The Telegraph ran an interesting article the other day—a British mother of five from Manchester named Shukee Begum travelled to ISIS-controlled territory last year, and is now trying to get back to the UK. Why? Because her fighter-husband was killed in Raqqa, and now she realized there is no future for her in the so-called Caliphate. She and her kids—all under the age of 12—are are now in hiding somewhere in Turkey. They now fear reprisals from ISIS cells in the country.
The British government now has an ethical and security conundrum on its hands: Should it allow this ISIS-jihadi bride and her children back into the country? And if so, should she be charged with a crime?
There are those who think we should keep these ISIS-influenced folks out of our countries—better for them to die on some faraway Syrian or Iraqi battleground than to return and possibly commit terror back home. There’s certainly a security and financial argument to be made—anyone who went there and back will have to be monitored for a long time by the government, at some undetermined cost. They could also be returning to spread the jihad back home. Better to let them be someone else’s problem.
But in this case, it seems that this can be handled in a more merciful manner, if she is willing to play ball. If I were making the call, I’d consider letting her and her remaining family return to the UK under the following conditions:
- She provides law enforcement and the security services the identities of every single person she ever met in Syria. Any insight she might have into how ISIS runs its networks of foreign fighters would be helpful to better understand (and then undermine) the organization. This includes people who helped her get to Syria in the first place – the recruiters, the fixers, the people who provided her money and a place to stay en route to the Syria-Turkey border.
- She travels around Great Britain and lectures, a la Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to high schoolers and university students about her time in Syria.
Having a flesh-and-blood example of someone who actually lived in ISIS’ Islamic Caliphate could be counter-messaging gold. One obvious way to exploit her experiences is to underscore that, despite its rhetoric of hewing to correct Islamic behavior, ISIS treats pious widows and orphans so shabbily that they have to flee back to Dar al-Harb for justice.
Most people who are ISIS-curious only have a warped online understanding shaped by the terror organization’s slick social media presence. Ms. Begum could challenge all that, and give real insight into what a terrible place it is. It would be quite a tonic to those who think the Caliphate is some Islamic paradise, especially to the hundreds of women who are considering traveling to Syria.
Furthermore, it does not benefit anyone—not the British government, not the woman, and certainly not her kids—to have her flail around in a Turkish no-man’s land forever. Helping her get out will also show British commitment to assisting small, innocent children—three of them girls, and at least one a toddler—find their way back from the charnel house of Syria.
Of course, this could also be a ruse and in six months after returning home to the UK, she decides to strap on a suicide vest and blow up a supermarket. She and her contacts must be closely monitored for such an eventuality, but the British government should consider the calculated risk in letting her back into the country—if she’s willing to cooperate. If not…well, then it will end rather poorly for the remaining members of this family.
Let’s hope the UK government drives a hard bargain—they hold all the cards after all—and she makes the right decision. For everyone’s sake.
photo: exterior of Thames House (credit: MI5). This post has been updated.