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Foreign fighter with the 'Anzac spirit'

  • 13 July 2015

It’s hard not to admire Reece Harding, who died in Syria fighting for the Kurdish peshmerga against IS. His sense of social justice, idealism and internationalism led him to take up arms against an organisation he seemingly believed lived up to Tony Abbott’s characterisation as a ‘death cult’.  

His father, Keith Harding, told the ABC:

With all the information that's spread about on the internet with people beheading people, killing children, raping and beating women, I think it really did get to him in the end […] He felt that he wanted to do the right thing and try and stop it in his small way that he could […] I'm sure that's the driving force of him going to do this.

The Islamic State hasn’t made any effort to hide its brutality; on the contrary, it’s promoted it and used it as a perverted recruiting tool. But the Federal Government has also used it to stoke fear within Australia, play-up the risk of terrorism at home, dismantle democratic freedoms and the rule of law and boost its own approval rating.

The media saturation, the constant ‘death cult’ references and the battle between the two major parties over who can better protect Australians has meant politicians have benefitted from the characterisation of IS as a force more violent and ruthless than the world has ever seen.

IS has a special status, partly because of their online propaganda, but also because politicians have afforded it to them. There’s hardly been a week in the past year that the PM hasn’t made a direct or indirect reference to the rape and torture of the Yazidis. But when was the last time he mentioned the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram?

Reece Harding was simply answering the prime minister’s increasingly nationalistic and jingoistic calls to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ the ‘Islamist death cult’.

The government has warned Australians against travelling to the Middle East to fight on any side. But these calls are drowned out by decades of contradictory rhetoric that has seen the Anzac legend (or myth) placed at the very fore of Australian history and culture. It’s become Australia’s great foundation story, filling the void of the revolution she never had and obscuring the mass murder of the Aboriginal people.

‘Anzac values’ and ‘Australian values’ have become synonyms embodying ideas of larrikinism, mateship and disdain for authority. After more than a decade of John Howard promoting Gallipoli as Australia’s