Aged thirteen I was fascinated by politics and became a determined socialist. When I received literature from the National Front in Wolverhampton, whom I loathed, I wrote to my MP demanding that he crack down on them. He wrote back, to my mother, condemning the NF for sending literature to, ‘A child of that age.’
I was enraged; his message was clear; I was a non-person not for my views but for my age, unable to believe that I could have opinions of my own and think independently.
If I was a teenager now, I’d be very cross on behalf of ISIS devotee Shamima Begum, who is also considered to have been mindless when she made her decision to leave for Syria. She might be stupid and wrong, but that is not because of her age.
The overly protective view we now take of children, and perhaps particularly of girls, is that they have no intellect and should be medicalised into passivity. A report today from the Henry Jackson Society, a think-tank which tries to counter extremism, ‘Radicalising Our Children,’ contradicts that idea.
The study of 156 cases of radicalisation that had gone to court, found that although more boys than girls join ISIS, girls who do are more likely to have self-radicalised and made independent decisions. While boys tended to be radicalised by their families, girls were often more active in seeking extremist material and had more say in their decisions than boys. They wanted a new life beside Jihadi warriors, and were prepared to go to extreme lengths to get it.
There are claims that Shamima was ‘groomed’ and ‘brainwashed.’ Her parent’s lawyer is calling for a ‘case review,’ claiming she was let down by the local council, police, and her school, as if by leaving for Syria to follow her ideal, she had suffered serious neglect. As well as underestimating her independence, that ignores the perhaps ugly fact that she is a Salafist, sharing with fifty million fellow Muslims, a methodology associated with jihad and advocating the killing of innocent civilians.
In 2013 an EU report found that Salafi groups are involved, mainly via Saudi charities, with supplying arms rebel groups around the world. There are now over a hundred Salafist mosques in the UK.
This insistence that she should have been saved by teachers and social workers is absurdly unrealistic. Being young and idealistic, she behaved quite rationally. She is only being irrational now, in not wanting to live in a Salafist Muslim country. There are plenty of them, and Salafi influence is also growing in Bangladesh, where non Islamic writers and bloggers are now assassinated.
Her current attitude also takes me to my early twenties, the days of ‘Hitler’s Children,’ the Baader Meinhoff group in Germany. Pampered, middle-class youngsters like me, many of us envied their certainty and pure purpose; replacing cruel capitalist Imperialism with perpetual revolution. Not until I went to live in communist Poland aged 22, did I wonder why those angry young Germans didn’t go and live in the very state they wanted so much; a bus trip away, just over the Berlin wall.
Shamima was more honest, at least she tried to live the life and would still like to be doing so, but she’s now wrestling with the bitter adult conundrum shared by countless warriors and revolutionaries over the centuries, including Danton, Trotsky, Von Stauffenberg and Lin Biao; once you’ve helped to create your perfect state, forged out of passion, fire and faith, how do you live in it?
I hope that the bad Begum will one day end up as a High Church Tory like me, or her equivalent, safe amongst those who regard radical ideas with suspicion and in politics see them as a disaster.