Kathy Sheridan: Lisa Smith must answer for any actions that helped Islamic State

Group’s atrocities already notorious when ex-soldier travelled to Syria

Lisa Smith, two to the right from then taoiseach Bertie Ahern, in 2008, when she was a member of the Defence Forces. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Lisa Smith, two to the right from then taoiseach Bertie Ahern, in 2008, when she was a member of the Defence Forces. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The notion that anyone who travelled to join Islamic State back in 2014 and 2015 in blind ignorance of the group’s atrocities is incredible.

At that stage, Islamic State was already reviled around the world. Slick propaganda footage featuring flying columns of pumped-up fighters waving assault rifles and black flags had become mainstream viewing. Silly English teenagers headed off, their heads turned by indoctrination and the anticipation of eager jihadi grooms. Lisa Smith, by contrast, was in her 30s and a trained soldier when she landed in 2014 or 2015 wanting – as she told ITV – to “live in Muslim country . . . no music, no smoking, no fighting, no drinking, no prostitution . . . you want a clean life like this”.

Is it possible they had no inkling of what this “clean life” ideology, this conviction of their superiority over all others, had already cost?

On a blood-soaked riverbank, prisoners are efficiently lined up and shot in the head before toppling into the water

To create its brave new caliphate, Islamic State had already carried out ethnic cleansing and mass murder of religious minority groups on a historic scale. In the Sinjar massacre in August 2014, Yazidi men were shot and dumped in mass graves while the women and girls, some only children, were taken to be sold in Islamic State slave markets, bid for in lotteries and passed from fighter to fighter to be raped and brutalised. “Beating was the gentlest thing he did to me,” a 15-year-old girl told a reporter. Mass graves were uncovered of Yazidi women deemed too old for the sex slave market.

We knew this because it was widely publicised.

Extreme violence

In July that year, a 36-minute Islamic State video message titled Upon the Prophetic Methodology appeared online. Opening with a rant from its driving force, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, it was mainly a vehicle for a lovingly edited orgy of extreme violence, clearly showing Islamic State fighters machine-gunning people, cars and buses, and striding past trails of identifiable corpses. Human figures are tracked in snipers’ crosshairs, in slow motion, and shot dead before our eyes. A camera follows truckloads of young captives and lingers on them as they are herded to a field and made to lie down where Islamic State killers pump bullets into them.

On a blood-soaked riverbank, prisoners are efficiently lined up and shot in the head before toppling into the water. All the action is accompanied by a soundtrack of Arabic a capella chants sung by male voices, and the roar of gunfire, explosions and the squeal of Islamic State trucks racing away from murder scenes with the requisite bellows of Allahu Akbar.

This was just one of a regular drop of official Islamic State videos, primary propaganda material most likely viewed by all those preparing to travel.

Obscene beheading videos released in 2014 included the graphic butchery of American journalist James Foley as well as British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.

In September that year, an official Islamic State spokesman urged global supporters to kill Canadians, Americans, Australians, French and other Europeans.

Then taoiseach Bertie Ahern before boarding the Government Jet at Casement Aerodrome in April 2008 with Lisa Smith on the extreme right. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
Then taoiseach Bertie Ahern before boarding the Government Jet at Casement Aerodrome in April 2008 with Lisa Smith on the extreme right. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

This is the cause for which western women crossed continents to serve as wives producing as many children as possible, as propagandists, as slave owners, as recruiters, as members of the loathsome morality police, and, towards the end, as protectors keeping militants alive who might otherwise have been forced out of hiding. Even without going into combat, these women were vital to the existence of Islamic State.

A retired Irish brigadier general asserts that although Smith had training to maintain and fire a weapon, Islamic State would have had “no use whatever” for her on the battlefield due to her gender. That belief is outdated.

It must never be forgotten that these women volunteered as vital cogs in a barbaric, profoundly misogynistic murder machine

In 2017, combatants in black abayas and niqabs were spotted preparing to fire a rocket-propelled grenade by a visiting Harvard fellow then embedded with Iraqi forces in Mosul. Desperation had kicked in. As it lost power and territory in the past 18 months or so, Islamic State has “quietly shifted from insistence on a strict gender hierarchy to allowing, even celebrating, female participation in military roles”, Vera Mironova wrote in the New York Times.

‘Chaste mujahid’

In January 2018, a video entitled Inside the Khilafah 7 produced by Islamic State’s official al-Hayat media centre featured footage of fighters in women’s garb in eastern Syria. The narrator described them as “chaste mujahid” women “journeying to [their] Lord with the garments of purity and faith, seeking revenge for [their] religion and for the honour of [their] sisters imprisoned by the apostate Kurds”.

In other words, Islamic State had most certainly lifted the embargo on female battlefield fighters. We don’t know if Smith was one of them but some of these women are now seeking to return to the West claiming to have been simple housewives who had made a mistake. As citizens they must be allowed to return. But in the memory of the brutalised and murdered Yazidi people, the Assyrian Christians, the many, many non-compliant or non-Sunni Muslims and all those butchered by Islamic State-inspired killers in the West, it must never be forgotten that these women volunteered as vital cogs in a barbaric, profoundly misogynistic murder machine.

That fact alone should be evidence. By all means, let them help us to glean information about the process of radicalisation to prevent other young people following their lead. It is the least they should do. But they must also answer for their actions.

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