The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) ‘7:30 Report’ posted 14.8.2014 (see full report and 9 minute program video here) released some background information about Khaled Sharrouf, the ‘Australian Jihadist’ photographed in the Northern Syrian town of Raqqa. Sharrouf is believed to be operating with ISIL the jihadist organisation getting a lot of press due to release of social media reports of apparent human rights abuses. Sharrouf was brought to our attention through the media release of photos of him and his three young sons supposedly in Raqqa Syria. The photograph of the son struggling to hold aloft what appeared to be the severed head of a man we are told was a member of the Syrian government forces. John Kerry reportedly said about the photo, “This image, perhaps even an iconic photograph… is really one of the most disturbing, stomach-turning, grotesque photographs ever displayed,” see here
Other media including the Daily Telegraph and UK Daily Mail tabloids report additional information about this man and his Australian family. The Telegraph apparently also managed to speak with some of his supportive ‘friends’ (Full Telegraph article here and Daily Mail article here
A number of competing narratives and subtext are apparent in this unfolding story of an ‘Australian jihadist’.
1. Mainstream Line: Fear Homegrown Jihadists with a Middle East apprenticeship.
The mainstream media’s first responses to the photos were “Homegrown Jihadi” shock stories that ran conveniently alongside Australian government calls to deal with the return to Australia of ‘radicalised Islamist terrorists’. This ‘problem’ is something also clearly high on the agenda of the US (who actually have more to be concerned about despite the predominance of Australians in the news). Senior pollies in both countries have recently had extensive talks through AUSMIN, the Annual defence talkfest between Australia and the US (more on this in next post). This section from the publicly released ‘Joint Communique’ on the AUSMIN talks addresses the ‘joint concern’ regarding ISIL.
“Australia and the United States condemned in the strongest possible terms the actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other armed opposition groups in Iraq. They welcomed the nomination of Dr Haider al-Abadi as Prime Minister-designate, and encouraged him to form a new and inclusive Iraqi Government as soon as possible. They called on all Iraqi leaders to work closely together and adopt a unified approach to addressing the country’s challenges. The two countries indicated their deep concern about recent developments in northern Iraq and their commitment to work together and with other partners to undertake humanitarian operations to relieve besieged communities and to combat the threat posed by ISIL.”
Full AUSMIN communique released 12.8.2014 see here
2. Jihadists commit the worst human rights abuses
The addition of Sharrouf’s 3 young boys in the photographs alongside others photos showing supposed results of IS operations in Syria (that could well be considered as ‘crimes against humanity’ if they ever get to the ICC) has we are told fuelled ‘outrage’. Photo’s of Sharrouf that accompany the mainstream articles have apparently been released by the Islamic State (aka ISIL) and by Sharrouf himself, through social media. (Published on his blocked out Twitter account 8.8.2014).. It has also brought out many undiagnosed racist loonies on the net, calling for everything from denying Muslims entry to Australia to the nuclear bombing of Iraq. The blurring of national borders and ‘difference’ in these reports between the two countries of Syria and Iraq eerily echos the Islamic State’s announcement of the Caliphate in Iraq under Al Bagdadi -(more on this later). However it is far from the reality of the circumstances for each country. The Syrian Government is now being accused of ‘collective punishment’ (a term used to describe Israels pounding of Gaza civilians to destroy Hamas operatives, weaponry and tunnels). see here
The International Criminal Court will have a very busy next 20 years investigating and unraveling the disasters that have been supported and fueled by US puppet states across the Middle East. A recent article by Joel Jaeger (22.7.2014) on the reach of the ICC said “The most crucial impediment to the ICC’s global reach is the fact that the United States, Russia and China have not joined the ICC and continue to obstruct its functioning with U.N. Security Council vetoes.” ……………..Most recently, Russia and China prevented the Security Council from referring the conflict in Syria to the ICC on May 22.” see here.
Narrative Subtext: Israel does not it is mearly protecting itself
With Netenyahu bleating to the US to please save us from the ICC it is doubtful there will be any prosecution over Gaza human rights violations and ‘collective punishment’ allegations. Clearly the US Russia and China apathy regarding full commitment to the operation of the ICC prevents a fair approach across the globe to prosecutions (currently heavily weighted towards African nations) their attitude a significant obstacle to the ICC’s potential for universal application.
3. Only mad people can perform atrocities
Another narrative followed when more was discovered about Mr Sharrouf’s situation in Australia. He was now announced as thankfully ‘mad’, suffering from schitzophrenia. I say thankfully, because when we have trouble grasping the possible full implications of happenings outside our own history and experience (what we call ‘normal’) we resort to calling the acts and those performing them ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ as it helps to believe these are not normal people. As we have found with the situation of sexual assaults the people who are most often the perpetrators are quite sane and have no mental health diagnosis. The same no doubt goes for most ‘Islamist Jihadis’ so I say ‘thankfully’ as it fits nicely with our understanding of how people operate. Much harder if Sharrouf has no such history and is merely disaffected youth of struggling immigrant parents victim of Australian racism, poverty, and limited education. That’s our ‘too hard basket’ but the answer to the question ‘how could anyone do such a thing? was easily answered – he’s crazy!
None of these narratives are helpful in addressing anything but,
a) media agendas to sell quick copy and advertising space through sensationalism
b) government agendas to ensure general populace support for aggressive economic/business political agendas in the Middle East (read gas and oil) and religious/race based agendas (read racism) on the home front through instilling fear.
Another, less traveled narrative is rarely taken up by mainstream media.
Young disaffected immigrant populations require more collaborative and supportive community based policy
Successive governments also have difficulty not only because their prime agendas are supportive of US wars (both sides of our parliament have supported our heavy involvement). But also because the situation of war, our place in it and young disaffected immigrant populations, grappling with racism, family allegiances, and deaths at a distance is a complex and difficult one to unravel. It also takes time for societies to engage with these issues and to establish strategies to resolve contributing issues as a community. We want quick fix, governments especially Liberal governments in this country don’t fund peace initiatives when so much of their money goes to war and so called ‘national security’ (the rest is saved by severe cuts to social and community development programs). Additionally the Australian public generally tend to have priority interests when they are not personally effected in their daily lives. However the numbers of International first and second generation Aussies who are Muslim or have extended family in areas effected by war and oppression means we have a chance to be more broadly interested in the world stage.
Clearly, there is a divide between ethnic and religious groups of people in this country (America? Just look to Fergusen Missouri!) the geographical and financial divisions of suburbs show this particularly in our major cities. This can cause those who feel disengaged from society for whatever reason to congregate in groups of like minded people, to radicalise or even attack that society from which they are feeling disenfranchised.
What do the ‘news’ reports tell us about Mr Sharrouf and can we learn anything?
- former drug addict “addled by drugs in his teenage years”
- Anglo/australian wife Tara Nettleton fell pregnant with their first child at 17yrs old. She converted to Islam and they have 5 children
- minor player in Australia’s ‘biggest terrorism plot’ – charged with eight other Sydney men in 2005. Sharrouf was charged with possessing items to be used for a terrorist act – six clocks and 140 batteries he stole from Big W
Raids at his house uncovered bomb making instructions, two dozen bottles of chemical precursors for explosives and videos of beheadings and executions.
- Described by Sydney barrister Charles Waterstreet as ‘a class clown’ whose ‘attitude’ was to ‘get a laugh’ “one put it down to dim-wittedness a little bit, but he was really playing the clown. … He would be voted least likely to be holding a head in Iraq if one had to pick it.”
- Sharrouf’s psychiatrists reported that his mental illness had contributed to his radicalisation.
- Another treating psychiatrist said in late 2005 he began to hang out with people from the mosque, attended prayers. “This relaxed him. He found that every time he felt paranoid, the thought of God would relax him.”
- His spiritual leader was a Melbourne sheikh Abdul Nasser Benbrika, who in 2008 was found guilty on the charge of intentionally being the leader and a member of a terrorist organisation and jailed for 15 years.
- In 2009, Judge Anthony Whealy sentenced Sharrouf to a non-parole period of at least three years and 11 months in gaol. Whealy said “ You have to bear in mind that his crime, although it was a serious crime, was a pretty pathetic crime. Stealing some clocks and batteries and potato chips from a supermarket doesn’t really warrant a long time in gaol”.
- Described by Anthony Whealy as:
– a pathetic figure, violently mistreated by his father,
– a school drop out expelled at a very early age for poor behaviour
– took up drugs and involved in petty criminality
– mixed with people who introduced him to a very extreme form of radical Islamic religion
– diagnosed by psychiatrists with chronic schizophrenia, delusional, talking to other people when there were no-one there… a state of mind that persisted for some time likely caused by earlier sustained use of LSD, ecstasy and amphetamines. Symptoms quite severe, unfit to plead…. simply incapable of understanding what the court case would be about.
- Whelan said “He’s clearly over there playing a role of the master terrorist when he’s anything but, of course…he’s a very sad, pathetic figure. ….a highly unintelligent man who has no perception of himself. He is in fact no threat to us in a real sense because if he were to come back to Australia – and I doubt that he will – he would be arrested…..probably bail refused and there’d be every prospect that he’d…spend many, many years in jail here in Australia. Now, the only danger he represents, I think, is that he is cast as a sort of proselytiser of this radical Islam image and Facebook and Twitter and all that sort of thing carry that message across here to young men who might be in the position he was, young men who are angry, dissatisfied, rebellious, looking for a cause. So he does represent a danger in that sense.“
- Mixed with Comanchero bikies and police say he was “carrying out violent extortions in the construction industry, all the while on a disability pension for his mental illness.”
- Attended Sydney’s Al Risalah bookstore and prayer centre where owner “a close friend of Sharrouf’s for three years” described him as “a very honourable – a fearless man………just a genuine, genuine normal person, a caring person, a very passionate person. His passion could probably be taken as aggression if you didn’t understand him or where he was coming from…”
- Another report quotes ‘an old school friend’ as saying “it’s something that he’s always wanted to do ….he was willing to give everything up to do that. He never wants to come back. ..wants nothing to do with Australia….he’s hoping that he is granted that gift from God to die as a martyr.”
- Removed his children from Rishalla College in Lakemba without paying his fees
- Left Australia for Syria in December 2013 on his brother’s passport
- His wife followed him and travelled to Malaysia with their five children and her own mother Karen, to avoid suspicion. Her mother returned home and Middleton is understood to have continued with the three young boys and two additional teenage girls to join Sharrouf in Syria.
- Omar al-Shishani a Chechyn veteran of Islamic violent jihad, and believed to be the senior military leader of the IS group, described by the Daily Mail as “one of the public faces of IS” is believed to have spoken over the phone to ‘shock Jock’ radio 3AW. He described Sharrouf as ‘a very loveable, good kid,’ ‘He’s a faithful man.’
If this is what we know of one of our IS recruits in Syria then there will be people who work in the Western Suburbs of Sydney and the Northern suburbs of Melbourne working and living with Middle Eastern Immigrant families and their children who may be relating strongly the story of this man. His story certainly will not be unique. Tonight the ABC TV channel reported there were estimated to be about 150 men fighting with Islamic forces overseas. They reported the ‘crackdown’ now expected on investigations into people who are receiving welfare benefits and are currently believed to be involved with “terrorist organisations”. (see my previous article here on Australians in IDF in Gaza and occupied Palestinian Territories ignored by our government despite their zealous zionism.)
Mr Sharrouf has a history of serious mental health issues possibly drug induced, he is likely unmedicated as prescribed medication is often believed by people in his situation to be more debilitating than not taking anything. His wife is potentially also suffering with a history of social and familial deprivation as a young mother of five children under seven, married to a man with schizophrenia certainly she has had things tough. But she is likely to be, along with the two other young women Akhawat (sisters) who accompanied her hidden underneath a niqab (face covering) waiting for their husbands to become shaheed (a martyr).
It is clearly time for some positive policy to be drawn up to assist rather than punish young Australians who are also possibly young parents. To assist suburbs where there is a predominance of hardship, and disaffected youth to grow an inclusive community through shared experiences and for educational institutions private and public to increasingly share facilities and time for students. Isolationist policies of certain religiously based schools (I know this occurs in some Christian ‘independent’ schools) could be discouraged through financial disincentives as the schools continue to draw public monetary support. The current Abbott ‘Liberal’ government’s crackdown on welfare where amongst other Draconian policies they will not provide any financial support to the newly unemployed for 6 months places these young Australians at increased risk of chucking their lot into jihad because it looks more promising than life without a future in this ‘Lucky Country’.