It’s Time To Talk About Why Our Young People Turn Against Their Country

by Chimene Suleyman

QaheraWe are not allowed to feel concern for three young girls who have joined a horrifying terror group. There must be no unease around three minors who have made such a horrible decision that it is their lives — not ours — that will be traumatised. That capacity you have for humaneness: get rid of it. “Stop pitying British schoolgirls joining Islamic State – they’re not victims”, the headline for Emma Barnett’s Telegraph article demands. No – don’t even think about it. Enough. We are living in a world where we are told exactly what to think about Muslims by people who don’t like them.

Really, it is one thing to write with strong opinion on what you think legally should happen to those joining terror organisations, and it is quite another to speak so spitefully on a matter involving kids. Because that is what they are: kids. Yet Grace Dent would have you believe they had clawed their way in from the netherworld if her exercise in schadenfreude for The Independent was anything to go by: “I wanted to ask Abase Hussen, as he clutched his daughter Amira’s stuffed toy, what exactly he thought was the tipping point that made his delicate, innocent baby-girl leave the country in such a rush that she left teddy behind?”  It is maybe easier to understand how anyone can be quite so venomous when discussing the pain of a father fearful for his child, once you accept just how far the dehumanisation of Muslims has gone. With this, Amira, Shamima and Kadiza are judged not only as adults, but as Muslim adults — with all the mythical savagery and brutality that Western society has projected onto them.

“I will sound insensitive,” Mary Dejevsky warned in the Guardian, “but the close embrace of their devoted families may be part of what these girls, and others who have made the same journey, sought to escape.” And so again; not just a simple jab at bad Muslim parenting, but a dangerous statement linking all Islamic households to a potential one-way ticket to a training camp.

The hostility with which Dent, Barnett and Dejevsky write about these girls is deep-rooted in the particular misogyny directed towards Muslim women. Whether it is a desire to “liberate” from the hijab (which erases their free will), or verbal and physical aggression, it is Muslim women who are receiving the brunt of Islamophobic attacks. Still, each writer is certain of who these girls and their families are: “This differed from the cool-headed, elegantly pulled together, determined young women I’d watched the footage of on CCTV. Not silly kids wagging off school, but calm, considered.” Dent said. All this from CCTV footage. But this kind of projection should come as no surprise when Muslims have been thrust like TV’s bad guys into every European and American home, with it the assumptions of certainty over who Muslims are.

In more sympathetic pieces a lot has been made of the attraction young girls have for bad boys. But “bad boys” are abusive boys and abusive men. They manipulate emotionally and sexually and so we have laws in place recognising that young girls under the age of 16 are most vulnerable to this. “Shacked up with a hipster jihadi,” Emma Barnett said on the matter, “locked in their homes and expected to crack on with popping out a few kids to populate the caliphate”. I wouldn’t expect such a gleeful tone from a person referencing the imprisonment and rape of people. You either don’t believe that girls and women “get what they deserve”, or you do. It doesn’t stop being domestic violence and rape apology just because you don’t like a woman’s beliefs or actions, whatever they may be.

Is the same said of women married to the Mafia? Those women who sought out and benefited lavishly from the lifestyle and privileges that came from their partners’ horrific violence? Georgia Durante was involved with many New York mafia members and spoke of the “sensation” she felt when she was standing next to a man who could inspire terror. Will she be allowed into the country? Yes, and who knows, she may even get an aspirational TV show documenting her glamorous life.

Let’s face it, “Go and never come back” is hardly a typical response to criminals. It is not part of a judicial system that accepts once someone has served their time there is room in society for a return. It is far from the public outcry defending the right of convicted rapist Ched Evans to step back into a high-salary contract at a football club, for hadn’t he rehabilitated? His time was not “never”. These girls will not be allowed to absolve themselves. “Go and never come back” is not, and simply never has been, language for disreputable behaviour. It is reserved in its entirety for immigrants and their children.

With this is mind, it’s baffling that Grace Dent bothers to mention how unrelatable her teenage years were to that of the girls. I wouldn’t expect them to be relatable. Growing up as an ethnic minority was frankly nothing like the experiences of my white friends who had less of a basis for feeling different — let alone 15-year-olds who from birth have seen Western invasion in their native homes, who have experienced first-hand prejudice and watched their families encounter violence for their religion and appearance. The longing to belong, which is already so overwhelming at that age, is magnified dramatically when we are told unequivocally that we don’t.

Is it any surprise, then, that minorities are attracted to sub-cultures and alternative political movements? It is not an apology for violence to want to understand its rotten roots and treat it. How many young men find themselves in gangs simply due to the desire to form a community? London postcode wars are themselves born of finally finding somewhere you belong and honing in on it. A substantial number of studies have shown time and again that gangs flourish simply because the needs of young people are not being met. Aside from economy, cultural marginalisation is a huge factor in what sees people join. And of course violence itself offers a kind of solidarity. A bonding experience born of extreme situations — how many people could possibly get it? Nearly half of front-line soldiers, these ‘bands of brothers’, feel more connected to their battalion than to their own family.

So, with this in mind, ISIS — as indisputably grotesque as they are — are filling a gap. Their marketing campaign is fearless and troubling effective. They are fulfilling needs, or so they say — just so long as it is enough to get young people over there. The attraction for Amira, Shamima and Kadiza may not be — despite Dent’s certainty — homophobia and violent murder, but rather a futile and utterly misguided desire for belonging that is so strong, they have overlooked everything else.

These are not people born within the grips of an oppressive regime. Saïd and Chérif Kouachi grew up not far from the Charlie Hebdo killings they carried out. The attack in Copenhagen was done by a Danish citizen, just as the Lee Rigby and 7/7 attackers were British. In a Washington Post article this morning friends of “Jihadi John”, an Islamic State member and Londoner, spoke of unfair treatment he had received from government officials and security. “I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started. I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London. A person imprisoned and controlled by security service men, stopping me from living my new life in my birthplace and country, Kuwait,” he wrote to a friend in June 2010. Of course there will be far more unpalatable factors that make a man angry enough with his surroundings that he becomes a murderer. But it’s impossible not to recognise that amongst their triggers was a sense of unfair treatment by their state because of their religion. These are not outsiders but a generation of nationals who amongst them feel that their homes have become their enemy. This is a problem for us all.

Time and again women answer that they are attracted to dangerous men, young men say this of gangs — it is simply because they are offered “a better life”. It is a desperate shame, then, that these girls think a better life lies with ISIS. And it is an issue we must keep looking at if we are to rectify why these girls, and others like them, feel so divorced from here.

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Chimene Suleyman is a writer from London of Turkish / Middle Eastern heritage. She writes opinion pieces, contributing to The Independent as well as regularly featured writing for online blog and events organiser Poejazzi. She has represented the UK at the International Biennale, Rome 2011 with spoken word. Her poetry collection “Outside Looking On” published by Influx Press is out now. She collects photos of Canary Wharf. Find her on Twitter: @chimenesuleyman
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8 replies

  1. I care for the Yazidis, Christians, Muslims, Kurds, secularists, democrats, men, women, and children who are being raped, slaughtered, and enslaved by the organisation that the three London girls have travelled to support.

    Mohammed Emwazi had previously attempted to join al-Shaabab in Somalia, it is little wonder the Kuwaiti authorities did not deem him welcome. The “friend” alluded to in the article was Hizb ut-Tahrir member and Islamist activist, Asim Qureshi.

    This article is right-wing filth, fascist apologism at its most rotten.

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    • No, because of the relative lack of harm. 18-21 year olds won’t shift national elections and they’ll make their choices from a small range of options same as everybody else.

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      • What, just because of “relative lack of harm” you think it OK that they are allowed to make decisions that they are incapable of thinking through? Perhaps you could list all the decisions that they are allowed to make, and those they cannot. How about the age of consent to sex? Where would you stand on this for both heterosexual, and homosexual sex? Are they capable of thinking things through whilst driving a car at seventeen? I feel you simply want to infantalise young people when it suits you to do so.

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  2. Does anybody remember the case of the schoolgirl who ran off to France with her teacher? She was 15 years old, madly in love and would certainly (or probably did, I didn’t follow that closely) have claimed to have made a mature choice and that she was in love and that it was all her free will.
    Still everybody recognised that this was fucked up and he got sentenced. She was officially declared the victim of a crime.
    Yet these girls don’t get seen as victims but as criminals.
    It is also amazing how, in Dent’s view, the parents didn’t exercise enough control (her family would sure have known!), but Dejewsky seems to think that their families were too controlling and therefore the girls ran away (still, even if it were true, we generally recognise that when teenagers run away from home because their home life is oppressive then they are victims who deserve sympathy and support).
    To sum it up: The reaction by self-acclaimed liberals and feminists is disgusting. And racist.

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    • Hi Giliell, I don’t think your analogy is very helpful in understanding this issue because there seems to be a clear disanalogy between the cases you compare. For the school girl who ran off to France did not harm anyone but herself by her actions. Thus, in so far as society does not call her a criminal or strongly chastise her for her actions it is because her misguided behavior did not cause others to be seriously harmed. However, if the man she ran off with was a violent criminal who committed brutal crimes while he was on the run with her and she acted as an accessory providing material support, then no doubt society would judge her harshly, despite her age, because her actions led to others being seriously harmed. Now, the girls who have run away to join IS are comparable to this second case because they are going to a place where they will provide material support to violent criminals who are perpetrating many crimes against humanity. It is also worth noting that the girl who ran away to France is a victim because, by being under the age of consent, statutory sex crimes were committed against her. Sadly, it is likely that sex crimes will also be committed against the girls who have run off to join IS. However, if that happens I suspect that society will also judge the girls as victims.

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      • 1. Can you please show me which harm those girls have done so far? Don’t you think it’s highly unfair to condemn them and write them off when the only thing they have done so far is leave the country?
        2. Can you please detail which harm you think those girls WILL cause? It seems quite likely that the only people who will suffer from this are they themselves.
        3. I think you’re exactly missing my point. We accept that the girl who ran away with her teacher, no matter what she herself thought about it, was deemed not responsible and not capable of making those decisions. We accept that the blame and responsibility lies squarely with the adult. We acccept this because we KNOW* that teenagers are not fully capable of thinking things through.
        This capability is independent of the action we’re talking about. Their brain of a child running off to France is not different from the brain of a child running off to Syria. The difference is YOUR reaction to their stupidity.

        *Yes, we know that. We know this from brain research. Many people know this from “shit they did when they were teenagers”. Most of us were simply lucky that we neitehr hurt ourselves nor our mates.
        When was the last time all those who declare those girls adults spent some time with teenagers? They have completely weird ideas about how the world works, and the nicer their childhood was, the weirder their ideas are. They think that Planet of the Apes is a realistic scenario and the Justin Bieber is a musician.

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    • Another point I would make is that their decision to join IS is, in my opinion, neither right nor wrong. They have decided to join presumably because they agree in the establishment of a caliphate. As such, is it logical that they go to Syria, to become part of it. If they had decided to journey to Syria because they wanted to join the circus, that would be illogical. I also don’t believe the establishment of a caliphate to be either right or wrong. Itis simply that I don’t want a caliphate affecting my life in a negative way. I maintain that their actions are entirely consistent with a belief, should they hold such a belief that a caliphate is a good thing.

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