Eoin Ó Catháin examines the recent case of the London ISIS brides and questions what effect will new legislation will have on Britain’s relationship with the Middle East.
The ISIS videos arrived in our living rooms and our computer desktops with abhorrent panache. The capacity to shock and horrify was something we had never encountered— as they hacked through the necks of journalists or set pilots ablaze in cages, our minds conjured images of monsters, who had to be destroyed.
Some media outlets rejoiced after King Hussein of Jordan launched deadly attacks on the terrorist groups following the murder of one of his servicemen. The one-word thought crossed my mind- “good”. It was undeniable— these people are despicable, and their execution is merited.
When charity CAGE tried to lay the blame at the hands of the UK immigration service and indeed UK society for failing to integrate these vulnerable Muslims properly, many, including the author, reacted with disbelief. We later celebrated when London mayor Boris Johnson rubbished CAGE’s claims, feeling he spoke for all of us— reasonable people.
The recent case of the ISIS brides causes discomfort for us all. There had been whispers of such a story in the Netherlands, where a young blonde girl had to be rescued by her mother after she fled to the Middle East. The authorities would not help the mother, and she was forced to rescue her daughter alone. Both women’s experiences had been horrific.
This experience became all the more real when three young girls from Bethnal Green, London, aged between 15-16, absconded to Turkey and from there on to Syria during the mid-term break. To think that three educated, middle-class, English girls would leave the comfort and security of the United Kingdom for the perils of ISIS bewildered the reasonable folk of Britain, and indeed the Western World.
Our emotions were further tried as we learned more of the case. The girls had used Twitter to contact ISIS brides and get advice. Their school, Bethnal Green Academy, went at pains to say that they had not been radicalised there.
The families were shown on television news, visibly upset, pleading with their daughters to return home. Kathy Sheridan of the Irish Times described the event as “every parent’s nightmare”.
Further questioning can be awkward: should these teenage would be terrorist brides be welcomed back to the United Kingdom? Or should they instead have their citizenship withdrawn and be barred from re-entry? While caught up in such theorisation, it can be easy to forget that the girls are just teenagers— not that this absolves them of any responsibility, of course.
The families of the girls have blamed the UK authorities for failing to notify them that another student of Bethnal Green Academy had gone to Syria in late 2014. Had they known this, the families claim, they would have been able to intervene in their daughters’ plans.
As the case unfolds, the more complicated and sensitive it becomes. It has the potential to have repercussions throughout the United Kingdom’s foreign policy, as Home Secretary Theresa May prepares legislation that will allow airlines to refuse carrying passengers they fear are travelling to join the Islamic State.
High-risk travellers would be flagged, and their prospective plans to join the terrorist organisation in the Middle East disrupted. Turkey, in the mean time, has tried to maintain its innocence, stating its sole responsibility was to check the passengers’ visas.
The case of Bethnal Green’s ISIS brides is one that is sure to cause awkward reflection and finger-pointing for years to come. Even if the girls wanted to come home, would they be welcome? What effect will this legislation have on Britain’s relationship with the Middle East?
Much is left up in the air, like the fate of these young girls.