PRESIDENT OF FAITH MATTERS: RT HON SIMON HUGHES MP
Faith Matters is a not for profit organisation founded in 2005 which works to reduce extremism and interfaith and intra-faith tensions and we develop platforms for discourse and interaction between Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jewish and Hindu communities across the globe. We have offices in the United Kingdom, Pakistan and the Middle East (Jerusalem)
Come Back Home Shamima, Kadiza and Amira
The search for Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, who all attended Bethnal Green Academy in Tower Hamlets, raises many worrying questions. Especially if their intention is to join the terrorist group ISIS.
Allegations levelled against Twitter, the security services and Turkish Airlines are indeed serious but a blame game potentially overlooks the devastating consequences their collective decision is having upon their families. Families who want them safely home.
The individual statements are heartfelt and required reading when understanding how these decisions reap devastation upon families wanting answers.
What we know
On February 15, a solitary tweet from an account allegedly belonging to Shamima Begum to Aqsa Mahmood, who left Glasgow for Syria in 2013 to marry an ISIS fighter, implies an ISIS connection. The nature her tweet ‘@Muhajirah_ follow me so i can dm you back’ implies Ms Mahmood made initial contact and both were potentially in conversation via private messages.
Aamer Anwar, a lawyer for Ms Mahmood’s family, told Sky News: "Over the last few weeks, Aqsa Mahmood has been using social media in an attempt to radicalise and recruit others," Mr Anwar also claimed her Twitter account is monitored by police and no efforts were made to warn her family about radicalisation.
That same Twitter account attributed to Ms Begum also follows various accounts of individuals linked to ISIS. In a further statement of condemnation, the family of Asqa Mahmood branded her a disgrace to her country and faith.
Baroness Warsi warned that radicalisation is happening more online than at mosques – the online sphere allows a person to create their own echo chambers – divorcing a person from the realities on the ground – where terrorist groups like ISIS pertain to offer a utopian vision that is no more than a murderous and totalitarian nightmare that threatens Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
At Faith Matters, we’ve also raised the issue of Islamophobic abuse online and the responsibility of removing hate speech when reported to social media platforms. Going forward, these same social media platforms have an opportunity to further engage and assist with online safeguarding.
Online safeguarding is an issue we must all take seriously – whether it is online racism or radicalisation – the mechanisms in place must help us challenge those seeking to divide and poison potentially vulnerable and impressionable young minds – and if in breach of the law - remove these accounts.
As Rushanara Ali, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, told Radio 4’s Today Programme: “This is like grooming, this is child exploitation, and in the worst-case scenario they are potentially being used as weapons of war in those countries.”
The other issue of safeguarding falls into the lap of Turkish Airlines after it emerged Ms Begum used her older sister’s passport when boarding.
Prior to their disappearance, all three were interviewed by detectives regarding the disappearance of another 15-year-old, who allegedly fled to Syria (and ISIS) in December. Detectives wanted their assistance in locating their missing friend but did not consider them ‘at risk’ of following her to Syria. That assumption may now be inaccurate.
A Scotland Yard spokesperson confirmed a British police presence in Turkey but would not elaborate further.
We at Faith Matters echo the words of Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) Commander Richard Walton who said: “Our priority is the safe return of these girls to their families.”