What is gained by stripping ISIL returnees of citizenship?

While I agree citizenship revocation is counterproductive, I find this to be an overly sympathetic view of the women who supported ISIL, given the difficulties is establishing what they did and did not do during their time there, not to mention the difficulty in laying charges and securing convictions:

The first ISIL recruit I interviewed, in 2014 in Delft, the Netherlands, was a 22-year-old woman who had become an ISIL bride after being indoctrinated by a recruiter. It took the recruiter two months of continuous communication online to convince her to join what he called “the cause” and to be “part of the global struggle against the atrocities of the West.”

After months of clandestine planning, Zoleikha (not her real name) cautiously set out for the airport, ready to step aboard a flight to Iraq. She had followed every detail of the recruiter’s guidance except one: She left a short note to her family, telling them of her decision.

The family had suspected something was up. Zoleikha had been evasive for a while, and they had got in the routine of searching her room for clues when she was out of the house. When her father found the note, his heart skipped a beat and he could barely breathe. He knew what he had to do. Not more than an hour went by before the authorities stopped Zoleikha as she was about to board the plane.

I spoke with her father, a man of Moroccan descent, who owned the local dry-cleaning business. He was a hard-working family man. Of his four children, one was in high school and three had graduated from college, including Zoleikha. He had built a new life for his family and hoped his children would prosper.

He and his family followed some cultural traditions and occasionally attended mosque services. But it was important to him that his children assimilate into European culture. When he found the note, he remembered an Imam who had spoken about the challenges of radicalization and the need to be vigilant about recruiters within their community. The Imam had encouraged partnership with the local government and trust of the authorities.

Out of desperation, the father called the authorities. He told me he had done it for his daughter’s sake and for the sake of the country that had given him a new beginning. Zoleikha never reached Iraq. She was arrested, and then she was lucky enough to be released conditionally under court supervision.

There are many women who were not fortunate enough to have such an intervention. By most estimates, approximately 5,000 European citizens have been recruited to Iraq and Syria by ISIL since 2013. Many of the women left family, freedom and fortune to pursue an uncertain future. They arrived in Syria and Iraq, and what happened to them after that is a mystery. However, now, with the demise of the Islamic State, they are contemplating returning to the countries they left behind.

In Europe, conversations about the fate of returnees have intensified since the UK Home Office decided to strip British citizenship from Shamima Begum — who joined ISIL at 15 along with two other schoolgirls from the UK. The question for us as a society is: What do we do in these cases? Is appropriate to indiscriminately strip members of such a heterogeneous group of citizenship?

Debate has focused on legal questions that surround such a move, which would cause the troublesome dilemma of creating stateless individuals. However, human rights and counter-terrorism strategies deserve more consideration than they have gotten.

There are three main factors to consider in the complex matter of ISIL recruits who want to come home.

Why they left their home country

The first step is figuring out whether those who joined ISIL qualify as foreign terrorist fighters or whether they just went along for the ride. Some of the recruits have carried out unspeakable acts, but there are others who have supported ISIL through nonviolent means (as jihadi brides) or were forced to go along (wives and children).

It is vital to understand the spectrum of active participation to passive victimhood, as it has become clear that some of the women have suffered repeated traumas while having little willful participation in ISIL activities. Of course, few cases are likely to fall at the extremes of the spectrum. The majority of returnees likely will fall somewhere in the middle.

We need to approach the way we deal with these returnees across a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum we can imagine rare instances where an individual would be welcomed home without retribution and would re-enter society. There might also be exceptional instances where revoking citizenship and/or meting out the harshest punishments is appropriate. A case-by-case approach would help in the determination of what is a proportional response and appropriateness of criminal investigations.

How vulnerable to coercion were they?

The global terrorism database suggests that a leading factor in the ultimate decision to pursue a life of terrorism is a sense of societal alienation. This can be particularly heightened in young people whose sense of self is still developing and who suffer from self-estrangement. My field work shows that those who have sought to join ISIL from Western countries are not poor or uneducated, although poverty and lack of education are typically possible factors leading to vulnerability.

Alienation has been described as a leading driver, particularly among second-generation immigrants. Those who experience feelings of alienation seek empowerment, identity and a purpose often in misguided ways. Counselling can help with identity crisis, however, youths can fall into recruiters’ traps of before any such help arrives. This is not to release all blame and culpability for unforgivable actions. But many of the young women who were coaxed into joining the cause with a promise of identity and empowerment were subject to further alienation and subjugation. A person whose vulnerabilities have been exploited is quite different from one who knowingly and purposefully seeks out “the cause.”

The circumstances of their return

No country wants to threaten the security of its citizens by welcoming with open arms anyone who has been radicalized and continues to hold on to a jihadi mission. However, not all of those who wish to return are still aligned with “the cause.” Some returnees admit that they lived through nightmare experiences that were nothing like what they had been promised. And now they feel regret and remorse.

Policy-makers and academics can work with former recruits and terrorists and tell their stories in compelling ways so that others can learn why they started on a terrorist trajectory and see how it did not work out. They can shed light on the coercive tactics used by recruiters and ultimately help to devise counter-terrorism strategies that are not reactive but rather preventative.

In the world of securitization and advanced terrorism studies, the goal of counter-terrorism is to prevent attacks. Populist extrajudicial rulings against returnees, for example stripping them of their citizenship, could weaken and drastically derail these long-term prevention efforts by deepening society’s divisions. They could also create a perfect breeding ground for further radicalism. By allowing people who joined ISIL back into their home countries and putting them on trial, we can reduce such risks and furthermore create societal benefits.

As Fiona de Londras shows, upholding human rights and the rule of law does not hamper our ability to act. It enhances it, and is essential to the long-term success of counter-terrorism efforts.

Of course, until the police and courts determine whether and to what degree the returnees are culpable, returnees should be put in some sort of penitentiary facilities. If the courts find them guilty, they have to be sentenced for their crimes. If the courts and the police agree that they do not pose a substantial danger (be it through radicalization of others or inflicting violence), returnees should enter into a reintegration program that will help them re-establish familial and community ties. These returnees need help to find ways to participate in society and to address the alienation they might have experienced. Reintegration is important in the long term to reduce the risk of radicalization – both for the individual and for society. It fosters belonging, which is something the politics of fear cannot do.

These returnees might well serve as the best source of data. In counter-terrorism studies, field research is very limited. Because of security and access restrictions researchers often depend on incomplete secondary accounts and analysis. Working with returnees would allow us to better align counter-terrorism measures with the forces that activate terrorism, thereby achieving the goal of deterrence and perhaps prevention.

Disillusionment and disengagement in returnees can serve as cautionary tales for others by illustrating the false realities of joining such a mission. Stripping citizenship and other arbitrary punishments only support the extremist belief that the West does not care about the rest (i.e., Muslim citizens), leading to further escalation by pushing marginalized individuals and communities farther away from mainstream society. Such acts breed mistrust, making it less likely that marginalized groups will approach authorities when there is a problem of any kind.

“Why did you want to join ISIL?” I asked Zoleikha. She looked conflicted. “What could be greater than being part of building a new state?” she responded. She still seemed to be grappling with her identity.

Her father was relieved that he had been able to stop her before it was too late. And if she had been stripped of her citizenship? Perhaps it would make the next scenario where a father discovers his daughter about to join ISIL a different one. Perhaps that father would not do what Zoleikha’s father did: Report her to authorities, which prevented her from joining ISIL.

Source: What is gained by stripping ISIL returnees of citizenship?

Canadian women give birth to children of ISIS fighters

No real surprise here that Canada is not exempt from this trend of some women living in the West, hard as it is to understand why, both objectively and from their families’ perspective.

Decisions have consequences, as other accounts of women who have traveled to Iraq and Syria have found out (‘There’s no way back now’: For female ISIL members, Syria is one-way journey).

These studies are helpful to highlight this (fortunately small) trend, and more important, inform counter-extremism strategies:

Canadian women are helping to grow the so-called Islamic State.

According to researchers at the University of Waterloo, three Canadian women have given birth to children of ISIS fighters, while another two are pregnant. The new details are part of a larger study following foreign fighters who flee to Syria and Iraq. The women travelled separately over the past two years, leaving their families back home devastated.

“They’re quite worried about what is going to happen to their daughter, but also their grandchild,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a co-lead author of the study. “For most of the parents, I think there’s kind of a double reaction. First they’re kind of happy a grandchild is involved, but at the same time, they’re quite devastated that a child was born into a war zone, to somebody they’ve never met.”

The researcher also said the challenges these women face are quite obvious. Although they have a place to live, it is difficult to find basic supplies like clothing and diapers. Some of the families back in Canada are keen to help their daughters, but are afraid of the legal consequences.

“If you were to send diapers to Syria, I don’t know if that contributes to real support of a terrorist organization, but it does rest on very shaky legal ground, in terms of what you’re allowed to send to a place like Raqqa,” said Amarasingam.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said this is “obviously a very disturbing development,” and recommitted to opening a national counter-radicalization office.

“We will be moving forward shortly, as rapidly as we can, on the creation of this new office for community outreach and counter radicalization,” said Goodale.

“I’m concerned with every dimension about this type of problem, it runs contrary to everything Canada stands for, in terms of values in the world,” he added.

The creation of a new office was part of a mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the public safety minister late last year. The Liberals aren’t saying yet if funding for the office will be included in the upcoming budget, but there are signs this program will be a priority.

Amarasingam said the challenges these women face become more complex because of their age. “These girls are very young,” he added, “they don’t have much experience in how to raise children, but they’re also raising these children under circumstances many others don’t have to worry about.”

Source: Canadian women give birth to children of ISIS fighters | CTV News

Refugees Describe Life Under ISIL | Al Jazeera America

Haven’t seen much detailed reporting like this:

In the Syrian capital of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s self-declared caliphate, Raqqa, the group’s extreme interpretation of Sharia law is enforced through extraordinary punishments, including death. The list of potential violations is long and reminders of the consequences of crossing the groups are on constant display, with executed and beheaded men displayed in public squares and roundabouts, their crimes often detailed in notices pinned to their corpses.

And even so, some say the chaos and destruction that characterizes most of Syria after four years of war is such that the comparative calm in Raqqa resulting from ISIL’s strict governance actually offers a respite.

Those who recently fled from Raqqa to Turkey describe a new form of governance taking root as ISIL, also known as ISIS or Daesh, continues its effort to entrench itself into the social fabric of the capital. Despite daily bombardment from U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on the city, ISIL has managed to expand its reach both geographically and socially, taking control of even the minute details of everyday life.

The group has restored electricity supply, painted road signs, imposed taxes, implemented a new education system and operates a highly functional — albeit punitive and brutal — judicial system. The organization now controls about one-third of the country, and rules over millions of people across Syria and Iraq. The group has commandeered oil refineries and gas fields in the desert terrain, helping to finance its operations.

ISIL police battalions made up of mostly foreign fighters patrol the streets in 4×4’s and on foot, also setting up checkpoints across the city to inspect identification documents and report any violations to the strict code. Residents must provide tax receipts, proving they have paid the mandatory portion of their agricultural or retail dividends to the state, in order to cross.

Refugees Describe Life Under ISIL | Al Jazeera America.

Why Western girls move to Middle East to marry ISIL fighters — and what life’s really like when they get there

More on women recruits to ISIS and their motivations and experience in an interview with Joana Cook of King’s College, London:

I would note that women joining extremist groups is nothing new, and the motivations to join have had some similar themes. Women played roles in everything from the Red Brigades in Germany, to the KKK in the U.S., sometimes motivated by their partners to join, but also to engage in the “community.” Themes such as excitement and a sense of adventure, and gaining a sense of independence are cross-cutting. In the case of women going to Syria and Iraq, there were specific initiatives that aimed to promote these marriages, for example opening a marriage bureau in al-Bab for women looking for a husband, or sending the newlywed couples on honeymoons. Similar to how some male fighters have decided to travel abroad, you will see women who are already established in these locations urging other women to come, glorifying the lifestyle and the roles of the men who are fighting (brave, devout, etc.). Increasing imagery of families and children also normalize and motivate some, as can a sense of “sisterhood” for when you arrive.

ISIL have limited the roles that women can take in the public sphere. Their roles have been largely restricted to the private sphere and “support” such as cooking, cleaning, supporting the families and education in the home (for example, how to raise a jihadi). As they are unable to move around freely without an escort, their communication with the outside world may be lessened (example: not being able to go to Internet cafés) and I think this is one of the reasons you don’t hear more about how horrible life there can be. There have been cases of severe sexual violence in some of these marriages, and also women whose husbands are killed fighting, leaving them with small children and unable to support themselves and in very dangerous circumstances. There were examples of unique roles coming out of Raqqa where women were acting as “police units” enforcing ISIL’s strict interpretation of Islam, also engaging in punishing women they found who went afoul of this. Other groups who had previously banned women from fighting roles, such as Hamas and al-Qaida, did change this policy over time for tactical reasons — that is, add an element of surprise. I hope that this does not prove the case.

Why Western girls move to Middle East to marry ISIL fighters — and what life’s really like when they get there.