July 20, 2019
Tania Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration
‘It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate’ these people
WASHINGTON: Tania Joya has devoted her life to “reprogramming” extremists and reintroducing them into society — a process she understands well as a “former Islamic militant” herself.
“My aim is for them to feel a sense of remorse and to train them so that they can be good citizens once they are released from prison, so they can adjust to society,” Joya said during a visit to Washington, to present a project on preventing extremist violence.
Born in 1984 near London to a Muslim Bangladeshi family, Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration. She radicalized at age 17, after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Osama bin Laden’s call for a global jihad.
In 2004, she married an American Muslim-convert, Yahya Al-Bahrumi (born John Georgelas). She began advocating for an Islamic state, for which her three children would be soldiers.
But in 2013, her husband took her and their children against her will to northwestern Syria to join militant insurgents. Joya reported her husband to US authorities and, after three weeks, fled Syria to the United States.
Joya settled in Texas, her husband’s home state. There, she changed her life, divorced and re-married.
Yahya, her first husband, joined the Daesh group, which would soon control large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. He was in charge of the group’s English-language propaganda, and Joya said he became the “highest-ranking American” in the Daesh group.
He died in 2017 during fighting in Mayadin, in northern Syria, as the so-called Daesh “caliphate” crumbled.
However, this created a new problem — Western militants or their spouses and children wanting to come home.
Joya realized that she had something to offer. “It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate” these people, she said.
“It’s reprogramming them and giving them a sense of hope in the political process.”
It’s also important to “get them to understand the psychology and the patterns… what led them to extremism,” understanding “the rejection many in the US and Europe faced growing up there, the cultural conflict, the crisis they went through,” she said.
“Once it’s all explained to them, very logically, they will accept it just as I did.”