Monday 14 October 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'There are no easy answers in the Lisa Smith case'

Lisa Smith Photo: ITV News
Lisa Smith Photo: ITV News
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

To revoke or not to revoke?

That is the question that has been on everyone's lips since it emerged that one of the so-called 'Isis brides' apprehended by US-backed forces in Syria was actually a woman called Lisa Smith from Dundalk, who had converted to Islam following a bad break-up.

Smith, who had served in the Irish forces and had flown with senior politicians on the Government jet, became a convert nearly a decade ago, moving first to Tunisia before going into the cauldron of Isis-controlled territory, where she married an Isis fighter, with whom she had a child.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

When she first appeared on that now infamous ITV interview last week, she claimed to be from the UK and, in one comment that has been largely ignored this week, she also boasted that "Isis was not over yet, not over yet".

That sentiment was a chilling echo of the attitude of another controversial Isis bride, Shamima Begum, who has also given the impression that her only regret is that Isis lost, not that she joined the group.

As is usually the case with Islamic extremists such as Smith, particularly those who converted to the faith, there are plenty of difficult questions but no easy answers.

Some of her former friends who still support her have said that she was hoodwinked into Syria by thinking that she was merely going there as an aid worker.

Other former friends, however, have pointed out that she had developed a visceral hatred for the Western way of life.

Certainly, the so-called 'former party girl' seemed to have found a certitude in Islam that she never found in her previous life and her comments that: "You come, you see the propaganda, you want Islam, you want to come and live in a Muslim country and environment. No music, no fighting, no prostitution... you want a clean life like this, that is what you want," hardly indicate a woman who was duped into something she didn't want.

To those of us with a secular mindset, the idea that the vast array of infamous Isis executions could ever be seen as propaganda for a better way of life is simply incomprehensible. But to those of an extremist mentality, they were a sign of commitment and purity.

That's the reason so many European Muslims, many of them converts - or 'reverts' as they often like to be known - found the idea of an Isis Caliphate so appealing.

That's understandable from a human nature point of view - when someone wholeheartedly rejects everything about their previous existence, it's hardy a surprise that they fully embrace the most extreme form of their new way of life.

It is tempting to side with the opinion that she has made her bed and she should lie in it, and those who seemed to defend her by saying that she probably wasn't an active combatant are missing the point.

After all, one of the most genuinely feared groups in Isis territory was the infamous Al-Khansa Brigade, an all female 'morality police' who became legendary for the ways they terrorised and killed the civilians under their control.

Was Smith a member of that hated group?

If she was, we may never know. Most of the witnesses are dead, after all.

But even if she was the Isis equivalent of a stay-at-home mum, she knowingly embraced a group which is openly dedicated to the enslavement of the Middle East and the destruction of the West.

If, as international law suggests, we simply can't rip up her passport, no matter how tempting that prospect undoubtedly is, then it's still unclear what punishment, if any, she will face on her return to the country she hates so much.

After all, as Leo Varadkar correctly pointed out this week, it's not a crime to go to Syria.

This is not just a diplomatic conundrum but a moral one as well.

The reality, as has been learned in other countries across the West, is that you simply can't deradicalise someone who doesn't want to be deradicalised, and her comments on ITV don't indicate a woman who regrets her choices.

There is simply no template for this kind of situation and confusion reigns supreme.

But this story has not yet run its course.

Indo Review

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss

Editor's Choice