Revising terror laws for jihadis

Meet Mark Taylor. Mr Taylor is a Kiwi jihadi who went to Syria to fight for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (I.S.I.S.). For years he . Now, with I.S.I.S. largely defeated, Mr Taylor has been abandoned by them in a part of the world he knows not much about. He has no proper documentation, or the means to get such documentation, with the nearest consulate office where he could go being in Turkey.

Mr Taylor is known as the “bumbling jihadi”. He is apparently someone not really able to think for themselves, easily influenced and wanting a sense of belonging say people who used to know him when he was in the Army.

But at the same time, how do you survive in a war zone like Syria or Iraq for so long, especially in a disorganization militant environment with no clear command structure, logistical capacity or leadership? Mr Taylor managed to do that with no food or money and that basic services were non-existent, which points to a degree of resourcefulness.

At the end of the day though, I side completely with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on this. Mr Taylor should face the full force of the law if he makes it back to New Zealand, for several reasons:

  1. He is a member of a terrorist/militant group banned under New Zealand law
  2. In being a member he would have associated with other members, possibly received or given logistical or material support to other members
  3. He has not recanted any of his views, based on which one can assume he still believes in them
  4. Whilst not participating in actions, he boasts of being on guard duty whilst with I.S.I.S., which means that although he was not involved in combat he was enabling other militants to be by relieving them of being guards

That said the legal situation he finds himself in, as do the Police working to establish grounds for prosecution and the Government working out how the new laws should look, is complex. What the “full force of the law” might look like is not immediately clear, though the strongest path to conviction appears to be the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, because he joined a group internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

The Green Party, not surprisingly do not believe in tightening up the legislation. They believe his human rights will be breached, which the Government deny. National support the legislation as far as the Select Committee, at which point they will be asking for amendments. New Zealand First are likely to support the legislation as well to ensure it reaches the Select Committee at least.

But how “bumbling” was this guy really? With Kurdistan now under full attack by Turkey and struggling to guard the jails holding jihadi like Mr Taylor, we have to be ready for the prospect that they will be let go or attempt an escape. Some argue that Mr Taylor in the Middle East is more dangerous to New Zealand and the world than if he were released and allowed to return to New Zealand.

Whether we like it or not, as the situation in Kurdistan deteriorates and the Kurds struggle for survival, they might well have no choice but to let Mr Taylor go. What happens then? I do not know, but if he comes to New Zealand the public need to be protected from him and any ideological influences he brought with him. The Police need to be sure he is not going to commit an attack or promote violence. And that most certainly will involve jail time.

Second firearms overhaul announced

The Government has announced the impending second tranche of firearms legislation. The announcement was made following the second of several gun amnesty collection days to recover firearms that had been made illegal in the wake of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks.

When the Government announced its plans for dealing wit New Zealand’s arsenal of military grade automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it was intended to happen in two phases. The first, immediate phase, would quickly end the legality to own weapons such as the AR-15 which was used in the Christchurch terrorist attacks. This was the emergency legislation that was pushed through Parliament at speed in March and was enforceable by the end of the same month.

Because a lot of New Zealanders are unaware of Parliamentary process there was a perception that the Government intended to confiscate peoples firearms without whim or reason. This was despite the government being clear that it was intended to be a temporary stop gap measure whilst more comprehensive legislation was drafted. The perception, which was rumoured to have been enabled by American firearm lobbyists, was coldly met by politicians from both sides of Parliament with the exception of A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour.

It would be followed by the much more comprehensive and permanent legislation that would set in law a tighter regime around the acquisition and ownership of such firearms. In the meantime there would be amnesty days up and down the country where people with firearms that had been banned could be surrendered to the Police at drop off points. The owners of the guns being surrendered would be given an indication as to how much they would receive in financial compensation for handing them over.

The Police acknowledge that there are many guns that they probably do not know about. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 potentially illegal firearms are thought to be circulating within New Zealand.

The new laws will target those with criminal histories; people with mental health issues including those who might have tried to use a gun to kill themselves. Those who are espousing open violence against society or particular individuals or groups of individuals are also likely to be seen as a red flag to Police when issuing gun licences. A firearms register will be established by the Police, and the cost of maintaining the firearms licencing office will be better offset by changes in the cost of licencing. New offences and the matching penalties are also likely to be added.

This time there will be a select committee period lasting three months. There will be substantial time for firearm advocates and firearm safety advocates to get their messages into submissions and prepare for hearings in front of the Select Committee. This was, contrary to the honest beliefs of some, always intended to happen – there was never any intention to block the permanent tranche of legislation from public scrutiny.

New Zealand changing post Mosque attack

It is probably fair to say that New Zealand will not be quite the same again. In the same way that the Canterbury/Christchurch/Kaikoura earthquakes have made New Zealand acutely more aware of its dynamic geological environs, the attack on the Mosques of 15 March have been a violent jolt to our society and how it handles extremism.

The aftershocks will continue to reverberate through the country for a while. Law changes that are currently in progress are just the start, with changes signalled for hate speech law and a Royal Commission of Inquiry has been established to examine issues related to what the intelligence community knew about the gunman.

Just as I saw many positives coming out during the earthquakes, such as how the community rallied to help each other, contribute to the Civil Defence operation, donate to Red Cross and so forth, there has been a great outpouring of support for the Muslim community. Within a few days several million dollars had been raised to assist with material and financial needs, since many of the people in the Mosque who were shot dead or injured are the main source of income in their family. We saw how quickly the Mosque reopened – as fast as the Police could conduct the scene examination, get the interiors cleaned up and the various trades people repair the damage from bullets and things falling over.

The fear after the Christchurch earthquakes was palpable. Fear of a further big one. Fear of not being able to make ends meet, of loved ones and friends finding themselves in a tight spot that they cannot get out of. It unleashed a wave of stress and psychological issues among those who were there – depression, anxiety, among others. The fear after the Mosque attacks is there too – despite the authorities being relatively confident there is nobody else involved. Fear that this might become the new norm. Fear of how to explain to youngsters when they get older what happened and why.

Just as followed the earthquakes, where hard conversations were had – and continue to be had – about the direction the recovery should take, conversations about healing and moving forward will be had with the individual religious communities.

Some of the lessons of the earthquakes have been learnt. Many councils around New Zealand are now moving to address issues with infrastructure, building codes and the readiness of the authorities. It is too early to tell what the lessons of the Mosque attacks were, much less whether or not they will be heeded. Months or years from now when the initial good will has worn off and those other than the immediately affected are trying to move their lives forward, will we remember that not all can do so as easily?

Nobody knew where or how New Zealand would go in the immediate wake of the Canterbury/Christchurch quakes. Even when the Kaikoura quake hit there were questions about Kaikoura’s future. Those questions will be getting asked around New Zealand about where and how we proceed after the Mosque attacks as well. Are we ready?


War on Terrorism or War for the sake of War?

Where were you when the World Trade Center was attacked by al-Qaida on 11 September 2001? It was in the early hours of 12 September 2001 in New Zealand. I was a first year geology student at University of Canterbury and under any other circumstances it was just going to be another day – lectures for geology in the morning and geography in the afternoon.

By the time that day was over it was profoundly obvious to myself and my fellow New Zealanders that the world around us had changed, possibly irretrievably, for the worse. The U.S. led “War on Terrorism” had begun. Nobody knew where it was going to lead or who would do what, but that day no one wanted to offend America by failing to rush to her aid. America was going to strike back at an invisible terrorist faction that 99% of the world had never heard of, allegedly in Afghanistan, but with suspected links to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Within days America made its first big mistake dividing the world into two groups by President George W. Bush saying “you’re either with us or against us”. Of course I am sure most of the world was probably quite horrified by the attacks, but as so many before and many have done since, Mr Bush grossly over simplified the world.

During the following 7 1/4 years up to President Barak Obama taking office, two hugely destructive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were commenced. The former was on the premise that the Taliban regime of harsh Islamism was harbouring Osama bin Laden, the head honcho of al-Qaida. Going into Afghanistan, a country no foreign intruder has ever quite conquered in 1,000 years, the Bush Administration quickly lost interest upon realizing that the war would not be quick – some will say because former President George W. “Dubya” Bush wanted to invade Iraq to finish off what his father, the late President George H.W. Bush started when he liberated Kuwait in 1991. Mr Bush gave the order after having his Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell concoct a monstrous set of lies about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction and being prepared to use them. In both of these wars golden opportunities to end decades of conflict and give both countries a hand up, get their devastated economies working again and help them rebuild their social welfare, education and health systems recover, were lost.

17 years later though, and long after New Zealand and other countries should have honestly started asking America hard questions, it is glaringly obvious that something is dreadfully wrong about this “War on Terrorism”. Is it even that any more? America has spent trillions of dollars bombing, shelling, firing missiles and invading countries that it demonstrably knows little about, much less seems to care. It has also spent billions on contracts to American businesses to engage in their reconstruction instead of putting the local populace to work.

It has stoked tensions with Iran and North Korea. It has armed right wing allies in Saudi Arabia, Israel and elsewhere with weapons they did not need and have turned a blind eye as they commit increasingly grave atrocities against adjacent lands/countries. Successive Presidents have botched the Middle East, starting with President Jimmy Carter, but the current one and his two predecessors – despite President Obama doing a good nuclear deal with Iran – have strayed into dangerously grey areas of law with their use of drones.

Now that New Zealand has had its own terrorist attack, which came from the polar opposite end of the spectrum that the al-Qaida terrorist attack was spawned from, New Zealand needs to ask itself whether we should continue our participation in America’s murderous war. Are we even sure it is a “War on Terrorism”? I personally believe that stopped when Mr Obama took office on 20 January 2009. Mr Obama wanted to remove America from both wars, but wound up slowly drawing down the troops whilst keeping up an unrelenting barrage of drone strikes that probably killed more innocents than militants.

It is obvious to me that if the attack came from the other end of the spectrum, maybe it is because someone wants us to be more actively involved in a war that is morally and ethically wrong. Perhaps that terrorist attack on Christchurch was an effort to bring the violence being perpetrated against Muslims overseas to New Zealand.

If that is the case, the only thing is to immediately get out of America’s war. It was never ours anyway. It is time to get out of a war we have no place in and bring the boys and girls who so bravely serve our country, our land, our people home.

Assalamu Alaykum (Peace be on you). Arohanui (Much love).