All in the family – terrorism style

We have just celebrated Mother’s Day in Canada, a chance for children to recognise and give thanks for their mothers.  Mothers are, after all, often the bedrock of families. It is they who give birth to the next generation, nurture their sons and daughters through the early years of life and usually act as confidantes and role models well beyond the formative stages.  We owe a lot to our moms.

So what gives when mothers inspire, or even, direct terrorist attacks?

Two examples have surfaced recently where the givers of life have had a role in the taking of life by their children.  In Indonesia a mother of 9 and 12-year old daughters led a suicide attack on a Christian church (her husband took their two sons and attacked another church: 13 are believed dead and over 40 injured in the incidents).  Last week a British mom encouraged her 18-year old daughter to engage in a suicide attack so she could join her ‘martyred’ Islamic State fiance.

Incredible, isn’t it?

And yet there is an important aspect to these stories that bears commenting on.  I have often dismissed the notion that someone can ‘self-radicalise’.  The belief that a person can acquire the ideas, explanations and desires to join a terrorist group or carry out an act of terrorism in isolation is a false one.  We are social animals, even the shyest among us, and we need the input of others in many facets of our lives.  This is especially true in the world of violent extremism.  The ideology behind terrorist groups is complex and it is the job of radicalisers to pass it on to the next generation.  In addition, help is needed when it comes to the decision to undertake a suicide attack.  We normally do not take our own lives without careful consideration and we certainly do not do so and kill others without the urging and coaching from another person.

What better person to act as radicaliser, coach and mentor than a mother (or father for that matter)?  Parents can be the ultimate radicalisers in many ways.  They know their children best, what works as motivation and what doesn’t.  They are in a position of huge influence over their offspring. They have – often – 24 hour access to their kids.  A parent intent on radicalising his or her child and convincing them to become terrorists is, in essence, best placed to do so.

We in Canada, of course, have our own example of this: the infamous Khadr family.  Ma and Pa Khadr took their brood to Afghanistan where they all joined Al Qaeda.  They lived among terrorists, they ate and drank among terrorists and they fought with terrorists.  None of the Khadr kids would likely have found themselves in that situation (not to mention Omar’s stay in Guantanamo) had it not been for the warped sense of purpose of their  parents.  As an aside, was there ever a better case for removing children from a dangerous situation?  Where was the Children’s Aid Society?  What about Zaynab Khadr (one of the daughters)?  Does she have kids?  Is it not possible that the hateful ideology of her parents will be passed on to yet another generation?

I would like to think that these examples are rare, but I do not have any data to pronounce on this matter one way or another.  You would think that the special bond between mother and child, the never-ending love they have for the life they gave birth to, would prohibit sending them to their deaths and causing the deaths of others.  And I am pretty sure this remains true 99.99% of the time.  Still, there is that .001% as we have seen.

In closing, all this talk of radicalisation and suicide bombings and mothers who hate is depressing, more so right after Mothers’ Day.  I really should end on a positive note.  Here it is.  To all the great moms out there who are wonderful inspirations for us all, a very happy (albeit belated!) Mothers’ Day.  Thank you for everything you do for us!

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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