Flawed Categories: Foreign Fighters Overseas and Down Under

Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Nir Arielli makes the following relevant point: “Historically, foreign war volunteers, whether in Spain or in other conflicts, have never been homogenous in terms of their motivations, commitment and postwar trajectories.” Volunteers are also driven by various motivations: for those going to Syria to fight in the civil war, the issue of television images are powerful; for those seeking to fight for the International Brigades in Spain, it was newspaper reportage. In Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell noted how he began “with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but… had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do.” Sources of radicalisation and motivation for the foreign fighter, in other words, tend to be eclectic. There are not merely considerations of jihad, the spiritual afterlife or a proletarian paradise. Not understanding this lays the ground for unresolved issues regarding the radicalised fighter.

This paper looks at how the foreign fighter has been appraised in Australian policy circles, mindful of international comparisons when needed, and critiquing the Australian approach in terms of law and public policy. It also considers different attitudes to radicalised fighters who actually went to fight in foreign theatres (for instance, Croatian Australians fighting in Yugoslavia during the 1960s and 1970s). What makes a radicalised fighter possess a resume to be permissibly integrated? What makes them different from standard recruits who also commit crimes in the name of a state? The paper suggests that the foreign fighter concept is highly unstable, if not a false category altogether, requiring a complex array of social and policy responses that may also have to include, given the recent Islamic State influence, responses to dealing with spouse members and children.