In October 2013, five young men fled the UK to go to Syria to fight for the Islamic State. The boys were recruited online through manipulative use of social media and well-produced recruitment videos. They were caught on CCTV whilst boarding a flight to Turkey on the onward route into Syria, where they planned to fight for ISIS.
Not one returned, as they were killed in fighting and captivity. Each of the boys was a son, a grandson, a brother, a member of their community.
JAN Trust understands that this is a real issue that affects real communities. It affects real families. That is why we work with Muslim mothers, holding regular workshops to prevent radicalisation through our Web Guardians© programme. We are half way through our programme with this group of women, where we have worked to equip them with the skills to detect the early signs of radicalisation in their families and communities and to empower them to act for change.
The critical nature of this work was drawn sharply to our attention by one of the women in the room, who bravely told us her story. In her native Bengali, she recounted her own proximity to extremism and to the group of boys who fled for Syria.
“My grandson, he was one. He was 24.”
Through tears, she told us how her young grandson had left the UK to join ISIS. He had told the family that he was going for a job interview in order to obtain a passport. She told us how they had felt pleased, happy that their son would finally break free from the unemployment trap so widespread today.
They assumed his rapid behavioural changes were good things. He started attending religious meetings, showing more interest in Islam, dressing piously, staying up late at night and spending hours online. Much of this new devotion was hidden from his family, and he changed his group of friends. In actuality he was being brainwashed indoctrinated into an extremist mind-set. The family only discovered what this meant when one day, he left for Syria. Five families were destroyed. This grandmother spoke of the shame faced by her family in the aftermath, and the fear instilled in the community.
In a steadier voice, the grandmother then spoke up about how important it was to not shy away from this sad reality; “I don’t want to hide from it. You can prevent it from happening; we need to talk about it.” JAN Trust’s Web Guardians© programme is an innovative way of working in communities like this, where families are being directly affected by extremism, and areas are losing their young people to ISIS. As one of the mothers told us, Web Guardians© is needed “to protect our children”.