The homecoming jihadis
The defeat of Islamic State and the fall of Raqqa, capital of its selfproclaimed caliphate, is cause for celebration, said Rashmee Roshan Lall on Middle East Online. But now a new and terrible dilemma faces Western policy-makers. How to deal with all the Western jihadis returning to their home countries? Some 20,000 fighters from 33 different nations are thought to have been in Syria, 2,500 of them from Europe. What if on return they start planning attacks on home soil? Western leaders have now given their answer, said Robert Fisk in The Independent: they’ve decided to have the fighters killed. “If they’re in Raqqa they’re going to die in Raqqa,” as Brett Mcgurk, US envoy to the anti-isis coalition, put it. Or, in the words of Tory minister Rory Stewart: “These people are a serious danger to us… unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.” By handing the names and photos of European fighters to Kurdish and Iraqi militia, Britain and France are effectively outsourcing the execution of their own citizens. For decades we’ve condemned Middle Eastern dictators “for their savagery and drumhead courts”. Now we’re doing the same thing.
And that just plays into the hands of terrorist groups like Isis, said Richard Barrett, a former director of counterterrorism at MI6, in The Guardian. They want to provoke governments into a backlash that reinforces the divide between supporters and opponents, and bolsters extremism. But in any case, Stewart’s solution overlooks the fact that at least 400 jihadis are already back in Britain – and so far very few have been notably engaged in terrorist plots. As Max Hill QC, the man overseeing the Government’s terrorism legislation, argued last week, the vast majority went out as “naive” teenagers and were soon “disillusioned” by the savage reality of life in the caliphate. That certainly seems to be true of “Jihadi Jack”, said Katie Grant on inews.co.uk. Jack Letts left Oxford at the age of 18 to join up with Isis in 2014. But he then fled the group and was captured by Kurdish forces. “I hate [Isis] more than the Americans do,” he said recently in an interview with the BBC from his cell.
Let’s not be naive in turn, said Gareth Browne in The Daily Telegraph. I’ve been looking at the hard drive of a captured Belgian jihadist, and it showed no sign whatsoever that she’d fallen out of love with Isis ideology. That’s why it was “astonishingly glib” of Max Hill to speak as he did, said Camilla Cavendish in The Sunday Times. No doubt there are some penitent souls “who’ve crept home to their families after horrific experiences”; but many more will be received as heroes in their own communities – or in prison, if they’re sent there. How reckless, then, to advise that we go soft on these people and refrain from prosecuting them: it’s now even being suggested that they should be offered social housing and have their rent paid for them. Yes, the long-term aim must be integration. In the meantime, those jihadis who show no sign of contrition should face the full force of the law.