British nationals that join jihadist groups abroad are still British nationals

British nationals that join jihadist groups abroad are still British nationals and should be processed by our criminal justice system like other criminals.

British nationals that join jihadist groups abroad are still British nationals and should be processed by our criminal justice system like other criminals

I want to start a discussion about this vexatious issue by making one point very clear: British Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) that travel to Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan to join jihadist groups are not freedom fighters or humanitarians by any definition.

There should no ambiguity on this point.

British nationals that join groups like Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda or the Taliban are fighting for fascist, totalitarian and imperialist movements that are seeking to trample on the right of women, religious minorities, homosexuals and anyone else who does not conform to their barbaric worldview.

Whether or not they think they are doing the right thing is also completely irrelevant since we do not use this ‘get out of jail card’ for any other set of offenders.

No cause can justify the rape and enslavement of young girls or the cold blooded murder of children, acts that Islamic State not only carry out but celebrate.

Furthermore, joining an illegal terrorist group abroad and/or committing acts that would be illegal in the UK whilst abroad is a crime under British law.

However, the manner in which we deal with foreign fighters that wish to return to the UK is a more disputatious topic.

Some argue that we should let them live with the consequences of their actions and deny them entry, whilst annulling their passports rendering them stateless.

Others take a more pragmatic approach and advocate a Danish style amnesty in which foreign fighters are given incentives to jettison their jihadist worldview and re-integrate into British society.

In my view, British nationals that join jihadist groups abroad are still British nationals and, as such, should be processed by our criminal justice system like other criminals.

However, we must not lose sight of the threat such individuals could potentially pose to national security and, thus, have a robust plan in place to process them when they return.

In a new report released today by Quilliam, entitled ‘Islamic State: The Changing Face of Modern Jihadism’, the authors’ state:

“Returning FTFs should all face due process combined with a robust de-radicalisation programme that addresses the traumas that returnees will have inevitably experienced and provides more tangible deliverables for eventual reintroduction into greater society, while addressing the risk of backsliding into extremist networks. Prisons should have mandatory de-radicalisation programmes for individuals that have been incarcerated for extremist and terrorist-related charges. De-radicalisation programmes should not only include processes which deconstruct the narratives espoused by violent extremists, but also challenge the ideological principles behind extremist organisations which divide society along binary lines.”

However, the extent to which we can re-integrate foreign fighters back into society after having spent time with jihadists depends on the quality of our de-radicalisation programmes. With foreign fighter numbers seemingly on the increase, we should seriously consider assessing the quality of our current provision and, if necessary, ramping it up and expanding it.

Beyond being taken through the British justice system and comprehensive de-radicalisation programmes, it is vital we use the opportunities disillusioned and, potentially, transformed foreign fighters may offer.

As well as punishing and rehabilitating foreign fighters, we also need to consider using them to undermine the attraction of groups such as Islamic State. There is no better way of discrediting Islamic State than popularising negative accounts of individuals that have experienced the terrorist group from the inside.

We also have to ask what Islamic State recruitment of 500-600 British nationals says about the society we live in. Since the failure to foster an inclusive sense of identity and cohesive communities in the UK is a collective one, preventing the further alienation and disenfranchisement should also be viewed as a collective duty.

As such, we need to ask ourselves what more we can all be doing to prevent young people from abandoning loved ones and the comfort of life in the UK for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.

Ghaffar Hussain is the the managing director of Quilliam

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