Comment: If you haven't been to the frontline, you don't get to condemn Wyatt Roy

Wyatt Roy and Andrew Drury have both been to the front lines in the fight against ISIS. Source: Supplied

Politicians and public servants routinely make decisions about regions of the world they’ve never been to, affecting people they’ve never met. Are we really throwing someone under the bus who wanted to see the front lines for himself?

It seems everyone has an opinion about Wyatt Roy’s under-the-radar-trip to the Kurdish front lines in the fight against ISIS.

Malcolm Turnbull called him stupid, Julie Bishop said he was irresponsible and Penny Wong accused him of living out boyhood fantasies.

They’ve said he was risking other people’s safety. They’ve accused him of encouraging others. They’ve treated him like a naughty child.

I say that's bullshit.

Roy was putting no one at risk except himself.

When I travelled to the ISIS frontlines – and I’ve done so twice now – I knew that no one was coming to rescue me if I got caught.

They didn’t come for James Foley. They didn’t come for Steven Sotloff. They weren’t going to be coming for Wyatt Roy.

I doubt his trip is going to inspire others either; it takes a different sort of person to want to go to a war zone.

Wyatt Roy with a member of the Peshmerga in Sinjar area, west of Mosul, Iraq.
Wyatt Roy with a member of the Peshmerga in Sinjar area, west of Mosul, Iraq.
SBS

I find it difficult to heap scorn on Roy because I’ve been doing the same thing for over 20 years.

I’ve been to Chechnya, Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When I travel, I’m acutely aware of the risks, but they’re risks I choose to take.

Wyatt Roy is 26. He’s old enough to make his own decisions.

The fact that his former government colleagues are scolding him for ignoring travel advice, like a teenager who missed his curfew, is as close to self-parody as the nanny state can get.

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Iraq isn’t a Contiki tour? Agreed, and having been there Wyatt Roy could probably tell you that better than most.

Many of the politicians who have lined up to ridicule Roy have themselves made grandstanding photo-op trips to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unlike Roy, they didn’t speak to the locals. They didn’t meet the people bearing the brunt of ISIS’s brutality. They didn’t see first-hand the impact of airstrikes

Their experiences are as inner-city lawyers and union officials. Spare me the outrage.

Andrew takes a selfie, a man with a gun poses in the background.
Meeting those fighting in war-zones and affected by combat is an key to understanding conflict, Mr Drury says.
Facebook, Andrew Drury

Politicians and public servants in Canberra, Washington and London routinely make decisions about regions of the world they’ve never been to, about people they’ve never met.

Are we really throwing someone under the bus who wanted to see the front lines for himself?

Maybe more politicians should travel to warzones.

If Donald Trump had met the Sunni and Shia forces fighting together in Kirkuk, or the Pashmerga defending Erbil, maybe he’d realise that Muslims are the most dedicated forces fighting against the barbarity of ISIS.

I met 70-year-old Muslims fighting against fundamentalist Islam in World War One style trenches.

When I see Islamophobia in the West, I now have a pretty powerful story to tell to shut it down.

Mr Drury says his groups also came under fire when he visited those fighting on the frontline.
Mr Drury says his groups also came under fire when he visited those fighting on the frontline.
Supplied

Now I never hesitate to slam someone who gets themselves into trouble for not taking proper precautions.

I have a wife and kids, so safety is always my top concern.

If Roy acted naively and didn’t do his research, then of course it’s a stupid risk to take.

But he did stay safe. He didn’t advertise the trip before setting off, which is one of the most important safety measures you can take.

Without knowing what precise measures he took, I find it difficult to pass judgment.

If only others had such restraint.

Journalists – including some who have travelled to dangerous places themselves – have been lining up to pass judgment on Roy.

Of all people, they should check themselves before throwing stones.

I once got slammed by a reporter for being insane and putting my family through unnecessary stress – only a few weeks later their crew came back asking me for contacts and advice for an upcoming trip.

Andrew Drury with his wife and two kids
With a family to come back to, Mr Drury makes sure safety is his number one priority.
SUPPLIED

When I travel, I think of myself as a citizen journalist.

I take photos, I tell stories, I spread the word about what I’ve seen.

It looks like Roy is doing the same.

He says his experience was “a stark reminder of the crucial tactical role our air force is performing in Iraq and Syria, and it was a lesson the grateful soldiers asked me to take back home with me.”

That’s a message I took away too.

When I was in Iraq the Kurds had trouble calling in airstrikes.

I heard of the risks and damage those strikes had when they hit civilian areas, but I also heard about how critically important they were in pushing back Islamic State.

The Kurds were keen for me to tell their story.

The message I took away was that without Muslim fighters on the front lines pushing back against IS, things could be a lot worse.

IS is being held back by the people we in the West fear most. That’s a message I hope Roy will echo.

Roy has also spoken about the advanced weaponry IS had – 50 Caliber Dushka machine guns and Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers – that’s also something I also came away with.

ISIS had control of a drone when I was there.

But I won’t back Roy on everything.  

In The Australian he’s weighed in on the Kurdish statehood debate.

Taking sides on local issues is something I always stay away from. The voices of those in the region should be given greater priority than those merely passing through.

I also take issue with him saying an attack like the one he experienced was rare.

Mate, I got shot at both times I went to the front lines. The reason the soldiers you were with were so calm is because it happens all the time.

Wyatt Roy with a member of the Peshmerga in Sinjar area, west of Mosul, Iraq.
Wyatt Roy with a member of the Peshmerga in Sinjar area, west of Mosul, Iraq.
SBS

A journalist from SBS once asked me why I travel to the places that I go to. I said I’m not entirely sure.

But I can tell you that until you’ve been on the ground in a conflict, you don’t understand it.

Until you speak to those being shot at or living under daily bombing raids, you don’t know anything.  

When you’re on the ground you realise most analysis in West is either wrong or irrelevant.

So when Roy says he went there so he can get a better understanding, I take him at his word.

Andrew Drury runs a construction business in Surrey, south of London. He regularly takes 'different' types of vacations to warzones and global trouble-spots.

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