‘Blanket-ban on Brit fighters returning from Syria may not be best answer’
RT:Are these people who are drawn to Syria, who fight in Syria - are they a real threat to the UK when they come home?
Mohammed Ansar: This is something that has been a real issue for debate lately. The British government and the Home Secretary has clearly decided that those young, British, Muslim jihadists who are fighting in Syria do pose a threat. They have decided to renege [sic] their passports and effectively make them stateless. I think the real answer is probably a little bit more complex than that, which would be some that are, and there would clearly be some that aren’t. And it will take a multi-stakeholder approach. They’ll need to get together with the government, with different strands of civil society here in Britain, those who are experts at countering extremist and radicalized narratives. And I think we need to come together and decide which is the best way forward. I’m not sure that a blanket-ban on these people returning to Britain is necessarily the best answer.
RT:What in your opinion can the government do to minimize this threat?
MA: I think really understanding the nuance of the debate around the nature of these people who are going out to fight in Syria is going to be crucial to understanding the level of radicalization and how these young people feel. The general age profile is somewhere in between 18 and 24, young British Muslims from an Indo-Pak or South Asian background.
We’ve seen that they are quite well integrated into the British society. We saw the case of Ifthekar Jaman, who was from Portsmouth, in the South of England, who went out there with a number of people to fight.
There are some security estimates that believe there are 400 British fighters out in Syria at the present time. And this is going to pose a significant issue when we look at why they have out and how do we reintegrate them into British society when they return.
RT:Those who go to Syria, what's luring them over there?
MA: I have had some contacts with British Muslims who have gone to fight in Syria. Often there are complex reasons why they have gone out there.
I think first there is an idea that Britain and a number of other nations in the world, the US, have refrained from intervening in Syria, when there has been a clear humanitarian crisis ongoing. And we have seen around 100,000 people who have lost their lives in the conflict. There is a second element which is the idea that the British foreign policy has become aligned with foreign policies of other nations, with US with Israel. And ordinarily we would have seen Britain intervening and indeed the UN and NATO and other international agencies intervening as peacekeepers in other regions of the world. And so there is this idea that the Syrian conflict and the war has been allowed to fester. And we have seen great acts of inhumanity and war crimes take place.
The third part, which I think is incredibly interesting, is the idea that British Muslims, some 80 percent of whom are on or below the poverty line – compared to only one of five of British, English, non-Muslim communities – they feel alienated and marginalized and not necessarily well integrated part of British society. And so that disconnect feeds this frustration, this anger about what they see going on out there.
And then they feel compelled by their religion, their faith as Muslims, to go out there and to support those people who are suffering.
RT:When you speak to people who have gone to fight in Syria, are they receptive to arguments against what they've gone to do?
MA: When we look at the case of Ifthekar Jaman from Portsmouth and a number of others, they have gone out to Syria to give what they considered to be Dawah, which is an invitation to Islam.
Someone like Ifthekar Jaman, who was working, as I understand, as a cook and was supporting fighters out there, made a distinction between themselves and some of the hardliners of the Al-Nusra [Front] and some of the Al-Qaeda affiliates. And if consider themselves to be out there on a clearly missionary course, these people are then getting drawn into conflicts.
One of the most worrying aspects we’ve seen of late is that people who are out in Syria, fighters from Britain, have been calling others to come and join them, whether they are British Muslim women, to support them. And they are setting themselves up as being effectively warlords who are out there, who are gun touting, and are really no benefit and no blessing to the people out there, and are going to become increasingly radicalized, and often go out there with a martyrdom mentality and often talk of not returning to this country.
So when we look at some of the reasons they have gone out there, and I have been in a regular contact with them from time to time, and the dialogue that we’ve had has been very interesting. I see that they have a hardened view, an ill-nuanced view of the world, where they find people and certain views unacceptable. So anybody who has progressive views around non-Muslims, around different forms of sexuality, different forms of life, they have a very black-and-white view of the world. And I think bringing them back into this country is going to be increasingly difficult.
RT:Some people have been arrested at the border on their way to Syria - is this a good approach do you think?
MA: When we look at the incident last week and the attack on Aleppo, we had seen that the Aleppo prison has been the scene of some incredible and sickening act of violence and torture towards the inmates many of whom were political dissidents and many of them have been demonstrating as far back as 2011.
The estimates are that somewhere in the region of 150 people in Aleppo prison had been killed through torture and off vile punishments. We have heard of systematic rapes and abuses going on there committed by pro- Assad forces of that prison. For nine months the Aleppo prison has been under siege and we had seen a coalition of different forces some affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra, and some unaffiliated to them who have come together and waged an attack. And it was a British man known as Suleiman al-Britani.
But we now know this week, reports have suggested, this is a man from West Sussex here in England going by the name of Abdul Waheed Majeed, who carried out one of the key suicide attacks to break down one aspect of that prison, where approximately 300-500 prisoners have now been released.
So we have a real difficulty, which is this man, who is in his 40s, does not fit the profile of a young British jihadi who has gone to Syria to fight. We see him out there carry out an attack, a strategic attack on a target in Aleppo to try to wrestle back aspects of that see back into the fighters. We’ve seen Rami Abdul Rahman from the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights confirm the abuses that have been going on in that prison. So we see a very complex picture of what the British jihadists are taking part in in Syria.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.