are citizens of countries which have laws, institutions and financial resources far beyond those of the Kurds and others who are holding them. It’s our responsibility to receive them back, subject the adults to due legal process, and care for the children in such a way that they will grow up sane, productive and law-abiding. This will not be cheap, but it will surely be cheaper than letting stateless extremists and their hapless offspring roam the world working mischief.

I just checked, and Australia still has a law dealing with treason. It is contained in Chapter 5 of the Criminal Code. The penalty for intentionally assisting, by any means whatever, another country or organisation [my emphasis] that is engaged in hostilities against the Australian Defence Force is life imprisonment.

The law is specifically framed to include terrorist organisations. One would hope that the phrase “by any means whatever” is broad enough to encompass making one’s way into a war zone to marry an enemy combatant and bear his children, who will be educated in extremism and brought up to be Daesh’s foot soldiers – and martyrs if they’re lucky.



Causes thrive on martyrs. Suicide bombers are described as ‘martyrs’ by their puppet masters. Interestingly, people who gain moral strength from their own martyrs rarely recognise that their enemies may gain equal moral strength from theirs.

The opponents of fanatical Islamism, which is fuelled by the blood of ‘martyrs’, have gained a new martyr of their own: Colonel Arnaud Beltrame (pictured). He was the police officer who exchanged himself for a hostage at the Super U supermarket in Trèbes.

Not only did he expose himself to the most extreme danger. He kept his mobile ’phone with him and connected to fellow police officers, allowing them to hear what was going on inside.

Arnaud Beltrame died a hero’s death. His heroism and his name will be remembered when the ‘martyrs’ of Daesh, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and their like are at the bottom of the rubbish heap of history.

Hate Speech


Yesterday I was paddling a kayak on the Dnieper River. I was in the back seat, Tamara was in the front. Out of the blue she asked me about my religion. I replied that I was an atheist. After a moment’s thought she said, “So what do you love?” She gestured upward, as much as one can while paddling a kayak, so clearly “My wife” or “My family” would not do as an answer.

Not really us – our kayak was red.

“Truth and justice,” I said eventually. That seemed too short a list and I searched for more things that I could express in Russian. But even in English I decided those two were enough.

Ashore, I pondered my answer. Does loving truth and justice necessarily mean hating untruth and injustice? After all, untruth and injustice encompass ignorance, superstition, indoctrination, exploitation, tyranny, cruelty… all things to be hated, surely.

Then today I was listening to a podcast: Phillip Adams interviewing US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who when practising as a lawyer had defended extremists’ first amendment right to express views that most people found abhorrent.

“What about hate speech?” asked Phillip. I found myself agreeing with Glenn when he said that freedom of speech cannot be qualified. Who defines ‘hate speech’ – the Government? Facebook? Google? He cited German cases where criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has resulted in prosecution as anti-Semitic hate speech.

But is there a distinction to be drawn between hatred of abstract ideas and hatred of the people who subscribe to those ideas? We all (I hope) hate what is done in Daesh’s name: murder, kidnapping, rape, slavery and the rest. But is it alright to hate the perpetrators? And is it alright to express that hatred publicly?

From kayaking to cognition. From paddling to pontification. What do you think?


Australian of the Year . . . ?


It’s a dilemma, I know. We are at war, de jure or de facto, with Daesh and sundry other Islamist organisations in the Middle East and Africa. (For the purposes of this article ‘we’ applies to the people of Australia, but it could apply to the citizens of any militarily active Western democracy.) We are also allied with the USA, other nations and other organisations whose interests align with our own.

So what should be our attitude if a citizen, a civilian, decides to go overseas to fight with one of those organisations? It’s illegal to fight overseas except as a member of the Australian armed forces, and I can see why such a law should exist. How can one be sure that the person concerned has not in fact been fighting on behalf of our enemies – either directly or as a spy or saboteur operating within an allied organisation? What moral responsibility would we be forced to accept it the person were killed or injured or captured or accused of a war crime?

Let’s consider the actual case of Ashley Dyball (pictured below), a Queenslander who has returned from Syria where he fought bravely and effectively alongside Kurdish forces against Daesh.


On his return he was questioned by police and still lives under the threat of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment. But to most Australians he’s a hero, on a par with foreigners who went to Spain to oppose Franco in the 1930s. I would even suggest that he should be nominated for Australian of the Year.

There are thousands of people of warrior age who while away their time playing shoot-em-up video games, or who flee the fighting for lack of means to defend their communities. We should be encouraging those people to take up real arms and kill real enemies – enemies who are the closest thing to embodied evil that we are likely to see in our lifetimes.

Level 2 !!!


At last, I have scrambled up from the Level 1 floor of the TripAdvisor hierarchy. My review today gave me the 100 points I needed to reach Level 2.  I suppose I’ll get a more exciting badge than the pencil tip logo that I’ve been virtually wearing on my virtual label.

In case you’re interested, I reviewed Tatev Monastery (photo below) and the 5+km cableway that takes visitors across a gorge to reach it. It’s in southern Armenia, not far from the border with the disputed territory of Ngorno Karabakh.  I made my 2nd visit last week.  This time I went back by car to the other end of the cableway (the Wings of Tatev) which allowed me to look at the Devil’s Bridge on the way: a natural tunnel, worn by running water.


What I’d really like to do is walk through the man-made tunnel that runs between the monastery, on top of the hill, and the hermitage in the valley. Monks dug the tunnel as a means of escape in the event of an attack.  In the photo you’ll see that the monastery is as much a castle as a place of religious retreat.  Armenians live in a neighbourhood that has seldom been at peace.

As I tried to imagine the physical and logistical obstacles to building a castle-cum-monastery on top of a mountain, and digging a very long tunnel through solid rock, a thought occurred to me. If those Daesh people are as motivated in their religious zeal as those monks of old were motivated, we’re going to have to pull out all the stops to beat them.  Bigger and better Eurovision Song Contests will not be enough.

Orphans in Raqqa


An Australian woman has died in Raqqa, in DAESH-held Syrian territory, after having surgery for appendicitis.  She left her five young children orphaned, the eldest being a 14-year-old girl.  Their father, Khaled Sharrouf, died earlier, but not before he was photographed making his son hold aloft the severed head of a murdered Syrian soldier.

Some people are now calling on the Australian Government to try to bring the children home. Their plight is horrible, but how could they possible be rescued?  Surely DAESH will not give them up.  They will be indoctrinated, if this has not occurred already, and used as cannon-fodder.  Sending in a special forces team to find them and bring them out would be unjustifiably risky.  Ransoming them would a) put money in the hands of the wickedest people on the planet; and b) encourage future kidnappings and efforts to entice gullible people into DAESH’s clutches, to be traded with their distraught family members or governments.

This case is a tragic one, we cannot always save children from the folly or criminality of their parents. Many thousands of children’s lives are being ruined by parents who use illicit drugs, drink to excess, fail to send their children to school, feed them junk food, and subject them to sexual abuse or violence.

Parent Tumor


I don’t know if Barak Obama came up with that label for DAESH himself, or if a PR consultant pulled a focus group together and workshopped it.  But it’s a good one.  Militant islamism is a cancerous growth in the body of humanity.  That tells us what kind of treatment it calls for.

Islamic Reformation?


I’ve read and heard several commentators lately, either advocating an islamic version of the Christian Reformation or arguing that such an event has already happened and the results are not pretty.

Former Australian PM Tony Abbott leads the advocacy pack, implying that a reformation would be a modernising influence, moving Islam away from the beliefs and practices that make it barbaric in many people’s eyes.  I don’t want to put words into Mr Abbott’s mouth, but I assume he would share my hope that modernisation would do away with animal sacrifice, pointless dietary rules, punitive mutilation, oppression of women, suppression of other beliefs, contempt for infidels, and capital punishment of individuals categorised as blasphemers, apostates and heretics.

Waleed Aly, a young Australian Muslim who has become my second favourite radio journalist, argues that “Islam’s own version of the Reformation already occurred in the 18th century” and led to Wahhabism, a form of Sunni Islam which is enforced in Saudi Arabia and is the philosophical platform for al-Qaeda, DAESH and other extremist organisations.

Paul Monk disagrees with Waleed Aly in many things but agrees with him in this.  I commend his article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The UK’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, also agrees. In a recent interview on Australian radio he pointed out that the Christian Reformation was a reaction against corruption in the Catholic Church.  The reformers wanted to return to true Christian values.  This is how Md ibn Abd al-Wahhab saw his 18th century reformation: a return to true Islamic values.

It is as erroneous as it is understandable that we tend to equate ‘reform’ with ‘improvement’, ‘progress’ and ‘becoming more like us’.


Bombing DAESH


The news has just come through – the UK Parliament has voted in favour of bombing DAESH in Syria as well as Iraq.  This is a victory for common sense as well as a boost for British self-respect.  The civilised world is confronting the closest thing to pure evil that we are likely to see in my lifetime.  For a nation with such a proud military history – not always a glorious one in moral terms, I concede – to stand back while others are stepping forward would have been a disgrace.

By the way, for the sake of balance, here’s a link to an article asserting that using the term ‘DAESH’ or ‘Daesh’ is silly.