The rising number of Australians fighting alongside terrorist groups in Syria is troubling Australian politicians and news media, who fear that they will return to bring jihad to Australia.
But as Attorney-General George Brandis pushes to increase anti-terrorism measures, we must first make clear the threat that Australian fighters in Syria pose to our nation, if they pose a threat at all.
Attorney-General George Brandis addressed the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington earlier this year, in a show commitment, reinforcing Australia's intelligence sharing with the United States.
Brandis' speech highlighted the role of Australians fighting overseas, as they continue to climb the ranks of a number of designated terrorist orginizations.
Asserting that “Australia is one of the largest sources of foreign war fighters to the Syrian conflict”, Brandis follows sustained claims by much of the Australian media that these young men will return to Australia radicalized and battle-hardened, with plans to wage war here at home.
The truth of the matter, however, is that the Australians who are fighting in Syria will choose not to return home at all.
It is well-known that Australians have been joining and fighting alongside groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a reactionary and al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group who have been fighting against the Syrian government for some time and have made headlines in their attempt to seize control of Iraq.
However, after widespread occurrences of foreign fighters in Syria publicly burning their passports and denouncing their home countries, their intentions have been demonstrated.
The lands where they are fighting, and the battle that they are involved in, is far more important to them than the countries of which they have come from, and they have no aim to return.
The region which now contains Syria is a part of the geographical region of the Levant; an area which includes Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and much of southern Turkey.
The Levant is a highly regarded region in Islam, and for many other religions and cultures as well.
The purpose of the mujahideen in Syria is not to return home, and definitely not to bring jihad to their home nations with the intent of establishing Islamic states.
The present goal of ISIL and other groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, a group popular with foreign fighters, is to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, or to die as martyrs in the birthing lands of their faith.
The risk of Australian fighters in Syria returning with radicalized beliefs and battle experience should not concern the Australian public. As the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula to its south, makes up much of the Islamic holy land, they have no cause to bring their interpretation of jihad to Australia. They have no plans of establishing an Islamic state in the great southern continent.
That is not to say that Australians should not worry about the recent surge of radical Islam coming from our own backyard, however there are more pressing aspects of the problem to focus on.
The threat that Islamic extremism poses in Australia, is the further demonization of the religion by the Australian media, politicians and interest groups.
The rise of nationalism is always followed by a rise in extremism. If we continue on this path our nation will be fractured along religious lines.
The feelings of disconnectedness and alienation, which have been prevalent among our Muslim and Arab communities since the inception of the war on terror, have influenced the rise of radical Islam in Australia.
As the growth of Islamic extremism in the United Kingdom correlated precisely with the gaining popularity of ultra-nationalist political parties, such as the British National Party, and violent groups such as the English Defence League, it is clear that the two feed off one another.
The same situation is becoming a present concern in Australia. Although we still trail behind the United Kingdom, nationalist groups in their infancy, such as the Australian Defence League and the Australia First Party, have fostered the growth of radical Islam here in Australia.
Growing anti-Muslim sentiment, combined with the vitriolic rhetoric surrounding immigration, feeds feelings of isolation and detachment within Muslim and Arab communities, preventing free integration.
Young Australian Muslims are being pushed to the boundaries of Australian society by nationalist groups and their sympathisers.
It seems natural that they would then grasp onto the fringe groups who sit on the same boundaries, and who offer them the acceptance that is being so stringently denied.
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