Saleyha Ahsan

Operation Mum won't stop British Muslims going to Syria. But peace will.

Posted by Saleyha Ahsan on 25 April 2014 | 0 Comments

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British counter-terrorism chiefs are really bringing out the big guns with their latest campaign to tackle the growing number of Muslims heading out to Syria. They've come up with Operation Mum, asking Muslim women to inform on family members thinking of going to Syria to fight. The number of Britons involved in the conflict has been estimated to be as high as 700, with 20 known to have died and many more in detention, but no one really knows the exact figures.

Appealing to mothers to grass on their children is a huge ask, no matter what ethnicity or religion. And approaching a community already suspicious of counter-terrorism police tactics employed against them since 9/11 is wishful thinking. Suffice to say that there is an obvious issue of mistrust within the relationship, and it is in this context that police are asking mothers to inform on their sons.

...the surveillance eye will be on them and it won't go away

This tactic hints at desperation and a loss of control of the situation. It places mothers, sisters and even daughters in an unfair and incredibly difficult position. Should someone be brought to police attention by a female relative, as the campaign asks, then the surveillance eye will be on them and it won't go away. But then again, opening up your own household to this level of scrutiny may be considered a small price if it stops your child from travelling to a deadly environment where the mortality figures are spiralling.

There is nothing new about people travelling to a conflict zone to take up arms or join humanitarian convoys to deliver aid. It happened in 1930s Spain against Franco, and as recently as Libya in 2011 where young British men – many from Manchester – were involved in the conflict to topple Gadaffi.

Yet it seems bizarre to focus on a reaction to the disease rather then trying to cure it. Here we have a three-year-old war that has created 2.6 million refugees, with 9.2 million people in Syria in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. This is a land where more than 146,000 people have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The British police campaign urges people to donate to registered charities that have experience of providing humanitarian assistance in conflict zones. However, it is common knowledge that international agencies are extremely limited in what they can do on the ground. President Assad's defiance towards the international community and the two-month-old UN resolution to allow in humanitarian aid continues, with only 11% of aid getting through.

I shudder at the thought of what would have happened if that hospital had not been there.

I was shocked to learn that the hospital I worked in last August with the British NGO Hand in Hand for Syria – which was filmed for Saving Syria's Children, a BBC Panorama programme – is facing closure in four weeks because it is unable to secure an international NGO partner, and thus funding support. When I was there it received up to 40 badly burnt people, 23 of them children, after a thermal bomb had been dropped on a schoolnearby. I shudder at the thought of what would have happened if that hospital had not been there.

It is against this backdrop, where little seems to be happening to genuinely help, that young British Muslims are going out to Syria. There is only one way to stop those intending to go, in whatever capacity: the international community needs to step up. Syria continues to burn, and countless civilians are caught up in the fire. In the eyes of a young British Muslim nothing is being done to end this. That is why they go, and asking mothers to stop them doing so is not going to help.

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