On March 6, Australian authorities released information that they had detained two brothers, ages 16 and 17. The pair was detained at Sydney Airport on suspicion that they were headed to the Middle East to wage jihad alongside the Islamic State. Officials would not elaborate on what alerted them to the teens’ intentions or their exact destination, but their parents claim that they were just as shocked and surprised as everyone else.
It is not clear if or how the boys were recruited, or what they expected once they reached their destination, but according to the article posted on FoxNews.com, Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton believes that they were walking into the situation blind. He said, “These two young men, aged 16 and 17, are kids, not killers.” Dutton also said that “they shouldn’t be allowed to go to a foreign land to fight, then come back to our land eventually more radicalized.”
But how should our government deal with the issue of what are, in essence, children attempting to go fight alongside ISIS and other terror groups? What do we do with them to ensure they realize the ISIS grass is not greener?
Yep, I know what some will say. “Screw ‘em, they made the choice to go.” Others will say, “They are just kids, they don’t know what they are doing; they just need love and counseling.” Still others will use the age-old (and ignorant) solution, “Turn the whole place into a parking lot. That will take care of it.” But it will obviously take much more than any of this, or maybe a varied combination of all of them.
I don’t know the right answer. But I do know that if we don’t formulate some plan, we are going to welcome these kids back with either a too-heavy hand or a too-soft hug and we will see some of these kids back on the battlefield like certain Guantanamo guests. And I believe that first, we need to understand why they even entertain the notion of going, then how they are recruited or make contact, and why they would plan to upend their lives and leave everything behind. This might give us a clue as to what to do with them once they come home. If they come home.
First things first. I am not a psychiatrist. I cannot and will not speak to the ins and outs of the human psyche and soul. I cannot say for sure what the perfect “profile” is of a kid who is likely to make this type of choice. And I am not a lawyer, so I cannot and will not speak to the legal consequences of them attempting to go or going, or the legal consequences they’ll face once they come home. I am none of those things. But I am a father. I have three amazing kids (two girls and one boy, 18, 19 and 23, respectively), and I would like to think that also having been all three of those ages, I can speak to how some kids think and act, and how, as a parent, I would want to see my child handled if, God forbid, they pulled something like this.
I suppose that my kids’ case would be different, because they are all legally adults, and if the laws against attempting to provide material or other support to a terrorist organization applied, then we would have to lawyer up and fight as best we could. But what if they were minors? I can’t speak for other countries because I don’t know what constitutes a legal minor to them. But here in the U.S., a minor is anyone 17 years and younger. And yes, I realize that under criminal law a minor and juvenile are not one in the same. All of that would come into play in the court system, but let’s figure out a broad plan to get these kids home safely and assimilate them back into society (again, this is not a one-size-fits-all fix, it is just an idea based on impromptu talks I have had with others).
Long story short, my idea is based on the concept of Scared Straight. In the Scared Straight program, children and teens who have a history of issues with authority (fighting, drugs, truancy, etc.) are given an up-close look at their future (via prison or the morgue) if they don’t shape up. They also bring in parents and have them plan their child’s funeral as a way of saying “You are most responsible for your child, not society. Know your child and be a part of their life.”
At one point, they are taken to a prison. As soon as they are in the parking lot, they are surrounded by corrections officers and taken into custody just like real incoming inmates. They are welcomed as only a correctional officer can, processed, and then they meet their fellow inmates. The kids are not allowed to be physically touched by the inmates, but after being screamed at and told what awaited them if they ended up there, the kids undoubtedly felt like they had been beaten to a pulp. A lot of crying and “I’m sorry” results, and a good number seem to mend their ways. (Though for how long, I don’t know.”
So in broad strokes, this might be a thought. If a kid is caught trying to leave the country to fight alongside ISIS, or is caught (and not killed) on the battlefield and sent back to the U.S., or hell, even brags about it on Facebook and Twitter, we place them into Scared Straight version 2.0. Hey, you want to play terrorist with the big boys and girls? Let’s give you a taste of what it’s like when it all goes bad (minus them eating a JDAM or .308 round half way around the world). First, they’ll be placed in leg and wrist irons. Oh, and they get the orange jumpsuit and hood, too—they don’t get off that easy. They are flown via U.S. military transport along the exact same route that adults who are captured on the battlefield are. They are debriefed in the same conditions that adults are (notice I said “debrief” and not “interrogated”).
When they return to U.S. soil, they will not be allowed to see their parents or guardians until the program is complete. In fact, if at all possible, it should be kept from them that are even back in the U.S. or anywhere near their home if at all possible. I want them as scared and confused as possible (yeah, I know, they may have been scared and confused before, and that’s why they joined. I am hoping that this scares them in the opposite direction).
They should be shown videos and photographs of ISIS’ handiwork. Not the flashy, rumbling music theme of them training or flowery “this is paradise” stuff. I mean the decapitating, child-bride taking, religious-relic destroying terrorists that they are, and how they could end up being used as suicide bombers. (Jack Murphy wrote a great article about parents who willingly auctioned their children off to do just that.) I also want them to have one-on-ones with imams and other Muslim scholars, who, if these kids really want to convert, can show them what true Islam is supposed to look like.
In the end, they’ll be reunited with their parents and allowed to return home. But there would be caveats. They would be monitored by law enforcement and the state social services for a set period of time. If they get into any trouble, from shoplifting to trying to get back with ISIS, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And their parents will bear some responsibility as well. Too many parents use the “I work. I can’t be with them 24/7” excuse. Well let’s see if taking the place of your child in lock-up if they mess up sparks a renewed interest in what they are doing and who they are with.
If they follow the rules, they would not have a criminal record following them around for the rest of their lives. But it would also be made clear that should they decide to leave again, all bets are off. They give up their rights as a U.S. citizen and will be treated as a terrorist, with all of the consequences that come with it. Obviously, Child Protective Services and the courts would be apprised of every step in the process, but at this point, we are way past “a good talking to” and a harsher reality is in order. Again, this is broad stroke and just an initial idea, but perhaps one that, once the bugs are worked out, could save a child’s life and maybe many others.
So that’s the idea. A lot of details, legal and otherwise, would need to be worked out, but at least it is an alternative to the “kill ‘em all” concept. And in case you were questioning it, yes, I would subject my child to the same program. I would rather have them alive and be labeled the bad dad then have to mourn at their grave because I did not do everything in my power to save them.
(Featured image courtesy of news.com.au)
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