Don’t imprison ISIS kids, deprogram them
Now that the battle of Mosul is gearing up again, western states are alarmed about children who might return home from ISIS territory, or will be sent to commit suicide attacks in the West.During the years of ISIS’ rule, many local people in Iraq and Syria were indoctrinated into following the group and fighting their battle.
Amongst them are many young boys who were schooled into the ISIS brand of Islam, and trained in gun use and warfare, from as young as six years old.
The problems these Cubs of the Caliphate will cause, has been discussed before, but now that mounting losses and desperation are forcing ISIS to actually use them, the issue needs all our attention.
Some of the boys are Yezidis, who were captured when ISIS took over their towns and villages in the Sinjar province over two years ago, and were then put through ISIS’ indoctrination program.
Boys who had managed to escape told me how they daily would have to watch videos of executions, were trained to wear a suicide belt, and how some of their former friends seemed to have adopted their captor’s religion and behavior with vigor.
Recently, ISIS posted photos and videos of two Yezidi teenagers on their way to commit their suicide attacks, talking between them how ‘they left the darkness of their faith for the light of Islam’.
They showed the extent of their indoctrination, repeating slogans, boasting how they had made the right choices.
We don’t know if they did actually commit the attacks, but it is clear that of all suicide bombers the group uses, at least a third (and probably more) are under eighteen.
Videos of foreign ISIS fighters instructing their own children to get ready for the jihad, have shown us the danger these youths may pose too, as they have never learned anything but the ISIS doctrine.
But local kids also pose a threat to their communities, having been sent to the ISIS schools and training camps, been prepared for the battle and promised the paradise.
What to do with them; how to prevent them from obliging their peers in ISIS?
Indoctrination needs to be fought through deprogramming, and not by imprisoning; just remember how Al Qaida was able to recruit and grow inside the prisons where its members were kept, and not in the least in those of the Americans in Iraq.
Yet some teenagers who were with ISIS are now being held together in a youth prison in Duhok — as far as I know without being subject to any de-radicalization program.
What we need is creativity, and humanity.
A policeman who recently returned to work in Mosul, told me how he and his colleagues decided to take care of a fifteen-year-old he had to question about his ties to ISIS.
He kept the boy with him, and spoke with him a couple of hours daily about the kid’s convictions and ideas for his future life.
The boy was allowed to go home, on the condition he would go to school and show good results, and would report back regularly to the police office.
This police team was doing something extra-ordinary, out of caring for a boy that they knew would only turn more radical in jail.
They tried to give him a chance to change back into a normal boy who would be able to live with his family in his community – even though they knew the chances were slim, they preferred it to sending him to jail.
We know that that many more teenage boys will be found and captured, and that there is no policeman like my friend for every one of them.
Even though the dilemma was clear, we are not prepared: there are no special institutions in Iraq to attempt to cure their radical views.
De-radicalisation is not an easy concept, as was seen for instance in Saudi Arabia, where a special program for Al Qaida convicts showed that some of the recipients of the de-radicalisation were still to end up in the top of Al Qaida.
In the West, some countries have developed programs to try and win back the minds and souls of those indoctrinated by radicals and sects.
What makes it extra hard is that those who are indoctrinated, usually are not interested in life, as they have already lost it, as experts have told me.
The fact that they deem their lives so painful and worthless that they do not want to continue makes them extremely dangerous, for they can be used as robots to kill, as long as they get killed themselves too.
If putting them in jail is dangerous and leaving them out is also, there is only one possibility left for boys involved, even if that is not fool-proof either.
Give these kids a chance and treat them for what they are: kids that have been pressed into believing something that is killing them, and who need help to deprogram their brains into wanting to live again.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.