Yesterday morning’s BBC Today programme featured an interview with Charleen Jack-Henry, an NHS nurse whose daughter, Nicole, left with her husband and three children to join ISIS in Syria five years ago. Nicole’s husband and eldest son, Isaac, by then nine years-old, were killed in the conflict and Nicole and her three remaining children, all under 12, have ended up, ‘abandoned by the British government’, as the children’s grandmother says, in a Syrian refugee camp, like Shamima Begum whom I wrote about on 17th July, . The report indicated that there are around 80 British citizens (or ex-British citizens if, like Shamima Begum, they have had their citizenship arbitrarily terminated) in such camps, most of whom are women and children. Our Conservative government apparently pays lip-service to the idea that children are innocent, but has so far managed only to repatriate three British orphans from Syria. Irrespective of the innocence of the children, any parent who has gone to join ISIS must, by definition, be so serious a threat to national security that she must be kept out of the country at all costs, literally, as demonstrated by our craven government’s desperate attempt to overturn the Appeal Court’s verdict that Shamima Begum be allowed to return to UK to present her case.
What, exactly, is our government so frightened of? Are they, newly ‘independent’, incapable of doing anything that might not win the approval of the frothing reactionaries of The Sun and its ilk? Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act of 2015, which they themselves passed into law, relates to ‘Controlling or Coercive Behaviour’. If they can recognise the existence of such behaviour, how do they know that Nicole Jack wasn’t coerced by her husband into going to Syria, or doesn’t that matter? That could be assessed by a court of law on her return, if they weren’t too scared to allow her back. Even if she went to Syria willingly, how do they know that the harrowing experiences she has been through won’t have enlightened her? Does their theology not allow for any possibility of redemption? Or do they suspect that the prison system for which they are responsible is entirely incapable of reforming anyone? In which case what are they doing about it? As the children’s Trinidadian step-grandmother, via Nicole’s second marriage, says: ‘If you leave kids in a place where violence is normalised, they can’t have a normal life.’ Charleen Jack-Henry’s own wistful plea for her grandchildren is: ‘Don’t we owe these children a duty of care?’ Don’t we?
Our arrogant, self-absorbed government has a lot to learn from the supposedly ‘third world’ countries it looks down on from its ‘global Britain’ pinnacle. The Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago, Faris Al-Rawi, is much less terrified of the Trinidadian women and children currently languishing in Syrian refugee camps, in spite of the roughly 130 men who left Trinidad to join ISIS and are now said to be ‘desperate to return.’ Al-Rawi recognises that under international law Trinidad is obliged to take them back – ‘we must have our citizens returned to our country’ – and is introducing new terror laws to allow them back. These laws are designed, he says, ‘so that we can buffer their return, receive them into a safe zone so that we can actually debrief, investigate and reacclimatise our citizens into life in Trinidad and Tobago in a responsible way.’ It would be good if ‘global Britain’ could have a global government of all the talents. I suggested some time ago that Jacinda Ardern would make an excellent Prime Minister, perhaps she could choose Faris Al-Rawi as her Attorney-General. He sounds to be unlikely to run scared of The Sun, and would appreciate the poignancy and truth of the words of the children’s Trinidadian grandmother: ‘I can’t see a four year-old boy being a terrorist.’