Thursday, May 30, 2013

When did defending innocents become radical?

Every night I listen to the increasing death toll of children and civilians in a brutal, now sectarian civil war. I think of my friends who are desperately trying to get their families out of Syria, and of Bob Carr's comment about the unusual aspect of 33% of Syrian homes being razed by the government forces.

I know how far I will go in order to protect my children - and I am not a radical. I feel the pain of my friends whose extended families flee for their lives or are callously butchered.

The conflict is complex, the solutions are not easy. But how can a government assume that having the courage to protect dying innocents is somehow a 'radical' religious idea?

In 1996 when the Israeli army invaded Lebanon, I was Principal of a Muslim school. Then also I shared the pain of some of my senior students who came to me in tears with the latest news of the death of a grandmother or loved uncle. At the time we conducted interfaith activities with senior students from Jewish and Christian schools. Some of the graduate students from the Jewish school had enlisted in the invading army - one of them being killed. At the same time, warnings arrived to our grieving students that if they attempted to return home to defend their grandmother's or uncle's home, they could be charged under anti-terrorism laws.

We celebrate the heroism of our Aussie, US or ANZAC soldiers, but war exacts a mental toll that is not easily healed - and each of these men struggle with their demonic memories in different ways, often with little support. They often return unsure of the ethics in what they engaged in - more recently because they were part of an invading force that inflicted untold suffering on a civilian population and as a result they suffer extremely high levels of mental illness.

Whatever the war or the cause, we should have mechanisms to support the men involved. Such support might have prevented the US massacres committed by returning veterans, and should be given equally to young men arriving from war torn countries - whether Somalia, Burma, the Congo or Syria.

Today is seems that whatever is deemed good for Australia is somehow ethical - even if it is clearly not. And anything that supports or protects innocents that is not directly beneficial to Australia's interests is somehow threatening.

Forcing young men to accept the heroism of invaders and the demonisation of defenders is an impossible expectation. This is what drives young men to radicalisation.

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