Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Youths who go with Daesh to war resemble Anzacs

It staggers me that noone has made the connection yet between the teenagers who follow Deash now - either by going to Syria to fight, or by plotting terror attacks in Western countries like Australia - and the Anzacs who enlisted to fight in 1915 in their thousands, often at an age so young they needed the permission of their parents to go overseas. The program tonight on the ABC with actor Sam Neill reminds me that we have built up an idea of Anzac that carries the accretions of decades, nay of a century, and so it hardly looks at all like what the war looked like to the young men who went away in 1915 to fight.

There are so many similarities but probably the most striking one lies in how difficult it is for us, living in modern Australia, to understand the motivations that brought these young people to do what they have done. What we do know, and often the only thing we do know, is that they were young. The young men who designed the Anzac Day plot which has just been uncovered by authorities are themselves barely outside childhood and yet they have taken their futures into their hands - just as those young men did a century ago - and despite all the obstacles and despite the danger they have made commitments we find it difficult to comprehend.

If you want to understand the Anzacs nowadays you could do worse than trying to understand the youths who follow Daesh, or ISIS or ISIL (whatever you want to call the movement). They have the same desire to fight, the same irrational commitment to an idea outside of themselves, a bigger dream and a hope for a better world. All of these things are hard to understand, for us, but now we have the opportunity to do so if we take the time to listen to the young people who are going away to fight, or those who bring the fight to our own shores.

Quiet contemplation of memorials and all the usual accoutrements of the day are hardly likely to bring us to a place where we can grasp what it meant to go away on ships to die in foreign countries, not knowing what would happen or when it would happen. That reality is alien to us but we fail completely to do it justice if we merely continue to observe the day in the way we have - over the decades, nay over a century - become accustomed to doing. Something else is needed. We must look to the young conscripts of Daesh for guidance and inspiration.

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