An unrepentant terrorist’s wife in a prison camp in Syria who wants to go back to live in London? This is the riddle of Shamima Begum, the UK citizen who at 15 was groomed to be part of the Caliphate so with two girlfriends took off for Syria. There she willingly married a jihadist and had two children. The Caliphate has disappeared now, she and her Dutch husband is a prisoner, her two children are dead of malnutrition, and she’s about to give birth to another child. She wants to return to the UK for her baby’s sake, but apparently shows no remorse for taking up the cause of ISIS. Should the UK let her back in? Is she fit to be a mother? Is she going to keep on supporting ISIS, maybe set off a bomb or two in Victoria Station? This is someone who said life was “normal” in Raqqa, who claims she shrugged off seeing the heads of those who were decapitated tossed into rubbish bins.
Sentiments around her repatriation range from “let her rot in hell there in Syria” to “let’s think of a way to save her brainwashed soul and that of her child.”
Here’s what we should say to her:
You have been seeking the sacred in life, and were told by people you trusted that it can be found in a new society where everyone will live according to the wisdom delivered to us ages ago through a Divine agency.
You and they have misjudged the Divine.
We are surrounded by experiences that can bring us a sense of the Divine, of the Sacred, of God—whatever word you give It is always inadequate, but we know It when we experience It because the gauge is something every human being has within them: compassion. Even tragic experiences like witnessing the death of a friend or facing your own demise can bring us this sense of awe, of a transcendence that defies description as compassion for the suffering of others overwhelms us or their compassion washes over us in our hours of trial.
But without compassion death becomes the vehicle for the darker forces that still lurk beneath the veneer of civilization. The savagery of our animal natures can erupt at any moment, and if reinforced by those preaching a gospel of hate, claiming a vengeful god told them the secrets of the universe or wrote it in a book thousands of years ago and the secret is to mercilessly enslave some of the unbelievers and cut the throats of others—well then, they have been blinded by a desire for power over others rather than compassion for them. They pervert the Sacrament of Death.
The road to God is through compassion.
The world now has its hands full of thousands of radicalized (read: delusional and dangerous) men and women, together with their offspring who will also fall under the spell of this doctrine unless something is done about it. What that something will be has yet to be determined, but if there is any hope for a better world, the need to teach that the Divine begins with our humanity to others is the key.