Archive for the ‘PRESS’ Category

A book review for a new outlet, the Literary Review, an excellent literary magazine which asked me to review Being Young, Male and Muslim in Luton. Hopefully more of these coming and of course the topic is one that will remain of interest. Beyond this, spoke to Monocle about China at the Shangri La Dialogue and the Independent about extreme right wing terrorism in the UK.

Raffaello Pantucci

Fatwas & Fried Chicken

Being Young, Male and Muslim in Luton 

By Ashraf Hoque

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The story of Britain’s Muslim youth is largely presented in the mainstream media through narratives of extremism. This is especially true for those living in Luton, a place that is indelibly associated with violence and division on all sides. On the one hand, it is the town where the 7/7 bombers gathered before launching their attacks on London in July 2005. On the other, it is the birthplace of Tommy Robinson and the English Defence League. Ashraf Hoque’s slim book is an attempt to look beyond this narrow discourse and understand what it is that male members of Luton’s Muslim community are really thinking. 

Early on, we discover that this is not the book Hoque set out to write. Initially, he planned to research ‘the dissemination and flows of religious knowledge’ between Britain and Pakistan in order to ‘assess to what extent religious devotion and attitudes shifted or remained the same in the two contexts’. The Pakistani side of this, involving research at madrasas and seminaries, proved too dangerous, and consequently Hoque scaled back his project to encompass just Luton. This is a shame, as there has not been ample first-hand research into the links between British and Pakistani religious communities, and in particular on the extremist tendencies that sometimes tie them together.

The book draws mainly on a series of seemingly ad hoc interviews with members of Luton’s Muslim community. From his perch at an EU-funded, Salafi-run counter-radicalisation project in the city (which he calls the Minority Skills Project), Hoque moves among the city’s Muslims, guided by organisers whose credibility within the community stems from their deep religiosity and their own somewhat chequered pasts. As a result, his view is invariably affected by the Salafi window through which he is being shown things.

Luton, Hoque is told by a young Salafi Muslim called Kamal, ‘is second only to Saudi Arabia as a Mecca for the pious’. It is a place where the Muslim community appears to be comfortable with itself. Yet the city has also been home to a number of extremists, most notably Anjem Choudary and his Al-Muhajiroun movement. Hoque interviews at least one of their number, after approaching their dawa (missionary) stall in the high street. A boastful and opinionated 25-year-old named Hamed tells him, ‘People say America is the Great Satan. They’re wrong. Britain is the Greatest Satan.’

Fortunately, Hoque is able to see past this braggadocio. He speaks to others in the community who ridicule Al-Muhajiroun (and its predecessor organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir), characterising its programme of establishing a caliphate as ‘idealistic and impractical’. One of the more entertaining vignettes captures how groups of Salafis regularly visit the Al-Muhajiroun stall to argue religious doctrine with the group’s members as they attempt to spread their message among passers-by. These confrontations, we are told, regularly descend into shouting matches. The purpose on both sides, Hoque concludes, is largely to present a display of piety for the watching crowd.

The most interesting parts of the book are the superficially more pedestrian interviews with idle young Lutonites who are struggling with their mixed identities as Muslims of South Asian origin brought up in Britain. Their religious identities are heavily shaped by the cultures of their parents’ homelands – there are stories of young men and women being taught Islam at madrasas, where they are beaten for failing to answer teachers talking to them about a religion they don’t understand in a language they barely speak. Such experiences leave them more interested in the purist forms of religious expression that Salafism and similar ideologies seem to provide. As Hoque sees it, young Muslims welcome the ‘existential security of a “back to basics” doctrine of certainty’ that the revivalist Islam of Salafism offers. This, alongside the camaraderie and sense of belonging that concepts such as the Ummah (the global community of Muslims) provide, gives a tidy explanation of why such ideologies are able to capture people’s imaginations. For those disconnected from both their native and their inherited identities, a system of belief that offers clarity and a connection to an international community is welcome.

This book has a somewhat dated feel. While Hoque has gone to great lengths to make his text seem fresh, the bulk of the interviews for it were carried out between 2008 and 2010. The world of Islam in the UK has moved on quite a bit since then, and while this snapshot of Luton life is enlightening and we get some sparks of colour from Hoque’s brief pen portraits of interviewees, one has to wonder if the landscape today is quite the same as the one he describes.

While ISIS looms in the background and is mentioned a few times, what is not explored is the impact of its attempts to establish a caliphate on Al-Muhajiroun and its followers in Luton. The group has spent its entire life shouting for the establishment of a caliphate. But when ISIS came along and created one, Al-Muhajiroun’s members found that their bluff had been called. To ignore this caliphate would amount to a renunciation of their life’s work, yet to acknowledge and engage with it would be a criminal act. For those most seriously drawn to it, it would also require moving to a very dangerous place. Some headed out to the Levant anyway; others hemmed and hawed. A few, such as Choudary, were arrested and sent to jail for trying to drum up support for it. Luton’s dense fundamentalist community will have had to wrestle with these problems and dilemmas, but this story is unfortunately missing from Hoque’s book.

Britain’s Muslim community is of course not made up solely of extremists. In Hoque’s text we meet young men working to support their families, building lives in modern Britain while tied to tribal communities in South Asia and ultimately liking nothing more than chicken and chips and holidays in Ibiza. We see some of them drawn into criminal fraternities, many of which have links to tribes, and justifying selling drugs as a way of providing for their families. We see others suffering from drug dependency and meet the Salafis trying to bring them back from the brink. These are fundamentally stories of young men in modern urban environments. The book’s most valuable work is to shed light on this reality. Hoque shows us a world of people who have been parodied in the press but are for the most part ordinary citizens trying to understand how they fit into modern life.

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A new article for the South China Morning Post which seeks to offer a broader lens with which to consider the recent spate of terrorist incidents in South Asia. There is an interesting running theme of them all having global consequences, something that has now been made even more relevant by the death of Zakir Musa (AQIS head) and ISIS’s announcements of affiliates in Pakistan and India. Related to this story, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the Sri Lanka attacks.

Time for South Asia to more closely monitor regional terrorism with global reach

  • Raffaello Pantucci writes that growing regional anger must be kept from spiralling out of control and creating broader havoc
  • Recent terror attacks in Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Gwadar have worrisome implications for global security
Topic |   Pakistan

A new short piece for London’s Evening Standard this past week looking at the discussion about China that the UK seems not to be having at the moment. Rather than a nuanced discussion, it has become very polarised at the moment and seems to be going further in this direction at the moment. Going to be a hot topic for a while I suspect.

This aside, spoke to AFP about the relationship of Xinjiang to the broader Belt and Road Initiative (which was picked up in a few places) and rather randomly the Italy-Russia relationship to Sputnik. Separate to this, spoke to a few in the wake of the terrible attack in Sri Lanka, including Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, Washington Post, NPR, and the Dutch Nieuwsuur and NRCFinally, for those more visually inclined, please check out this video done for my home institute of RUSI on the Sri Lanka attack.

China is both an economic opportunity and a threat

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The hysteria around the Government’s decision on Huawei and 5G is distracting from a more mature conversation about Chinathat the UK has not yet had.

How are we to establish a manageable existence alongside a country that is becoming one of the world’s biggest economic pillars, while at the same time incarcerating Western researchers, holding vast numbers of its own population in arbitrary detention and continuing to stymie open political debate?

It is a power we want to engage with, but it threatens some of our closest allies. How we deal with this should be the discussion we are having.

There are questions around Huawei. Large Chinese companies are close to the State. Firms contain Communist Party cells, and national legislation obliges them to respond to demands from the Chinese security apparatus. 

Whether we should allow this sort of company to build parts of our telecoms infrastructure is a question best suited to those who are technically minded and understand the level of risk posed, and how (or if) it can be managed.

Yet this narrow question has overwhelmed the debate around China. You are either for Huawei or against it, in much the same way that you either want to confront China or engage with it. But this binary choice is a false one. The world is more complicated than that.

China is both an opportunity and a threat. Beijing is rising as a major power that is investing in, and developing, parts of the world we have long worried about. Having lifted millions of its own people out of poverty, it is helping countries the UK has spent billions of pounds on.

There are problems with its approaches, many of which are being aired during the current Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. But China is offering an opportunity that developing countries are also keen on. And from a UK perspective, this is a good thing. We also agree with its creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and its views on pollution and international peacekeeping.

Yet Beijing is also threatening some of our closest allies, arbitrarily jailing Western nationals and ruling its people harshly. Japan and India are Asian giants equally close to the UK that have tense border confrontations with China.

But Delhi and Tokyo are trying to balance these issues with the reality that Beijing’s growth is the major economic story in their back yard. They are often trying to find ways of both engaging and challenging Beijing at the same time.

We too must understand how we are going to manage the fact that we want China’s co-operation and support on important issues but need to be deeply concerned about others. We have to both remonstrate and work with it, in concert with our close allies.

China is complex, and our response requires an equal nuance. Having a more sophisticated national conversation would be a good place to start.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute.

Belatedly posting a piece for the Financial Times excellent Beyond BRICS blog which focuses on the reality of the Chinese relationship with Iran and Russia. More complicated than is often assumed. A topic that I would like to focus on more in the future, both in terms of the reality and complexity of China’s relations with Iran and Russia, as well as broader Eurasian geopolitics. On that particular note, please check back into the China in Central Asia website which  I am hoping to awaken soon.

Separately, spoke to the Guardian about the UK’s disengagement and desistance programme, to the BBC about the extreme right wing, to the LA Times about a Uighur fighting extradition from Turkey, to De Trouw about the role of mainstream political discourse in dragging the extreme right forwards, to AFP about ISIS (which was translated into Spanish), to the Independent about a plot that was uncovered to target Europe by some Sunday Times reporters, and finally a Press Association interview was used in the MetroDaily Star, and Al Banaba. Beyond this, my recent Observer piece was picked up and translated in digest into Spanish by El Mundo.

Russia and Iran cannot always count on China

In response to US sanctions, Beijing’s own interests come first

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at a friendly ice hockey match between Russian and Chinese youth teams in Taijin last year © Getty

Beijing is seen by some as the financial backstop that countries can call on to bail them out when they fall foul of US displeasure and face sanctions. Yet a close examination of the cases of Russia and Iran instead shows that China is reactive to US sanctions policy, to the detriment of its supposed strategic allies.

This reflects the attractiveness of the US market, the reach of extraterritorial sanctions and the independence of some Chinese institutions from Beijing’s geopolitical interests.

It also highlights the existence of fissures between powers that are often painted as members of an anti-western alliance. They may talk with the rhetoric of allies, but their relationships are more complicated. Understanding how this will play out will be key for policymakers seeking to navigate today’s dangerous waters.

At a geostrategic level, China, Russia and Iran appear to be in lockstep. Yet notwithstanding their proximity, expressed in public shows of affection between their leaders (in particular between presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin), the reality is that there are deep tensions in Beijing’s bilateral relationships with Moscow and Tehran. Nowhere are these expressed more substantially than in the economic sphere, where Russia and Iran have consistently been disappointed by the willingness of Chinese entities and institutions to invest in their countries.

Most recently, China has been hesitant in its support of Russia’s de-dollarisation policy, through a cross-border system of bilateral settlements, for fear of angering the US. The two powers failed to conclude an agreement as planned by the end of last year, with one Russian source close to the talks telling Kommersant: “From Washington’s standpoint, China’s agreement with Russia would look like it was helping Moscow evade sanctions.”

This came after reports that Moscow was ready to bet heavily on China, diversifying its foreign reserves so that 15 per cent ($67bn) were held in renminbi, leaving the Russian central bank with a quarter of the world’s renminbi holdings. This was after it had sold about $100bn of its US dollar reserves while purchasing $44bn worth of renminbi in the second quarter of 2018.

The two countries already settle 14 per cent of bilateral payments in renminbi and 7 to 8 per cent in roubles, but were seeking to increase this, and to enshrine cross-border use of the Chinese Union Pay and Russian Mir credit card systems in each other’s countries.

A similar story can be seen in Tehran, where eagerness by authorities to use Beijing to circumvent a newly hardening US sanctions policy has been met with hesitation by Chinese institutions.

This was most publicly expressed in December, when it emerged that Kunlun Bank, which is majority owned by China National Petroleum Corp, was only going to clear Iranian payments, in full compliance with US sanctions policy, until the end of April, when China’s “significant reduction exemption” for the import of Iranian oil expires. Cutting this major lifeline for the Iranian economy was believed to be the product of CNPC’s concerns about the impact of its Iranian activities on its interests in the US.

Tehran has also seen a drop in imports from China, with an analysis by Bourse & Bazaar suggesting a 70 per cent drop from October to December last year after two months of tightened US sanctions. Like Moscow, Tehran has sought to increase the volume of transactions in local currencies but its central bank does not publish the composition of its foreign reserves, so it is not clear whether this has changed.

Frustration can also be seen in the supposed benefits that Russia and Iran have sought through investments under the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s global infrastructure programme.

When Total, the French oil company, withdrew from Iran’s South Pars gasfield in response to President Donald Trump’s overturning of the agreement to lift sanctions on Iran, CNPC initially stepped forward. But it has not developed the field it at the pace Tehran had hoped, and reports this year suggested CNPC may have suspended its activities. The Financial Times has reported that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are ready to take its place.

Similarly, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, expressed concern that Chinese developers were taking their time in redesigning the Arak heavy water reactor according to the terms laid out in the 2015 nuclear deal. He attributed this to fears of US sanctions.

While it is hard to draw a straight line between US sanctions and Chinese reticence, it is also clear that Moscow does not always find Beijing a useful infrastructure partner. In reported comments in December about the Moscow-Kazan High Speed Rail (HSR) train line, Anton Siluanov, deputy prime minister and finance minister, said he did not see the line’s economic benefits and questioned its viability. The project was proposed and signed in 2015 when China was on a global HSR push, and questions always hung over its practicability (and indeed of other HSR projects around the world). Its seeming jettisoning reflects the reality that not all Chinese infrastructure projects work out, even in countries that are supposedly strategic allies of Beijing.

There are a number of explanations for these trends. First; Chinese banks, companies and other institutions may sometimes act in ways that contradict Beijing’s view, driven by specific concerns of their own. The assumption that all of China works in lockstep to advance Beijing’s geopolitical world view does not always match up with facts on the ground. It may be hard to divine whether a Chinese institution is responding to sanctions pressure, fear of losing access to the US market or some central Beijing command, but their behaviour does not always match policy declarations.

Second, Chinese institutions drive hard bargains. In the context of Iran and Russia, China is the funder and their local counterparts the supplicants. This puts Chinese institutions in the driving seat — something they are aware of and will exploit. Commenting on Beijing’s reticence to sign a bilateral memorandum with Moscow, one source told Kommersant that in addition to concerns about the US, “China needs time to tweak the final document more to its benefit”.

Third, countries like Iran and Russia are fearful of becoming overly dependent on Beijing. They realise that opening too much to China risks flooding local markets and potentially curtailing their own development.

In Tehran, the government has gone further, with reports of authorities advising against buying Chinese goods because it amounted to “exporting jobs”.

It is clear that China’s alliance with Russia and Iran is more complicated than sometimes realised. It is also clear that US sanctions continue to have a deterrent effect on Chinese institutions.

Yet it is hard to project such complications into the future. While Beijing may have tensions with Moscow and Tehran, the three continue to be willing to support each other at a geopolitical level. If the aggression with which US economic sanctions are employed continues, alternative global economic structures will develop.

Their beginnings are already visible. Moscow is taking the firmest steps in this direction through its de-dollarisation policy. Tehran may find itself obliged to follow if it is unable to find a way out of its current impasse.

While it is clear that US sanctions may have an effect on their economies, it is not clear that they are generating the change in behaviour that Washington desires. In this context, Beijing will sense an opportunity.

This article has been modified since publication to correct the statement on Iran’s imports from China, previously stated as exports to China.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi)

Second up this evening, a new piece for the Observer, this time in the wake of the atrocity in Christchurch, New Zealand. Draws on earlier work on the extreme right wing in the UK, though admittedly my work on the XRW has tended to look more at it through the lens of lone actor terrorism. Am sure the topic will rise as one of attention, as it has been for some time.

This aside, spoke to the Financial Times after a letter bombing campaign which appears to have been linked to Irish related terrorism, to Geo TV about the Pakistan-India clash, to the Financial Times again after the Christchurch attack (reproduced in the Irish Times), and my earlier Telegraph piece on Hamza bin Laden was reproduced in the Irish Independent. Also, did a longer interview with the BBC World Service’s excellent BBC NewsHour Programme on the massacre in Christchurch.

The Extreme Right Was Once a Loose Group of Loners. Not Any More

The pattern has changed and must not be ignored

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Christchurch has turned everyone’s attention to the phenomenon of extreme rightwing terrorism. But it is an alarm bell that authorities in the UK have been ringing for some time, having seen an ascendant extreme-right threat. Our collective attention, when thinking about terrorism, may be dominated by Isis, but given the rich vein of references to the UK in Brenton Tarrant’s screed, there are clearly other concerns to which we should pay attention.

Around the turn of the century and during the early noughties, the extreme-right threat in the UK tended to consist of a ragbag of isolated loners. For the most part middle-aged white men, they tended to be discovered by chance – violent characters with spotty employment histories, a few of them picked up as a result of investigations into online paedophilia. Some particularly shambolic cases, such as that of Neil Lewington, were uncovered by accident. Lewington was arrested by British Transport police after urinating on a train platform in 2008. Subsequent investigations uncovered an aspirant one-man terror campaign, planning pipe-bomb attacks and gathering Nazi memorabilia.

This pattern has now changed. An early indicator was Pavlo Lapshyn’s terror campaign in the West Midlands in 2013. Arriving from Ukraine on a scholarship, he immediately launched an attack on the Muslim community, starting by killing elderly Mohammed Saleem in a murder that baffled police. He then started building bombs of escalating potency that he left outside mosques in the West Midlands.

Fortunately, while Lapshyn was an expert bomb-maker, he got his timings wrong and all three of his devices failed to kill anyone. When police caught him they discovered that he had a history of bomb-making back home in Ukraine and was deeply embedded in online extremist communities.

The case marked a worrying evolution. Here was a well-organised young man with capability and ideology. The fact that he was from another part of Europe showed the potential for extreme ideologies to spread across the continent. He also reflected broader links between extreme rightwing communities in the UK and continental allies.

The threat in the UK became even more pronounced with the emergence of National Action. Part political action group, part online community, part terrorist group, NA brought together a cluster of angry men around a xenophobic ideology focused on committing acts of terror and fighting back against a society they believed had been overrun. In contrast to earlier iterations of the extreme right in the UK, National Action’s members were mostly younger men.

There is a distinct trajectory here: from disorganised loners to semi-structured networks, and ideologies that are no longer isolated in national geographies, but speak to global communities who feel left out. A narrative is developing of an ascendant extreme right that is becoming more organised on our shores and has links abroad.

More disturbing is the degree to which we can see evidence that these ideas have originated in our country. Prominent among Tarrant’s ramblings are references to British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. We have a sad history of intolerance in our public discourse, and its mainstreaming in an increasingly febrile public forum creates a context for violent extremists to believe the time for action is now. We have already witnessed the murder of Jo Cox, and Darren Osborne’s attack on Finsbury Park mosque. It is essential to clamp down on it before it tears further at society’s fragile fabric.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute

Another piece for the Telegraph, this time a short analysis piece to go alongside their all page coverage on the announcement of the bounty on Hamza bin Laden’s head. The title does not totally reflect the rest of the text, but there we go.

Separately, spoke to the Daily Mail about Shamina Begum, to the Independent about the practice of stripping passports, to the Scottish Sunday Post about ISIS not going away, and then again to the Independent about what to do with returnees. On the other side of the coin, spoke to the Globe and Mail about what the UK was going to do about Huawei and 5G, to TRT World about China in Afghanistan, Live Mint quoted me about China in South Asia, and finally, I did a long conversation for the wonderful Majilis Podcast with an excellent panel including Muhammad Tahir, Bruce Pannier, and Nadege Rolland – the full podcast can be found here, and the Diplomat subsequently did a write up of the conversation.

Analysis: Can Hamza Bin Laden reinvigorate al-Qaeda as Islamic State falls back?

By 

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We have a remarkably myopic view of terrorist organisations. If they are not on our news channels, the assumption is that they have gone away.

Yet, the reality is that these are organizations that are locked into struggles that they see on millenarian timelines in advance of God’s greater glory.

This is important to remember when thinking about the announcement of a bounty on Hamza bin Laden’s head.

Al-Qaeda as an organisation has not gone away, rather it has of late seemingly chosen to re-focus on fighting what it would describe as the ‘near enemy’ of regimes in the Middle East, rather than the ‘far enemy’ in the West who they see as supporting these apostate leaders in their neighbourhood.

The decision to place a $1 million bounty on his head now is something which more a product of our decision cycle than theirs.

Why this is happening now is difficult to divine without deeper insights into the US government’s decision-making processes.

It is possible that some information has emerged of him moving into a location where such a sum of money would make a difference in someone’s thinking.

It is also possible that this is part of a specific push around him – two days ago the UN added him to its proscribed list, and the Saudi government has now stripped him of his citizenship.

As we start to move away from worrying about Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), it could be a good moment to remind the world of someone identified by the UN “as the most probable successor of [current al-Qaeda leader] al-Zawahiri”.

Now in his late 20s, al-Qaeda seems to have decided it is an opportune moment to elevate Hamza’s profile within the organisation.

A fresh face to counter al-Qaeda’s aging Egyptian head Ayman al Zawahiri, Hamza offers a link to the group’s golden era, and a leader whose stature is still held in veneration around the world.

While yet to prove himself as a leader, Hamza can help refresh the organization through messaging that is shorn of the in-fighting that plagued al-Qaeda during the early years of the Syrian conflict when it fell out dramatically with Isil.

The bounty on his head will no doubt to some degree confirm his elevation amongst those interested in such ideologies – though it is worth noting that $1 million is a fairly paltry sum when put up against the $25 million that is on offer for al Qeada’s leader Ayman al Zawahiri or Isil leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

In fact, look at the US government’s rewards for justice page, and Hamza bin Laden sits firmly at the bottom in a group all of his own.

He has in fact done little to elevate himself to his father’s stature yet, though clearly has aspiration and ambition in that direction.

 

And finally in my catch-up blast, my latest piece this time for the Telegraph this past week after the revelation of Shamina Begum’s discovery in a camp in Syria. The story sparked off a wave of media attention on the topic of jihadi’s abroad. Likely a keen desire by the UK press to get away from the dreaded Brexit story.

Aside from this blast of articles, spoke to the Independent about a child who was questioned by counter-terrorism police, the Washington Post re-used an old interview about what happens when terrorist leaders are killed, spoke to Bloomberg about what was going on in Xinjiang, and in a definite break from ordinary service spoke to AFP about tourism in the Philippines. Finally my below piece for the Telegraph got picked up in AFP’s coverage of the debate around Shamina Begum in the UK and was translated into French and Spanish.

Don’t underestimate the role of female jiahdis like Shamina Begum

British teenagers Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum passing through security barriers at Gatwick Airport, south of London, on February 17, 2015. 

We have a dangerous habit of playing down the importance of women in extremist networks. Common prejudices about the ‘fairer sex’ often lead us to assume a passive role. Yet in reality, women are just as engaged as their male counterparts – if not more so. Our assumptions simply support a narrative that removes agency from them.

These facts should be acknowledged when we are deciding what to do with Shamima Begum, a young woman who has made a series of terrible choices but must also be dealt with in a just and transparent manner.

The conflict in Syria has thrown up innumerable questions for our society – chief among them, what to do with the cadre of young Britons initially drawn to fight alongside Isil, who now find themselves detained or lingering in refugee camps as the terrorist group dissolves. The government has so far given little indication or guidance on how to deal with such individuals. Although work is being done in some cases, overall, our strategy seem to be waiting to see how things play out, or else hoping someone else will deal with the problem.

As individual cases emerge, so do new moral conundrums. It is easy to make sweeping statements when we think of the group as an anonymous bloc of people. Yet, when we dig into individual examples, the complexity of the human experience comes to the fore. Each case merits a potentially different response.

Shamima Begum, for example, presents a contradictory narrative. A young woman who first went to Syria as a schoolgirl with two of her friends, she is now a 19-year-old who has married a fighter, buried two children, with a third on the way. Initially viewed as a naïf who was groomed or coerced into the process, she has, it seems, evolved into an unrepentant young ideologue. The truth is probably even more complex.

We have historically underestimated the role of women in extremist networks. Yet looking back on the London 7/7 bombings now, the most infamous and enduring figure remains Samantha Lewthwaite, the notorious ‘White Widow’ who was married to one of the bombers and went on to become a significant figure in East African jihadist networks. Her celebrity spiked during the 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya, and her ultimate whereabouts have never been determined, though she remains one of the world’s most wanted terror suspects. Other women from the same network, in contrast, have returned to ordinary lives.

Throughout the history of jihad in Britain, women can be found in the background of networks and cells, supporting their men ideologically, in some cases quite clearly instigating their actions. Yet the overriding view remains that women have little agency in this process. This blind spot can partly be explained by a general failure to understand what draws people to these groups. We can broadly comprehend the male impulse to be involved in ‘exciting’ violent activity but often ignore the fact that these ideas can be as attractive to women as men. And, of course, women have made as much of a choice to be involved. Many will consider joining these groups a form of empowerment.

Samantha Louise Lewthwaite, also known as the White Widow, is one of the world's most wanted terrorism suspects

In fact, the reason so many more women were involved with Isil in Syria is a product of the more coherent and credible state-building narrative that Isil was able to project, alongside the much greater ease with which people could access this battlefield compared to previous conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia or Yemen.

But all of this is now muddled by the example before us. The already tricky case of a young woman who joined Isil as a minor is further complicated by the presence of an unborn child. The degree to which we need to offer punishment over rehabilitation is mitigated by her age. And while she has clearly done wrong, at present it will prove near-impossible to implement a proper judicial process.

There are no obvious solutions to this emerging problem, but through it all we should remember that Shamina Begum made a conscious decision to join a group responsible for untold misery in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the world. While this should not necessarily condemn her to perpetual limbo, it does mean she should face punishment for her involvement in these crimes. Our priority must now be to establish what that process will look like.