An Islamic State recruit, a schoolgirl whom many dubbed a “jihadi bride” from the United Kingdom, has been killed in an airstrike on Syria, according to media reports, and while her sister reports the family was expecting such news, many are still wondering why she would leave her home and school to join the radical jihadi Islamic group.
The teen, Kadiza Sultana, reportedly left her east London home in February 2015 with her friends Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, according to Ellie Flynn, a reporter for The Sun. Media reports that Sultana was likely killed in Raqqa during a Russian plane’s airstrike in May on the terror group’s stronghold, per the report from Flynn who cites ITV News for the information.
Sister: ‘We Were Expecting This’
Writers Jon Henley and Vikram Dodd, over at The Guardian, provide some background to the teenagers’ escape from family and friends. The schoolgirls apparently took a flight from Gatwick Airport to Turkey, and from Turkey they got onboard a bus to the Syrian border, per the story. It is not clear when, or if, they then chose to be separated from each other. Of course, all three of the teenagers did intend to marry jihadi husbands in Syria.
Kadzia’s sister, identified as Halima, is quoted by writers Henley and Dodd as stating this death was anticipated.
“We were expecting this, in a way. But at least we know she is in a better place.
Dreamers And The Path Of Violent Extremism
“I’ve spent much time observing, interviewing and carrying out systematic studies among people on six continents who are drawn to violent action for a group and its cause,” said the anthropologist Atran to the assembled crowd of world leaders. “Most recently with colleagues last month in Kirkuk, Iraq among young men who had killed for ISIS, and with young adults in the banlieus of Paris and barrios of Barcelona who seek to join it. With some insights from social science research, I will try to outline a few conditions that may help move such youth from taking the path of violent extremism.”
“Unless we understand these powerful cultural forces, we will fail to address the threat. When, as now, the focus is on military solutions and police interdiction, matters have already gone way too far. If that focus remains, we lose the coming generation.”
He asks the question of what might be done, if we are to save the generation choosing the path of violent extremism. He first suggests that the UN “… continue your important work on problems of development, and on immigration and integration, with a goal to transform the much-lamented ‘youth bulge’ into a ‘youth boom’ by unleashing youth’s inherent energy and idealism.”
But Atran offers three ideas. He calls them “three conditions that I believe young people need,” and he mentions also that each nation will need to “create and mobilize these conditions, suited to its own circumstances.”
The first condition Atran mentions is to offer youth “something that makes them dream.” If they have such a thing to hold on to, he suggests, they can focus on having a life of significance and not mind the struggle or the sacrifice in the meantime. “That is what ISIS offers,” he said.
“Ask yourselves: What dreams may come from most current government policies that offer little beyond promises of comfort and security? Young people will NOT choose to sacrifice everything, including their lives—the totality of their self-interests—just for material rewards.”
Secondly, proposed Atran, offer youth “a positive personal dream, with a concrete chance of realization.” The important point is made here, comparing government efforts and the efforts of radical Islamic jihadis.
“The appeal of Al Qaeda or ISIS is not about jihadi websites, which are mostly blather and bombast, although they can be an initial attractor. It’s about what comes after. There are nearly 50,000 Twitter hashtags supporting ISIS, with an average of some 1000 followers each. They succeed by providing opportunities for personal engagement, where people have an audience with whom they can share and refine their grievances, hopes and desires.”
Governments’ attempts produce “digital outreach programs” which spew out “generic religious and ideological counter-narratives,” Atran said. Which begs the question, why are politicians all so “seemingly deaf to the personal circumstances” of people?
Thirdly, according to Atran, youth must be given “the chance to create their own local initiatives.”
“Social science research shows that local initiatives, begun with small-scale involvement, are better than national and large-scale programs in reducing violence. It doesn’t matter which government agencies you want to help facilitate this.”
Letting youth engage their peers “in the search for meaningful ways to make sense of the issues on their personal agenda” is important at the local level, Atran said. “[W]hether that be about oppression and political marginalization, lack of economic opportunity, the trauma of exposure to violence, or problems of identity and social exclusion. And most of all support personal engagement, through mutual support and community-based mentors – because it is almost always a particular personal circumstance, shared with friends, that radical extremism probes for, draws out, and tries to universalize into moral outrage and violent action.”
The anthropologist then asks the gathered UN members to consider another illustrative point.
“At just 16, Gulalai Ismail, and her sister Saba, set up the Seeds of Peace network with a group of school friends to change the lives of young women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, NW Pakistan. They began by focusing on women’s place in society, and as their membership has grown, they are now training young activists to become local peace builders, challenging violence and extremism. They trained 25 young people in each of the last two years to join together to promote tolerance, non-violence and peace. The initiative is proving so popular that last year they had over 150 applicants.”
[Photo by Metropolitan Police, File/AP Images]