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August 18, 2015



Parenting terror

With Britain exporting young jihadis to front lines all over the world, TV viewers in the UK have become used to seeing the parents of these young men and women appear on their screens. It generally occurs when journalists, using social media and other sources, manage to name a young Brit who has either killed himself in a suicide attack or gone to Syria to join Islamic State. Inevitably the parents are then asked to comment.
Many of the parents seem to be in denial. It is simply not possible, they say, that their child carried out the act they are accused of. Even in the face of indisputable evidence, they simply repeat the forlorn idea that, surely, there must be some mistake.
Take, for example, Mahmood Husain, the father of Hasib Hussain, the youngest of the 7/7 bombers who together killed 52 people on the London underground system in 2005. Even after the release of CCTV pictures showing his son and the other three attackers with their bomb laden rucksacks on their backs, he denied it: “no-one has shown me any evidence that he did it,” he told the BBC.
It was much the same with Omar Saeed Sheikh who was convicted in the kidnapping and beheading of Daniel Pearl in 2002. His father, Saeed Sheikh, a clothes retailer in East London, insisted that his son was a caring human being. In relation to his son’s previous offences, which included the 1994 kidnapping of three Britons and an American in India, Saeed Sheikh said his son was: “tried and acquitted of everything…there is no case of abduction; it’s all propaganda”. So he denied not just his son’s involvement but even the crime itself.
More recently the father of Mohamed Emwazi otherwise known as the IS executioner ‘Jihadi John’ had a similar reaction. “There is nothing that proves what is being circulated in the media, especially through video clips and footage, that the accused is my son Mohammed”, he said.
As Islamist violence has become ever more widespread some parents

have started giving a different response. Their child might have been responsible, they say, but the family had no idea that he or she was even thinking along these lines. The whole thing, they typically say, has come as a total shock.
Earlier this year, for example, the family of Talha Asmal, Britain’s youngest suicide bomber, accepted that he had indeed done what he was accused of. However, they said in a family statement that: “Talha was a loving, kind, caring and affable teenager. He never harboured any ill will against anybody nor did he ever exhibit any violent, extreme or radical views of any kind.” Not denial then but it seems Talha Asmal’s family was missing some rather important developments in his character and thinking.
The case of three British schoolgirls, Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, who went to Syria in February, highlights another point about these reactions: the families seem reluctant to accept any responsibility for what happened. For example Halima Khanon, Sultana’s sister, told the BBC that if the family had known about an investigation into the radicalisation of one of Sultan’s schoolmates, the family would have “taken precautions” and prevented the girls gong to Syria. There was no suggestion that they should have taken precautions anyway, on their own initiative.
Of course allowance must be made for the fact that these families are grieving for their lost children. Confused, shocked and unused to handling the media, they find themselves in a terrible situation. But as the number of cases increases it is increasingly difficult to accept some of the statements the relatives make without raising some questions.
All parents know that their children face dangers. For many British mothers and fathers the greatest fears are probably that their child could be killed in a car accident or take a drug overdose. Back in the 1970s many parents tried to limit such dangers by placing physical restrictions on their children. Today most think it is better to educate their offspring in the hope that they will make good decisions for themselves.
With hundreds of terrorism convictions now having gone through the UK courts, British Muslim families must surely be aware that their children face the risk of being radicalised. And yet many seem to find it a very difficult issue to confront. Perhaps, religion is such a central part of their lives that it is all but impossible for them to see that as a potential source of problems.
Pious children are seen as more virtuous than vulnerable. But it is now clear that allowing British Muslim children to mix freely with charismatic local influencers and to roam the internet unchecked is putting them – and, for that matter, many other people – at risk. Many British Pakistanis are shocked that other British parents could let their daughters out of sight long enough for them to be sexually abused. But many of those other Brits are equally shocked that Pakistani families could be paying so little attention that their youngsters become prey to radical Islamist recruiters.
The perils are now so obvious that parents must surely start to act. The remedy seems pretty obvious. Find out who your children are mixing with, switch off the router and encourage open discussion. No doubt such actions will provoke adolescent tantrums. But as too many families are finding out, there are worse things than that.
The writer is a freelance British journalist, one of the hosts of BBC’s Newshour and the author of the new political thriller, Target Britain.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @OwenBennettJone