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What drives young Australian Muslims to join IS

  • 26 February 2015

Effective policies are based on respect, which in turn implies a feel for how human beings work. That is the starting point from which we should look at the Government’s developing response to the threat of terrorism in Australia.

I should begin with a small confession.  In my last school years as the Soviet troops were invading Hungary to put down the brief revolution there, I wondered uneasily whether it was not perhaps my duty to go to Hungary to fight for freedom there.

For an idealistic young man whose Catholicism was tightly intertwined with anti-communism, the thought was natural. To my relief, the possibility disappeared long before I even contemplated the practicalities of getting to Hungary and of finding a resistance group to join, let alone one with some ethical code. And before I needed to speak about the idea with people whom I trusted, who of course would have dissuaded me.

Still, the memory gives me some empathy with, and much dread for, young Muslims who might similarly be enticed by desire or duty to give themselves to overseas causes.  I sometimes wonder how I, and people more spirited than I, might have acted if the struggle for Hungary had have continued and resistance forces had sought overseas support. I try to imagine how we may have responded if a suitably Left wing Government had set out to stop people from joining the Hungarian resistance by threatening to deprive us of citizenship when we returned to Australia, calling into question the loyalty of Catholics in Australia, blaming people’s criminal behaviour on their Catholicism, raiding Catholic houses, mocking those who showed any empathy with them, banning some of the more passionately Anti-Communist priests, and trying to deport the most notorious Catholic of the time, Mr Santamaria. 

My guess now is that such measures would have inflamed the residual sense of exclusion and discrimination felt by many of us Catholics at the time, exacerbated tensions between Anglophile Catholics and those who identified with the wrongs of Ireland, and have left the Catholic community resentful and afraid.  It would have encouraged young people like myself to listen to the strident call of those we saw as martyrs for their faith, and to dismiss those we saw as more cautious. We certainly would have sought the advice of like minded contemporaries rather than of our elders who seemed to compromise their faith. And the Catholic community