The main cause for the on-going commotion around Jihadists returning to the Western countries was, allegedly, the ‘grenade’ thrown by Donald Trump. President of the USA, known for his habit of conducting foreign policy though Twitter, called the Western countries to take responsibility for ‘their’ Jihadists, who are held in POW camps in Syria and Iraq.
Otherwise, the risk arises, that they will be released and will return on their own, uncontrolled, becoming even more dangerous. It should be noted, that shortly afterwards, Trump told the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo to block return of Hoda Muthan to the US, after she had became a Jihadist and joined ISIS.
One could blame Trump for an offhand treatment of his allies, but the problem of returning Jihadists is not something that the Western countries have just found out about.
It was then, when ISIS, confronted with the Kurds, Iraq, the West and supported by Russia Assad started to retreat, when thinking about what to do with those who lost has begun. The problem was supposed to be solved, at least partially, by sending Special Forces with a list of goals to eliminate, by the governments of the UK and France. These, however didn’t list out all Western Jihadists, and the plan itself wasn’t 100% successful.
The question- what to do with the rest, remains. According to different sources around 800 Jihadists from 50 countries are held captive by the Kurdish SDF, and there are 2200 women and children in the camps, too. In Iraq, around 1000 people are to be arrested on the grounds of connections to ISIS. According to the UN, in February this year alone there were 3000 terrorists from abroad fighting for ISIS. Should their countries be a responsible parent and take them back or should their citizenship be revoked and the terrorists themselves left on the mercy of the Kurdish or Iraqi government?
Nobody wants “a bad egg”, a returning Jihadist
In the UK, the whole issue escalated very quickly to a personal level. Shamima Begum, while kept in a refugee camp, was interviewed by a ‘Times’ reporter and expressed desire to go back to the UK, to raise her newly born son there. Begum left her homeland at the age of 15 and joined ISIS when she married a Holland-born Jihadist Yagon Redijka. They had three children there, but only the one born recently in the camp, survived.
Begum’s personality however, is not something the British public opinion would expect from a former terrorist. She feels no remorse, is not sorry that she had joined ISIS; in fact she still supports their ideology and justifies their crimes. She was fascinated by decapitations and justifies rapes of Yazidi women as similar to crimes of Shiites. Fears, that Begum can pose a serious threat to the British people after return are indeed justified.
As opposition to Shamima Begum attention was brought to a different Jihadist, Aimen Dean, who had not only realised his mistake in 1998, but also in cooperation with MI6, stayed in Al-Qaida structures and foiled many attacks.
Under public pressure, Begum’s citizenship was quickly revoked by the Home Secretary, Pakistani born Sajid Javid. And this is where a problem occurred. The case of Begum is not a case of dual citizenship, as it was recently for example, with a Belgian Jihadist Malika Al-Aroud, who was at the same time a citizen of Morocco. Begum, whose parents are from Bangladesh, was born in Great Britain and is a citizen of this country only. However, the British law does not allow to make a person stateless. And Bangladesh is not in a hurry at all, to take responsibility for a Jihadist, that had nothing to do with them really, as since birth she had lived in a different country. The returning Jihadist could question the MP’s decision, but she also plans to apply for the Dutch citizenship, after her husband. Riedijk, as a terrorist, remains in a different camp for now, but Holland has already stated that they will not allow his return, nor are they going to grant Begum citizenship.
In the UK the public was so enraged with Begum’s stand, that they begun selling shooting targets with her image. However, in the whole debate on revoking her citizenship, we might find many rational arguments, both pro and against.
Why should we get rid of a returning Jihadist “bad egg”?
The most important argument is the issue of homeland security. Returning Jihadists will be a threat in the years to come. So far we don’t know of any effective ‘de-radicalisation’ means, which would work on many charged with terrorism.
In fact the situation is even worse. Terrorists, with their stories, connections and aura of ‘battle in the name of religion’, which they create, contribute to radicalising the next generation of ‘potential terrorists candidates’. For example, the French Chief Prosecutor said recently, that in French prisons there are currently around 1200 radicalised inmates, who have found their connection with the jihadi community in prison. Strict supervision of such a big number of them begins to be less and less possible. The number of operational field agents, needed for supervision of inmates grows and exceeds the current scope of governmental forces in countries such as the UK, France, Belgium and Germany. More and more often, after a terrorist attack, we hear that the person responsible was on the list of people suspected of radicalisation. It begins to look like a cat and mouse game, where a starving and restrained cat looses again and again to the growing number of mice. Here, a question appears – should we spend more on governmental services and broaden their right to invigilate us?
Not only the UK and Holland are leaning towards revoking citizenship of returning Jihadists, but even Germany seems to look in that direction. Namely, they are currently working on a new law, which would take away the German citizenship of those Jihadists, who have a dual one. It’s not as a radical step, as the action undertaken by the Brits, but merely adaptation to what the law is in, for example, Belgium.
We hear about the incidental character of revoking Begum’s citizenship. It’s meant to teach everybody a lesson. ‘Pick the wrong side and you will be punished’ could be the summary of this action.
Douglas Murray, the author of “Strange Death of Europe”, writes that a strong signal should be send, as so far, these issues have been treated lightly. “Making bad choices has a price” – says Murray, and joining the Jihadists is not a “oops, wrong number” situation. The journalist points out that a few generations ago, Begum would have been hanged for such treason. “Today we can let her live, but not among us”- he says.
To be perfectly candid, Jihadists are probably more afraid of the Iraqi justice system, then the European one, as the punishments there include hanging, and the prison conditions are, to put it mildly, not very luxurious.
The argument for jailing them on site is supported by “legalists”, who claim, that justice should be served in the country where the crime was committed. For example murderers, who committed a homicide in our country will probably end up in one of our prisons. And similarly, there is no necessity for our country to ask for a prisoner, our citizen, when jailed in a different country. There are some relevant counter-arguments to that too, but all in due time.
A conviction has also strengthened in some parts of the communities, that the Jihadists will meet their deserved punishment in the countries of their arrest, as many of those still recognise capital punishment that has its supporters even in the West. Many fear that our law systems are not adjusted to arriving at an effective conclusion during trials, where the evidence is scarce and hard to get, what will result in low sentences and swift release for “good behaviour”.
A great part of society treats Islam and connected to it Islamic Jihad, as phenomena brought to the West from Muslim countries. The general idea is, that if the cause of problems comes from there, those countries should deal with it.
Is this the returning Jihadist “bad egg” our responsibility?
All the above mentioned arguments meet with a counter-argument from the adversaries of revoking the citizenship of returning Jihadists.
The main one is responsibility. These returning Jihadists were born in the West, brought up in the West and radicalised in the West – claims this side of the debate. These are our forces that failed to prevent the radicalisation and did not stop them from leaving, so we should take the responsibility for our mistakes. The same, as we deal with problems, when it comes to crimes like murder or rape, where there was no ideology behind the act itself, or what we do in case of crimes in the name of extreme left- or right-wing ideology.
“There are many things that the Great Britain should export, but terrorists are not one of them” – wrote David Toube from the Quilliam Foundation, which helps to de-radicalise Islamists. Toube understands, that many people fear this solution, and that it will be a more expensive one but, as he says, Great Britain is “a country of law”.
The argument of our responsibility also comes up as the answer to the ideas of legalists, who call for justice in the country od committing the crime. Countries torn by war, with no justice systems or prison infrastructure, should not additionally be burdened with problems, which originated in our countries. At least we should restrain from hypocrisy, when death sentences are issued, which the European Union is strongly against. It is in fact very possible that when the Iraqi government will sentence the Jihadists according to their law, the human right supporters in the European Union will condemn their actions and our governments will “express deep concern”. The case of Begum shows that no country, in this case Bangladesh, is willing to take on the “bad egg”. And when we look at our attitude towards returning Jihadists, no wonder that the Muslim countries are not interested in taking upon themselves the risk connected to people, who have never even been their citizens.
When we talk about guilt however, it is worth noticing that Saudi Arabia is trying to wash their hands of any responsibility by getting rid of the Mosque in Molenbeek district in Brussels, the capital of Islamic radicalism. If we follow this lead, we could probably point out at least a few countries, that should pay for decades of slowly poisoning the West with radical ideology.
Taking away Begum’s citizenship is also a bad signal for Muslim communities on our continent, as some Muslim reformers claim. As they are born in the UK and are a part of the community, they show the discrimination it is in their view. One can revoke somebody’s citizenship because their radicalism is Muslim and they are a child of migrants. However, no extreme right- or left-wing terrorist are deprived of citizenship, only Islamists. Critics claim that it’s a signal that Muslims are still a second class citizens. Douglas Murray, a critic of mass migration understands this argument, though has a different opinion, in the aforementioned book.
Finally we have the practical argument, raised by Trump. It might come to a situation, where countries burdened by us with ‘cleaning after Jihad’ will not want to carry out trials or expose themselves to condemnation for, for example, use of death penalty and instead will just release the Jihadists somewhere close to the border. As a result, many of them could get to Europe, on their own, not detected by any forces. The Kurds have already given a warning, as they have released almost 300 suspicious ISIS members, after negotiations with local Arab tribes’ chiefs and making sure that they only carried out administrative roles within the Islamic State and had no blood on their hands.
To send a strong signal
One could stop here, on presenting these doubts, but when in a public debate, this would be dishonest. Europe is trying to solve the dilemma of security and responsibility, where every solution seems bad. If we bet on security, it might mean that another part of Muslims will radicalise, as we go up against public order, established by us. If we bet on responsibility, we will also sent the wrong signal, and at the same time put ourselves directly in danger.
This resembles the Jason’s problem in “The Discourse of Hate” written by André Glucksmann. He had to choose between showing his ex- wife Medea mercy, by allowing her to stay in Corinth and in this way obeying gods’ laws or ensuring security. Jason, as a king and thus the decision-maker, could not find any exit from this trap and in result became responsible for the death of his own children and fire in the city, caused by revenge seeking Medea. To be honest, it is very surprising, how an ancient drama can describe current process of radicalisation in Europe. Glucksmann gives three stages of Medea’s radicalisation:
- dolor– self pity (personal feeling of grief);
- furor– anger, grief in the name of others (giving one’s grief a global dimension, victimisation);
- nefas– blind attack, that brings suffering upon all.
Maybe it’s time to end this concessions policy – as according to alternate solutions, presented in this article „war will happen anyway” – and send a strong signal to the Muslim community in Europe, through revoking the citizenship of returning Jihadists?
Those people, when going to Iraq or Syria, rejected the European rule of law. They renounced their countries, political systems, societies and culture, which we all created together. It is true, that some of them were born here, but our current conditions are an effect of sweat and blood of our previous generations. We are ready to share this, but we will not stand idly by, when someone tries to bring an ideology from the outside, which will result in another bloody war over the role of religion in a country. This has already happened in Europe and we do not want to go backwards.
This strong signal could be more or less as follows: if you want to appreciate and adopt our world by living together, there is no second class citizenship. But, if you prefer to resort to conflict building narration of victimisation and painting us, as an enemy – and this happens not only among terrorists, but also in Islamist and Salafi circles – then don’t be surprised that we will reach out for any possible means of defence, when the border of violence is crossed.
We will not find a good answer to the title question, without consistent looking back at our history and civilisation.
The Polish original: Powracający dżihadyści – brać czy nie brać?