Different Approach to Radicalism

March 9, 2015 two teenage boys, ages 16 and 17 were arrested at the airport in Sydney on suspicion to join ISIS, according to a BBC article.  The boys were ready to board a plane with return tickets to a unnamed middle east country.

These boys were arrested, given court notices, and released from custody to their parents.  Contrast this with the many adult teens who have tried to join ISIS from the United States, all who have been charged with trying to offer “material support to a foreign terrorist organization”.  A serious punitive charge that can carry up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  In some cases children as young as 17 are being sought to be charged as adults relating to crimes involving recruitment support for ISIS.  However, minors in many governments are rarely handed out federal charges for trying to join.

Australia having gained international attention after The Lindt Chocolate Café hostage incident, is said to have redoubled efforts towards security against radicalized Muslims.  An effort that authorities credit with nabbing the pair at the security checkpoint.  However, with the Sydney teens, there seemed to be a relative calm among authorities treating it not as a terrorist incident but a case of teenage foolishness or lack of good judgement.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott even stated, “It seems they had succumbed to the lure of the death cult and they were on the verge of doing something terrible and dangerous.

I’m pleased they have been stopped. My message to anyone who is listening to the death cult is: block your ears.” ~News AU

The treatment of these teens is remarkable since they already acted on their radicalization by going to the airport with the intention of joining ISIS.  Had they done this at their 18th birthday the story would have been much worse for them.

In recent months, there has been growing support in many western governments to provide less punitive measures to counter the threat of radicalization and focus on prevention.

“A blanket criminalisation of everyone who travels to Syria would only confirm their radical ideology, which criticises the west for its blanket discrimination of all Muslims. It would mean that fewer families would get in touch with official channels to ask for help, and that those who could still return won’t because they are automatically classified as terrorists.” ~Daniel Köhler 

One possible reason in the United Kingdom is the example of Mohammed Emwazi, A.K.A Jihadi John, who once on the radar after a detention for being drunk and unruly at the Tanzania border, British security agencies harassed for 4 years prior to leaving for Syria.  Many believe this actually helped radicalize him in the first place.

Authorities are now singing a different tune with talk of offering special programs and counselling to assist in countering online radicalization instead of detention and harassment.  Germany was the first to establish these programs to some degree of success. ~Guardian UK

The United States having put nearly all of its $200 Million to counter violent extremism in foreign countries is sadly trailing behind establishing programs to counter the home grown threat of radicalization.  In February 2015, the government is still paying lip service to the idea and passing the football to volunteers instead of programs and campaigns dedicated to the problem.

“We need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion, and we especially need to do it online.” ~Barack Obama

Of course, government programs and more spending alone cannot solve the problem, but they can build the infrastructure and support a community needs to tackle the problem themselves.

Many of us Muslims (speaking personally) have been standing publicly against radicalism for over a decade.  If we had the government support for special programs to counter radicalism before an individual becomes radical, it would have gone a long way to deal with the homegrown threat before we got to this point.  Punitive measures may stop people who are already radical from being a more immediate threat, but it creates a huge amount of suspicion and mistrust in the Muslim community, which in turn makes fertile ground for radical recruitment.

“You who believe, be steadfast in your devotion to God and bear witness impartially: do not let hatred of others lead you away from justice, but adhere to justice, for that is closer to awareness of God. Be mindful of God: God is well aware of all that you do.” ~Qur’an 5:8

“O people, beware of exaggeration in religious matters for those who came before you were doomed because of exaggeration in religious matters.” ~Prophet Muhammad