Wednesday 21 August 2019

Ciara Kelly: 'Why I have zero sympathy for Lisa Smith'

SHE GAVE HERSELF TO ISIL: Lisa Smith and daughter in the Al-Hawl refugee camp. Photo: Norma Costello
SHE GAVE HERSELF TO ISIL: Lisa Smith and daughter in the Al-Hawl refugee camp. Photo: Norma Costello
Dr Ciara Kelly

Dr Ciara Kelly

I first heard of Isil five or six years ago. Islamist jihadists rampaged across Syria and Iraq, proclaiming a war of terror against the west and imposing Sharia law on those who lived within their caliphate. Often seen whooping and waving black flags from the backs of jeeps, they seemed almost cartoonish in their capacity for medieval levels of violence and barbarity as depicted in our news bulletins.

But I remember clearly the first time I became afraid and was sickened by them. It wasn't after any of the European terrorist attacks, such as Nice, where a truck mowed down civilians taking an evening stroll along the prom.

Or Paris, where young people enjoying a music gig were shot dead in cold blood; an iPhone video of a heavily pregnant woman, hanging from a second-storey window in fear for her life, still stays with me.

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Then there were the shoppers at a Christmas market in Berlin, buying the last presents and bits of food. And those random passers-by walking across London Bridge and minding their own business. All civilians. All 'soft' targets. All brutally attacked and killed.

It wasn't any of these. It was the murder of the American journalist James Foley in August 2014. James Foley, a teacher before he became a journalist, seemed like a nice man. He was beheaded in an orange jumpsuit in the Syrian desert. And I watched it happen. The Isil terrorists had learnt to use social media by then to good effect.

They uploaded a video. In a frightened and bewildered voice, James read from a script railing against the West. Then he knelt on the sand. Men intimidatingly swathed in black stood over him. And then coldly beheaded him.

I didn't watch the act. I couldn't. I felt too sick. But I watched up to that point. And I followed the thread afterwards in photographs.

I stayed with it, even though it was the most disturbing thing I'd ever seen - because in some irrational way I didn't want him to be on his own. I wanted to bear witness. I thought it was wrong to turn my back and let him go through it alone.

It was the middle of the night and tears rolled down my face as I stared at the photos of this man I didn't know. The killers placed his bloodied head almost jauntily on top of his prone body. His once-handsome face now a terrible rictus.

Why am I telling you this? Because it was clear to me then, as it is now, that Isil was a murderous, barbaric, despicable terrorist regime without a shred of mercy or decency.

I know many things led to their inception. I know western powers are guilty of causing many of the problems in the Middle East. But that does not take one iota from the evil that Isil wreaked against the people they terrorised and enslaved. And if it was clear to me, then I don't accept it wasn't patently clear to others as well.

Irish woman Lisa Smith wasn't a child when she travelled to Tunisia and on to Syria to become an Isil bride. She integrated with the group in 2016, the year it carried out most attacks.

She wasn't 15, like Shamima Begum. She was a 30-year-old professional member of the Irish Defence Forces, the army sworn to protect us from external attack.

She took sides with a group who had declared war against our values, our people and that very same army. A traitorous act at least - if not a treasonous one.

She married an Isil fighter and had a child. And then the caliphate fell. It was a bloody war. The west. Assad's forces. The Kurds. Russia. A coalition of armies fought them - at times in hand-to-hand combat - until only tiny pockets remained where once they had controlled vast tracts of land.

And those who once envisioned an Islamic state that would survive for millennia surrendered or were killed in the subsequent defeat. Most of the jihadists are now dead or in jail. But many of their wives and children, along with others whose lives they destroyed, are still in refugee camps.

Lisa Smith is in a camp under Kurdish control. In many ways she's lucky; if she was in one under Assad's control, there's every chance she'd already have been executed.

And unsurprisingly now that the caliphate is in ruins, she wants to come home. To leave that hellhole and return to Ireland. She doesn't appear to have means to make her own way here; and it isn't as easy to leave there as it was to leave here. The question is what should we do about it?

She and her daughter are Irish citizens. Should we send a delegation of gardai, defence forces and the Department of Foreign Affairs out to repatriate her? Should she be brought back and face due process in our courts? Be deradicalised? Used as an intelligence asset for our State?

To be honest, I have reservations. I'm not sure how we'd ensure a fair trial or gather evidence on her activities. Several people have accused her of training them in the use of firearms; of being more than an Isil bride, of being an active - not a passive - member of Isil. She has denied this. How would we ever get to the truth? Perhaps making it illegal simply to have joined Isil would make a court conviction easier to secure. Equally how do you know if you've deradicalised someone, as opposed to them paying lip service to being deradicalised? And, yes, I see the value in mining her for intelligence information on radicalisation and terrorism. But again, how do you trust what you're being told?

All I know is, bottom line, we should not put a single life at risk to bring her home or indeed spend major financial resources on doing so. At some point it needs to be acknowledged that she and only she put herself and her daughter in this position. She is the one who joined one of the most heinous, murderous, brutally oppressive groups in modern history. Who beheaded and crucified their victims, leaving heads on spikes and bodies on crosses in full sight to instil fear in the people they ruled over.

Who sold women as sex slaves. Who killed innocent civilians without a thought. That is not something to be forgotten. I have no sympathy for her. Lisa Smith made that choice. She should now have to live with the consequences.


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