PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD MARCH 2019
With Irishwoman Lisa Smith currently being interviewed by Gardaí after her return from Syria, I figured it was a good time to revisit an old column which asks a new and vexing question:
What is to be done about Irish citizens who turn jihadi? It’s a question the UK and other European countries have been grappling with for a few years, and now it appears to be our turn.
In January Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev was captured by Kurdish forces in Syria, allegedly fighting for ISIS. Born in Belarus, he lived in Ireland for a decade and has citizenship and a passport.
Now Lisa Smith, a 37-year-old former soldier from Louth, has been found in a refugee camp, having fled Baghuz along with other so-called “ISIS brides”. She had travelled to the war-zone in 2015, married a British jihadist, now dead, and had a child.
While Gardaí estimate the number of Irish supporters of Islamic terrorism to be small, we can assume there will be more. So what should we do with them?
The British Government wants to cancel the citizenship of Shamima Begum, one of the most notorious ISIS brides. Many here would agree. Is there a point at which citizenship can or should be revoked? Certainly the moral argument can be made.
People stress the “terrorism” aspect of groups like ISIS, but that, in a funny way, reduces the full horror of what they’ve done.
Terrorism happens all over the world, generally carried out by secular groups with stated political aims. It’s awful, yes, but you can at least understand and reason with those people.
ISIS, by contrast, is a murderous death-cult whose insane, Grand Guignol acts of violence are so genuinely bloodcurdling, they seem closer to an OTT fantasy novel than something actually done by real human beings.
They’re probably the most depraved bunch on this planet since the Nazis. And indeed anyone who joins ISIS is worse than a Nazi, in that everyone knew, at least five or six years ago, exactly what they were inflicting on people in Iraq and Syria. Leaving Ireland for this horrendous “caliphate” is like joining the Nazis after seeing footage of the concentration camps.
So in one sense, European jihadis have themselves discarded their citizenship. They have, in fact, renounced membership of the human race.
Apart from the morals, ISIS brides and their ilk are also joining a group with the avowed aim of overthrowing the world for an Islamic caliphate; not that it could ever happen, but the point stands. Therefore they are traitors, enemy combatants and, now, foreigners.
The family and friends of these criminals talk about how they want to “come home”. But they already are home. The caliphate was their home, they chose it. And the caliphate lost, so they must deal with the consequences.
Is there any justification for their actions? Not in my opinion. Lisa Smith has been quoted as saying, “You see the propaganda…you want to come and live in a Muslim country…you want clean life but sometimes it is not like this.”
So, what – that makes it okay? You read about rape, slavery, crucifixion, decapitation, mass murder, babies slaughtered, people burned alive, and you were alright with all that, because it meant that you – special little you – could fulfil your dream of living in some Islamic paradise?
Is this a joke? If it is, it’s the sickest one we’ve ever heard.
I’ve even read someone defend Smith by saying she was “naïve and gullible”, and “groomed” and “radicalised” by others. The woman is in her late thirties. She knew what she signing up for.
And to be honest, even had she been young – AKA Begum – any teenager who embraces the panoply of horrors vomited out by ISIS is not naïve or gullible. They’re a sociopath who needs to be locked away and studied by psychiatrists.
For all that, I don’t necessarily think Bekmirzaev or Smith’s citizenship should be revoked, though I have absolutely zero sympathy for European jihadists, and believe their rehabilitation is not only impossible but morally unjustified.
No, my reasoning is this: why should the poor Kurds, Yazidis et al, who have suffered so much, have to deal with these criminals too? They should be shipped home, tried on charges of war-crimes and genocide, then locked up for life.
No possibility of parole. You’ve made your bed, and here it is: in the corner of this cell, where you will remain until death.
In joining ISIS, you moved beyond the pale of decent humanity. There’s no place for you anymore. There’s no redemption after that. I don’t advocate spiteful ill-treatment of prisoners – but prisoners they must remain for the rest of their lives.
That said, maybe it’s not our decision to make. It’s easy for us in Ireland to blah-blah-blah about this stuff in the abstract. Maybe we should ask their victims what they want to do with those fascist animals, and the ones who facilitated them.
Maybe we should ask the Yazidi people, raped and murdered and enslaved by ISIS. They were at the (literal) cutting edge of it. Many of ISIS’ victims want the death sentence for foreign combatants – to be honest, I wouldn’t stand in their way.