By Abdalaziz Alhamza
March 14, 2019
A fiery debate has raged around Hoda Muthana, an American woman, and Shamima Begum, a British woman, who joined the so-called Islamic State as teenagers and now wants to return to their home countries. President Trump has refused to allow Ms. Muthana, who was born in New Jersey, back into the United States and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has insisted that she is not an American citizen.
In Britain, Home Secretary Sajid Javid issued an order revoking Ms. Begum’s citizenship and Richard Walton, a former Scotland Yard counterterrorism chief, described women like Ms. Begum as “just as dangerous as male foreign fighters if ever allowed back into the country.”
But the British and American refusal to take back these women and hundreds of other foreign fighters who joined the Islamic State means leaving them in Syria. Why should the Syrians, who suffered the terrible violence inflicted by these American and European Islamic State members, have to deal and live with them, when the United States and Britain wants to wash their hands of them?
Like many Syrians, I would say that Ms. Muthana and Ms. Begum are not welcome in Syria and they must leave our country. I am not a xenophobe but I am witness to what the Islamic State and its foreign fighters did to my home and my people.
I grew up in Raqqa, a small Syrian city on the banks of the Euphrates. In January 2014, Islamic State militants took control of Raqqa and cut it off from the world, submitting us to abuse and horror.
The terrorist group called Raqqa the capital of its caliphate and began to publish slick videos calling the city a utopia, a paradise, and seducing new jihadists into joining the group. Many Americans and Europeans, like Ms. Muthana and Ms. Begum, heeded those calls, travelled to Syria and served that regime of terror.
Despite having no training in journalism, my friends and I started a citizen journalist collective, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, to expose the atrocities committed by the Islamic State. We worked at great risk to point out the hypocrisy and the lies of the media campaign by the Islamic State; our resistance led the terrorist group to track, threaten and kill several members of our group and our family members.
After being blacklisted and hunted by the Islamic State I was forced to leave Raqqa and live in hiding, as a refugee in many different places and countries over the years. I have lived without my home and without a passport, as I am also wanted by the Syrian regime for opposing the dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Numerous Syrians lost their lives while trying to escape the twin terrors of the Islamic State and Mr. Assad, while trying to reach to Europe by placing their lives in the hands of treacherous smugglers, crossing turbulent seas and nearly impenetrable borders. The Mediterranean is becoming a vast expanse of unmarked sunken graves.
Unlike the millions of Syrian refugees who hold on to their passports and travel documents with their lives, numerous foreign fighters of the Islamic State destroyed their passports to hide their identities and spent years traveling between Syria and Turkey with relative ease.
Now that the Islamic State has been defeated in Syria and the dreams of a false caliphate have been crushed, many foreign members of the terrorist group, including women like Ms. Muthana and Ms. Begum, are crawling back to their countries of birth.
Ms. Muthana and Ms. Begum, who were both recently arrested by the Syrian Democratic Forces, are being held, along with other Islamic State families, at al-Hawl refugee camp in north-eastern Syria.
Ms. Muthana, who left Alabama in 2014 to join the Islamic State in Syria, was recently arrested by the Syrian Democratic Forces. She has expressed regret for her actions in recent interviews but I remember her as the Islamic State member, who used social media to call for murder and worked as a recruiter.
Ms. Begum, who left Britain and joined the Islamic State in 2015, rejected her family’s many requests to return home. After she was arrested by the S.D.F., she spoke to Sky News television about her decision to join the terrorist group. Ms. Begum hesitated and replied that she didn’t regret her decision because it changed her as a person, that she enjoyed her time with the group, and met her fighter husband because of it. It suggested little remorse; she and others like her still believe in the poisonous ideas of the Islamic State.
I have long wondered whether I would find it in my heart to forgive the foreign members of the Islamic State, including women like Ms. Muthana and Ms. Begum, for what they did to my people and my home. I certainly couldn’t forgive the male fighters and asked my female Syrian friends about Ms. Muthana, Ms. Begum and other jihadi women like them.
Every Syrian woman I spoke to emphatically stated that they could never forgive anyone who joined or supported the Islamic State. When I asked them specifically about Ms. Muthana and Ms. Begum, every female friend replied that both women should be arrested and prosecuted to save the Syrians and world from the danger they might pose at some point.
I believe Ms. Muthana and Ms. Begum and all other foreign fighters and members of the Islamic State should be sent back to their countries of birth for trial and prosecution. The continued presence of Ms. Muthana, Ms. Begum and other foreign members of the Islamic State in Syria is a daily reminder of violence and horror their group inflicted upon our people and society.
Last week, Ms. Begum’s newborn son died in a hospital near the camp after breathing difficulties. The British government’s decision to not take responsibility for Ms. Begum, to take her back and put her on trial under the country’s laws, also denied her child the opportunity to get medical attention that could have saved his life.
British, American and European governments need to take responsibility for these foreign members of the Islamic State and a decision about their future should be made by the penal systems of their countries.
Syrians must not be forced to have to take care of them. We need to purge people like them from Syria if our country is ever to recovery from this plague. They must be removed from Syria immediately and forever.