Child soldiers and terrorists – part two

A friend and colleague, Dr. Amar Amarasingam, has reported some disturbing news of late.  Some of the young Canadian women who have gone to join Islamic State have given birth to babies in the self-styled “Caliphate”, in essence baby warriors (IS calls young mujahideen “lion cubs”, a reflection of its belief that jihadis are the “Lions of Islam”).  As a sidebar, Dr. Amarasingam noted that the young mothers are not infatuated teens but rather these women are making decisions that reflect deeply held religious and political views (see story here).

For his part, former Canadian lieutenant-general Romeo Dallaire has called for more action to be taken against IS’ use of child soldiers (click here for a summary).  Mr. Dallaire has become a well-known advocate for attention to children caught up in war, some of whom have been made to kill.

Are these kids child soldiers?

I know that late last year I harshly criticised a Montreal lawyer who claimed that a 15-year old who robbed a depanneur (variety store) and planned to leave for Syria should be treated as a child soldier (you can read that blog here).  I have not changed my mind on that case.  But what Dr. Amarasingam and former Lt-Gen Dallaire are talking about is somewhat different.

No, these kids are not being ripped from their families and forced to kill their parents and siblings as a sort of initiation rite.  But they are being raised from a very young age to see horrible violence as the norm.  They are the offspring of violent Islamist extremists who use terrorism and fear to intimidate their enemies and impose their austere and hateful brand of Islam on local populations, and who see their kids as the ones to carry the torch of terrorism forward.  They are being habituated to killing.

Kids are being exposed to beheadings and immolations, the throwing of people off roofs and the shooting of prisoners in the back of the head.  One boy, the son of an Australian extremist, was encouraged to hold up the severed head of a victim.  Others are asked to pose with knives at the throats of IS’ enemies.

I am not a psychologist but I think it is safe to say that IS is creating children who will suffer from severe mental problems when they get older.  Those who are not sacrificed eventually as cannon fodder or “muhajideen” will outlive the destruction of IS and have to find a way to have a “normal” life.  It is almost guaranteed that some will not fair well.

To my mind, these are not the classic child soldiers as I have come to understand the phenomenon, but they are being exploited and abused by their parents and by the IS leadership.  This is child abuse, pure and simple.

So, what to do about it?  Well, to start, any parent who seeks to take his or her child to Syria to live in the so-called Caliphate should have that child removed and made a ward of the State.  These parents are clearly unqualified to have charge of young people.  We take children away from physical and sexual abusers: why do we not act similarly in cases of clear mental indoctrination and violent extremism?

I can hear the criticism already: I am advocating a regime that acts as thought police and rips children from their parents when the latter hold ideas we don’t like. No I am not.  I am merely saying that a man or woman who wants to join a terrorist group has no right to bring a child with them.  They cannot choose a life of violence and hate for children who are incapable of making that decision themselves.  We as a country have a duty to protect these children from psychological or physical trauma and radicalisation.

We need to put a stop to this seemingly endless cycle of violent radicalisation.  Beginning with children would be a good idea since if we do it right we eliminate a problem down the road.

So the question is: which politician is brave enough to propose we save kids from the hate and violence of their parents?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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