Sunday 21 April 2019

Alan Shatter: 'There's a risk Lisa Smith will be feted a hero if she returns'

  

Lisa Smith pictured living in Dundalk in 2011. Photo: Tom Conachy/Independent.ie
Lisa Smith pictured living in Dundalk in 2011. Photo: Tom Conachy/Independent.ie

Alan Shatter

Lisa Smith was 19 when she joined the Defence Forces. She initially served as a private in the 27th Infantry Battalion before transferring to the Air Corps where she primarily served as a flight attendant on the government jet.

In November 2011, at the age of 29, she retired from the Defence Forces. It may be that she was on the government  jet for one or two trips that I made but I do not recall meeting her following my appointment as minister for a justice, equality and defence in March 2011.

I have no reason to believe that when a member of the Defence Forces, Lisa Smith did anything other than properly fulfil her duties. I also have no reason to believe anything other than as she entered her 30s she was a mature woman with some awareness of current events and that, like many in the Defence Forces, she had acquired some knowledge of well-publicised conflicts in various parts of the world.

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By mid-2014 it was not necessary to be a member of the Defence Forces to know something about Isil. The atrocities it had perpetrated and continued to perpetrate were the stuff of constant global reportage.

As a ruthless fanatical Sunni Muslim terrorist sect, this throwback to medieval barbarism boasted of its atrocities and, to attract recruits, advertised its sickening cruelty in readily accessible incendiary online colour footage.

The maniacal footage was accompanied by strident commentary which gloried in brutality and barbaric murder accompanied by soundtracks of rousing Arabic chanting. And there was a lot of it streamed online.

Isil's flagrant human rights abuses and crimes against humanity by the end of 2014 included bloody beheadings, multiple crucifixions, human immolation, mass shootings, barbaric torture and rape.

All who did not believe in its extreme version of Islam were labelled as infidels to be erased from the Earth or temporarily enslaved before being eliminated should they fail to convert and adhere to its fundamentalist beliefs. Isil barbarism included the enthusiastic stoning of alleged adulterers, public hangings of homosexuals and forcing children to observe and participate in beheadings.

This murderous misogynistic group also treated women it captured as sex objects to either be sold or marry and service its warriors and support them in their task of establishing a fanatical Isil Caliphate. Both then, as now, it valued death over life in its promotion of a suicidal martyrdom culture.

Among Isil's well-publicised atrocities reported by mainstream media in Ireland and elsewhere and publicised by Isil online was the beheading by 'Jihadi John' of American journalist James Wright Foley in August 2014.

In September 2014, similarly reported and publicised were the beheadings of 'Time' magazine journalist Steven Joel Sotloff, British humanitarian aid worker David Haines and French mountaineering guide Herve Gourdel. These were followed in early October 2014 with the beheading of British humanitarian aid worker Alan Henning. During 2013- 2014, thousands were killed by Isil and many Isil atrocities first became publicly known through its boastful and celebratory recruiting videos.

I detail here just four beheadings because it is impossible that they were unknown to Lisa Smith or any other adult man or woman living in Ireland intent in late 2014 or early 2015 on travelling to Syria to live within the Islamic State and among Isil terrorists. It is also impossible that it was unknown that since early 2014 Isil was engaged in the genocide of Yazidis, with women and girls forced into sexual slavery as thousands of men were slaughtered. Nor could she have missed the murder in Belgium in May 2014 of four people in a shooting at a Jewish Museum perpetrated by an Isil returnee from Syria.

Lisa Smith when she voluntarily travelled to Syria was not a naive impressionable young teenager lacking worldly experience. She was a 33-year-old retired member of the Defence Forces. It may be that during their time in government former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former justice minister Dermot Ahern variously regarded her as "an engaging and kind person" and "a lovely girl" as referenced in last week's 'Sunday Independent' but that is beside the point.

As a 33-year-old adult, she made the decision to become part of the tyrannical Isil endeavour and reportedly to marry an Isil Jihadi sympathiser and fighter fully knowing what she was becoming part of.

While she resided in Syria, Isil atrocities multiplied in both Syria and Iraq and were perpetrated in Europe.

In November 2015, 130 were murdered in Paris; March 2016, 32 in Brussels; June 2016, 45 in Ataturk Airport; July 2015, 86 in Nice; May 2017, 22 in Manchester. These numbers do not include the many people injured, some destined to never fully recover.

Lisa Smith has now emerged from the besieged town of Baghouz, Isil's last Syrian bastion, which is about to be overrun, seeking sanctuary in Ireland. Some of the benign sympathetic uncritical coverage of her plight has been extraordinary.

Had a former retired 30-something member of the Defence Forces taken up with the Provisional IRA during the Troubles as they perpetrated a series of barbaric atrocities there would have been a dramatically different perspective. Some of the sympathy as presented is packaged in good old-fashioned Irish male misogyny, which assumes because she is a woman or "a girl" she did not fully understand her actions or those of Isil.

Should Lisa Smith return to Ireland she has serious questions to answer and possibly criminal charges to face.

There will also be major credibility issues surrounding any explanation she offers for her conduct. The State also has serious issues to address as to whether she poses a threat to the safety and well-being of others in Ireland or elsewhere.

There is a need for serious security issues to be addressed which should not be lost in dewy-eyed, perceived media-friendly, politically opportunistic populist sound bites.

Issues surrounding Lisa Smith should also be a wake-up call to the Government to prioritise enacting the long-promised Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill to give full effect to the EU's 2017 directive on combating terrorism. While presently engaging in terrorist activity is a criminal offence, there is no specific offence of travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism as required by the directive.

There is currently a risk that should Lisa Smith return home to Dundalk she will be feted as a celebrity or hero by some in the media and by some sympathetic TDs.

The only one deserving of attention and sympathy is her two-year-old daughter who knows nothing of the background to her conception and birth. Hopefully, when she grows up she will not be in any way damaged by her first experiences of life within Islamic State and remember nothing of it.

Alan Shatter is former justice minister

Irish Independent

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