Op-ed - Alexandra

On Wednesday, Quilliam held its official launch of the report ‘Children of Islamic State’ at Parliament. The panel included Noman Benotman and Nikita Malik from Quilliam, as well as
Shelly Whitman from the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, with Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis, Chair of the Defence Select Committee, as chair.

This event, which began at 3pm, was held at the House of Commons, and was attended by around one hundred people, representing many different global organisations. The panel discussed the main issues raised by the report, the historical basis for the children living under Islamic State rule and how the international and national communities can come together in order to create a comprehensive programme to reintegrate and rehabilitate these children.

“Children should be at the top of our priority list, but they are currently at the bottom. If we can change this narrative, we could go a long way in preventing conflict” said Shelly Whitman.

This report, which has been endorsed by the UN, is the first of its kind. It reveals the reality of the lives of children in the Islamic State, and is comprised of a thorough analysis of 254 pieces of propaganda released by the Islamic State involving children. Nikita Malik discussed the findings of this analysis, and highlighted how it found that 38 percent of Islamic State media relates to violence. This is the area of most concern, as it demonstrates how these children are being desensitized through watching public executions, watching Islamic State videos in media centers and through being given toy weapons to play with.

RT Hon Dr Julian Lewis captured the room’s attention at the opening of the panel by addressing the issue of children used for violent ends.

“Youngsters who should be playing with toys are hacking at the heads of prisoners”, he said.

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Furthermore, the way in which children are indoctrinated into the Islamic State’s distorted ideology is explored in the report. This process involves multiple actors, including teachers, parents and even other kids. Nikita Malik emphasized that children’s minds are blank slates onto which any ideas no matter how brutal can be transferred, and so the early stages of their lives are when they are at their most impressionable. Mothers are a key instrument in passing on ideas to children through storytelling and storybooks. They teach their children about morality and what is right and what is wrong, all according to Islamic State guidelines.

However, the report highlights that although what we are currently seeing in the Islamic State is shocking, it isn’t new. What they are doing with the children has a historical foundation; the infrastructure shows parallels to other youth groups such as the Hitler Youth and Saddam’s Lion Cubs.

This means that the tools needed in order to provide specific policy recommendations do in fact exist. By using our knowledge of the past and combining it with what we know about the current conflict, it is possible to develop reintegration and rehabilitation programmes for the children who will inevitably one day emerge from the Islamic State.

These programmes will have to involve multiple local actors within a community, in order to ensure the sustained reintegration of children. They will have to be value based, and provide theological support as well as health care to address all of the psychological and physical trauma that the child may have suffered. Every case is different, and so each individual will require one-to-one mentoring in order to devise a unique programme which suits their needs.

“Our report is just an attempt to open conversation about the inevitable” said Nikita Malik.

In order to develop these programmes, international and national communities will have to accept they are not prepared, Dr Shelly Whitman said. More events are needed to raise awareness and promote discussion around the world. The more actors who participate in not only creating reintegration and reeducation programmes, but also preventative programmes for families who are at risk of bringing their children to the Islamic State, the more positive impact the programmes can generate. This issue must be addressed today, not tomorrow, Dr. Whitman said.

“The longer we wait to deal with the hard decisions, the more children will be hardened by the war”, she added.

To conclude the discussion, Noman Benotman noted that if we want to do something about it, we need to be practical, in order to “save a lost generation”.

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