Sophie’s Choice is a 1982 film (starring Meryl Streep in the title role) of a woman sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz who is forced by a sadistic doctor to make a terrible choice: she can save only one of her two children and must choose. One will live and the other will die, presumably in a ‘medical’ experiment. In the end she elects to keep her son and soldiers take her daughter away, leaving Sophie predictably distraught. The term ‘Sophie’s choice’ has since entered our language as a phrase referring to an impossible choice, a no-win situation or the need to decide between two impossibly difficult options.
It turns out that a Sophie’s choice of sorts is unfolding among imprisoned jihadis in Syria and Iraq. Several hundred French women and children are in limbo in those countries. The women traveled to join IS, or followed (were coerced by?) their husbands to do so. Some of the kids were dragged along, while others were born in the so-called ‘Caliphate’. Many are in prison or in camps where the conditions are abysmal. They want to come home: France does not want them. If they are allowed to return, it is the children who will travel: the mothers will have to stay behind. Hence the Sophie’s choice.
Is this right? Maybe. Probably.
Let’s back up first. The women traveled to Syria or Iraq to join a known terrorist group. We need to stop all this crap about “I just went to help Muslims”. Traveling to join a terrorist group is an offence in most countries. These women are guilty of at least that. Their lawyers and human rights advocates continue to maintain that they did not play ‘a combat or active role with IS’ – how do they know that by the way? In any event support for a terrorist group that rapes and kills and maims is not much better than carrying out these acts yourself. So no, I do not feel sorry for the moms. They made their terrorist beds and it is time to lie in them.
But what about the kids? Surely an infant is not a terrorist? No, she or he is not (it is a completely different issue with a 12-year old – that child needs counselling and help, although it may be too late and that person may already constitute a threat to public safety). These kids need to be removed from the environment in which they are currently located – and removed from their mothers.
What? Am I advocating the forceful abduction of young children from their birth mothers? Yes, I am, for their protection and well-being. A woman who willingly traveled to Syria and Iraq to join a terrorist group and took her kids with her (or had them in a war zone) is clearly an unfit mother. The state has the right to take children out of a dangerous situation – physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, the inability of the parent(s) to provide for the basic necessities of life, etc. – and I see little difference in these cases. These moms are, to put it simply, not good moms.
Then there is the whole issue of radicalisation. During my career I saw several instances of mothers – yes mothers! – who were playing an active role in the radicalisation of their children to violent Islamist extremism. Are we ok with that? Several years ago a Winnipeg couple lost custody of their kids because they were neo-Nazis and sending them to school with swastikas on their arms. Does anyone think the state acted inappropriately? I don’t. Is raising a child in a jihadi home any different? I don’t think so.
These women made lousy choices and there have to be serious consequences for lousy choices. While I recognise that taking away your child has to be the absolute last resort and used in extraordinary circumstances these strike me as those circumstances. These kids deserve a normal life, one away from a war zone, one in which they are not living amongst terrorists.
As for the mothers? They made their choices. It is time for them to live with them.