The UK has taken the unusual step of preventing two teenagers from East London from leaving the country—for fear they will travel to Syria to join ISIL. The girls, aged 15 and 16, had their passports seized and were made wards of the court—a rarely-used ancient feudal right that gives judges the ultimate responsibility for their decision-making—on the grounds that their own parents weren’t telling the whole truth about their daughters’ interest in jihad.
It is no secret that Britain has a radicalization problem among its Muslim youth. Last month, three teenage girls from East London managed to get on a plane to Istanbul and are now believed to be in Syria—lured by Aqsa Mahmood, who left Glasgow to marry a jihadist in Syria in 2013 and who was in contact with one of the girls through Twitter. Even Prince Charles is worried about the growing number of extremists amongst his young subjects.
Britons are also at the center of some of ISIL’s most gruesome acts. The man known as “Jihadi John” in the infamous hostage execution videos was identified as Mohammed Emwaz, from West London. He is a part of the “Beatles” of four British jihadists—including a former rapper—known for their cruelty, even by ISIL’s standards.
Britain could have thousands of its citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq, according to intelligence services. But the country is not alone. France has been struggling with the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and young French women leaving to become jihadi brides, to the point of unveiling its own curious counter-terrorism strategy.
But Britain seems to suffer from the problem that the appeal of ISIL is resonating among children, especially young girls, drawn through Twitter accounts like Jihad Matchmaker.
What the British courts did for these two teenagers makes sense—but it is not a strategy to cope with extremism. It is impossible to make every at-risk teenager a ward of the state. So what is the best solution? There has to be something better than just letting children too young to vote or drink go to Syria to learn about the horrors of war firsthand