Filmed in February, 2015, the footage of three London teenagers at Gatwick Airport, beginning a journey so they might join the Isis terror campaign, remains one of the most chilling of recent years.
Every parent, every brother or sister who sees it, must wonder how they would react if the security-camera footage showed their children or siblings making a life-or-death miscalculation, because they had fallen under the influence of malignant forces.
It shows how efforts to radicalise and groom individuals have no geographic limitations, that they can reach into every community, no matter how stable or how far-removed from the frontlines of the world’s religious conflicts. Online communications, used to spread real evil, are, whether we can face this truth or not, a real and present danger in our world.
The London schoolgirls — they were nothing more, no matter how assured they seemed — had been popular, straight-A students, but had been seduced by the allure of a radical, uncompromising challenge to the world they were born into. Kadiza Sultana, then 16, and her friends, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum, then both 15, were not the first, nor will they be the last, teenagers to be seduced by an absolute position, by a mania posing as certainty in our confusing, shifting world.
One — Kadiza Sultana — was killed in a Russian airstrike on Raqqa in May 2016. Tragically, she was groomed by religious zealots and her hijacked idealism cost her life.
The consequences of a different kind of grooming — cultural rather than religious — played out on our TV screens in recent days. Footage of the aftermath of a shooting at a Traveller housing site in Mulhuddart, Dublin, in which a woman, a baby and a boy were injured, showed an environment, and attitudes, that seem at best incomprehensible. That the shotgun-attack was rooted in a feud over an unapproved relationship can only add to that incomprehension. Those responsible for the transmission of the worldview that makes such attacks seem normal are surely, like Isis’ online recruiting sergeants, also guilty of a kind of grooming.
Grooming, whether for sexual exploitation or to involve children in crime, is active in many spheres, so much so that, in his 10th annual report, the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, Prof Geoffrey Shannon, called for legislation to be enacted as quickly as possible to allow the prosecution of adults who groom children.
He warned that we cannot deal effectively with this grooming, but pointed to developments in Australia — a “Fagin’s Law” — which means that adults face up to 10 years in prison for luring children into criminal activity.
Yesterday, speaking at a University of Limerick conference on “the influence of criminal networks on vulnerable children”, minister of state David Stanton said he was prepared to consider any improvements possible, on foot of Prof Shannon’s recommendations. The scale of that challenge grows every day and, as the sad fate of Kadiza Sultana shows, it is all pervasive and difficult to underestimate. It is hard to think of a good reason an Irish Fagin’s Law might be delayed.