I have recently returned from a trip to Iraq. On my arrival at Auckland airport I was racially profiled, taken aside and questioned as to what I was doing over there by customs officers. As a New Zealand citizen of 20+ years who considers this place home I did not feel so great sitting in customs being made to feel like I had done something wrong.
A couple of days ago Rebecca Kitteridge, head of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS), revealed that there has been a rise in the number of New Zealand women travelling to Syria and Iraq, a concern that she is worried about. I am disheartened to hear that this is probably why I was stopped and questioned at the airport.
My mother and I travel often to the Middle East to visit our family and this time was no different. I have been travelling to Iraq from New Zealand since 2009 to visit my family and spend time with my loved ones. Before that I had not visited Iraq since 1999. While I was there last month I spent time with my grandma, my cousins, my uncles and extended family members. I learnt more about myself and where I am from but was reminded that despite loving my homeland, my homeland is destroyed and is not a place I can call home any more. My heart breaks for Iraq and Syria every day, they continue to be burned to the ground day by day.
In today’s current political environment where anti-Muslim sentiment is rife, the comments Kitteridge has made about Kiwi women travelling to join ISIS has caused the media to pick this up within a heartbeat and has created a sense of fear amongst the general public. One only needs to look at the comment section on the NZ Herald or TV3 News Facebook page to understand the deep hysteria and divide such comments make.
Why is this type of commentary scaremongering? Because there is no real proof for any of these supposed 12 or less kiwi woman actually having either joined to fight alongside ISIS or marry ISIS fighters in support of the cause, namely to be a “Jihadi Bride”. Three News reported that Kitteridge told Parliament’s intelligence and security committee that over the last year something that has changed is the number of women going to Iraq and Syria. John Key then asked her if these women were going to become Jihadi brides to which she answered “presumably”. Later she however did say that it is difficult to tell what the women do once they are there. And Key has said that it “appears on all the factors” and “the facts point to them” going as Jihadi brides. This is not proof nor is it solid. It is pure assumption.
What about the other very rational and simple explanation that some of us, like myself, actually go to visit our families? Although it may be hard to believe that some would go to war torn areas to visit loved ones but frankly, we have no choice! If our families are not able to leave then we would not see them if we did not go ourselves. There are many, if not thousands, of Kiwi Iraqi’s and Syrian’s who happen to have families caught in the crossfire in both Iraq and Syria. And again, while hard to believe, people do actually go and visit these families. Family has a strong ethical root in our cultural values and despite the risk to our safety it is important to reunite with our family members, whatever the cost.
Kitteridge also said that they have been previously unaware of women travelling to Iraq and Syria and that this is something they have seen in the last year. Perhaps it was just not something they have been interested in monitoring in the past? It’s very odd to think that this is an entirely new phenomena that New Zealand citizens are travelling to Iraq and Syria. I personally know many in the Iraqi community that have been visiting Iraq for the last few years. Many women included.
The Muslim community has demanded proof from SIS of the supposed women who are joining Islamic State because the entire community is surprised to hear about such accusations. I commend this demand as without it there is no real grounds for the assumptions that are being made. These comments are damaging for our community and will only harm our ever growing multi-cultural society in New Zealand.