Children of ISIS returned to Chechnya: Fine New York Times story haunted by faith questions

Children of ISIS returned to Chechnya: Fine New York Times story haunted by faith questions

In a New York Times photo, 4-year-old Bilal looks like any other kid sitting in bed, lost in a video game on a smartphone.

But there is a back-story. Bilal grew up in Mosul, Iraq, living on the run with his father, who was a fighter for the Islamic State. And right there is the question facing officials in Russia -- Chechnya, to be specific -- and in several European states: What should leaders in these nations do with children, especially boys, who grew up witnessing people beheaded, stoned and gunned down?

What about boys who were actually forced to take part in some of these rituals, as part of ISIS efforts to turn them into ultimate warriors? Are they, as one German official puts it, "living time bombs?"

That's the question at the heart of this fine Times story, which ran with the headline: "Raised by ISIS, Returned to Chechnya: ‘These Children Saw Terrible Things’." Here is a crucial summary passage near the top of this international-desk story:

As the American-led coalition and Syrian government forces captured cities that had been held by the Islamic State, they found among the ruins a grim human wreckage of the organization’s once successful recruitment drive: hundreds and perhaps thousands of children born to or brought with the men and women who had flocked to Syria in support of the Islamic State.
While Russia, which has so far returned 71 children and 26 women since August, may seem surprisingly lenient in its policy, its actions reflect a hardheaded security calculus: better to bring children back to their grandparents now than have them grow up in camps and possibly return as radicalized adults.
“What should we do, leave them there so somebody will recruit them?” said Ziyad Sabsabi, the Russian senator who runs the government-backed program. “Yes, these children saw terrible things, but when we put them in a different environment, with their grandparents, they change quickly.”

Now, as you would expect, I do have questions about the role of religious faith in all of this. I would have liked to have seen a bit more information about the role of Islam in this process.

After all, these children witnessed horrors that are hard to imagine. At the same time, they were raised to think of these acts as an essential part of a twisted, radicalized version of Islam.

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Keeping an eye on religion-infused intolerance in Chechnya, Myanmar and the U.S.A.

Keeping an eye on religion-infused intolerance in Chechnya, Myanmar and the U.S.A.

Here’s yet another ripped-from-the-headlines example of political oppression girded by cultural norms rooted in religious beliefs. This time it's from the Russian republic of Chechnya -- the Putin-aligned, North Caucasus dictatorship that numerous reports say ruthlessly persecutes gays.

In defense, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov argues, in essence, that because Chechnya is devoid of gays there simply is no way they can be persecuted, so it's case dismissed.

As I said, numerous reports contradict Kadyrov, a hardline Sunni Muslim and the son of an assassinated former president. Kadyrov also backs honor killings and polygamy.

Here’s one such report from The New Yorker. Here’s another from Toronto’s The Globe & Mail detailing how Canada has given asylum to gays who've escaped Chechnya.

Why bring this up? As a warning of the havoc that theocracies can cause when possessing unchallenged authority. It's religion’s shadow side that Godbeat reporters and other scribes should keep in mind. Pollyannaish coverage is no better than censorship, whether imposed or self-generated.

Because homosexuality offends Kadyrov’s Muslim beliefs does not mean that heterosexuals are necessarily safe from his oppressive hand.

His latest move is to force divorced heterosexual couples -- some long divorced -- to get back together “for the sake of the children” and his idea of family values. It's a story receiving broad international coverage. Here’s the top of a New York Times piece on the development.

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In tsunami of Boston info, there are basic faith questions

As the drama keeps unfolding in and around Boston, it’s safe to say that journalists now face crucial decisions about the role of religion — specifically radical forms of Islam — played in the motives behind this act of terrorist.

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Covering the religion angle on breaking Boston news

Yes, this has been a bad week for journalism. And many people are complaining. But it’s also been a great week for journalism. I was one of those folks listening in on the Boston police scanner last night and it was so very difficult to make sense of what was going on (though it was absolutely riveting, thrilling and horrifying).

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