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.

Poster Children


The photo of a drowned 3-year-old lying face-down on a Turkish beach suddenly became visual shorthand for the miserable situation in Syria and the desperation of people seeking refuge.

It is an admirable human trait that our sympathy is aroused by the sight of a child in distress. Indeed, if we did not react that way very few children would make it into adulthood. But I am uneasy about the kneejerk-ism that such sympathy provokes. Complex issues should be addressed thoughtfully and with full understanding of causes and effects.

At the moment nothing is more complex than the tangle of superstition, competition and ancient hatred that characterises the Arab world. I want my government and other governments to behave rationally. I do not want them to be pressured by compassionate electors to take heart-warming, headline-grabbing decisions that buy short-term popularity at the expense of actions that could, perhaps, lead to long-term solutions.