By David Otto
The public debate about what exactly should be done with “jihadi-brides” has been reinvigorated in the last few weeks by the emergence of would-be foreign fighter returnees (FFRs) from the final pocket of the Islamic State’s (Daesh) so-called caliphate. Amidst the thoughtful commentary, there has been within the popular reaction expressions of frustration, anger, and to an alarming degree open hate. There is a danger of thinking like a Daesh terrorist.
There have been vile expressions of hatred on social media, one of the jihadist’s images used as a target at a shooting range, and public surveys show an overwhelming desire for there to be no return and no mercy, with calls for the death penalty from some. There appears to exist an existential battle between those who still believe in humanity, and those who are ready to trade humanity not primarily for national security but for revenge.
In reaction to the FFRs, the extremist rhetoric used by Daesh and Al-Qaeda, the broad-brush “us versus them” demarcation of an in-group and an out-group, has been reflected by those who conceive of themselves as opponents of the jihadists, something that has happened all too often during the “Global War on Terror”. In no case has this been so evident as that of British-born Shamima Begum, who was 15-years-old when she was groomed by Daesh and lured to Syria.
In dealing with home-grown terrorists and FFR cases, we must, in a democratic society, strive to balance punishment with treatment and not allow ourselves to unconsciously think and behave like Daesh.
Daesh may be at the verge of losing its physical territory in Syria and Iraq, but it remains a dire threat to peace and security, in the region and beyond. Daesh’s jihadi-Salafi ideology is undefeated, and the socio-economic and political factors that provided the environment for its revival and rise remain to be exploited.
There is an urgent need for governments and other relevant stakeholders to engage in a concerted effort to coordinate, at a national and international level, to create an effective regime to deal with FFRs. Such a regime would balance punishment and treatment, meet the requirements of law and justice, be legitimate and sustainable at a local level, and tackle the roots of extremist ideology from the ground up.
The frustration of the public is to be expected when confronted with fellow citizens who joined an enemy force and are unrepentant about it. But societies must appreciate that an ideological foe that seeks to threaten all of humanity cannot be defeated with inhumanity, by sinking to the level of the terrorists. The greatest danger to democratic societies is that they respond to terrorism by allowing the spread of hatred and polarization.
David Otto is the Director of Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime for Global Risk International Ltd and the Preventing Radicalisation and Violent Extremism Programme – Step In Step Out (SISO) – based in the United Kingdom. He is also a Certified Master Antiterrorism Specialist (CMAS) and selected trainer for the Anti Terrorism Accreditation Board (ATAB). Follow Otto on Twitter.