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Pushing or Pulling? Thinking critically about why three young women left Bradford for Syria

Think Global’s Head of Programmes Monika Kruesmann picks up on complexities behind the decision of three young women to leave Bradford for Syria; and considers the role of critical thinking in understanding both the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors.

There was an interesting article in The Independent recently that raises some pretty tough questions about why a small group of Muslim women, together with their children, recently left their homes in Bradford to travel to war-torn Syria, apparently to live under the aegis of the group calling itself Islamic State.

One paragraph in particular caught my eye. Naz Shah, the family’s local Bradford West MP, was quoted as pointing out the need to think carefully about why this has happened; including considering the role that British attitudes, circumstances and contexts may have played. “I think we need to take a really good look at things in terms of what’s a draw to Isis… What’s the pull factor from that side and the push factor from our side?”

This really struck me as important. So much of the current debate and discussion about terrorism, cultural difference and migration is prejudiced and polarised – the fault and blame too often lie squarely in one camp or the other; and quite often it seems to be in the “non-British” camp (whatever that might mean from day to day)… It’s refreshing to hear someone in a public position being astute and courageous enough to suggest a more sophisticated interpretation.

Even more to the point, Ms Shah then went on to ask “What are we doing in terms of community development and what are we doing in terms of engaging with children and promoting critical thinking skills?”

Quite so. At Think Global we might describe our entire mission as being about engaging with children and promoting critical thinking skills – and it’s encouraging to see this reflected in Ms Shah’s comments too. We do need to connect with young people about these complex issues; not only because young people might be more vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation, but also because it’s young people themselves who can have the answers and solutions to problems. By giving them frameworks and tools to think systematically and analytically about complicated realities and experiences, we are giving them positive power.

I hope that many people will pay attention to Ms Shah’s comments; and be encouraged to think critically themselves.

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