Scott Morefiled is a reporter for the DailyCaller and a columnist for Townhall. His writings have also been featured on Breitbart, BizPac, TheBlaze, National Review, The Federalist, The Hill and others.
In the U.S., President Trump was reported recently as saying that EU countries must take back the estimated 800 Isis fighters captured in Syria by US-backed forces and put them on trial.
In the UK, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the minister in charge of internal affairs, has announced that he is stripping Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship. Shamima Begum, in case you haven’t been following, is the girl who, at the age of 15, ran away from home with two of her classmates and flew to Turkey, crossed the border into ISIS-controlled Syria, and became the wives of Islamic State fighters.
It seems Begum’s friend Kadiza Sultana was killed in an air raid, and the fate of the third girl, Amira Abase is not clear.
There’s been some debate in the UK about whether to they were traitors or victims, and whether it was right to remove her citizenship. She didn’t do her case any favours when she gave an interview defending the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, which specifically targeted young girls, killing and maiming teenage girls, just like her.
One objection to removing her citizenship is that this is only legal if it does not leave a person stateless, they must have a second nationality to revert to. That seems to disproportionately target immigrants. Sajid Javid said that because Begum’s mother was born in Bangladesh, the mother is entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship, and therefore her daughter is too, regardless of the fact that she has never been to Bangladesh, and doesn’t speak the language , not to mention the fact that the Bangladeshi government doesn’t seem enthusiastic about having her dumped on them.
The justification seems to me a bit thin, and may yet be challenged in court, but to be honest I don’t think it’s all that relevant. The real debate here is whether Begum is a victim or a villain. The difficult answer is that she is both. It is now clear that she and her friends were groomed online by IS agents, and at the time, she was a child, 15 years old. It seems clear that as well as manipulating them, the IS agents also devised much of their getaway plan.
If, instead of an IS agent, that was a paedophile encouraging her sneak away from her parents to have sex, she would be considered the victim.
She has grown up since then, she’s 19 now, but she has lived the last four years entirely at the mercy of IS fighters. She has had three children, the most recent in the last few days. Only the youngest survives. She has, literally, been through the wars. It would be surprising if she didn’t experience Stockholm syndrome, where, like Patti Hearst, she comes to identify with the people on whom her life depends.
I’m not a psychologist, but I can easily imagine one writing an opinion that she can’t reasonably be held criminally responsible for her actions. And in any case, there isn’t any evidence that she has committed a crime. She married an IS fighter, but there’s no evidence that she took part in any violence.
But having said all that, my stomach turns to hear her whataboutism and apologetics, defending the action of bombers who packed their explosives with nails to rip through the bodies of teenage girls like herself. Sajid Javid is clearly right that it would hand a major propaganda coup to what’s left of IS to allow her to waltz home and become some sort of Jihadi celebrity, with no more consequences than if she’d skipped school to play video games.
But, and I know that it will stick in the throat of many, on this issue, Donald Trump got it right. Even if most of the fighters are captured by the Kurds or other forces in Iraq and Syria, leaving the people who made up the society of IS wandering around is likely to further destabilise an already very unstable region. It’s unlikely that there exists the capacity to imprison all of the fighters securely, and quite apart from the fact that executing prisoners is a war crime, it would certainly further convulse and destabilise the region.
The solution is not easy to describe in a soundbite, but basically, it makes sense for each country to take responsibility for its own fighters. For the hardcore fighters, that means throw the book at them, lock them up for as long as their crimes justify.
There might be some knuckleheads who left the west with stars in their eyes, and changed their minds as soon as they saw the reality of the IS, they might deserve shorter sentences, but they certainly shouldn’t be released without detailed psychological screening to determine if they pose any ongoing threat.
And there are likely to be people who, on the spectrum between victim and villain are closer to being a victim, but still have sympathy for IS. Here we have to use the carrot and stick. Accept reintegration into society, cooperate with investigators, don’t associate with extremists, don’t give any media interviews or support IS in any other way, and you will be allowed to come home.
It’s an approach that invites attack from tabloid newspapers and right-wing radio hosts, but if there is a method that is better at protecting us from terrorism, I’ve yet to hear it.