Should ISIS brides be brought home?

Posted: February 21, 2019 in Political musings, Popular Culture et al, Religion

There has been widespread publicity – and volumes of commentary and angst  – about whether young women (and some not so young) who left their home countries to travel to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State should be permitted to return to their original countries.

In one case in the UK, the Home Secretary has revoked Shamima Begum’s UK citizenship, a decision supported by apparently 78% of the British population, and possibly effectively rendering her stateless – which even the Home Secretary acknowledges would be illegal.

In the USA, Donald Trump has instructed that another bride, Hoda Muthana, should not be allowed to return to America.

But perhaps there is a more nuanced reaction that should be considered.

Firstly, both these women, and others, claim they were brainwashed into originally heading to IS, and then for supporting it.

In the case of Muthana, she unquestionably urged violence against her American compatriots. In the case of Begum, she reported seeing “a decapitated head in a waste bin” and not being “fazed” by the experience, and that the terrorist bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester was “retaliation” for Western bombing.

However, despite these being utterly abhorrent opinions, it may still be that there are arguments in favour of such people being allowed “home”.

The problem is by no means limited to the West.

As the BBC reported in May 2018 more than 2,000 Russian women have disappeared in Iraq and Syria. Some will be dead. Some will be held by the Governments of those countries, (some of the Russian women and others are rumoured to have been taken to prison in Baghdad, where they face execution), or by anti-IS militia such as Hashd al-Shaabi. Some will be in hiding, or in refugee camps. Is some cases, when captured with their husbands, the husbands have been executed.

So can anything be said for allowing such people to return to their countries of birth or citizenship?

Their age

Most people would concede that decision-making at the age of 15, as in the case of Begum and the two friends that went with her (both now dead) would be wildly different from even a few years later.

Or when, as in Muthana’s case, (she left when 19), she was making decisions in a cloistered and very severe background with little or no external input. For example, she says her family in Alabama were deeply conservative and placed restrictions on her movements and interactions, factors she claims contributed to her radicalisation. “You want to go out with your friends and I didn’t get any of that. I turned to my religion and went in too hard. I was self-taught and thought whatever I read, it was right. I look back now and I think I was very arrogant. Now I’m worried about my son’s future. In the end I didn’t have many friends left, because the more I talked about the oppression of Isis the more I lost friends. I was brainwashed once and my friends are still brainwashed.”

Whilst Begum says she does not regret travelling to Syria, which has been widely reported, she also says she came to believe that IS deserved to be defeated because it was corrupt and cruel. That is a much more nuanced attitude. Such an attitude expressed openly in the ‘Caliphate’ would have seen her executed.

In Muthana’s case, she speaks of having made a great mistake in travelling to join IS, of being manipulated, of being ignorant.

Do we believe them? Are they sincere? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Would it make any difference if they were?

The essential question here is should we punish people for life, effectively, because of errors made – even egregious errors – when they were children, or when they say they were misled?

The pressure on them inside IS

There is ample evidence that IS placed such “brides” under huge pressure.

They were rigidly kept under lock and key until they married a fighter, to which they would not have been introduced, simply shown a photograph.

Once released into marriage, their movement was severely restricted, and any attempt to live an independent existence could result in terrible punishment. Soon after Begum’s marriage, (just three weeks after she arrived in the area), her husband was arrested, accused of spying, and was imprisoned and tortured for six and a half months.

It is not impossible to imagine that women such as Muthana would, effectively, have continued being “brainwashed” during their time in IS territory, or become too afraid to change their minds or express any different opinions. Whilst Muthana does not deny sending inflammatory tweets when she first arrived, and after her first husband was killed, she then claims her Twitter account was run by an IS fighter. Why did she stop sending her own tweets? Should we at least ask?

Are they actually guilty of any crime?

There is an argument that the women gave succour and sustenance to a terrorist organisation through their very presence. But other than this somewhat nebulous charge, have they actually broken any laws that would justify them being permanently excluded?

in 2015 Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said the three girls would not face terror charges or be treated as criminals. And in Begum’s case specifically, Assistant Commissioner, Mark Rowley, head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, said at the time there was a “difference between the person running around northern Iraq with a Kalishnikov” and three schoolgirls who had been duped into travelling to Syria. However as Ms Begum is now 19, she is legally an adult. If she was under 18, UK authorities could argue they still had a duty of care to her. That might be more complex now. Then again, Security minister Ben Wallace said last week: “As a British citizen she has a right to come home here. We are obliged to make sure our citizens have rights, no matter who they are,” he told Sky News. But he dismissed any suggestion of sending officials to meet Ms Begum, saying: “I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists in a failed state. Actions have consequences.”

Should they be obliged to face prosecution?

Though it might be unclear what they would be charged with, it may well be that the women concerned should be prosecuted in a court of law.

Sir Peter Fahy, a retired senior police chief who was the leader of the Prevent terrorism prevention programme at the time the girls left the UK, told BBC Radio 4 that if Begum was to now return, British authorities would first detain her and investigate whether there was enough evidence to prosecute her.

He said it was understandable why the government was “not particularly interested” in aiding her return. “If the woman was showing complete remorse, it would be completely different,” he said.

However this begs the question, should an individual’s guilt or innocence, whatever their actions, not be judged by a jury of their peers? Is there actually any more basic premise for western societies which support the jury system?

Fighters returning to their countries of origin are routinely taken to court, judged and sentenced. Why is one course of action right, and another wrong?

If it is simply because there are actually no laws under which to charge the women, that is surely not a reason to sentence them to exile in limbo in absentia.

Do we want them just running around anywhere?

Many IS brides are in camps (or areas) controlled by America and/or her allies in the region. European countries show no great enthusiasm to bring captured IS fighters home to face prosecution, nor to go to dangerous areas to interview or assess them.

But President Trump has publicly asserted that if the Europeans don’t steep up he will simply open the gates and let them go. In which case, will the women be released as well? To go … where? With what attitude or future actions?

So much is unclear.

Can they be rehabilitated?

The answer to this question is ‘probably’. De-radicalisation programs around the world actually show high levels of success.

The question is what is actually of more use to our society – de-radicalised people who were given a chance to atone for their behaviour, or permanently locking them out of sight overseas?

It is, of course, impossible to predict what future contribution they might make, but it is equally impossible to argue “None”. They might end us as useful members of society. They may even be part of an effort to help to prevent other young people becoming radicalised. In that sense, bringing them home would start to redress their foolishness.

Last but not least: what about the children?

Both these women – and many others – have very young children. No one would argue the children have done anything wrong, apart from having the misfortune to be born in a war zone.

Do the sins of their parents require them to be punished too? Surely not. And many people have said that their children should be allowed entry. But if we are to then obdurately refuse to take their mothers back, is that morally supportable? There is no evidence that the mothers are abusive towards their children – rather the opposite, in fact. So on what grounds can we or should we separate them?

At least 730 children have been born inside ISIS territory to foreign nationals, including 566 born to Western Europeans. Are they all to stay in refugee camps in Syria or surrounding countries?

Our conclusion?

It is often said that it is easy to forgive those that we agree with, or who are essentially good people. But it’s harder – and perhaps more relevant – to forgive those that we do not like.

Both of these women, and others, have expressed hateful opinions, as well as more complex ones.

But the issues they pose go to the heart of our judicial system. And they also talk to who we are as people, and how our attitudes to them define our societies, and how we wish to behave. Decisions about their future should not be made on the basis of pandering to mob disgust, even if that disgust is perfectly understandable.

Our view is that it is far too simplistic to argue, as social media has done, “Pah! They made their bed, let them lie in it.”

Why? Well, for one reason above all.

If we eschew totally the opportunity for rehabilitation – or even for measured punishment that fits the crime – then there would only be one sentence for all transgressions or crimes. And that sentence would be life in jail, or execution.

Now who does that sound like?

Comments
  1. Paul Brixey says:

    No comment really except take note of the views of 78%. Maybe even more than that.

    Like

    • Stephen Yolland says:

      May be. But do consider the points I raise Paul. It might be the 78% are not right …

      Liked by 1 person

      • Paul Brixey says:

        The other 22% probably want capital punishment

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        • Stephen Yolland says:

          Paul, did you bother to read the article? Can you bothered to engage with the discussion in any meaningful way?

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          • Paul Brixey says:

            Yes I did but I really think you’ve lost touch with how strongly people feel about the woman over here.

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            • Stephen Yolland says:

              No, not at all. I think the article clearly expresses an understanding of that. I am trying to move past that perfectly understandable response to discuss the issue more seriously. And also to discuss the rule of law versus the rule of the mob.

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              • Paul Brixey says:

                Anyway, as we know, she’ll be let back in as we are a soft touch. Our country is simmering and her coming back will just exacerbate things.

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                • Stephen Yolland says:

                  The UK is simmering because hatred and bigotry has replaced civility and evidence-based debate. On many levels. And this woman contributed to that.

                  The issue at stake here is how does the STATE react.

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                  • Paul Brixey says:

                    Our country is not simmering because of hatred and bigotry. It’s simply reacting against the liberals, do-gooders and PC brigade who have tried to silence anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

                    It would be far more honest if the supporters of this obnoxious woman didn’t ignore the alleged actions of her father who certainly doesn’t seem like a good honest pillar of society.

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                    • Stephen Yolland says:

                      You say “do-gooders” like doing good is a bad thing. How very curious.

                      You also seem to be consumed with anger, all the time. I really don’t know what happened to you. You used to be a gentle person in your youth. Your outpourings on this blog are universally that of a pissed off right wing ideologue. You seem to exhibit no nuance in your opinions, just implacably arguing from the same narrow viewpoint.

                      That’s your right, of course. But it doesn’t contribute much to debate or understanding.

                      I am afraid I know nothing of the actions of the father. Enlighten us?

                      Like

                    • Paul Brixey says:

                      Allegedly burning British and USA flags with Isis flag behind him and protesting with the killer of Lee Rigby.

                      I was a very calm and mild mannered person in my youth but what has happened in my country has definitely changed the way I think on many levels.

                      I have my right of opinion as have you but I would politely suggest that I’m more attuned to the feeling in this country than your goodself.

                      Like

                    • Stephen Yolland says:

                      I’d be very interested if you could provide a link to those allegations.

                      I totally respect your right to hold opinions. But opinions need to be based on facts, and are always challengeable.

                      You may in some ways be closer to the feeling of the UK than me, but on the other hand sometimes viewing a situation from the outside can offer much needed perspective, too.

                      Like

                    • Paul Brixey says:

                      I don’t have the links but I’m sure you could find the articles online.

                      Being closer to what is happening in our country doesn’t stop me forming an opinion. I’ve always been level headed enough to cut through the **** but I will always be able to come down one way or the other. If there was any doubt in my mind.

                      I would never comment on an issue unlike the ramblings of some individuals who think they know more.

                      Like

                    • Stephen Yolland says:

                      I think you need to be much more careful what you repeat.

                      The woman who is the subject of this article has a father who is entirely innocent of anything except wanting his daughter, who was a child when she was raped, returned home.

                      The father of one of the girls she travelled with is who you are referring to.

                      https://www.iol.co.za/news/world/families-say-brainwashed-jihadi-brides-should-be-forgiven-19322108

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                    • Stephen Yolland says:

                      I suggest you choose your news sources much more carefully and read them with more attention.

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                    • Paul Brixey says:

                      I can do without lectures from liberals like you that’s for sure.

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                    • Stephen Yolland says:

                      Yes, you no longer enjoy discussion. A feature of your move to the hard right, no doubt.

                      Like

                    • Paul Brixey says:

                      I love a discussion at any time but I find liberals so blinkered in their thinking on almost every imaginable subject

                      Like

                    • Stephen Yolland says:

                      Funnily enough, liberals say the same of your side of politics. Why do you think that is?

                      Like

                    • Paul Brixey says:

                      Probably because they’ve already formed a view. What I do know is when they are challenged they quite often block people. To your credit you don’t on here.

                      Like

                    • Stephen Yolland says:

                      This site is about discussion. Crossing divides, not creating them.

                      Like

                    • Stephen Yolland says:

                      And well done for not acknowledging you had made a mistake, and defamed an innocent individual in doing so.

                      Like

                    • Paul Brixey says:

                      I apologise and stand corrected in this case. That is why I used the word ‘alleged’

                      Like

                    • Stephen Yolland says:

                      Thank you. Thirty seconds on Google would have shown you were factually inaccurate. Seems like you need lectures from a Liberal on what it is OK to state as fact and what isn’t.

                      I am being serious. Every word on Wellthisiswhatithink that is represented as fact is checked with at least two sources, hopefully from opposing sides of the political spectrum. And even then we make mistakes occasionally. It is incumbent on all of us to be careful what we repeat as fact – allegedly or not. I am sure you are familiar with the old British term “bell the cat”.

                      Like

  2. Pat says:

    A deeply thoughtful and insightful article Yolly, thank you.

    If one looks at the history and development of the law over the last thousand years (there have also been some really interesting and amusing series on tv about it, notably by Tony Robinson), then it is just because our knee jerk reaction which we are tempted to of saying ‘No we won’t have her back, she rejected everything we stand for…’ could be wrong and should be thought about some more.

    Besides which, if we do stand for tolerance and decency and the rule of law, then we should abide by the rule of law, shouldn’t we? Countries are not allowed to render people stateless – and if the top lawyers and policemen say that she has broken no laws of this country, then I don’t see how we can avoid having her back – much though I don’t want that – and I find her reported behaviour dangerous and feel she should be under surveillance for many years. (Do you remember this group of sadly deluded young women met on Facebook and co-ordinated their support of the terrorists there – so much for Facebook’s stance against radical groups!!).

    Personally I find followers of Daesh to be terrorists and repellent in every possible way – and the reported remark of not being fazed by seeing the decapitated head of some poor victim, never mind feeling any twinge of compassion for the victim and all who loved them, makes me want to vomit, and profusely at that.

    But we should be careful as you say Yolly, in rejecting these people we stand in peril of becoming like them – then their cruelty and viciousness has spread and they’ve won – and as I love the old fashioned English values of decency, tolerance, compassion and fair play – I’m not letting cruelty and viciousness win!

    Like

    • Stephen Yolland says:

      You have the thrust of the article perfectly Pat.

      I share your distaste, and completely understand peoples’ reaction. But after the first obvious reaction we need to consider more carefully what cases like this mean for our view of what kind of society we want to be.

      If we don’t have the rule of law, we have nothing. We can’t just discard it because it’s uncomfortable or long winded.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pat says:

        Exactly what I was trying to convey Yolly, I loathe them, but the law is meant to protect everyone and to be the same for all, loathsome or not!

        Like

  3. mlshatto says:

    I am remembering Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped by a violent, radical group and coerced/”brainwashed” into joining them. There are many differences in the two situations, but also enough similarities that I think considering how she turned out in the end might be instructive. There was no question that Hearst took part in the crimes of which she was convicted. She served two years of her seven-year sentence, then had the sentence commuted by Pres. Jimmy Carter. She has married, raised a family, lived a law-abiding life. She was never removed from the country, so the question of re-admitting her never came up. And she had great family wealth to support her rehabilitation. But she *was* rehabilitated and went on to life a reasonably normal, productive life. I’d like to see these Daesh brides given a similar opportunity. Yes, watch them carefully. But don’t condemn them and their children to a life-time of misery. That simply provides fodder to the lies that Daesh and similar groups tell about the “great Satan” of Western countries.

    Like

    • Stephen Yolland says:

      Exactly. Nothing is served by leaving them and their families to rot – if anything it will make a bad situation worse. You are right, the Hearst case is instructive. Thank you for adding a sensible comment to the article.

      Like

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