Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Interesting news from Syria, where two American women who joined the Islamic State say they made a horrible mistake and want to come home:
That was more than four years ago. Now, after being married to three Islamic State fighters and witnessing executions like those she had once cheered on social media, Ms. Muthana says she is deeply sorry and wants to return home to the United States.

She surrendered last month to the coalition forces fighting ISIS, and now spends her days as a detainee in a refugee camp in northeastern Syria. She is joined there by another woman, Kimberly Gwen Polman, 46, who had studied legal administration in Canada before joining the caliphate and who possesses dual United States and Canadian citizenship.

Both women, interviewed by The New York Times at the camp, said they were trying to figure out how to have their passports reissued, and how to win the sympathy of the two nations they scorned.

“I don’t have words for how much regret I have,” said Ms. Polman, who was born into a Reformed Mennonite community in Hamilton, Ontario, to an American mother and Canadian father and who has three adult children.

Ms. Muthana said, “Once I look back on it, I can’t stress how much of a crazy idea it was. I can’t believe it. I ruined my life. I ruined my future.”
These two women are just a small part of a big problem, what to do with hundreds of westerners who went to fight for the Islamic State. My inclination is to be merciful. I doubt there are many people among this group who don't regard the whole affair as a disaster at the least, and from what I read many have sincerely turned against the ideology that once inspired them. What better way to inoculate our societies against fundamentalism than people with first-hand experience of what a nightmare it was in practice?

I suppose there is a danger that some remain faithful, but given how comprehensively the Islamic State has been defeated I don't see them as a threat. If they wanted to be martyrs they would be dead by now, rather than languishing in refugee camps. Maybe in twenty years some will start to remember their jihadist days as a grand adventure and encourage young relations to follow in their footsteps, but I think that is a small risk and I am willing to take it in the name of mercy and reconciliation.


David said...

I don't disagree with you in principle, but what you describe is not going to be the way this issue is decided. If Democrats start backing repatriation for ex-ISIS, the result will be tweats and such from the heartland about how liberals "care more about a bunch of terrorists than about people like me" and Trump will have a field day.

Plus, the immigration bureaucracy will mount the fiercest possible resistance, and can one blame them? Say they repatriate 200, and ONE of them reverts to ISIS ideology. A lot of bureaucrats will have their careers ruined over that one person.

G. Verloren said...

"I suppose there is a danger that some remain faithful, but given how comprehensively the Islamic State has been defeated I don't see them as a threat."

If an American citizen had gone to the lengths of flying to Germany and joining the Wehrmacht or the SS, we would never have forgiven them if, when Berlin fell, they came crawling back with pathetic excuses about having made a mistake.

You don't "accidentally" fly to a warzone and join up with a faction of religious extremists who are infamous for decapitating people. It's not a mistake, it's a conscious choice. These people were totally on board with supporting murderers and torturers, if not becoming murderers and torturers themselves.

They deserve no pity. Their victims certainly didn't get any.

John said...

@David - as you thought, the State Department has dredged up a reason to avoid re-admitting one of the women in the Times story: although she was born in the US her father entered the country as a diplomat, and children of diplomats do not get birthright citizenship.

@G - it's probably true that we would never have forgiven an American who flew to Germany to join the Wehrmacht. But that doesn't mean it might not have been the right thing to do.

Much American thinking about Islamic extremism is based on the premise that the conflict must go on forever, or at least until there are no more Islamic extremists. My focus is on how to bring the conflict to an end.

Shadow said...

Let's say she gets back in. Does she fully understand what's in store for her? Possible criminal charges and detention (perhaps many, many years), few friends, suspicious neighbors, FBI and local and state police watching, snooping, and possibly entrapping her; death threats; bullying; harassment, etc. She will always have to be careful who she speaks to and associates with.

Or maybe a university will hire her. (That's the snark in me.)