Friday, February 20, 2015

responding to IS recruitment in the US


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 20, 2015


                This morning I listened to this morning’s “Allsides” interview program at  It was stressed that only 12 young people in the US have gone to Syria.  At the same time, one interviewee stressed the need to report young people who were reading IS messages for early intervention, declared prosecution and punishment for those who return, declaring these offenders to be a potential source of intelligence on the IS, while agreeing with his counterpart that recruits in the US would never be allowed access to significant military information.  The other interviewee, to his credit, pointed to the Danish response to “returning jihadists” as described, for instance, at , which reads in part:

The Danes are treating their returned jihadists as rebellious teenagers rather than hostile ­soldiers beyond redemption. “Jihadists have chosen a path that’s not OK, but the key in the Aarhus model is recognising that these people are not that different from the rest of us,” reports Bertelsen, who now counsels a number of returned fighters. “We’re not stigmatising them or excluding them. Instead, we tell them that we can help them get an education, get a job, ­re-enter society.” Counsellors tell the jihadists that it’s OK to become politically or religiously radicalised, but that using violence is not.

                It shouldn’t take much of a social worker’s time at some level to meet the individual needs and interests of the few young US citizens returning from the Islamic State.  They could for instance be put in the care of religious and national service groups as they returned home.  Instead, we promise punishment, like the French, from whence the recent jihadists had come…for such a small threat.

                “Threat intervention” is the bigger problem.  When I heard the one interviewee propose that parents turn in the child who visits IS on the internet, I was taken back to the Red Scare I lived in in Central Ohio in 1959, when as a 14-year-old I assembled a shortwave radio from a Knight kit.  I went straight to Radio Moscow broadcasts, even as I heard how the Russians were trying to block our transmissions, because they were afraid of free speech…how un-American.

                In today’s climate of threat and surveillance, I myself avoid looking at IS sites to avoid the hassle, but I am curious to know people there as they would be known themselves.  (I’m no more interested in watching beheadings than I am in witnessing any execution anywhere, my home state included.)  I would welcome a climate now, as I sought during the Cold War, where IS news could be open to free reading and sharing.  Now there are calls for Muslim community centers to educate youth about the reality of life in the IS, and to point out violent realities and invite critical discussion.  Discussion about how they see us, placed beside what we see in them.  Not only Muslim community centers.  As between parents and children.  In religious settings and education at all levels.  So that we would no longer have to be afraid of listening to people in the IS, who have been there, and who have considered or tried going there speak openly.  Instead, we fear most what our children might see and speak about, that which we dare not know for ourselves.   We dare not consort with the enemy we will not let ourselves get to know.  We insist on remaining our own war propagandists, at the expense, as always, of the free flow of information we claim to represent, and the peace that can only be made there.  Love and peace, hal

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