In the aftermath of Islamic State’s defeat, it was anticipated that fighters and other members of the group would appeal to the very court system of a liberal democracy whose laws they rejected and whose way of ordering society they sought to supplant when they joined the terrorist group. And in two courts at opposite ends of the world, legal battles are set to commence that could have a significant impact on the way that liberal democracies are able to define the responsibilities that citizenship demands of a person.
One of the arrows that liberal democracies have in the legislative quiver is the ability to revoke the citizenship from dual-nationals who support or join terrorist organisations. The argument being that citizenship not only bestows rights, it also demands responsibilities of an individual. And a fundamental responsibility of a citizen is not to join groups that seek to attack the country of which you are a citizen.
It is a controversial issue in some quarters, and in Australia the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security this month released its report on amendments to the bill to revoke citizenship that could soon be put to a vote.
There are a range of amendments proposed. The Minister for Home Affairs would have the authority to strip a person of their citizenship and must take into account the effects of this on the person’s dependents. It would backdate the relevant conduct for which someone may become subject to having their citizenship revoked from 12 December 2015 to 29 May 2003 (presumably to capture the pre-Islamic State terrorists due for release from jail).
Few people may be aware that Australia’s current laws to revoke citizenship are also under challenge for the first time.
Indications are that revoking a person’s citizenship for terrorist offences has popular support in Australia. The stereotype of a gun-toting bearded jihadi elicits very little sympathy among the population of liberal democracies.
But it is debatable whether that same level of disdain exists for women, and mothers in particular. Even though they are ideological fellow travellers, they are much less martial in appearance, and if a terrorist were ever to gain support for actions authorities take against them, then surely women, and mothers in particular, would be it. Perhaps that is the reason why the two highest profile appeals against the revoking of citizenship going through the court systems currently involve women.
The first of these is the (now former) UK national Shamima Begum, the teenager who along with two other friends (one of whom, Amira Abase, reportedly married the Australian Islamic State terrorist Abdullah Elmir, who was killed in Syria) willingly travelled to join Islamic State in Syria. After the group’s defeat in Baghouz she turned up in a camp in Syria in February 2019 and had her citizenship revoked in July that year by the UK Home Secretary.
In July this year the UK Court of Appeal ruled that for her to effectively challenge the decision to strip her of her citizenship she had to be allowed to return to the UK. The Home Office has now been granted leave to appeal that decision.
Few people may be aware that Australia’s current laws to revoke citizenship are also under challenge for the first time. Zehra Duman has appealed to the High Court after she was stripped of her citizenship in October 2019, and has included in her case her two children. From what we know, Duman entered Turkey from Australia using her Turkish passport before entering Syria, and she had an active and high profile pro-Islamic State social media profile during her time there. She too ended up in a camp in Syria after her Islamic State dream ended in the dusty fields of Baghouz.
Duman was Islamically married to three Australian Islamic State fighters during her time in Syria, all of whom are believed to have been killed. As far as is known, she had one child each to the second and third Islamic State fighter to whom she was married.
Certainly the children on the face of it would be eligible for Australian citizenship, even if their mother lost hers. But exactly what to do with them is just one of the difficult decisions for the government, for Zehra Duman and her family, as well as for the families of the dead Islamic State fighters back in Australia.
The legal and moral morass that Duman and others created through their actions on behalf of, and loyalty to an intolerant, violent terrorist group now have to be traversed, slow time, by governments and courts.