The Will to War: Anzac, Mujahid, Kamikaze, Tiger

Michael Roberts

  • “It was an adventure,” said an old Australian soldier to the camera during a TV sequence retailing the tales of enlistment for war during the 20th century in the course of the massive media coverage leading up to Anzac day on 25th April 2015 one hundred years after the disastrous Australian participation in Allied operations against Turkey at Gallipoli.[1]
  • “Are you a terrorist?” asked the film-maker in the course of a relaxed interview with an Algerian migrant from Britain netted by the police in Frankfurt before he and his colleagues embarked on a bomb-planting operation at the Christkindelsmärik beside Strasbourg Cathedral in 2000. “No, I am a mujahid” said the young man quietly in firm denial.[2]

Enlistment for War: Australian Visions

One of the vignettes above highlights one thread in the mix of motives that prompted Australian males to enlist in the Australian forces committed to support Britain and its Allies in the First World War in 1914. In surmise one could say that some young teenagers who bumped up their age in order to join the brigades were particularly inspired by a spirit of reckless adventure in embarking on this deadly pursuit.

Such lines of emphasis were among the motifs paraded in the media coverage in print, TV, You Tube and internet exchanges that subsumed the Aussie peoples in the days leading up to 25th April 2015, Anzac Day in its one/hundredth reckoning — the day deemed to be the mark of Australian nationhood and in effect, if not in form, Australia’s National Day. Why so? Because the historical record demonstrates that the Australians went to war in support of Britain in order to display their “manhood” by proving their worth in the baptism of fire.[3] “Australia was a young nation [keen] to prove itself in a world where baptism by blood was a national ritual” (Paul Kelly 2015: 28). Muscular Christianity was one of the background themes in both Britain and Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[4] Self-reliant manliness was a virtue for both individual and collective. Some 417,000 men, thus “over half of the eligible white male population [of Australia], enlisted” in the Australian Imperial Force, the umbrella term encompassing its different services (Kelly 2015). They were all volunteers and the referendums on conscription in October 1916 and December 1917 were defeated.

Aussies enlist 2 Aussies enlist 1

The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) aboard one of the Sydney ferries that took them to Cockatoo Island before departing for New Guinea. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial A03272

The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) aboard one of the Sydney ferries that took them to Cockatoo Island before departing for New Guinea. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial A03272

It is an ironic twist, however, that in the days and months leading up to 25th April 2015 Australian media waves had also been bombarded with reportage

These events, note, followed a series of raids and scares in late 2014. Several raids in September 2014 netted a few suspects in different Australian cities who were deemed to be plotting attacks.[6] The deaths arising from the lone wolf hostage crisis activated at the Lindt café in Martin Place, Sydney in December 2014 by Man Haron Monis, a man with a long history of manipulative litigation and a possible psychotic tendency,[7] only deepened Australian concerns because he ordered some hostages to hold up a traditional Islamic black flag, with the shahādah in white Arabic letters (an Islamic creed declaring: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God”), against the window of the café.[8]

A Reflective Question — A Challenging Question

Placed within this backdrop, the issue I raise for Australian reflection is this: were not, are not, some of these young Muslim men moved like the Anzacs by a similar spirit of reckless adventure in support of what they see as a worthy cause? ……leavened and founded upon a patriotic commitment to their community — namely the Islamic ummah?

Yes, they are Australian citizens. Yes, such forces as ISIS are murderous, horrid, thuggish forces.[9] But I am asking readers to move beyond these motifs (vital though they are) to comprehend the thinking of these men (and occasionally women).[10] While nourished in Australia, some of these personnel may have been dual citizens; and, where they were not holding two passports, their hearts were Lebanese Muslim or Bosnian Muslim or Arabian Muslim or just Muslim in fervent degree. So their commitment was/is towards the ummat al-Islamiyah or ummah, namely, the collective community of Islamic peoples.[11] I conjecture that their overarching patriotism and dedication was and is to the ummah — especially the ummah that is being represented by the contemporary forms of salafi ideology propagated by, and embodied in, ISIS (elaboration below).

By adopting the title of “Caliphate” the ISIS insurgency has secured the commanding heights of the Islamic world. That title is a master stroke that encourages the faithful to think that here, now, and today, they have an agency that will restore the imbalances in the world order by challenging the condition of jahilliyyah enshrined in the West and raising the Islamic dispensation to the position of ethical supremacy that is its right. The concept jahiliyyah is a telling weapon referring to “ignorance of divine guidance” associated with the condition of barbaric primitivism in which the Arabs lived prior to the revelations of the Quran to Prophet Mohammed. It is a summary and condemnatory description of USA in particular and the West in general presented by the Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) on the basis of his experiences in America between 1948 and 1950. Qutb’s writings are widely associated with contemporary Salafi thrusts and with the thinking that drives the leaders of Al Qaida and ISIS.[12]

Moving on

So, we see two visions of commitment to a just war in two different contexts. These brief ‘takes,’ of course, simplify. The move to enlist in a war or insurgency usually involves several inspirations in any single case and certainly encompasses many threads when summarizing the motivations of a mass of fighting personnel. One must be alive to specific cultural nuances within each nation state or nation-state-in-the-making. The Australian public of 2015 were certainly exposed to the many threads spurring men and women to volunteer for military service in 1914/15. The spirit of adventure motivating individuals was matched by the sense of duty and the spirit of patriotism that influenced so many. Both volunteer fighters and Australian statesmen of that day were determined to prove to their British kith and kin that they were a nation of people equal to the task of serving a just cause (Kelly 2015; Blainey 2015). “Patriotism” to the Australian community-become-Federation (1900) was an overwhelming theme.

Likewise — but also with attention to different cultural foundations and contextual variations — we would do well to reflect upon three other instances of dedication to sacrifice in war-for-cause: (A) the Japanese who volunteered to fight for their state in the 1930s and 1940s and took the further step of becoming kamikaze pilots or kamikaze submariners; (B) the Palestinian and other Islamic men and women who committed themselves to suicide missions of assassination or bombing attack in step with the outstanding example of the truck bomb attacks on US and French army barracks in Beirut on 23rd October 1983 by a group calling itself “Islamic Jihad” — blasts that killed 254 American servicemen and 58 French;[13] and (C) the LTTE’s adoption of the example set in 1974 by young Ponnudurai Sivakumāran in swallowing cyanide when faced with capture after a botched assassination attempt[14] as a model of dedication enjoined upon every trained fighter in their cause of Thamilīlam (below).

Bushido, Samurai, Kamikaze

Albeit founded upon different incentives and cultural groundings, personnel within these organisations were prepared to become precision bombs, high-cost weapons in the instance of kamikaze pilots seeking to defend Japan on the retreat, but mostly low-cost tools of trade in the other instances. Here, then was the ultimate sacrifice and an embodiment of dedication to cause.

Integral to the Japanese state’s imperial enterprise in the 1930s and the role of the kamikaze within this warring endeavour was the bushido culture of medieval Japan — with the Zen traditions serving as one medium by which these meaningful practices were nourished (Victoria 1997 & 2003). In this philosophical tradition-become-practice, dying for a cause was a virtue. Elaborate theories and practices were directed towards training in martial arts that sought to maximize strength through a fusion of body and mind. The concepts of mushin (no thought, extinguished self) and zanshin (following through) were key ingredients in the training of samurai and thus integral to bushido culture.[15] The samurai warriors were trained to cultivate an attitude of indifference to life and death while “focussing completely on the present” task (Jones 1996: 2). Such training not only instilled precision, but also embodied the notion of mono no aware, recognition of life’s impermanence (Lowry 2000: 10).

CHERY BLOSSOM DEPARTURE Chiran high school girls wave farewell with cherry blossom branches to departing kamikaze pilot

Ensign_Kiyoshi_Ogawa_  Kiyoshi Ogawa, who flew his aircraft into the USS Bunker Hill during a kamikaze mission on 11 May 1945

_Bunker_Hill_hit_by_two_Kamikazes USS Bunker Hill was hit by kamikazes piloted by Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa (photo above) and Lieutenant Junior Grade Seizō Yasunori on 11 May 1945. 389 personnel were killed or missing and 264 wounded from a crew of 2,600

Do not be misled. The trained samurai warrior was not merely a robotic killing machine. The best samurai in the various Japanese schools of thought were rounded individuals. Whatever the diversity in specifics, Zen masters were multi-skilled individuals trained in swordsmanship, medicine, poetry, painting, and calligraphy. That calligraphy was one facet of Zen training highlights the degree to which precision was central to mental and bodily empowerment (Roberts & Saniotis 2006).

Tamil Tiger Fighters

Among the varied Sri Lankan Tamil liberation forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam went further. Commitment to death for cause was de riguer and an integral part of induction into the fighting force after training. The oath at passing our parades ran thus:

“Our revolutionary organisation’s purified aim

is for a free society to achieve Tamil Eelam

My life and soul and all this I sacrifice to

our organisation’s leader, our brother, Mr Prabhakaran

We fully accept that for him we will be very faithful and trustworthy

The aim of the Tigers – Tamils’ freedom” (Roberts 2014).

oath 6 PDVD_114 Tamil Tigress unit being imducted to LTTE –BBC s documentary, 1991

52-Chicago_Maaveerar_Naal_USA1_21081_435Apropos of the misleading interpretations of suicide attacks by Western commentators such as Robert Pape (2003), it is important to note that the act of suicide was initially adopted by the LTTE as a defensive tool to protect the organisation from the leaking of information after capture. It was also a mark of their dedication to the Tamil liberation cause and thus a method of drawing popular admiration. It was not till 5 July 1987 that it was deployed as a low cost precision weapon when Miller (a nom de guerre) drove a truck bomb into a Sri Lankan Army encampment at Nelliyadi. This was but one instance of uyirayutham — “life as weapon” … a novel coinage by the LTTE propaganda arm which expanded the Tamil lexicon in ways that captivated its people.[16] Integral to this notion and act was the Tamil concept of arppaNippu (also arppaNam), meaning “the performance of dedication as well as that which is dedicated” (email note from S. V. Kasynathan, 30 March 2007). Thus when I brought this term into our conversation in Adelaide a Christian Tamil octogenarian’s eyes gleamed with appreciation: the “devotion that the Tigers showed was unmatched,” said Mr. S. Rasanayagam (7 January 2004).[17]

This response mirrored the broad admiration for the boys of the LTTE among the Sri Lankan Tamil peoples from the 1980s onwards. It gave the Tigers an edge in the competition with the other armed Tamil forces for the leadership of the liberation struggle. It enabled them to anchor in and consolidate their monopoly of violence within the Tamil populace — violence proclaimed to be on behalf of the people of Thamilīlam. Such patriotic dedication aided the LTTE in overcoming the revulsion to their atrocities in circumstances where the ordinary Tamil people were placed in the anvil between two juggernauts (note Bavinck 2015).

The Australian Jihadists

It is in the light of these comparative excursions that I ask Australians to address the instances of Muslim Australians who have recently joined the Islamic insurgencies in the Middle East (see the striking pictorial list prepared by The Australian at As we know only too well, such individuals as Mohammad Ali Baryalei, Neil Prakash aka Abu Khalid al Cambodi and Abu Nour al-Iraq, have extended their reach backwards and worldwide: using social media and video to exhort like-minded faithful to strike a violent blow for Islamic jihad within the metropolitan heartlands of Australia. This is “leaderless remote-control terror “– incendiary inspirations that can initiate individual or small unit strikes by committed activists anywhere (Kilcullen 2014).

Abu Nour al-IraqMohammad Ali BaryaleiNEIL PRAKASH

Abdul Numan Haider’s repeated stabbing of a police officer outside the Endeavour Hills police station at Melbourne in September 2014 was one instance where an actual act of “terror” occurred;[18] but authorities insist that several others have been nipped in the bud in September 2014 and more recently in April and May 2015

It is likely that many Australians regard these Muslim personnel as “fanatics” or “terrorists” beyond the pale, just mindless killers. That is too facile. My goal is directed towards consciousness-raising. I do so here by aligning the dedication of these Aussie jihadists in qualified measure with that displayed by the Anzacs. Reckless adventurism and commitment to a just cause were among the inspirations stimulating both sets of warriors.

The community that the jihadists are serving, of course, is different. As vitally — and fearfully — their ummah is aligned in deeply hostile ways to the Western and Australian dispensations. These jihadists of today are motivated by the thinking embodied within the overlapping ideological strands known as “Salafi” and “Wahhabi.”

Salafi in Arabic refers to “predecessors,” namely, the earliest Islamic ancestors. Salafism is a movement within Sunni Islam that seeks to re-institute the original Islamic dispensation. It is, therefore, literalist, puritanical and strict (even assailing such common practices as polytheism (shirk) and tawassul of religious figures, such as the veneration of the graves of Islamic saints or the use of amulets in aid of protection[19]). But Salafi puritanism does not entail a monastic withdrawal from the world. On the contrary, it advocates offensive jihad against those deemed to be enemies of Islam. USA and Western materialism are its favoured targets.

As indicated earlier, Sayyid Qutb has been one of the intellectuals propagating Salafi thinking in the mid-20th century. Though his life was cut short (executed by Nasser in 1966) his thinking was disseminated by his brother Mohammed Qutb and such personnel as Ayman al-Zawahari. The latter, as we know, was/is a leading light in Al-Qaida.

Osama bin Laden may have, as Bruce Hoffman and others have persuaded us, adopted the managerial practices of modern corporations into the organisation of his outfit,[20] but Islamic devotions also threaded its ‘corridors’. Dwell on the preparatory practices enjoined on the commando team that carried out the 9/11 attacks in such devastating fashion.

These instructions were laid down in a document known as “The Last Night,” and were probably drafted by Mohammed Atta, the operational commander.[21] The first injunction runs thus: “Mutual swearing of the oath unto death and renewal of [one’s] intention. Shave excess hair from the body and apply cologne. Shower.” Again, injunction No. 7 stipulates: “Purify your heart and cleanse it from all uncleanliness. Forget and become oblivious to that thing called ‘this world.’ The time for play is over and the appointed time for seriousness has come.” Other injunctions advocate prayer, divination (jafr), and specific devotional homilies. Underpinning this preparation for an act of war was the conviction that faith would enable them to transcend the security precautions at US airports. The Islamic faithful everywhere (whether Salafi or not) can now affirm that Atta’s devotional code worked.

In their own minds, therefore, the Al-Qaida personnel responsible for the 9/11 mass killings were crusaders for the ummah and striking at an evil power.[22] Mutatis mutandis, the Australians who have committed their endeavours to the Islamic cause in the Middle East, or responded to the remote control sparking of terror strikes on security personnel or high-profile civilian centres in Australian cities, have been inspired by these Salafi threads of religio-political fervour.

Here, then, is a fundamental difference between the personnel enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in 1914-18 and those joining or participating at one remove in the present jihadist enterprises: the Aussies of that day were sailing forth to protect the existing British-led dispensation in the world order; in contrast today’s Australian jihadists are participating in the millenarian goals of ISIS or Al-Qaida. The latter project involves the re-arrangement of the power-relations in the world writ large so to establish a glorious recreation of the Islamic past. This “just cause” in jihadist eyes makes death in such endeavours an act of martyrdom. Unlike the initial Australian conscripts in 1914/15 who (mostly?) do not seem to have dwelt on the pain and death they would encounter in the battlefields of Europe, several young Islamic Aussies seem to be in search of glorious death for Allah.

In a few instances, moreover, this patriotic fervour seems to be tinged with hate for the very ‘womb’ in which they had been raised: Australia. Abdul Numan Haider’s facial expressions in images that have entered the media waves suggest an intensity of HATE in his very being. Here, then, was a demotic Muslim warrior for the Islamic cause. Numan Haider

Numan Haider is an exceptional instance that highlights the more average story where the combination of youthful adventurism and devotion to a just religio-political cause has spurred a few Islamic Australians to war. This does not mean that Australians should admire the jihadists. Both ISIS and Al-Qaida are dangerous forces in the Middle East. Jihadists in the Australian heartland are enemies of society and state.


[1] I thank Chris Flaherty and David Olney for comments on my first draft which helped improve the essay; while also claiming the right to be criticised for all errors of fact and interpretation.

[2] This sequence is part of a documentary in my possession — in Adelaide — for which no citation is feasible.  just now because this essay is being drafted in Sri Lanka. The plotters were mainly Algerian migrants in Britain, Italy and France if my memory serves me right. This particular interview was civil; and the measured voice of the young Algerian remains indelibly enshrined in my memory. “In March 2003, four suspects linked to the terror plot were sentenced to between 10 and 12 years imprisonment by a court in Frankfurt. In December 2004, ten other suspected Islamic militants were jailed in Paris for their part in the failed plot.” See

[3] See Flaherty & Roberts 1989; Fewster 1982 Gammage 1980, Kelly 2015 and Blainey 2015. By email message Flaherty has pointed to the work by Blair (1998) as a source for further evidence on these facets of enlistment.

[4] On muscular Christianity, see and Nick J. Watson, Stuart Weir and Stephen Friend, “The Development of Muscular Christianity in Victorian Britain and Beyond,” Journal of Religion & Society 2005, vol. 7.

[5] Between 18th and 21st April 2015 police in Melbourne arrested Sevdet Besim, Harun Causevic and one other connected with the controversial Melbourne Islamic centre Al-Furqan for conspiring to attack police; while police in Blackburn UK arrested 14-year old lad in connection with the same plot (see  and

[6] See “Terror Australis” at

[7] Monis was out on bail for complicity in the murder of his first wife after a long history of litigation and the constant changing of his lawyers in ways which serve as a standing indictment of the Australian legal system.

[8] This detail is from the Wikipedia account citing the Sydney Morning Herald. There is a thorough account of the hostage taking and siege itself in Also see Nicholson 2014. In surmise, I suggest that his impending trial had induced Man Monis to depart this life with a bang — with Islamic martyrdom. Note that Mamdouh Habib who came forward with an offer of mediation said that he believed Monis was “sick and disturbed.”

[9] See Dupont 2014 and Roberts, “Infighting …,” 2014c

[10] For a pictorial list of these men and women, see

[11] Ummah and ummat al-Islamiyah are commonly used to mean the collective community of Islamic peoples. They are distinguished from Sha’b (Arabic: شعب‎) which means a nation with common ancestry or geography. See

[12] Following reliable guidance, I point readers to the following: Paul Berman, “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror,” New York Times Magazine 23 March 2003; Robert Irvin, “Is this the man who inspired Bin Laden?” Guardian, 1 November 2001,; and David Cook, Martyrdom in Islam, CUP, 2007.

[13] The shadowy Islamic Jihad is widely believed to have been the embryonic Hezbollah which appeared as a formal organisation in 1985. Many assert that Iran was behind this this attack and supports Hezbollah. “To date, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria have continued to deny any involvement in any of the bombings; even though, in 2004, the Iranian government erected a monument in Tehran to commemorate the 1983 bombings and its “martyrs” (

[14] For details of Sivakumaran’s action and the outpouring of intense grief and anger at the last rites in his home village of Urumpirai, see Roberts 2014; Narayan Swamy 1994: 29 and T. Sabaratnam 2003, vol. 1: chap. 7.

[15] My presentation here is leavened not only from a reading of Ohnuki-Tierney (2002) Brian Victoria (1997 and 2003) and the other authors cited, but by conversations with Arthur Saniotis re the character of martial arts training. These discussions were then honed and presented in the joint exercise Roberts and Saniotis “Empowering the Body and Noble Death” (2006).

[16] This summation arises from several years of work on the devotional sacrifice of the Tigers and interaction with Tamil friends amidst my total ignorance of Tamil. It has been firmly supported by Nillanthan (email, May 2015).

[17]  We are married to our cyanide,” said one LTTE publication in Tamil (Hellmann-Rajanayagam 1994: 67). Indeed, the Tigers regard the kuppi as “a good friend,” as Schalk (1997: 74–75, 76) notes in distilled summary after conversations with Kittu [in 1991] and other LTTE personnel. Also see Roberts, “Pragmatic Action,” 2006b.

[18] Haider set a trap: he offered to provide information at a rendezvous with two (federal?) officers outside the station. He lunged at one and was proceeding to repeat his stabbing when he was shot dead by the other policeman.


[20] Hoffman (2002), Stern (2003: chap. 9), and Ramakrishna and Tan (2002: 6–7). Also note Bruce Hoffman, “Terrorist Leader as CEO: Interview, 2003,” at

[21] David Cook’s (2002) translation of this document is available as an appendix in his article in Novo Religio. Cook inserts several annotations via asterisks, while refining the text for English grammar through insertions marked by square brackets. These have been omitted in my reproduction.

[22] Two chance anecdotes indicate that USA evokes such distaste in non-Islamic minds that the awesome attack on the World Trade Centre brought joy in several quarters. (I) An Indian taxi-driver in Singapore indicated that he was thrilled. (II) A Sri Lankan intellectual told me he was exclaimed “great” when he heard the news at a swimming pool.


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Filed under accountability, arab regimes, cultural transmission, Eelam, historical interpretation, Islamic fundamentalism, life stories, LTTE, martyrdom, military expenditure, nationalism, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, Tamil Tiger fighters, terrorism, vengeance, war crimes, war reportage, world events & processes, zealotry, Zen at war

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