Nosheen Iqbal Guardian/UK 24 February 2015
We shouldn’t be writing these girls off – the rockstar barbarism of Isis is designed to recruit impressionable teenagers, Grade-A students or otherwise
What springs to mind as I read through many of the comment pieces on the three schoolgirls who seem to have disappeared to Syria. Leave them to rot, scream the headlines. They’re colluding with evil! These jihadi devil-women know exactly what they’re doing, and will get all they deserve on arrival in Syria! But does anyone actually remember, in hindsight, how stupid they were at that age?
Like the neighbours of serial killers, no one voxpopped from Bethnal Green Academy can believe it: these were three bright young people with families and a future. Why would they do this? How could they do this? “Academically bright,” came one description from a source in the Daily Mail, “but naive and vulnerable.”
They have been brainwashed by an ideology many times more threatening than a regular cult: Isis is offering religious power to its victims, selling the idea that recruits become a type of turbo-Muslim, and that theirs is a legitimate adventure because it is one sanctioned by God. Isis has Hollywood-ised war, made barbarity so blockbuster, that it looks cartoonishly unreal to a young, malleable mind. Plenty of teenagers love violence – this isn’t new. The shock seems to be that girls, as well as boys, appear to have an appetite for it.
Like all predatory internet groomers, Raqqa’s warriors wield a sexual power; anyone who has seen their social media feeds will understand that Isis lads brand themselves as rock stars. Marrying one is a religiously approved way to channel the mad, hormonal energy that powers all teenagers – Muslim girls included.
Grade-A students aren’t exempt from grooming. If you make that your starting point in trying to understand why three teenage girls, yet to even sit their GCSEs, would run away from home to join the world’s most powerful cult, you are already one step ahead of the bile. Amira Abase, Shamima Begum and Kadiza Sultana are British schoolgirls, two of them born and raised here. Being savvy and confident enough to pack a duffel bag and board a flight without their parents or the authorities’ knowledge doesn’t make them immune from being manipulated. Being sharp and clever in class doesn’t make them any less impressionable as children.
This doesn’t absolve the three of responsibility – I’m betting each of them is self-aware enough to think that they’re independent, acting entirely of their free will and rebelling against their parents in the most perverse way they can: by becoming more pious, more extreme, than their families would ever tolerate. The reality is that they have barely lived. At their age, extremism and nihilism can easily take root, because real life hasn’t really happened to them yet. Isis knows this; that’s why it’s targeting teenagers so ruthlessly.
Spitting in a full-frothed outrage over both their audacity and their stupidity doesn’t make the problem go away, in the same way that trying to understand it doesn’t make you an apologist for Isis. Would there be this level of contempt for a victim of sexual grooming? What would the coverage look like if three middle-class schoolgirls upped and left to fight on the frontline of Golden Dawn? It’s worth asking, because the argument that we reject these girls and refuse them help is as dumb as the mistake they’ve clearly made.
It’s difficult to remember when a 15-year-old was last taken seriously as an adult in the national press. Why are we affording three brown Muslim girls that privilege now? [Abbrev.]