ISIS Returnees – shall we let them back into Britain?
Earlier this month British government minister Rory Stewart, argued that the only way to deal with British Isis fighters is too kill them. According to the Independent Stewart told the BBC that, “They are absolutely dedicated, as members of the Islamic State, towards the creation of a caliphate, they believe in an extremely hateful doctrine which involves killing themselves, killing others and trying to use violence and brutality…, so I’m afraid we have to be serious about the fact these people are a serious danger to us, and unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”
Shortly after Stewart’s comments, research published by the Soufan Centre estimates that of the 850 British Isis members, 100 of whom are women and 50 children, who are known to have travelled to Syria or Iraq, at least 425 have returned to the UK, the largest number in Europe.
Therefore, it is clear that this statement is an evident oversite and lacks little consideration for the fact that a large number of British Isis fighters have already returned to the UK. This therefore begs the question, how best can the UK deal with Isis returnees? The answer to this question brings a fraught divide among analysts and experts in the field.
Richard Barrett, the author of the aforementioned report, ‘Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees’, argues that “While it will be hard to assess the specific threat posed by foreign fighters and returnees, they will present a challenge to many countries for years to come.”
Others believe that the threat posed is limited, arguing that returnee Isis fighter may not wish to attack their countries, and there in fact exists the potential for such experiences to be used to counter extremism. According to an article published in the Independent Harry Sarfo is an example of such, in an Interview conducted by the Independent Sarfo tells of the stark differences between the online propaganda and reality.
At the JAN Trust we know from our experience, working for decades, at the forefront of countering extremism, working with mothers who have been personally affected and have lost their children to Isis, that as a society we must no abandon our values; values that the tactics of terrorism aim to erode. In fact, we must develop a rhetoric of hope for these women who have lost their children, whereby we enable and support returnees to reintegrate back into society, a place where we may have failed these individuals before.
Max Hill QC, the current Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has called for a greater focus on the reintegration of returnees in cases where individuals shall not face prosecution, a decision made by the authorities. Hill argues, that many Isis returnees travelled at a young age with great naivety, and are retuning highly disillusioned. In addition, it must be noted that returnees to date have not engaged in domestic terrorist plots, furthering the argument that currently a returnees’ threat to national security is limited. We therefore do not need to increase current or create new legislation given the range of legal measures that already exist.
This emphasises the importance of programmes such as the one developed by me CEO at JAN Trust, Web Guardians™ developed to tackle online radicalisation. We at JAN Trust have long been aware of the particularly powerful role played by exposure to radicalising material online. Our Web Guardians™ programme is designed to educate and empower Muslim women and mothers to prevent and tackle online extremism, building community resilience. Web Guardians™ was built on the notion that Muslim women, as trusted anchors within the family unit, they are best placed to help us in our fight to prevent radicalisation. Web Guardians™ and the JAN Trust provides a safe space for these women to share their stories, as well as learning how best to protect their children and loved ones from the dangers of online radicalisation. Therefore at JAN Trust we believe that disillusioned young minds should be challenged and re-educated oppose to criminalised.