Dutch academics contemplate what to do with IS Returnees

An ISIS fighter in Iraq. The Netherlands joins the rest of Europe pondering the question: what to do with returning fighters? (Photo: AP)
An ISIS fighter in Iraq. The Netherlands joins the rest of Europe pondering the question: what to do with returning fighters? (Photo: Reuters)

Manuele Kalsky and Wim van Vlastuin about the question: ‘what to do with returnees from Syria?’ According to Kalsky it is ‘not done’ to question WHY youth from the Netherlands leave for Syria; condemning them is all you seem allowed to do. To her this a moral failure from society. The possible solutions that are being mentioned are harsh: punish them and maybe take their nationality. But: a violence response only leads to more violence. Kalsky says that a violence response is a sign of weakness that has characterized the society since 9/11.

She further says that we forget our tradition of openness, tolerance and hospitality – formed by Humanism the Enlightment and Christianity. Is ‘loving your enemies’ a sign of weakness or wisdom? – she questions.

Referring to both returnees from Syria and the Bible she mentions the story of the ‘lost son’, wherein the father celebrate his return, even though other family members don’t comprehend. This is the attitude society should have when someone returns from Syria: don’t outcast such a person, try to understand them.

Everyone deserves a second chance, although everyone is also responsible for his own deeds. If you deserve punishment, you should be punished. But a punishment that changes behavior is most desirable, for example directed at de-radicalization.
According to Wim van Vlastuin forgiveness only makes sense when someone shows repentance. Mercy and forgiveness should be part of a basic attitude towards returnees, but those should not be misunderstood: people might deserve legal punishment for the cruelties they might have committed. A trajectory could end with a ‘statement of repentance’ and someone who truly repents, shall carry his punishment.

Van Vlastuin thinks that a primary reaction towards returnees indeed would be a harsh one, but the problem is a lot more complex. And mercy and justice go ‘hand in hand’. Forgiveness is a central concept in Christianity: it opens the possibility for taking a new stance or position. Without forgiveness and repentance, a negative attitude is all you are left with.