Radicalisation: the buzzword of security councils and foreign ministers around Europe and America. From Jihadi John to Kadiza Sultana, the names that plaster our front pages are starting to pose increasingly complex moral questions to which we must somehow find legal responses. It is on all of us to take a vocal stance on these issues because these crimes are new. UK law will have to try and catch up with new ideas of justice, freedom, security, responsibility, vulnerability, and rights. If we don’t start asserting our own ideas on the issues then huge legal changes will go on behind the scenes and it will be too late for us to guide them. You have more power over the progress of British ideals now, as a normal citizen of this country, than you have probably ever had in the past. But what kind of questions are we talking about?
The first can be found in the media almost every day. The stark dichotomy between evil bloodthirsty killers living among us, and lonely helpless youngsters struggling in a world they don’t understand seems only to come in extremes. We must decide if people who have been radicalized need protection or condemnation because a muddy mixture of the two isn’t proving an effective strategy. If they are victims then we need to reach out to them with education and mental health support. We need more integration and acceptance even when we disagree with someone’s ideology on a fundamental level. If we take the latter characterization then we need to punish people for accessing these kinds of ideas. We must protect the rest of society from the actions they propagate and make an example of them so they act as a deterrent. Of course it’s probably not as simple as one rule for all. What about for the wife of a radicalized man who feels obliged to be subservient to him and accept his ideas even if she wouldn’t have followed him to Syria if she had a choice? What about someone with mental health problems that made them more vulnerable to hate speech? What about a fifteen-year-old bomber?
This brings us to the problem of what we do when people do leave the UK to fight for so-called ISIS or other extremist groups. Is there ever a situation in which we would take these people back? What precedent should we set for these cases? If we take away someone’s citizenship they are left without a nationality and without any hope of ever coming back from ISIS if they realize the error of their ways. For a lot of women who go to the Middle East for these reasons, the story ends rather sadly and they fall into abusive relationships and horrendous situations. If we have taken away their right to come back they will never have a chance to escape from that, however unlikely it may be that they would take it. Taking away their nationality only reinforces the ‘them against us’ rhetoric that isolates some people in our society and pushes them to go to these extreme lengths to kick against the West. Furthermore, it shows that we are giving up our principle of innocent until proven guilty because we cannot know what these people have done, or even if they have committed a crime, until we give them a fair trial in the UK. We do not have the death penalty or de facto punishment so leaving them to suffer human rights abuses or potentially death in another country is fundamentally contrary to the democratic ideas that make us a liberal country.
However, is the deterrent of removing someone’s citizenship enough to make people considering leaving think twice? If we bring them back we are putting the entire country at risk of their violent behavior and radical ideas. You could argue that the government has a duty to protect against these people, and that on utilitarian grounds we must reject some individuals from society for the greater good. Is the act of leaving to join so-called ISIS a rejection of everything that it is to be British and thus a choice to default on their citizenship? The idea of a nation state is one that applies less and less to the modern world’s political situation because of the huge numbers of migrants on the move at any time and the unclear location of power in some failed states. Perhaps we must try and keep up with these trends by accepting that joining so-called ISIS is becoming a member of another ‘state’ or national group.
These problems only just scrape the surface. Should we ban the burka? Do we need to regulate mosque funding? If people report untrue terror threats out of racism should they be punished? No one has the answers to all the complexities of the migration, radicalisation and terrorism questions that we have to face in UK law at the moment. That includes the politicians. This is a problem because it means that crude, fear-driven, vote-winning policies like the Snoopers Charter are pushed through in the public eye and the crucial moral debates go on behind closed doors between people with no more knowledge or right to decide than any normal citizen. It is the responsibility of all of us to contribute to this debate so that it is forced into the public sphere. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.” If it is true that the treatment of those who most abhor our society -like the ‘radicalised’- defines us as a nation then this is the most important conversation of this century.