There were two recent news stories that presented a sombre contrast. The first was the “Secret Sunday” raid at the Chancellor Heights house in which 22 Spanish-speaking women were detained by police for allegedly engaging in lewd dancing and prostitution. The second was the Trinidadian citizens who are trapped in Syria – the widows and children of Islamic State fighters – who were beseeching the government to bring them home. Both groups left their countries of origin in search of opportunities, hoping that the grass would be greener on the other side. But while one has done so out of desperation, the other did so willingly, only to discover that there’s no greener grass to be found… only sand and blood.
Despite the challenges they face, Venezuelan refugees have managed to fit in and are contributing to the economy. Finding work primarily in the service industry, even with their broken English, they are proving themselves to be fast learners. It’s ironic that locals would often roll their eyes at the lack of customer service, and business owners would bemoan on how hard it is to find good employees. Well, now we have the “Venes” to take the jobs that Trinis won’t do. So regardless of whether you like them or not, you have to acknowledge their willingness to do whatever it takes to provide for themselves and their families.
That brings us to the incident at the Chancellor Heights house. It’s easy to mount the moral stump and look down upon people who work the sex trade, especially when they’re foreigners. But consider the circumstances that cause these women to make that choice, if it was even a choice at all, for we don’t know if any of them are forced into it. Unfortunately, such is their reality – stay home and starve, or come to Trinidad and do God knows what in order to survive.
Now compare them to the local Muslims who chose to leave Trinidad; to travel halfway across the world to live in a Caliphate, the ideal Islamic society. As the world bore witness to the terrors wrought on the region by ISIS, our tiny country found itself with the unwelcomed reputation of having one of the highest per capita recruitment rates of foreign fighters. Some of those men were accompanied by their wives and children, because it’s “COMPLETELY” reasonable for a “good Muslim man” to take his family into the middle of a conflict zone. But with the war seemingly lost, the remaining followers have been rounded up into makeshift camps under guard by Kurdish militia. Made to endure harsh and unsanitary conditions, they wait while their home countries decide what to do with them. During an interview, two Fridays ago on CNC’s Morning Brew, Umar Abdullah, the leader of “The Islamic Front,” called on the government to do everything in their power to ensure the repatriation of the relatives of local ISIS fighters. According to him, these women should not be labelled terrorists as they were just being “good Muslim wives” by following their husbands. When asked how many nationals were being held in the camps, he said he didn’t have an official figure but estimated that there were at least 90 women and children.
Featured on the same programme was a local Muslim woman whose sister is currently being held at the Al-Hawl refugee camp in north-eastern Syria. She made the tearful assertion that if Trinidadians could accept the Venezuelans they should do the same for their own people. I don’t see things that way, and I trust many citizens would agree. Let me be clear – the children of ISIS fighters are the only innocent ones in this situation; they were at the whim of their parents’ questionable decisions. Their mothers, however, should bear the consequences of their actions. I don’t buy the excuse that some of them were tricked into going to Syria. Unless they can prove they were kidnapped or sedated for the entirety of the trip, they left of their own free will. They went expecting a Muslims’ paradise knowing full well of the atrocities being committed by ISIS. Umar Abdullah would like to blame all of this on America’s failed foreign policy. But Americans didn’t torture and execute homosexuals and captured Iraqi soldiers, and rape and enslave Yazidi women and girls. I’m not accusing the Trinidadian women of being directly involved in these crimes, but their presence makes them, at the very least, tacitly complicit. Even worse, they knowingly exposed themselves and their children to an extremist, violent ideology. What guarantees do we have that they won’t return and spread it to other Muslims?
It’s ironic that our society is being asked to show mercy to citizens who willingly joined a group known for being merciless. Obviously, they prioritised being “good Muslim wives” above being good Trinidadians. And now they want everything to be forgiven and re-join the country they chose to abandon. If it’s anybody who deserves our mercy, it’s the Venezuelan refugees, especially those like the 22 women from the “Secret Sunday” raid who are being exploited. Trinidad may not be their home but at least they are trying to make a life and a living here. The ISIS-widows, on the other hand, want to come back simply because they have nowhere else to go.