Make it so

Nothing unjust about depriving a jihadist of his passport. 

By Gary Scarrabelotti

Shock! Horror! Outrage! Fear and loathing! 

Our Commonwealth government has floated the idea of revoking the citizenship of dual-citizen Australians who engage in terrorist acts, or otherwise support terrorist movements here or abroad. 

The idea was launched by Andrew Nikolic, federal Member for Bass and a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security: “Let’s confront passports to terror,” (The Australian, February 16, 2015). 

Nikolic’s article was a softening up exercise preceding an expected statement on security issues by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, on Monday February 23. 

Recall that Nikolic was promoted just recently by the PM as a deputy to the new Whip, Queensland MP Scott Buchholz.  And Buchholz got his promotion when the Prime Minister withdrew support for the former Whip, and Father of the House, Phillip Ruddock.  This highly significant reshuffle of the Liberal Party’s ‘whippage’ came in the wake of the failed February 9 “spill motion” directed at Abbott’s leadership of the Liberal party. 

About the state of the Liberal Party and the condition of Abbott’s leadership, I propose to say nothing here and now.  We can be pretty confident, however, that this tougher line on passports is very much part of a Team Abbott security agenda for Australia – and around it (and equally around his own leadership that it might endure) Abbott hopes to rally his discontented soldiery.  There is nothing like refocusing on an enemy to steady the ranks. 

Nose test 

And, indeed, we are talking about an enemy. 

I mean, does it get up your nose when you read a newspaper headline containing a phrase like “Aussie jihadist” or some such? 

Well, it does mine.


I’ll tell you why: because these would-be jihadists, who leave our shores to fight for one part or another of the broad Islamic reawakening movement, are not Australians, let alone Aussies. 

They might have a bit of paper that says they are naturalised — or they might have citizenship imputed to them for having been born here — but they are not Australians in any moral sense.  They are the enemy and they have consciously adopted this role. Whether by folly, ignorance or malice aforethought, each aspirant Islamic warrior has freely chosen to take sides against us and our country.  

Deeply flawed as we are, yet we gave them, or their parents, refuge, succour and the opportunity to build new, safer and more secure lives.  The ingratitude is monumental. But, culturally speaking, we are trained to swallow even this. It is one of the remaining virtues of our civilisation. 

What we cannot accept, however, is the taking up of arms in wars consciously directed at our world, even if our land is not directly threatened (as yet) by them. 

Nor can we accept participation in Fifth Column activities in our own country intended to chime in strategically with the prosecution of foreign wars, whether for propaganda or recruitment purposes or for spreading fear among us. Such things are the work of enemies. These people have no right to be considered Australian. 

No tough call 

Consequently, depriving dual-citizens of their Australian passports is hardly a tough call.  To give it the bite of logic, we’d have to ensure that those deprived of their Australian passports while still in Australia were subsequently deported.  So as not to appear cruel and heartless, the Australian government should stand ready, in these cases, to facilitate reverse family reunions.  

That’s the easy bit. The harder bit is how to handle the case of jihadists who are Australian citizens by birth and who have no title to the passport of another country. 

Our politicians and their advisers seem to be deeply averse to rendering people stateless. They need to man-up. An Australian-born believer in jihad who travels overseas on our passport to join IS, and who fights under its banner, forfeits his rights, morally speaking, as an Australian.  We should respond by making his normative rejection of us a legal reality. 

There is nothing unjust in this.  We have only granted those who have rejected us in this way what they wished for. They made a declaration: 

“We belong to IS.” 

“We belong to the Caliphate,” or whatever. 

We have replied merely, “Make it so.”   


As I have argued before here, the prospect of losing their Australian citizenship — and with it the right of return — might sober-up a few young men who have drunk too deep the Islamist liquor. A bracing cold shower of calculations about the price they’d have to pay could reawaken common sense and set some of them on a new and better course of life.  Really, we’d be doing them a favour by taking a hard line. 

In any case, the decision to deprive people of their citizenship need not be irrevocable.  The state could restore to genuinely repentant jihadists, by an act of grace, the opportunity to make Australia home again. Magnanimity in such matters would be a mark of greatness in us. 

The case of an Australian-born jihadist who carries out a terrorist act in Australia is, however, different from that of his “brother” who chooses a life of fighting and crime in the Middle East and actually makes it over there. 

Hard poetry

Given that an act of terrorism is intended as a declaration of war — and made against us in our own home — the terrorist obviously forfeits the rights of citizenship. But loss of citizenship does not entail necessarily loss of place.  By a cruel paradox his place is with us.  Being a non-citizen, neither of this state nor any other, he can hardly remove himself, or be removed, from among us. He is here to stay. This is both a hard fact and poetic justice.  Being here is a given.  It is also exquisitely fitting, since reparation for criminal acts done here must be made in our midst. 

When the PM comes out next week to announce these new security measures — I hope for his sake and ours that he does not lose the opportunity — I am hoping he won’t proceed to tell us that he’s only proposing that we should be a little bit like the Poms and the Frogs who have already taken, or have in contemplation, even tougher measures than the modest ones being announced. 

Please, Prime Minister, spare us these shadows of once great nations with their inconsequential leaders to match the fading hour.  Cut us a robust policy in the national interest.

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