June 24, 2019

HOST (JANE NORMAN): Anne Aly, thank you for joining us today.

Anne Aly: Thank you Jane.

Host: Can I get your response first to the news overnight that eight children, including the Sharroufs, have finally been extricated from Syria and are on their way back to Australia?

Anne Aly: Well I think it’s certainly welcome news particularly for the families here, who have been trying for many years to try and get these young orphans back to Australia and I think it’s a good development.

Host: What’s likely to happen to the children when they return here? We know that the Sharroufs will go and live with their grandmother Karen Nettleton. It’s unclear where three of the other children are going, but in terms of the Australian response, what do you think that would look like?

Anne Aly: It’s really hard to say without all the information, to be honest, but I would hope, that all of the children would be assessed first up to have a look at, particularly health wise, but also psychologically as well. They should be given a full assessment to determine what kind of support services they need in order to be fully re- socialised and reintegrated back in to Australian society.

Host: And when you talk about support services, can you elaborate a bit on that for people who perhaps don’t have much exposure to these kinds of cases.

Anne Aly: Yeah well I guess when we talk about de-radicalisation we’re using a very broad umbrella term and it refers to a whole range of strategies and programs anything from kind of religious re-education programs that might be run in prisons and right through to mentoring programs and resocialisation programs, so, many of these young children wouldn’t have had any schooling in the situations that they were in. They are likely to have had suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, so they need those kind of support services that are going to help them to reintegrate and live their lives as Australian citizens moving forward. That might be things like counselling services, that might be extra support for schooling to get them back in to schooling that might be the kind of services that would generally be offered to people who are almost ‘rehabilitating’ back in to society.

Host: We have lots of programs in Australia, de radicalisation programs, to stop younger kids from becoming radicalised in the first place. Are there any programs that have actually been proven to work with people who have actually been radicalised?

Anne Aly: I am quite sceptical about the claims of a lot of deradicalisation programs, particularly deradicalisation programs that focus on religious re-education. I think de radicalisation programs in and of themselves are unsuccessful, unless they are coupled with a whole range of support services and a whole range of support programs. So rather than just focusing on the psychological, focusing on the ideological, and the re-education part they also need to be coupled with the kinds of programs that you offer anybody who’s trying to reintegrate in to society and who, like these children have missed out on schooling, will need to learn almost all over again from the very beginning about how to live in Australian society and how to be a part of Australian society.

Host: There has been considerable coverage of the oldest Sharrouf child, her name is Zaynab, and she is allegedly been a pretty willing participant in ISIS propaganda and recruitment. Putting aside her age, we understand that she is about eighteen now. Could she pose a security risk when she comes here, to Australia?

Anne Aly: That would be a very difficult determination to make without a full assessment of her and so I would be very cautious about making any kind of determination without complete and thorough assessment of her and what she has been through and where her mind is at the moment.

Host: But given these children have spent five years now in an ISIS stronghold in Syria, they have endured years of violence and deprivation. They have been exposed to ISIS propaganda every day, how could they have not been radicalised?

Anne Aly: Again it depends on the terminology of radicalisation, it’s very broad terminology. This is why they need to be fully assessed and there needs to be a full team assessing them, social workers and psychologists and people who are used to working with young people as well. So without having that kind of team around them and that complete assessment it would be difficult to ascertain exactly what kind of risk, if any, they pose. Certainly any component of the reintegration program that they need will also have to look at the re-education and looking at their world view and changing their ideological world view and how that would impact on their ability to reintegrate in other ways in Australian society.

Host: Is it possible then, Anne Aly, to change someone’s world view when it has been so entrenched over a number of years.

Anne Aly: It is, I have seen it happen, I have been a part of it. It is possible but it is really intensive work and it also requires a change from within the individual as well. So of the many people that I have interviewed who have left terrorist organisations or who have left violent extremism often it comes from a point of disillusionment with the movement that they had previously believed in. So there has to be a real personal will to change their world view as well not just putting them through some kind of short term de radicalisation programs that aims to ‘unbrainwash them’ or ‘re-educate them’. So it has to be a very comprehensive program not just focusing on the individual psychology but also the social environment in which the individual is living in as well.

Host: Finally, Anne Aly, what kind of role could the Muslim community play in this, because they (these children) have obviously been taught an extreme violent version of Islam. Is there a role that the Muslim community can play in teaching them a moderate version, a version that’s actually taught by the Koran and practiced by most Muslims in Australia?

Anne Aly: There is a role, I tend to, in the work I have done previously is bring in the religious re-education at a later stage and make it more about re-socialising the individual first. So getting them focused on things like their schooling, life skills, things like that and then bringing in the religious re-education because it’s at that point where the individual is becoming more willing and more open to alternative versions, if you like, of the religion that they have been taught.

Host: Alright Anne Aly, that’s all we have time for today, thanks for joining us.