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British security services estimate that of the 850 Brits that left the country to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, 400 have returned. Yet, none of them to date have been charged with war crimes.
The Council of Europe's legal affairs committee recently ruled that merely joining ISIS is enough for prosecution at The Hague's International Criminal Court (ICC). Still, no prosecutions, not even any reported arrests.
Even though while these jihadis were in the Middle East, they were outside the jurisdiction of the ICC, once they returned, they could legally be deported to The Hague.
"This cannot possibly be justice. The government must look again at throwing the full weight of international law at those who took part in crimes against humanity," said Labour MP Liam Byrne, expressing the sentiments of many.
While inaction is clearly not the solution to the problem of returning jihadis, the question remains, what is?
It is something that will become increasingly relevant as the jihadis that escape the resounding defeat at the hands of coalition forces seek to reenter their countries of origin. It is also a question with far-reaching consequences that will haunt these countries for decades if they fail to get it right.
Yet, "getting it right" is profoundly complicated.
Writing in The Guardian, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini , co-founder and executive director of the International Civil Society Action Network, lays out the different options and the drawbacks of various solutions, which basically look like this:
1.Bar ISIS Fighters From Returning
Some countries, like the UK, have passed laws to strip returning jihadis of their citizenship if they were naturalized or hold dual citizenship. While this strategy is good for self-preservation - certainly a sane approach in today's world - it also means that ISIS fighters, alive and well, will be devising plans to enter other countries and potentially wreak their havoc there.
This approach has also been fraught with politics. Take the case of Canada. Addressing the problem of returning as well as internal jihadis, the previous Conservative government passed a law stripping the citizenship from known ISIS fighters. The Liberal Trudeau reversed the law.
As a result, outraged citizens in Canada have seen the re-instatement of citizenship of the leader of an al-Qaeda plot to send truck bombs into downtown Toronto during rush hour.
Speaking on the radio, one ISIS returnee to Canada, simply stated, "We all do things that we regret...All that's behind me."
For six months, this young man, originally from Pakistan, worked for ISIS' "morality police," meting out brutal punishments for infractions. He trapped people in cages for flirting, gave lashes for smoking a cigarette and beat women who were not veiled.
He says he was motivated to join ISIS by the promise of an "Islamic utopia," (which he didn't find). Now he says he's sorry, and that's it? We are supposed to accept such a man back into society? In Canada, the answer is apparently "Yes."
2.Put Returning ISIS Fighters in Prison
Considering the current situation in prisons, the prospects for rehabilitation in prison are slim to none. Radicalization in prisons is the number one issue of those behind bars. Not only are prisons not set up with effective deradicalization programs, most likely imprisoned returning jihadis will merely contribute to radicalizing others while there.
At the very least, these fighters would need to be isolated and not released until they are really truly rehabilitated (once we figure out how to do that).
Some European countries like Sweden and Finland seem to think that giving returning jihadis extra privileges - jobs and houses (even skipping the normal wait) - and allowing them to keep their children will somehow rehabilitate them into upstanding European citizens.
Most people would consider that a pipe dream.
To be effective, studies have shown that deradicalization/rehabilitation programs have to come from within the jihadis' own communities. Responsible societies should also not allow those in such a program freedom of movement.
Andrelini rightly points out that while it is tempting to merely lump these fighters into one category, short of locking them up and throwing away the key (certainly an option), their varying motivations for joining such an enterprise from the beginning may play a part in determining if there is any hope for their rehabilitation.
And this brings us to the most effective solution: prevention.
Those who join ISIS do so for a number of reasons - all of which need to be addressed on a societal level:
- Feeling disenfranchised from Western society
- Anger at perceived injustice to Muslims
- Attraction to freedom, adventure and power
- Dedication to spiritual ideals (however warped)
- Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatrist in Australia who was born in Bangladesh, says disaffected youth from Muslim migrant families are drawn to extremist versions of Islam to find a sense of identity. Children are often taught by their families to be suspicious of Western society and that the West is the source of their problems.
"Where they tend to find a sense of identity is in Islam but a particular brand of it, one which they show through outer markers like hijabs or beards," he said. "'Underneath that exterior though sometimes it can be a sense of opposition to mainstream society, what Canadian author Tarek Fatah calls a middle finger to the West."
Ahmed, who has counselled troubled Muslim youth, continued, "It pains me to say it because I'm talking about my relatives and friends here. Muslims wrap their identity so closely around Islam so it's not easy for them to challenge the ideas within it."
In this environment, it is a short step for many from disaffection to radicalization.
Ahmed believes one solution is that countries should not be taking in Muslim immigrants who are not qualified for skilled jobs.
However, what about Muslims who are already in the West? If integration is a key to counter disenfranchisement, then the West itself must begin operating from a sense of moral clarity. Western freedoms, tolerance and human rights were once values envied worldwide - certainly they attracted many first-generation immigrants from Muslim countries.
Yet in Europe, immigrants were met with the doctrine of multiculturalism, which ultimately prevented integration, encouraged isolation and provided a breeding ground for extremist ideology being exported and bank-rolled by Saudi Arabia and the like.
In America, where the doctrine of the "melting pot" served to prevent a good amount of those problems in previous generations, today's leftist dogma of entitlement, microagressions and grievances provide the perfect breeding ground for disenfranchisement of Muslim youth.
Muslim Brotherhood organizations like CAIR have gleefully joined in the fray, targeting the Muslim community with a carefully written script of discrimination and Islamophobia, pulling Muslims farther and farther from the mainstream and making their youth more and more susceptible to radicalization.
While we address the problem of returning jihadis, we must, at the same time, address the direction in which our country is headed - either an affirmation of the values and rights from which America was founded and built on or the tearing down of those values and the chaos that will ensue.