What the debates about Essendon CEO and ISIS brides say about our democracy

It is a basic tenet of both liberal democracy and natural justice that no human being should be punished for the actions of another.

Likewise any citizen of any nation calling itself free and just should only ever be punished for actions they have committed — perhaps even in extreme cases for words they have spoken — but not for whatever thoughts are in their mind.

I doubt any reasonable reader would disagree with either of these simple statements. The only question is this: Am I talking about Andrew Thorburn or the ISIS brides?

If that comparison sounds shocking it’s because it should be. Not for the statement itself but for the gross hypocrisy it lays bare.

The left has worked itself into a lather condemning Thorburn for his association with a religious group that has said some foul things about homosexuality and abortion while supporting the repatriation and rehabilitation of women and children who were physically at the centre of the murderous regime of the so-called Islamic State.

At the same time the right has been equally hypocritical by being outraged that Thorburn should lose his CEO role at Essendon because of the actions of others in his religious group while demanding that women and children lose their citizenship because of their — in large part involuntary — association with ISIS.

Clearly the two cases are at opposite levels of extremity and yet the principle is exactly the same. Indeed, the level of extremity cuts both ways and even equalises itself.

Needless to say, the homicidal and would-be genocidal abomination that is ISIS is far more extreme than a decade-old fire-and-brimstone rant from an evangelical fringe-dweller.

But the women and children held hostage by their association with ISIS also came to that position in far more extreme circumstances. While some ISIS brides may have gone to Syria willingly, others may have been coerced or threatened and at least some were technically children at the time.

More to the point, the children themselves are — by definition — innocent and the victims of the most unimaginable hardship and abuse at the hands of at least one of their parents.

And so while I share the grave misgivings and fears about the threat these families pose, the great moral question keeps coming back to this: Can we punish children for the sins of their fathers?

Any true believer in freedom or justice should know what the answer is.

By contrast, Thorburn’s association with his own religious movement is something he came to both actively and under no coercion whatsoever. On the contrary, when coerced into abandoning his religious associates he refused and chose them over his supposed dream job of a lifetime.

It is hard to think of a more stridently willing or emphatic declaration of affiliation. And indeed that is his right — God given, you might say.

And so we have one man suffering a mild penalty for a wholly voluntary association with a relatively benign group of fundamentalists and a host of women and children suffering a brutal penalty for a largely involuntary association with the most extreme group of fundamentalists imaginable.

The cases in practice could not be more different yet in principle they are exactly the same: If it cannot be shown that any of these people participated in the various outrages of their associates than by what moral or legal mechanism can they be punished for them?

I have no problem whatsoever with any active or past ISIS fighter being not just stripped of his or her citizenship but being thrown to the ravaging wolves of Middle Eastern politics.

Whether they are killed in battle, executed in captivity or left to rot in a dungeon I honestly could not care. I have put this on the public record many times.

I also disagree vehemently with the idiotic views of the City on the Hill’s pastor in his now-infamous 2013 sermon and have also been on the public record many times saying my own tribal faith — the one true holy and apostolic Catholic Church — needs to abandon its archaic opposition to things like homosexuality and divorce.

But does that mean that all Catholics or even those in the church hierarchy should be banned from being, say, the CEO of a football team because of the official position of the Vatican?

Or does it mean that a parent from Punchbowl whose son or daughter happens to get radicalised — if anything a more questionable family association — should be stripped of their citizenship?

These are difficult questions and yet they are the ones that we face. And if you answer no to one then both rationality and morality dictates you must answer no to both. Either you believe in guilt by association or you don’t.

Yes, it is a hard choice to make but truly principled positions usually are. It’s what separates them from trendy brain dead bandwagons.

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