The numbers of young people flying to join ISIS in recent months has shocked us all.
Why would they want to leave the seventh richest nation on earth to flee to the ‘hellhole’ that has been called Islamic State? Why would they fall for the propaganda of these ‘narcissists’ when there’s so much good TV!
Making assumptions like these miss the point, suggesting that it is a battle between two ways of life. In reality it is nothing more than the grooming of vulnerable young people by those who target them, also known as radicalisation. It is manipulation of the unwanted, driving a wedge between them and their friends and family, and then they are taken.
Technology is not blame for the human beings that abuse it. The internet is a force for good. It is the undernet that concerns me. Under the guise of communication, these are private places where pain and harm abound. We all have to challenge the jihadist narrative – women, girls and boys must be challenged to pursue their ambitions here, and not be taken in by deluded glory hunters.
Why does the so-called caliphate (a form of Islamic Government) have such an allure?
Adele, a 15 year old Parisian girl joined ISIS following an online conversation wrote a farewell note to her mother:
“My own darling mamaman. It’s because I love you that I have gone. When you read these lines I will be far away. I will be in the promised land, the sham, in safe hands. Because it is there that I have to die to go to paradise.”
She called herself “Oum Hawwa” (mother of eve). A little while later her mum received a text from her phone which read:
“Oum Hawwa died today. She was not chosen by God. She did not die a martyr, just a stray bullet. May you hope that she doesn’t go to hell.”
Adele was clearly torn between her two identities: French and Muslim. She perceived them as incompatible. As I have said many times before, I can see no conflict between being British and Muslim. Her groomers encouraged this conflict within Adele, presenting her European life as meaningless compared to being ‘raptured’ and transported to heaven whilst others perish in the mayhem on Earth.
As parents and carers of children we need to lead and own the counter-narrative. By communicating with our children we can help those who consider themselves alienated from society find meaning in their lives.
In my role within the Crown Prosecution Service, I took the lead on tackling child abuse against women and girls. I want to challenge everyone to think about what could be happening behind closed doors. Those young people who are at risk of being groomed by extremists are often the ones hiding behind these doors.
One of our challenges is the alienation of young people within our society, and the poor communication that often exacerbates this. As a result, many have low aspirations and seek another path. We must ensure that listen to the children and offer alternatives and hope where little exists. We need to offer them alternative role models to those served up in the media and online.
There is hope. Increasingly we are seeing communities recognising children and young people who are at risk of being sucked into extremist ideologies – and instead of sitting passively by have taken responsibility for the families. They guide the youth to safety and protect us all from harm.