February 22, 2019 Abdul Haqq

A Precedent for the President & UK

The case of USA vs. Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, criminal no. 10-123-02, provides a precedent for the current dilemma surrounding the legal status of Hoda Muthana. However, the US government and its agencies are either unaware of its significance or are deliberately hiding it. Nevertheless, this article will ensure the implications – as well as the glaring contradictions with Muthana’s circumstances – are highlighted. On 21stFebruary 2019 President Trump tweeted:

“I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!”[1]

Hoda Muthana’s notoriety as an advocate for ISIS is well known. In fact, she was previously considered, …one of Isis’s most prominent online agitators who took to social media to call for the blood of Americans to be spilled.” [2] Like an increasing number of westerners who travelled to former ISIS held territory, Muthana is now facing the aftermath of a stark dystopian reality: What she and others previously romanticised as constituting the Islamic State ended up being a mirage. Also, her former homeland – the US – no longer wants her. The latter national sentiment is understandable but is it correct?

Jihadi Brides are not a new phenomenon

The case of Paulin-Ramirez precedes the current ones relating to potential returnees who travelled abroad to intentionally or indeed, inadvertently support terrorism. In 2009 she converted to Islam and within 6 months, connected with an online network that would attract her to a utopian version of the religion. During this short period she decided to abandon life in the US and travel with her young son to marry the ‘mujahid’ (fighter) – Ali Charaf Damache – who would provide her with the romanticised religious lifestyle she yearned:

“In mid-2009, Damache was searching for women who could travel freely around the West, and Americans Colleen R. LaRose and Jamie Paulin Ramirez were highly valuable recruits to him. He thus helped place LaRose with supporters when she arrived in Europe, and he encouraged Ramirez to travel to Ireland to become his wife.”

“It was no coincidence that Ramirez connected with Damache and LaRose.  Ramirez came to their attention because her online postings and correspondence revealed her support for violent jihad. And her blonde-haired, blue-eyed appearance allowed her to travel without arousing suspicion, thus making her particularly valuable to Damache. Ramirez also expressed a clear desire to travel and connect with other extremists.[3]

As in the case of other jihadi brides, Paulin-Ramirez married Damache and tried to adjust to her life in a new environment; however, she quickly realised that what she was previously enticed to believe prior to traveling was precisely the opposite. Damache was contrary to how he originally portrayed himself and more alarmingly, his attitude towards her son frightened her. The supposedly fun-filled visits to the park – which she was never allowed to attend – were instead, grueling drills preparing her son for jihad. Failure to satisfactorily complete these training regimes resulted in the child’s corporal punishment. Unsurprisingly, both mother and child became increasingly unsettled but were powerless to escape.

The Government & agency involvement: being brought to justice

I am aware of the above-mentioned events due to my involvement in the Paulin-Ramirez case. It is a unique one that bears similarities to existing cases like Muthana’s and Shamima Begum’s – the British Jihadi bride recently stripped of her citizenship. The American Embassy’s First Secretary from the UK first contacted me at the time to request I consider assisting Paulin-Ramirez. She and Damache had recently been arrested on terrorism charges. The Irish Police services had released her but detained him. The US already had security on the ground in the form of the FBI but they had no jurisdiction over Paulin-Ramirez and could not influence her movements. Their fear was that she might connect with other extremist entities unbeknown to her due to unfamiliarity with regular Muslim communities in the country. As an independent practitioner in the counter-terrorism field, my autonomy would be crucial to engaging with Paulin-Ramirez – away from any securitised interference or influence. Communication with her was understandably strained due to her initial mistrust of me, until she was convinced of my independence from all statutory influence. I also had to gauge her socio-religious beliefs in order to engage and – as time proceeded – challenge any extremist [mis]understanding of the religion.

The involvement of the US embassy and FBI so early into Paulin-Ramirez’s case raises immediate questions as to how and why the same policy is not being deployed in Hoda Muthana’s case. As this article will show, although initial US statutory involvement was minimal due to jurisdictional limitations in Paulin-Ramirez’s case, there was never any mention of revoking her citizenship. In contrast, they were keen for her return to the US.  She subsequently agreed voluntarily to return thereby avoiding extradition and I counselled her regarding the likely events she would face upon arrival. These included:

  1. her being met by law enforcement agencies and arrested,
  2. her young son being immediately removed and placed in care (with his grandmother),
  3. her remand in custody,
  4. defence lawyers being appointed.

My communication and regular engagement with Paulin-Ramirez, prior to her return to the US, resulted in her request that I be appointed as an expert witness in her defence:

And Now, to wit, this 20thday of Sept, 2010, it is hereby ORDERED and DECREED that counsel is authorized to obtain the services of an Expert in Countering Terrorism in Convert Communities…[4]

The mutual trust established between us meant that I could not only challenge her beliefs, but also provide alternative mainstream interpretations to illustrate some of the distorted teaching she had received.  On 8th January 2014 Paulin-Ramirez was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for supporting terrorism. The prosecution had requested 10-15:

A Colorado woman who found love and Islam online was sentenced to eight years in prison for supporting the work of her husband, an Algerian terror suspect.

Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, 35, got a break after helping the FBI investigate the al-Qaida-linked figure and others, including a Pennsylvania woman who called herself “Jihad Jane.”” [5]

I provided evidence via Skype during the trial, outlining Paulin-Ramirez’s development as a new Muslim convert from the period of conversion up to her return to the US. Her idealistic and romanticised understandings of Islam were not dissimilar to converts of other faiths. Their initial founding and youthful stages of development are underscored by overzealousness alongside an abstract understanding of their new faith. They are unable to immediately contextualise aspects of the new religion.[6] In the wrong company, this could prove disastrous and there is ample evidence to highlight the violent radicalisation of youth before traveling to imaginary utopias. Hoda Muthana and Shamima Begum are two such examples. Paulin-Ramirez was remorseful for her actions:

…Paulin-Ramirez took her 6-year-old son to join a terror cell in Ireland, where he was taught to be a warrior and hate non-Muslims. The boy also endured physical abuse during the four-month stay. A video played in court Wednesday showed him reciting inflammatory verses and thrusting a toy weapon as his mother, laughing, says, “Go attack the kafir,” or non-believers.

“I hope he actually forgets this, what I put him through,” Paulin-Ramirez, of Leadville, Colo., told the judge. “I didn’t want my son to think like that. I only wanted to help my son so he wouldn’t get punished.[7]

Muthana is now echoing similar sentiments:

I look back now and think I was very arrogant. Now I’m worried about my son’s future…I was brainwashed once and my friends [still with ISIS] are still brainwashed.” [8]

A Tale of Two Cities?

Comparisons between Paulin-Ramirez’s case and Hoda Muthana’s current position raise further questions as to why there was proactive government involvement for Paulin-Ramirez’s return to face justice on the one hand, but a complete lack of action on the other as it relates to Muthana. Undoubtedly, it is easier to travel to Dublin than Raqqa and arguably, this is where any disparity should end. However, Trump’s presidency has witnessed the rise in populism where whiteness has returned as the demarcation for American identity:

…the political ascent of Donald Trump is largely about Caucasian fears of browning America. As a result, this…is no longer about all Americans. It is about white Americans.[9]

We should not ignore the fact that Paulin-Ramirez is white and Hoda Muthana, brown:

…Pompeo said in a statement that Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the country. “She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States,”“ [10]

Although Trump was not president at the time of Paulin-Ramirez’s case, his rationale for preventing Muthana’s return is, at the very least, questionable. Some will invariably assert that her return poses serious security risks. This argument holds some validity but can be countered by simply citing Paulin-Ramirez’s and her codefendants’ cases. They were all tried and convicted in the US, however none of the plots were against immediate US interests:

This man – named Ali Charaf Damache – was actively recruiting and organizing a group of violent jihadists to execute attacks in Europe. Damache and his associates were truly dangerous people, motivated by hate and prejudice and a desire to exact revenge on non-believers. Damache was also meticulous in his planning; he made arrangements to meet up with an Al Qaeda explosives expert in South Asia for training, and he aggressively recruited supporters online who filled specific needs of his terrorist organization.[11]

Even if the above intimation of structural racism against Trump is rejected, another area of concern must be in regard to the inadvertent fueling of Islamophobia: good Muslim vs. bad Muslim or, in the following example, ex-Muslim vs. Muslim. Tania Joya – a British citizen of Asian descent – is considered a fully integrated and successful returnee from ISIS, now residing in the US.  The only apparent difference between her and Hoda Muthana is her renunciation of Islam:

“Tania Joya was married to an American Muslim convert who became one of Islamic State’s leading militants before she became disillusioned with the group and escaped Syria six years ago, pregnant and with three children…

The 35-year-old, who now lives in Texas with her second husband, grew up in Harrow, northwest London, where she was brought up as a Muslim and says she was not taught any other values or beliefs…Ms Joya…has renounced Islam and now helps other ex-IS wives and jihadists[12]

Ex-Muslims continue to be in vogue with western governments who are keen to champion them in order to highlight their supposed liberation and embracing of democratic values – Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun being the latest example.[13]

His Master’s Voice?

The home secretary, Sajid Javid’s decision to revoke Shamima Begum’s citizenship harks back to a colonial era characterised by those in authoritative positions during the Raj. They ensured an example was made of their fellow natives in order confer legitimacy on their positions in the eyes of their colonial masters:

The home secretary’s political ambitions are shamefully exposed by this playing to the gallery.

In trying to position himself as Theresa May’s successor, the home secretary is signalling to the tabloid press just how tough he is on national security and immigration. Perhaps as a son of immigrants, he feels he has more to prove.[14]

In the event of Javid continuing to pursue his current path regarding Begum’s case, it is necessary for him show consistency by taking the same course of action against British citizens who travelled and enlisted to fight for the Israel Defence Force (IDF)[15] and those who journeyed and fought alongside Kurdish Peshmerga.[16] Both entities are considered by some countries[17] to be terrorists and so it should automatically follow that anyone travelling to join them have their citizenship revoked.[18] As Baroness Warsi correctly observed:

It is currently possible for anyone to join the Israel Defence Force (IDF) through the “Mahal” program if they meet specific background and age requirements. But while people fighting for various foreign forces have faced prosecution upon there return to the UK – including some who claim to have been opposing the Assad regime in Syria – those who temporarily join up with the IDF have not.[19]

Conclusion

The precedent discussed in this article can also serve as a template for the UK government as it considers the imminent legal challenge to the home secretary’s revocation of Shamima Begum’s citizenship. Civic society organisations and community groups possessing the requisite expertise exist to address the challenges faced by Begum’s and other UK citizens’ imminent return. Early engagement with them within their present discomfort zones is essential in view of their vulnerabilities. Challenging their beliefs in order to begin the processes of disengagement and deradicalisation need to commence at this crucial stage and continue throughout their return, possible imprisonment and eventual release back into society.

Paulin Ramirez was released in 2017 having embarked on a continuous journey of disengagement and deradicalisation after our initial contact. As distasteful an option as it may be, Begum and others should be allowed to return on the basis that they undergo similar programmes. The only other alternative is the current one being pursued by the US and UK. This is both short term and short sighted.  The tragic events of 9/11 occurred almost 18 years ago and a generation of violently radicalised individuals has since emerged to scorch recent western landscapes with terrorism. Will we have to wait another 18 years to realise the devastating effects of current decisions, with offspring like Begum’s growing up to resent the western societies of their parents due to how they were treated – all for the sake of expediency? Many worry that we may not have to wait that long because these recent decisions have already marginalised 2nd and 3rd generation British descendants who now feel a sense of insecurity, panic and fear.

 

 

[1]Schwartz, M.S: ‘Alabama Woman Who Joined ISIS can’t Come Back, Trump Says,’ NPR, 21stFebruary 2019: https://www.npr.org/2019/02/21/696537248/alabama-woman-joined-isis-cant-come-back-trump-says

[2]Chulov, M & McKernan: ‘Hoda Muthana ‘deeply regrets’ joining ISIS and wants to return home’, The Guardian, 17thFebruary 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/17/us-woman-hoda-muthana-deeply-regrets-joining-isis-and-wants-return-home

[3]USA vs. Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, Criminal No. 10-123-02, Sentencing Order

[4]USA vs. Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, Criminal No. 10-123-02, Ex – Parte Under Seal, [stamped] 21stSeptember, 2010.

[5]Denver CBS: ‘Leadville Woman Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison For Terrorist Activities’, 8thJanuary 2014: https://denver.cbslocal.com/2014/01/08/leadville-woman-sentenced-to-8-years-prison-terrorist/

[6]Baker, A.H: ‘Extremists in Our Midst: Confronting Terror’, 2011 & 2015 Palgrave MacMillan

[7]Ibid

[8]Chulov, M & McKernan: ‘Hoda Muthana ‘deeply regrets’ joining ISIS and wants to return home’, The Guardian, 17thFebruary 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/17/us-woman-hoda-muthana-deeply-regrets-joining-isis-and-wants-return-home

[9]Bailey, I.J: How Trump Exposed America’s White Identity Crisis’, Politico Magazine, 22ndAugust 2016: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/08/trump-race-white-america-identity-crisis-214178

[10]Schwartz, M.S: ‘Alabama Woman Who Joined ISIS Can’t Come Back, Trump Says’, NPR, 21stFebruary 2019: https://www.npr.org/2019/02/21/696537248/alabama-woman-joined-isis-cant-come-back-trump-says

[11]USA vs. Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, Criminal No. 10-123-02, Sentencing Order

[12]Culbertson, A: ‘It’s all a lie’: British IS bride who escaped while pregnant speaks out’, Sky News, 18thFebruary 2019: https://news.sky.com/story/former-is-bride-urges-uk-to-show-shamima-begum-mercy-11640932

[13]The Telegraph: ‘Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun: Saudi teenager ‘very, very happy’ after arriving in Canada’, 12thJanuary 2019: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/01/12/saudi-teenager-fleeing-family-arrives-canada-granted-asylum/

[14]Sodha, S: ‘Javid’s decision on Shamima Begum demeans his office’, The Guardian, 20thFebruary 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/20/sajid-javid-shamima-begum-conservative-leadership?CMP=share_btn_link

[15]Khan, S: ‘UK citizens who fight in Israeli army should be prosecuted, Baroness Warsi says’, The Independent, 31stMarch 2017: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-citizens-fight-israeli-army-idf-mahal-prosecuted-baroness-sayeeda-warsi-foreign-fighters-british-a7659766.html

[16]Anderson, C: ‘Scot tells of fighting for Peshmerga against IS’, BBC News, 2ndDecember 2016: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-38167811

[17]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_and_state-sponsored_terrorism

[18]Bawari, R: ‘Turkey accuses man of terror for joining Kurdistan’s Peshmerga in war on IS’, Kurdistan 24, 30thOctober 2018: http://www.kurdistan24.net/en/news/137cca35-cd8d-498a-afdb-a7027397cdaf

[19]Khan, S: ‘UK citizens who fight in Israeli army should be prosecuted, Baroness Warsi says’, The Independent, 31stMarch 2017: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-citizens-fight-israeli-army-idf-mahal-prosecuted-baroness-sayeeda-warsi-foreign-fighters-british-a7659766.html

 

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