I ruffled a few feathers by referring to Gerry Brownlee as a “buffoon” during a radio interview this week. The subject in question was the involuntary repatriation of Suharya Aden and her children to NZ after Australia cancelled her citizenship. Brownlee was blathering about her being a terrorist security threat, how she jumped the que ahead of deserving Kiwis in the MIQ line and how the government needed to be more transparent about the process under which Ms. Aden was to be returned and administered. He said that NZ should adopt citizenship-stripping laws like those in Australia so as to prevent the likes of MS. Aden returning voluntarily or otherwise.
Truth be told, what I really wanted to say but could not because of time constraints was that Mr. Brownlee was/is a “racist dog-whistling, grasping-at-straws-on-the-security-angle tool.” I say so because Brownlee is the guy who ran the Christchurch earthquake “relief” efforts and sent private investigators to spy on insurance claimants and residents asking for help; who said that there were no white supremacists in Christchurch after the March 15 attacks; who hinted at dark conspiracy theories about Covid during the 2020 election; who railed about refugees during debate about the Control Order Bill last year when the Bill was strictly about returning Kiwis suspected to be involved in foreign conflicts. He was part of a government that regularly hid, misled or deliberately lied to the public on a number of issues, including those involving national security. He was an atrocious Defence Minister, more interested in junkets than full metal jackets, and a piss-poor Foreign Minister (among other failures) who was every diplomatic reception’s worst nightmare. He is long past his expiry date as a politician, so being a public buffoon is a step up. If you wish you can call him a tool, but either way, Pablo don’t suffer the fool.
As part of the debate on the Control Orders Bill (now Act) Brownlee knows that Control Orders come into effect once a person is on NZ soil and that invocation of the Act automatically triggers suppression orders on the name and case details of the person(s) targeted by the Act. His claims for more “transparency” about Ms. Aden’s case in progress are therefore disingenuous at best. Also, as a former Defence Minister, he should know something about operational and information security, so demanding to know how/when she is being returned is also a cynical ploy.
In any event enough about him. For the sake of clarity, let me outline some facts about Ms. Aden’s case, but without breeching any secrecy protocols.
Suhayra Aden was born in Mt. Roskill in 1995 of Somali refugee parents. At age six her family moved to Australia, settling in Melbourne, and took Australian citizenship. Her family is still there. in 2014, at age 19, she travelled to Turkey and from there was smuggled into Syria in order to become a so-called “jihadi bride.” How and why she became radicalised in Australia is not publicly known but likely to be known to Australian authorities. She may have been radicalised on-line. She may have been subjected to family or peer pressure. She may just wanted to see the world or get a taste for adventure. She was young, gullible, perhaps manipulable and clearly made some bad decisions. And yet she is still quite young at 26.
Two aspects of the Turkey/Syrian phase of her life are worth noting: First, according to Australian journalists who interviewed her in 2019, that she had second thoughts about the venture once she got to Turkey and tried to call her mother to seek help in escaping. She was unsuccessful and was taken by her minders/smugglers into Syria instead. This raises the possibility that everything that happened to her afterwards was done under duress, without her informed consent. Second, she was not “married” in the traditional Western sense of the word. In the medieval world view of ISIS, women are domestic servants, sex toys and breeders, that is, reproductive vessels of future fighters. They are assigned “husbands” and required to submit to them in every way. They are therefore not so much “wives” as they are domestic servants, sex slaves or, in historical terms, concubines. Concubines have interpersonal and sexual relationships with (often polygamous) men but do not hold the status of “full” wives whether or not there is a “full” wife in the picture. I have been told that my characterisation of Ms. Aden as a concubine or camp follower has been labeled as sexist by some NZ fourth wave feminists, but I suggest that they read a dictionary and get back to me on that one. Remember–it is ISIS that is medieval when it comes to gender roles, not me.
In Ms. Aden’s case, she had two “husbands,” one or both of them apparently Swedish (I have read conflicting reports on this). Both were killed in Syria, presumably fighting Western or Assad’s forces. She had three children with these men, one of whom died at an infant or toddler age of pneumonia. In 2019 she fled to the Al-Hawl refugee camp in northwestern Syria. That means that during the four years (2015-2019) she was actually in Syria, she was pregnant for 27 months of that time (2 years and 3 months). She presumably nursed her infants concurrently with and after those pregnancies. Along with the gender role assignation described above, that strongly suggests that she was not an ISIS fighter and therefore is unlikely to have been involved in committing atrocities even if her husbands were. And even if she was or knew about such things, the fact that she was likely acting against her will from the onset mitigates against accusations that she was actively engaged in terrorism. Evidence to the contrary, labelling her as a “terrorist” therefore seems to me to be smear of the most vile sort, something that many corporate and social media outlets, Gerry Brownlee and Judith Collins have all done.
In February 2021 Ms. Aden and her surviving children were caught by Turkish border authorities while attempting to cross into that country from Syria. At the time Turkish officials called her a “terrorist” but after questioning about evidence to that effect they dropped the claims. Instead, the narrative changed to her fleeing Al-Hawl in order to escape ISIS. Unlike the Kiwi “bumbling jihadist” Mark Taylor, who is in Kurdish custody, the Turkish authorities are keen to have Ms. Aden and her children deported. Lucky for her and unlucky for him, NZ feels obliged to help with that process. But how did NZ come to be involved?
In the 2019 interview with Australian journalists conducted at Al-Hawl, Ms. Aden expressed a desire to return to Australia. After the interview was made public, in early 2020 the Morrison government stripped her of her Australian citizenship under section 35 or the 2007 Australian Citizenship Act, amended in 2015 (after she had left Australia). The 2015 amendment to the 2007 Act stated that citizenship could be revoked because of “conduct inconsistent with allegiance to Australia,” although what constituted “inconsistent conduct” is not specified. What this means is that when Ms. Aden left for the fighting fields of Syria in 2014 she was doing nothing illegal, and that both the 2015 amendment to the ACT and the 2020 revocation of her citizenship were applied retroactively without due legal process or recourse.
In fact, sometime during the interim between her departure from Australia and arrest in Turkey, Australia requested that INTERPOL, the international police consortium, issue a “Blue Notice” on Ms. Aden. Unlike “Red Notices,” which are arrest warrants based on criminal charges, “Blue Notices ” are requests for information about persons of interest to the requesting party, such as missing persons. Louisa Akavi, the Kiwi nurse kidnapped and held hostage by ISIS, is also the subject of an INTERPOL Blue Notice. She is not only welcome home–she is wanted home by her whanau. Ms. Aden may also have family support in Melbourne but her country of choice has turned its back on her and her children. In NZ she has no such support and yet, as a citizen, her right of return is the same as Ms. Akavi. Therein lies the dilemma.
The Australians not only issued Ms. Aden’s non-criminal request for information to INTERPOL (how could they issue a criminal warrant since she had not committed any crime before and when she left Australia?), but they nevertheless went ahead and stripped her of her adopted citizenship after the fact based on assumptions about her agency and volition when it came to personal associations, travel and residence. Unlike the “bumbling jihadi,” she is not seen on tape calling for jihad and denouncing her home (Crusader) country. But they have called her a terrorist nonetheless.
That left NZ no other option but to return her and her children back to NZ, following international law and practice (which states that citizenship cannot be stripped from natural-born subjects and that States must recognise and assume responsibility for their subjects when asked to do so by foreign powers). Ms. Aden is a native born Kiwi and her children assumed citizenship by birthright. They have no other place to go now that Australia has rejected them. Should NZ adopt an Australian approach, as Brownlee and Collins suggest, then they would be left stateless and bereft. I would argue that whatever the sins of the mother, vesting them upon the children is a grotesquely callous act unbefitting a liberal democracy. As an international good actor and as a civilised society NZ has to make the best of a bad thing by offering them repatriation. Thankfully that is about to happen.
When Ms. Aden and her kids arrive in NZ it is likely that she will be the first person subjected to the Control Orders Act. As mentioned, that involves suppression of her name and details of her case. What is known is that the Act prescribes restrictions on her freedom of movement, communication and association. She will be monitored by security agencies and supervised by social welfare agencies, including psychological counselling services. This management program may even involve electronic bracelet usage (again, details of what is involved will likely be subject to suppression orders). She may be granted permission to engage with local civil society organisations specialised in the treatment of refugees from conflict zones and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. She and the children may receive new identities so that they can better lead “normal” and productive lives.
The need for those sort of extreme privacy measures is due to the dual nature of the security concerns involved. On the one hand, NZ security authorities must be vigilant that she pose no risk to NZ society. Were she in any way to encourage extremism in any forum or venue, she would likely be charged and prosecuted accordingly (perhaps even under proposed hate speech legislation, if not the Terrorism Suppression Act). The good news is that data from Europe suggests that returning “jihadi brides” statistically have a near-zero chance of continuing their support for Islamic extremism. Perhaps it is the traumas that they suffered, the trials that they endured, the tribulations that they encountered or the travails of their existence in war zones, but the likelihood of their returning to jihadism is very remote at best.
On the other hand, Ms. Aden and her family need to be protected from harm themselves. There are many Islamophobes in NZ who wish her (and her children) ill or worse. Some have vented in social media abut their desire to do her harm, so the threats must be taken seriously. That poses problems for the Police if her address, name or locations of schools, mosques and social service organisations that she frequents are made public. Given that there are innocent children involved, the authorities must be proactive on their behalf.
In the end, the NZ government has to make the most of a difficult situation and appears to be doing so, barking from the Opposition notwithstanding. It will be for Ms. Aden to make the most of her second (or third) chance in life, if not for herself then for the future of her children. The Opposition would be wise to cease and desist trying to score political points on the matter, less they find themselves confronted by a similar dilemma in the future when in government.
Most of all, it is time for the buffoonery to stop.
Yours was an excellent interview, Pablo, and reflects the compassionate decency of our government’s stance too. I’d been apprehensive to a degree about Ms Aden’s return to NZ as I imagine many others will have been but she will be monitored extremely closely as you say. No doubt there’ll be certain people trying to “out” her whereabouts once she is here and she will possibly need protection.
I don’t imagine her life will be easy in any way, once she returns, but at least she will have a roof over her head and hopefully she and her children can make a reasonable life here in NZ. One might wonder, after all she has witnessed and endured in the last few years, is there any chance she could recover from that?
Thank you for a first class and clear sighted analysis. I would be very interested in the formal risk analysis that has no doubt been done. Your informal one is probably as good as we’ll get
Thanks Jim and Di. At this point I am more curious about what assurances were given by the Australians regarding future cases of this sort. I understand that six people have been stripped of their OZ citizenship for joining ISIS (all male) under the 2015 amendment to the 2007 citizenship Act. None were dual citizens as far as I know so they are, if not dead, stuck and stateless wherever they may be.
Right-wingers will say that NZ is a soft touch and got played by the Morrison government, and will be played again the the future (for example, on 501 deportees). I agree that the Ozzies cannot be trusted at their word, whatever that pretends to be. But I would rather be a country of compassion and fairness than one that caters to the baser instinct of its white Xtian population.
Pingback: Citizenship is a human right « The Standard
A fair and rational analysis
Judith: If you had said “fair and balanced” I would have closed down this site. :-0
Personally I’d like to see this woman cool her heels in prison for a few years… However, has she actually committed a crime under New Zealand law?
I haven’t seen that mentioned in any of the media coverage (although I haven’t been following it closely). It really seems to me that embarking on a journey to support a group like ISIS should really be against NZ law (even if it didn’t happen in NZ).
I’m definitely against stripping people of their longest held citizenship so it’s good to see that the NZ govt didn’t do that. Australia though, they are just going to keep pulling stunts like this, they can’t help themselves, so I’d like to see the an exception added to our citizenship law such that dual citizenship is no longer possible if it is with Australia.
To repeat what I wrote in the post: She has committed no crime in NZ or anywhere else as far as anyone knows. The INTERPOL Blue Notice put out on her was a request for information, not an arrest warrant. The anti-foreign fighter legislation enacted in Australia and NZ were both enacted after she left for Syria and applied to her retroactively without due process or recourse (in Australia; we shall see what happens when she gets here) and even then, there is no evidence that she did any fighting. That is just one reason why the Australian behaviour is despicable.
Think of it this way. If we start stripping people of their citizenship because they join foreign fights, then those who fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War or against Somoza in the Nicaraguan Revolution (both of which had internationalists involved), or those who have gone to the Ukraine to fight the Russians and the separatists in Eastern Ukraine, could have been subject to such action. If not applied consistently regardless of ideological cause, then such laws become arbitrary and selective in their enforcement. That is exactly the problem with the NZ anti-foreign fighter legislation–it is targeted at those who joined Daesh and al-Qaeda today but not at white supremacists who may have headed to various killing fields abroad and future internationalists who may join pro-democratic rebels in future fights against authoritarians.
But all of that is immaterial in the case of Ms. Aden because she was not part of the fight as far as anyone honest can tell. Mark Taylor (the “bumbling jihadi” who is the reason NZ passed the anti-foreign fighter bill), on the other hand….
With any matter, things are always more complicated than they appear – especially with the superficial reporting we are generally provided with. Thank you for your detailed analysis, clear-sightedness and knowledge on the facts – and logical supposition. I agree with all you say.
Always love to hear and read whatever you have to say on any matter of national security etc. And also with some relief, for the truth of it. Keep it up :-)
Just trying to do my bit when it comes to public debate. By temperament and professional training, I prefer to look at as many sides to an issue as possible and have loathing of those who attempt to use people as pawns for partisan or political reasons. Maybe it will turn out that Ms. Aden was just as bad as jihadi John, but until that is proven I shall err on the side of compassion–or at least adherence to international norms.
Yes, I must agree Mr Brownlee does an excellent imitation of a buffoon. So, what does that make the likes of Mahuta, Mallard and Henare?
Stop with the silly and spurious questions that are just simpleton’s trolling. The issue was about the treatment of the so-called jihadi bride, on which Brownlee, like on so many other times, made a fool of himself when trying to score partisan points. I am no fan of Mallard the bully or Henare the parliamentary privileged tough guy. Although sceptical, I reserve judgement on Mahuta at this point given her performance so far. But in all cases these people did not get on national media and smear a young mother without compelling evidence of her purported crimes. Brownlee did.
I gather than you did not read past the first paragraph because if you had done so you would have never made this comment in the first place. I suggest that you curb your partisanship.
I agree with you re Gerry Brownlee. He is that rather dangerous individual, intellectually challenged (stupid) but immensely cunning and focussed on his own survival. They say politicians are representative but one would hope it would be of the cream of the crop not the lower layers.
International Law dictates the way forward in this case. Australia, as always takes the path, of tough guy.
As with the 501 Duttonees, it’s the Aussie Govt playing beggar-thy-neighbour with us.