Sunday 25 August 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Lisa Smith is actually irrelevant - this is about citizenship'

Ignorance is never a defence: Lisa Smith and her daughter
Ignorance is never a defence: Lisa Smith and her daughter
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Forget about Maria, the real question now is how do we solve a problem like Lisa.

When the news first broke a few months ago that an Irish woman had been captured in north-eastern Syria, many people expressed amazement.

To anyone who had actually been paying attention, however, the only surprise was that there haven't been more examples.

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True, we had the ludicrous Taliban Terry, a man from the Liberties who took the name 'Khalid Kelly' and seemed to have walked straight from a scene from the satire Four Lions, which dealt with a group of hapless wannabe terrorists.

Kelly always reminded me - particularly while he was telling me, on camera, why I deserve to be executed - of one of the characters, Barry, a white English convert to Islam who was desperate to prove himself more Islamic than the rest of his terrorist cell.

But while Four Lions was a consistently amusing, occasionally hilarious takedown of the often farcical and irrational behaviour of many real-life terrorists, there was nothing farcical about the behaviour of Isil in the areas under their control.

For years, we watched the news, or the uncensored videos on the internet, of the unadulterated evil of Isil.

We saw the executions, if we wished, although I've always argued against people watching such footage on the basis that you wouldn't watch someone being raped, so why are beheadings okay?

We heard the harrowing testimony of the survivors. Their tales of gang rape, sexual slavery and the constant fear that they could be killed at any moment.

We saw these atrocities and were repulsed. Others saw them and were inspired. Ignorance is never a defence but in this case, the Dundalk woman can't even cling to that excuse.

Even after she moved to Syria, she would be have been well aware of the atrocities that were committed - despite her claims otherwise - because Isil are perhaps the first regime to make a virtue out of their barbarism. They didn't try to hide their savagery - they wallowed and revelled in it. In fact, Isil gave their recruits moral licence to explore their fantasies in the name of their group.

Smith has been back in the news following a series of interviews with RTÉ, and Leo Varadkar was less than definitive in his support for repatriating her to Ireland, preferring to focus on her child's status.

That confusion which he seemed to be feeling might be one of those rare moments when he has his finger on the public pulse - because confusion reigns supreme on this issue. It's hard to disagree with those who say she knew what she was doing and is only crying now because Isil lost.

Certainly, every interview she gives sees her dig a deeper hole for herself. As several wags have already noticed, her comment that she "made the move but it didn't work out," sounded more like the words of a footballer after a bad transfer.

So ignorance is no defence and stupidity is no excuse.

To quote Enda Kenny, "Paddy likes to know what the story is", and her interviews have been an incoherent mishmash of contradictions which, to borrow a phrase from m'learned friends, stretch credulity.

But whether we like it or not, this isn't about Smith. It's about our commitment to international law, which demands that she be repatriated.

Perhaps even more importantly, it's also about whether we want the long-suffering Kurds to have to shoulder the burden of maintaining her in custody.

It is true that other countries have taken strong steps to prevent Isil members returning to their country of origin. France has largely refused to accept any returnees. But that is France's decision, and given the terrorist attacks they have suffered from Isil members, one which we're not in a position to judge.

Likewise, Sajid Javid's decision as UK Home Secretary to refuse Shamima Begum a right-to-return was more complex than it first appeared, although it will probably be overturned on appeal.

It's easy to say that Smith can never return here, but a citizen is still a citizen. She may well even be an enemy of the State - and it is the duty of the State to discern that, and to take any necessary steps.

It's also true, however, that she is not worth a drop of anyone's blood. The Government's argument that they don't want to send people into a war zone, tenuous though that claim may be, should be enough to end the idea that we need to send diplomatic staff to hold her hand.

Former army intelligence officer Michael Murphy said it best when he pointed out that she made her own way there, and if she wants to return 'home' then she can make her own way back.

Ah, but what do we do if and when she does come back? Some estimates put the cost of her inevitable security detail at up to a €1m a year.

That's going to stick in everyone's craw. This woman is the architect of her own misfortune who will now cost us a packet while, presumably, still holding her extremist beliefs.

But as I said, this isn't about Lisa Smith and the emotions she stirs in all of us. Nor is it about policy being decided by the idiots on Twitter.

No, ultimately, this is about the law, and importance of citizenship. Even if some citizens, like Smith, deserve nothing but contempt.

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