During the Arab Spring, many peaceful protests rapidly escalated as a result of the violent repression by regional governments. In this context, armed opposition groups began to emerge, including ISIS.
In March 2019, ISIS was allegedly defeated, however, history makes us ask ourselves if territorially defeating a terrorist group makes its ideology vanish, recalling that ISIS was created from scattered cells of Al-Qaeda when it was at its lowest point. The organization was dying, but its ideology was definitely not.
One of ISIS’s greatest achievements was its propaganda to recruit people all over the world. Western countries have an alarming number of citizens who abandoned an apparently normal life at home and decided to join ISIS to live under their interpretation of Islamic law.
When the caliphate fell, all the families living there were taken to the Al-Hawl Camp, known worldwide as the “ISIS Camp”. Before the eyes of the world, it is only important because it represents a ticking bomb: an incubator for the next generation of terrorists.
The population of the camp is represented by families who lived in areas invaded by ISIS, but also by loyal believers of the caliphate – Another portion is represented by foreign families from all over the world, who deserted to Syria to live under the Sharia law. Within this latter group, there is still a great devotion to ISIS, and they desperately yearn the return of the caliphate.
Our first question turns into a more complex issue, regarding what will Western governments do with the foreign women and children who were taken to the Al-Hawl refugee camp considering that many of them were taken against their will or were not even conscious about what was really happening when they arrived in Syria.
There is evidence that a mini-caliphate has been established in Al-Hawl. Those who remain loyal to ISIS make sure that the Sharia law is being strictly followed by applying relentless violence. It is common to witness outbursts, stabbing, murders, burning of tents, and ISIS propaganda being distributed. Once again, ISIS continues feeding kids on a daily diet of hatred, violence, and intolerance.
There is a widespread hatred that has escalated because of the precarious and unhealthy conditions of living. Women and kids are exposed to extreme heat or cold, overpopulation, bacterias found in the food and water, lack of proper medical attention, nor access to education.
The current situation, as the dawn of the Arab Spring, is the perfect scenario for the potential resurgence of ISIS with an advantage that no other terrorist group had before: the so-called “caliphate cubs”.
The ugly truth that the world is unwilling to admit is that those children are not guilty of the crimes for which they are imprisoned in this camp. Most of them were taken by their parents or were just born in the caliphate. Lock them up and keep exposing them to hate propaganda is going to put them in the same path as their parents. They will get involved in more wars and they will produce more violence than their parents did if they remain inside this unofficial ISIS school.
Thus, with the excuse that these people represent a threat to their home countries, Western governments refuse to take their citizens back, make them go through trials, and create deradicalization plans, especially for children. In other worse scenarios, they have even revoked their citizenship, leaving them with no state to belong to and Syria’s courts do not have the capacity to deal with ISIS fighters and their relatives.
The current situation is extremely delicate, still, the international system is not dealing with this issue as a Human Rights matter as long as the majority of the inhabitants of Al-Hawl remain loyal to ISIS.
The locals’ legislative system around the world discusses how to grant rights to those who allegedly killed hundreds of thousands of people who refused to live under the laws of the caliphate.
The reality is that the biggest challenge is not getting these people home, but the urgency of providing these women and kids with a dignified condition of living in combination with proper psychological support as part of a solid deradicalization plan where the international system as a whole must take part.
It is true that breaking the cycle of radicalization that remains within Al-Hawl is extremely difficult although we must always remember the greatest lesson of the mistakes made with Al Qaeda – precarious living conditions, repression, the lack of Human Rights, exposure of children to hate propaganda, and unattended social, religious and ethnic differences are always the perfect scenario for the emergence of terrorist groups that find their loyal soldiers within the historically oppressed people.
About the author:
Daniella Sosa Vecchionacce is from Venezuela doubled majored in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Palermo in Argentina. She has been into social phenomena since she was a child, as a political asylee herself. By growing up within a family that has been persecuted by dictatorships at different times in history, she was surrounded by people who devote themselves to strengthening democracy for more than a century. That is why she was motivated to build her own political thoughts at a very young age where gender issues have been a central axis, especially when it comes to women and children affected by war as a specialist in terrorism and national security. She has worked with several non-profits such as Doctors Without Borders, and other small and local non-profit organizations that aim to improve the well-being of minorities and low-income settlements around the world. She is openly feminist because she considers it is impossible not to be. Daniella stands for the definition in its purest essence “the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way…”. She also believes that before fighting patriarchy, we have to constantly question feminism itself because people out there are not getting the message. That is why she prefers intellectual militancy: « It is our duty, as social scientists, that the message reaches out to people, transforming complex terms into intelligible ones and that no one is ashamed of the stigmatization around the movement. »