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The unwanted return of Daesh fighters

Feb 24,2019 - Last updated at Feb 24,2019

A remarkable story happened just south of Amman the other day, when locals saw a Daesh convoy driving on the motorway with black flags fluttering and weapons drawn. Immediately, they grabbed their personal weapons and opened fire on the convoy, which turned out to be the cast and crew of a film set. Fortunately, the police intervened before anyone was injured.

A related story is that Daesh bride Shamima Begum was shocked that Britain does not want her back. The two stories highlight how people feel about Daesh and the conundrum: What to do with Daesh returnees, plus their wives and children.

This question concerns Jordan because an estimated 2,000-3,000 Jordanians slipped into Syria to join Daesh, and many may try to slip back now. Also, sleeper cells already exist in this country. Jordanian security services deserve high praise for their vigilance and effectiveness, but we must keep our guard up and look at what others are doing with their Daesh returnees.

Rehabilitation would be the humane option; but would it be realistic? In Shamima Begum’s interviews with the BBC, she showed not a trace of remorse. She spoke of seeing decapitated human heads in garbage bins, with nonchalance that suggests a psychopathic mind. Would you want such a person as your next-door neighbour and the son she raises to play with your children?

More comprehensively, returnee fighters, if they are not in custody, would need to be supervised during, and for a while after, their rehabilitation. This would place a heavy burden on the already overstretched security agencies in funds and manpower.

At the other end of the spectrum is the neo-liberal solution of disregarding the law or due process and throwing suspected Daesh fighters with their families and offspring in a modern-day leper colony, where they remain isolated until they die of natural causes. A major problem with this solution is that, without due process, many innocent people are bound to be punished along with the guilty, without chance of appeal.

This would be unjustifiable because it is better to risk releasing a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one. It would also be incongruous if the civilised world abandoned its morality in order to defeat an enemy whose defining mission was to destroy this morality in the first place. 

The only option left is prosecution before the law. There are, of course, hurdles that face the prosecution of hundreds of people: Legal tools may need to be created to keep these suspects in judicial custody from the moment they are arraigned until the verdict is pronounced; but what of their children? Another challenge may be furnishing evidence of culpability. Intelligence gathered under battlefield conditions may be inadmissible in a court of law.

And yet, whatever course of action is adopted, it must be legally sound, because the supremacy of the law is what elevates civilised society above barbarism. At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.

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