Former militant Tania Joya now fights to ‘reprogram’ extremists

Tania Joya, the former wife of a senior Daesh leader, favors repatriating foreign rebels from the Middle East so they can be judged in their countries of origin. (AFP)
Updated 20 July 2019
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Former militant Tania Joya now fights to ‘reprogram’ extremists

  • Tania Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration
  • ‘It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate’ these people

WASHINGTON: Tania Joya has devoted her life to “reprogramming” extremists and reintroducing them into society — a process she understands well as a “former Islamic militant” herself.
“My aim is for them to feel a sense of remorse and to train them so that they can be good citizens once they are released from prison, so they can adjust to society,” Joya said during a visit to Washington, to present a project on preventing extremist violence.
Born in 1984 near London to a Muslim Bangladeshi family, Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration. She radicalized at age 17, after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Osama bin Laden’s call for a global jihad.
In 2004, she married an American Muslim-convert, Yahya Al-Bahrumi (born John Georgelas). She began advocating for an Islamic state, for which her three children would be soldiers.
But in 2013, her husband took her and their children against her will to northwestern Syria to join militant insurgents. Joya reported her husband to US authorities and, after three weeks, fled Syria to the United States.
Joya settled in Texas, her husband’s home state. There, she changed her life, divorced and re-married.
Yahya, her first husband, joined the Daesh group, which would soon control large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. He was in charge of the group’s English-language propaganda, and Joya said he became the “highest-ranking American” in the Daesh group.
He died in 2017 during fighting in Mayadin, in northern Syria, as the so-called Daesh “caliphate” crumbled.
However, this created a new problem — Western militants or their spouses and children wanting to come home.
Joya realized that she had something to offer. “It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate” these people, she said.
“It’s reprogramming them and giving them a sense of hope in the political process.”
It’s also important to “get them to understand the psychology and the patterns... what led them to extremism,” understanding “the rejection many in the US and Europe faced growing up there, the cultural conflict, the crisis they went through,” she said.
“Once it’s all explained to them, very logically, they will accept it just as I did.”
Joya favors repatriating foreign rebels from the Middle East so they can be judged in their countries of origin.
While that is the US policy, many European countries such as France are wary of taking in the militants.
In May and June, 11 French nationals were sentenced to die in Iraq for their affiliation to Daesh.
Joya has campaigned for the return of Shamima Begum, who joined the militant group when she was just 15 but now wants to return home to Britain. However, Begum’s lack of remorse has turned public opinion against her, and the British government stripped her of her citizenship in February.
Kurdish-run camps in northeast Syria have taken in some 12,000 foreign fighters from 40 different countries, including 4,000 women and 8,000 children whose fathers are militants.
Countries with militants stranded in refugee camps “are responsible for these individuals,” said Joya. “We can’t just push them off to the Middle East, to the Kurdish people... the abuses they’re facing in these camps are only confirming their beliefs of radicalization.”
Joya is participating in the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) program organized by the Clarion Program, a US non-profit dedicated to educating people “about the growing phenomenon of Islamic extremism,” according to its website.
The PVE program provides “communication models” that offer “workshops for youth so that before a child is even indoctrinated or introduced to radical ideologies, they’ve really been inoculated” against religious and ideological extremism, said national program coordinator Shireen Qudosi.
“That goes from gangs, to radical ideologies: antifa, neo-Nazi groups, Islamist extremism,” she said.


Kashmir protesters defy restrictions, clash with security forces

Updated 2 min 35 sec ago
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Kashmir protesters defy restrictions, clash with security forces

  • Paramilitary police tried to enter Soura, which has emerged as a center of the protests, as hundreds demonstrated against Narendra Modi’s decision to withdraw autonomy
  • Posters appeared overnight this week in Srinagar, the Muslim-majority region’s main city, calling for a march to the office of the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan

SRINAGAR, India: Security forces used tear gas against stone-throwing local residents in Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Friday, after a third straight week of protests in the restive Soura district despite the imposition of tight restrictions.
Paramilitary police tried to enter Soura, which has emerged as a center of the protests, as hundreds of locals staged a protest march against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to withdraw autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir on Aug. 5.
Posters appeared overnight this week in Srinagar, the Muslim-majority region’s main city, calling for a march to the office of the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), to protest against India’s decision.
This was the first such call by separatists seeking Kashmir’s secession from India. India’s move was accompanied by travel and communication restrictions in Kashmir that are still largely in place, although some landlines were restored last week.
The UNMOGIP was set up in 1949 after the first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, a Himalayan region both countries claim in full but rule in part. The group monitors cease-fire violations along the border between the countries.
In a narrow lane of Soura, blocked like many others with rocks and sheets of metal, residents hurled stones at the paramilitary police to stop them moving into an area around the local mosque, Jinab Sahib, which had earlier been packed for Friday prayers.
The police responded with several rounds of tear gas and chili grenades but were beaten back by dozens of stone-pelting men. Some men suffered pellet injuries.
The locals said the security forces had been repeatedly trying to move into Soura, often using tear gas and pellets.
“We are neither safe at home, nor outside,” said Rouf, who declined to give his full name. He had rubbed salt into his face to counteract the effects of tear gas.
The afternoon had begun peacefully, with men and women streaming into Jinab Sahib for afternoon prayers. A cleric then raised a call for “Azadi” – Urdu for freedom – several times, and declared Kashmir’s allegiance to neighboring Pakistan.
“Long live Pakistan,” the cleric said, as worshippers roared back in approval.
US President Donald Trump plans to discuss Kashmir when he meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in France this weekend, a senior US administration official said on Thursday.
Trump, who has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, will press Modi on how he plans to calm regional tensions after the withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy, and stress the need for dialogue, the official said.
Some Indian media reports on Friday said “terrorists” were trying to enter India from Afghanistan, citing unnamed government officials.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan responded on Twitter on Friday that such claims were being made to “divert attention” away from what he called human rights violations in Kashmir.
“The Indian leadership will in all probability attempt a false flag operation to divert attention,” Khan said.
Khan’s comments came a day after United Nations experts called on the Indian government to “end the crackdown on freedom of expression, access to information and peaceful protests” in Kashmir, saying it would increase regional tensions.
“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offense,” they said in a statement.
At least 152 people have been hurt by teargas and pellets since security forces launched their crackdown, data from the Himalayan region’s two main hospitals shows.
Large swathes of Srinagar remain deserted with shops shut except for some provision stores with shutters half-down. Police vans patrolled some areas announcing a curfew and asking people to stay indoors.
On the Dal Lake, long rows of houseboats, normally packed with tourists at this time of year, floated closed and empty, as police patrolled its mirror-calm waters in boats.