By Sabria S. Jawhar
6 August 2015
Wars have always brought out the best and the worst in humanity. Heroic deeds and sacrificing one’s own life for the greater good notwithstanding, we can trace brave young idealists joining foreign armies in countries to battle for an idea in which their own country has no stake. Europeans joined the armies of the north or south during America’s Civil War, and when that was over they went on to fight the Indian wars in the West. Americans joined the French and British to fight Germany during WW-I and long before the United States became a participant.
Mercenaries have a long and terrible history of helping overthrow African governments. The most notable event was the Spanish Civil War in which British and American men and women formed brigades to fight for the Spanish Republic against fascists.
In each of these events governments passed no draconian laws that jailed without trial individuals who took up arms in foreign wars. The only exception is perhaps President Woodrow Wilson signing the Sedition and Espionage acts during WW-I to break the back of antiwar dissenters by jailing them without due process.
What does this brief history lesson teach us? Today, any individual, including teenagers, can be thrown in jail without due process for even attempting to leave their country to join Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Today, any individual, including children, who voices support or sympathy for Daesh, can be taken into custody. France, which wraps itself in the right to free speech like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night, is especially fond of targeting children who have the audacity to oppose antiterrorism laws in classroom debates.
It’s now routine for nations, especially the US and Britain, to arrest teenagers leaving to fight in Daesh’s armies. It’s obvious to anyone, except politicians of course, why some teens do this. Boredom, lack of a sense of identity, abuse in the home, a need to accomplish something worthy. History is replete with incidents in which teens have joined armies or groups to fight causes condemned by the international community. The Hitler Youth and just about any religious cult come to mind.
Naive and stupid? Yes. Criminal? Hardly. Make no mistake. Daesh is a criminal enterprise with a membership of murderous thugs who severely damage the religion they claim to represent. But Iraqis, whether remaining at home or had emigrated to England, and who came of age during the worst of the Iraq war a decade ago, don’t see it that way. Instead, they view Daesh on an emotional level as an answer to the death, destruction and deprivations they or their relatives or acquaintances have experienced at the hands of foreign armies. The motives of young people joining the ranks of murderers hardly register with governments and the politicians who pass laws. We have now entered a new phase of wilful ignorance among authorities that apparently see no need to examine why young people want to join Daesh.
This week, a play to be staged by the National Youth Theatre in England was to explore the motives of teenagers and young adults radicalized to commit extremist violence or to join Daesh. The play, which was cancelled just two weeks before its debut performance at a school, had cast 112 teens and young adults between the age of 15 and 25. Most of them were ethnic minorities. The play allowed the audience to roam the corridors of the school and eavesdrop on conversations ranging from Jihadi brides to the British attitudes toward Islam. Yet the play was deemed insensitive, or too sensitive depending on who wanted the play shut down. Here, British school, community and government authorities had a unique opportunity to learn how young people think about the events in their lives. But they chose to quash a production that could provide a teachable moment.
Without examining the motives behind radicalization, governments are forever condemned to prolonging the war against Daesh and enabling terrorists to solidify their position in the Middle East. As we are well aware a radical government has already established itself in parts of Syria and Iraq as more foreign fighters pour in. Without understanding the thinking of these fighters we can never hope to stem the flow.
England and the US have been particularly egregious in jailing young people and ignoring their motives, but the blame can be spread to just about any Middle East nation. Perhaps the problem goes back to the western judicial system that does not require that a motive be established in order to convict an individual of a crime.
Maybe that is one reason why the US has about 25 percent of the world’s population in prisons although its own population only represents 5 percent of world. Perhaps that is why the recidivism rate among convicted criminals in the US is pegged at an outrageous 76.6 percent, according to the US National Institute of Justice.
In other words, law enforcement authorities and legislators have a long history of simply not caring why crimes are committed because paying attention to such things will reveal a morally bankrupt society. And who are the victims? It’s always children first.
When a group of young people attempts to shed light on the radicalization of youths, adults should sit up and take notice.
From the mouths of babes, we can obtain unique and helpful insight that will go a long way to helping defeat extremist ideology. Instead, adults’ arrogance, fear and, yes, even their loathing of ethnic teens has prevented us from using effective tools to put an end to Daesh.