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More effort needed to stop 'foreign fighters'
The Australian
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

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GREATER efforts by countries such as Australia and the US to recruit young disenfranchised men into their domestic military and foster a sense of citizenship must be made to reduce the numbers of "foreign fighters".

A study by the University of Melbourne's David Malet -- Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civil Conflicts -- looking at "outside combatants" in conflicts across the past 200 years has found foreign fighters are becoming an increasing menace in countries such as Australia and more needs to be done to keep them engaged in the country in which they are citizens.

"Foreign fighters are not a new phenomenon. Throughout modern history they've fought on behalf of causes ranging from international communism to aggrieved ethnic groups," said Dr Malet, from the university's school of social and political science. "But they are an increasing source of concern because they engage in deadlier attacks than local fighters do.

"They're also more willing to violate international laws and flout norms of citizenship.

"And because of their zeal, their adversaries -- often the most powerful countries in the world -- are frequently incapable of deterring them."

Dr Malet argues that insurgent groups would have a harder time conscripting fighters if the likely recruits had a stronger sense of citizenship in their own country.

"While some view nationalism as a threatening phenomenon, it presents an alternative to transnationalism, which is a driving force behind the rise of foreign fighters," he said.

Dr Malet is urging Western governments to redouble their efforts to aid the assimilation of immigrants and to professionalise the militaries and civil services of developing countries.

"Countries like the United States should be bolstering government agencies and local military forces in the states that commonly produce foreign fighters," he said.

"This would mean potential foreign fighters find their own country to be worth fighting for instead of an outside group."

Dr Malet argues that there are two types of individuals who become foreign fighters.

The first group comprises recruits from Western countries who are marginalised at home, typically unassimilated immigrants, but also individuals seeking some "greater purpose", like David Hicks when he went off to fight in Bosnia.

The second group comes from Arab countries where they have no real political opportunity to change their own government, so they go to failed states and war zones like Somalia and Syria to make a difference.

"In both cases, they are fighting for a transnational identity group -- the global Muslim umma -- rather than their national identity as citizens of a particular country," Dr Malet said. "And we have also seen this with the homegrown attacks in the USA and UK, and with individuals in Sydney accused of radicalisation."

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