Rory Stewart, a government minister, said something on the radio last week that made people sit up and take notice. He said that in nearly all cases it would be best if former ISIS fighters from Syria were killed. The minister said: “These people are a serious danger to us, and unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.” At the same time, Max Hill QC, who advises the government on such matters, says that former ISIS fighters should be reintegrated into society.
Rather a lot of people, judging by social media reactions, and several comment pieces in the papers, sided with Mr Stewart rather than Mr Hill. But there are several things here that are not quite clear.
First of all, if former ISIS fighters are to be killed, just who is to kill them, and how are they going to ensure that they are killing the ‘right’ people? There is a real danger in Mr Stewart’s words being taken as encouraging an unbridled massacre of all men of fighting age who have been captured in areas formerly held by ISIS.
But the fact remains that there is a real danger of ISIS fighters coming back to the UK and other countries and creating trouble. Such people are not to be trusted, and should by no means be forgiven for the crimes that ISIS has committed, in so far as they were complicit in them, either actively or passively.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to form a special war crimes tribunal to process returnees, akin to the war crimes tribunal that tried (with limited success) to ensure the denazification of Europe after the Second World War. That would take time, effort and above all money. Any such tribunal could have a “truth and reconciliation” strand to it, which might lead, eventually, to the reintegration of offenders. And to understand the truth about ISIS would be to the benefit of us all.
Needless to say, though it is worrying that it should need to be said, strict legality needs to be followed. Extrajudicial killings are never to be allowed. That is ISIS’s way, something which we are against. To allow extrajudicial killings (though this may not be what Mr Stewart meant) would be to undermine the rule of law, which is the basis of our civilisation.
But of course, there is another way, and that is simply not to allow former ISIS fighters to return. Let them stay where they are, and let the Syrians and Iraqis deal with them. That would not be a pleasant prospect for them, which is why, one suspects, former ISIS fighters are desperate to return to comfortable and peaceful Britain. But, and this is a serious question, in what way are former ISIS fighters entitled to return to Britain? In consorting with the enemies of this country, have they not forfeited all rights to British citizenship? Surely the British government would be entirely right in depriving them of their British citizenship and denying them entry into Britain, as well as denying them all consular assistance?
The assumption by ISIS fighters that they have a right to return to Britain counts as breath-taking chutzpah. They freely chose to go to the Caliphate. In so doing they effectively renounced all allegiance to Britain. Citizens have rights, but these rights are related to their duties as citizens. When one renounces one’s duties, one surely loses one’s rights. (Of course, this would not apply to the children who were taken to the Caliphate by their parents. They represent a very difficult case.)
Mr Stewart’s remarks have at least served to raise some important questions, and give us all an opportunity to remember that rights are dependant on duties, and that crimes, such as those committed by ISIS, must be dealt with.