Or rather, let their people go. There is a lot of excitement in the media about individuals and families setting off to Syria. . I was about to Tweet “If there are people and families who’d rather be in Syria than in Britain – why not just let them go?” Then I decided that the issue was a little too complex to be dealt with in 140 characters.
On the face of it, if people would really rather be in Syria, and at immediate risk of death from barrel-bombs or beheading, we may question their sanity, but it seems to me that their loyalties are elsewhere, and we’d be better off without them.
But other questions arise. In some cases, families take children with them. Should we not at least protect the children from the perils and privations of today’s Syria? Tough question. But I take the strong view that parents have to take responsibility for their children. Clearly in the view of reasonable people in Britain, the idea of taking a family to Syria, or indeed of going there at all, is simply crazy. But to those who want to go, presumably they see us in the West as crazy. They’re wrong, but they’re entitled to their point of view. Throughout history, and rightly or wrongly, people have made sacrifices for their country or their faith. We may think they’re mistaken, but perhaps we should respect their right to be mistaken.
Of course a more difficult question arises with young people who’ve been radicalised – groomed – on the internet, and have sought to join ISIL without parental involvement. I think there’s a parallel here with sexual grooming (and given the reported ISIL practice of allocating jihadi husbands to teenage girls who come to them, maybe it’s a very close parallel). We set an age limit. Below that age, grooming is an offence, and children are entitled to protection. Above the age limit, these young people are regarded as adults, and are able to make, and take responsibility, for their own decisions.
Any age limit in this context is a blunt instrument, and takes no account of the fact that children mature at different rates. But there seems to be no viable alternative.
Finally, there is the question of the risk to our society if these people come back as zealots and battle-hardened terrorists, determined to do us harm. But bear in mind I said “Let them go”. I did not say “Let them come back”.