Podcasts Addressing ISIS returnees to Western countries

A screenshot of the BBC iPlayer page for "Back Home from ISIS", a podcast about an ISIS returnee to the UK

A screenshot of the BBC iPlayer page for “Back Home from ISIS”, a podcast about an ISIS returnee to the UK

Podcasts on ISIS Returnees

Back Home From ISIS” is a BBC documentary podcast. Along with the Caliphate series by Rukmini Callimachi at the New York Times, it is a great introduction to the problems that Western governments and societies face when ISIS members (former and current) leave the war-zone and return to their countries of citizenship. In the podcast, the BBC interviews an ISIS widow who returned to the UK after spending time in the Middle East and a Turkish prison.

The Caliphate podcast series focuses on an ISIS returnee to Canada. Abu Hussayfa, as he prefers to be called, discusses the time he spent in Syria and how he is trying to reintegrate into Canadian society. The podcast goes on to cover interviews with victims in the Middle East and an exploration of ISIS documents discovered while in the field.

As, or if, I find more podcasts related to the topic, I’ll come back and list them here.

Thoughts on ISIS Returnees

What do you do with ISIS when the Caliphate collapses? I had a conversation about this with members of a Facebook group called Muslims for Progressive Values. MPV is essentially an interfaith group with members who are Muslim, non-Muslim, agnostic, atheist, and/or secularist. The group discusses primarily Muslim and Islam-related issues. Someone posted a link to a story about a Glasgow student who had her UK passport stripped from her after the UK determined that she had traveled to Syria to be the wife of an ISIS member.

Stripping Citizenship

Stripping former (and probably current) members of ISIS of their citizenship for engaging in terrorism is a pretty solid move. It effectively prevents those people from entering a Western country that they’re ideologically at war with and carrying out attacks. It’s also a great punishment. If you don’t like “the West”, then why should you have the privilege of being a citizen of a Western country? And why would we give you access to a place you want to destroy?

I found out later that the UK is only doing this to people who hold dual citizenship, which is also fine, but that leaves the problem of what to do with people who only have UK citizenship (or single citizenship of any country). I believe that terrorists should be denied re-entry to their country of origin and should be returned to Iraq or Syria to be tried and sentenced for the crimes they committed there. Why should they get to avoid what could and should be a harsher sentence by being tried under the laws of a Western country?

Extraterritoriality and Justice

Another commenter in the MPV group disagreed and said ISIS members shouldn’t be left in Syria or Iraq because of the lower quality of the justice systems there, which seems absurd to me. In a way, it reminds me of when the Taliban refused to turn Osama bin Laden over to the US for trial and insisted that he be given a trial in a neutral third-party country instead. The same MPV commenter also expressed concern about Western countries “dumping” ISIS members on Syria and Iraq, though I don’t think Iraqis and Syrians see it that way. Perhaps I’m just projecting, but I believe they’d be happier having the ISIS fighters remain there so they can seek justice.

The idea that someone shouldn’t be subject to the laws and judicial system of a country where they’ve committed crimes is a colonialist mindset. It’s a status called “extraterritoriality”. It was weaponized and used against the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s to undermine the government’s sovereignty. Plus, it’s just common sense that you would face charges in the country where you committed a crime. It’s also an accepted international practice. If you commit a crime in a country and manage to flee, the government of the country where the crime took place requests that you be extradited for trial.

The quality of the judicial system where the crimes took place or how the penalties stack up compared to what’s common in Western countries shouldn’t matter. These terrorist jackasses traveled to the Middle East and tried to build a terrorist state on the burning remains of Iraq and Syria. They committed murder, rape, ethnic cleansing, theft, destruction of cultural heritage, and who knows how many other crimes against both individuals, groups, and the countries themselves. Why would they not be made to face justice in those countries for crimes committed both in and against those countries?

Let them hang

Why would we not want to allow victims to get justice? These days, the only people with a form of extraterritoriality are diplomats, who have diplomatic immunity from lawsuits and prosecution unless that immunity is waived by the diplomat’s home country. Michael Fay got caned in Singapore for theft and vandalism in 1994. He didn’t get a pass. Why should terrorists? If they get hanged, they get hanged. If they’re beaten to death by a mob that drags them out of the jail, well, that’s not a great way to die, but for an ISIS member? I don’t really have any pity.

A Look Inside the Caliphate: A podcast about ISIS by Rukmini Callimachi

I started listening to this podcast a few weeks ago and I can’t get over how great it was. I was really disappointed when it ended at only 10 Chapters. I was hoping it would go further and that Callimachi would keep following up on the aftermath of ISIS in the Middle East.

I’d like to hear more about ISIS fighters that are returning to Western countries and trying to avoid prosecution. I’d like to learn more about how Western countries are dealing with this problem, like, for example, how the UK is stripping some ISIS members of their UK passports. I’d also like to hear more “human interest” reports from people on the ground that were affected personally by ISIS. I’d rather hear it in an interview and investigative audio format than read about it later. Somehow, it seems more real and it’s certainly more engaging.

The Caliphate podcast itself is well done, engaging, and informative. If you have any interest in the Middle East, I highly recommend it. I do need to warn you that most of the episodes contain descriptions of extreme violence, sometimes narrated by the perpetrators of that violence in interviews and sometimes by their victims. It starts out with interviews of an ISIS member who returned to Canada, Abu Hussayfa (nom de guerre), and then moves on to other topics, including scouring the front lines for documentation.

I suppose what intrigued me the most about the podcast is how normal “Abu Hussayfa” sounds, considering what he did in Syria. I was also interested in how he tried to justify and excuse his actions. That seemed to be a trend among the people interviewed, which isn’t surprising in and of itself. The religious justifications he chose to use were what I found interesting.

I was surprised to find out just how bureaucratic and organized ISIS was. I had this idea in my head that it was organized in the sense of being a good fighting group, but the fact that they kept careful financial records, criminal justice records, and had a hierarchical administration was unexpected. I suppose it’s hard to picture ISIS, on the one hand, destroying historical sites for being “haram,” and on the other hand acting like a modern bureaucratic state.

Anyhow, again, if you have an interest in the Middle East you should really find time to listen to this podcast.

Lower Manhattan Skyline

What did Saipov actually accomplish with his truck attack?

8 Dead as Truck Careens Down Bike Path in Manhattan in Terror Attack

A driver plowed a pickup truck down a crowded bike path along the Hudson River in Manhattan on Tuesday, killing eight people and injuring 11 before being shot by a police officer in what officials are calling the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Sept. 11.

I really don’t understand what the point of this was. If the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 had no lasting impact on New York City, then why run people over with a vehicle? Sure, I’m aware of the whole “we can strike at any moment, you can’t live your lives normally, woooaahahahah” plan, but does it really even work? Is anyone actually going to just shut their apartment door and never go outside again because of this attack? Is New York City going to come to a screeching halt? Of course not.

So really, what was the point of running over some bicyclists? About two dozen families have been directly affected. The rest of the city will pause for a few days and then continue moving. I don’t say that to downplay the scope of the tragedy for those families. Their lives will never be the same and my heart goes out to them. But, what was done wasn’t significant enough to change anything about how the average New Yorker goes about their day.

Furthermore, what was really the point of stepping out of a truck with a pellet gun and a paintball gun? Was this guy a moron or was he hoping to get martyred? Maybe that’s what this was really about. This guy was probably leading a mediocre life or felt like he was being treated unfairly in some way, and to compensate for that and increase his own sense of self-worth he committed himself to engaging in an act that he hoped would lead to his martyrdom. At least then his value would be recognized by someone. Maybe he wanted to die and that’s why he jumped out of the truck with what he hoped the NYPD would mistake for real firearms.

What kind of picture would that paint though? The heroic martyr, going into battle with the NYPD with a pellet gun and some paintballs. What a joke.

Sayfullo Saipov, the moron who was driving the truck, isn’t special because he attributed his nonsense to some dying political ideology in the Middle East. He isn’t a martyr. He’s a clown. And now, if he doesn’t die from the gunshot wound he received and deserved, he’s going to spend the rest of his life in jail where, if there’s any justice in the world, his fellow inmates will work him over regularly for the rest of his life.