Taylor shouldn’t be left to rot in a Syrian jail, argues Marc Daalder – not because we’re bleeding hearts, but because it’s our obligation to charge him here.
In mid-2014, Mark Taylor left his home, wife, and children behind in Indonesia and boarded a plane to Turkey. Now, he is languishing in a Kurdish military prison on Syria’s northern border, begging the New Zealand government to help him.
Taylor was known at one point as the “Bumbling Jihadi” after accidentally revealing his location, and that of other ISIS fighters, to the world via Twitter. Now, headlines are calling him the “Kiwi Jihadi” and his presence in Kurdish custody has ignited a debate over what to do with him.
On the one hand, Taylor has asked the government to take him home. He told a Kiwi journalist that if he returns to New Zealand, he wants to open a medical marijuana business. Evidently disgusted by the idea of a terrorist returning to New Zealand scot-free, Jacinda Ardern has refused to help him unless he can present himself at a New Zealand consulate or embassy. A short-lived exploration of stripping Taylor’s citizenship was abandoned when Ardern said that UN obligations prevented her from making Taylor, who has no other citizenship, a stateless person.
All of these approaches miss the point. Taylor should be brought back to New Zealand, but not to open his weed dispensary. Instead, he should be prosecuted under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 for “participating in a terrorist group”.
Leaving him in Kurdish prison pawns New Zealand’s problem off onto the people Taylor harmed: Kurds, Iraqis, and Syrians. And Taylor is New Zealand’s problem. As Patrick Gower wrote for Newshub, New Zealand’s ostensibly robust anti-terror complex failed to stop Taylor from regaining his passport, leaving the country, and joining a vicious murderous terrorist death cult responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people in dozens of countries around the world. In Gower’s view, Taylor has “made a total joke of [New Zealand’s efforts in] the War on Terror”.
Moreover, Taylor fits into a pattern of Westerners who have, as if they were merely tourists, travelled to Syria and joined ISIS for the fun of it.
A former NZ soldier, Taylor was stripped of his passport, detained by Australian authorities and placed on the American “no-fly” list after visiting suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen, including Al-Qaeda members, in 2009. He managed to get a new passport in 2012 and left to teach English in Indonesia. Two years later, he crossed the Turkish border into Syria and told New Zealand media outlets that he was “a Soldier for Allah”.
On social media at the time, Taylor wrote that he was an “adventurer living in Syria. I have no links to any groups. I’m independent, living under good care by Muslim brothers.” By the beginning of 2015, however, Taylor was openly identifying as an ISIS fighter.
Such adventurism is, at its root, colonialist. Molly Crabapple, an American journalist and co-author of a memoir on the Syrian war, has written that “Westerners went to the Syria and Iraq to fulfill their violent fantasies. They raped and murdered locals. Then Western governments bombed Syrian and Iraqi cities into dust because they were worried about terrorist attacks by those westerners.”
This is the way that we should frame the debate about Taylor – not whether he poses a threat to Kiwis or whether to “help bring [him] home”, as one Stuff article put it, but how we can take responsibility for him and his actions.
Taylor has confirmed to media outlets that he served as an ISIS border guard. He denied ever killing anyone but did produce propaganda videos for the terrorist organization, including one in which he called on sympathizers to attack police and military veterans in New Zealand on ANZAC day. In an interview with the ABC, Taylor said he regretted that he was unable to afford a sex slave.
Taking responsibility for Taylor means taking him back and prosecuting him. In an ideal world, all such western adventurists would be tried internationally for war crimes, as a symbol that our democracies take seriously the damage that their citizens caused. Short of that, however, New Zealand can still act alone and seek to lock Taylor up for as long as 14 years, under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
That is our duty, the obligation we owe to the countless Kurds, Iraqis, and Syrians that ISIS slew while Taylor gleefully supported them and dreamed idly of purchasing human beings.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.