Revoking citizenship, Australia’s NIMBYism and avoiding responsibilities

New Zealand-born Australian woman Suhayra Aden has been stripped of her Australian citizenship by the federal government. Accused of Islamic State affiliation, she was detained by Turkish authorities. The latter, initially charged Aden with IS-related charges, but later dropped them and began deportation proceedings. Currently Aden, and her two children, are languishing in the Al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria.

She retains her NZ citizenship. Though born in NZ, Aden had been living in Melbourne since the age of six. Raised and educated in Australia, she did have dual citizenship, until the federal government recent revocation. Aden had traveled to Syria in 2014 on the Australian passport, and both governments of NZ and Australia discussed what to do should she ever return.

By canceling Aden’s citizenship, the Australian government adopted the laziest, parochial path of least responsibility. The Morrison government, adhering strictly to the relevant legislation, followed the course of leafblower diplomacy. What does that mean? A leafblower pushes the leaves off your territory, and they become someone else’s problem.

The following image is not mine, and is included here only for educational purposes. Copyright belongs to the creator of the picture, not me:

While the image above refers directly to the issue of asylum seekers, it applies equally to the global NIMBYism demonstrated by the Australian authorities. NZ Prime Minister Ardern levelled heavy criticisms of the Morrison government’s cowardly ducking of responsibility. Ardern stated that Canberra was “exporting its problems”, abdicating responsibility by washing its hands of Aden.

Legal experts in NZ criticised Australian authorities’ handling of this issue, saying that by divesting Aden of citizenship, they were practically handpassing the ball to NZ. Associate Professor John Ip, from the faculty of law at the University of Auckland, described Morrison’s actions as legalised NIMBYism.

Cancelling citizenship for overseas fighting offences is problematic at best. While Aden travelled to Syria in 2014, there is no actual concrete information about what she did there. Once the mere accusation of terrorism is levelled, the person is convicted in the public eye. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) admitted in one of its articles that the Turkish government has in the past, accused people who simply lived under IS-rule of terrorism, when there was no actual evidence of their role as combatants.

At the time Aden travelled to Syria, the US, British, and associated allied governments, including Canberra, quietly if not openly supported the various Islamist fundamentalist rebel militias fighting to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. The Saudis, Turkey and similar ‘frontline’ states were actively supporting and financing fundamentalist rebel groups, and these organisations attracted recruits from around the world. The foreign policy establishment in Canberra did not question the consequences of training armed Islamist militias, and what would follow should the secular Arab nationalist Syrian regime be successfully toppled.

The Syrian problem arose, from the perspective of Washington, London (and Canberra) when the wrong Islamist fundamentalist militia was strengthened in Syria – Islamic State. The preferred proxies of the West found themselves weakening with the rise of IS. Clandestine American military aid – and the inflow of non-Syrian recruits – was going to the wrong side. The corporate media suddenly ‘discovered’ the ultra-sectarian and violent nature of the militias opposing the Syrian regime.

The policies of Washington, and Canberra, created conducive circumstances for the outflow of non-Syrian foreign fighters. Of course, no Australian or American official openly stated ‘go join the Islamist rebels.’ Actually, the late Republican Senator and war-enthusiast John McCain, encouraged his government to assist the ‘right people‘ in the Syrian conflict. When Australian citizens, encouraged by the friendly policies of their government to the Islamist rebel cause, end up as foreign fighters, we must acknowledge our responsibility in creating the Syrian war.

The Syrian regime has largely defeated the rebel groupings, and the non-Syrian fighters are returning home. The UK, adopting the tactic of citizenship revocation, has used that measure against Shamima Begum, the British-born woman who travelled to Syria to join IS in 2015. She was stripped of UK citizenship in 2019. The UK government has argued that Begum, being of Bengali background, can go and live in Bangladesh, even though she is British-born. Begum has never resided, or even visited Bangladesh.

The Australian federal government is following the UK’s example, engaging in its own act of sordid opportunism with regards to Aden. Morrison, taking his cue from his Tory ideological forebears in the UK, is sending a clear signal to Australians of Muslim heritage – your citizenship can be taken away, and you don’t really belong here. Audrey Macklin, human rights expert at the University of Toronto, states that conservative governments trade in the implicit understanding that citizens of brown skin do not ‘really belong’.

Macklin writes that non-white and non-Christian citizens can be easily excluded, for instance through citizenship revocation, because they can return to their ‘real’ country of origin. Permanently temporary seems to be the category to which non-white migrants and refugees are assigned. This formalises the underlying ‘go back to where you come from‘ anti-immigrant xenophobia which pervades Australian politics.

Should Aden be treated with a ‘soft’ approach? No, of course not. She cannot face justice if she is permanently barred from returning to Australia. Her decision to join IS – if that allegation is true – is horrendous. It is our responsibility to step up and ensure that she is held accountable for her actions – which is the standard we (should) apply to every Australian. Flimsy presumptions of guilt do not constitute evidence.

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