If you think the Jihadi Jack case is distant from your experience as parents, think again. And perhaps reconsider your dual citizenship. Once it made you a citizen of the world. Now it can snap back on you.
Jack Letts, given the nickname by the British tabloids, is an Englishman—he also has Canadian citizenship—who converted to Islam and travelled to Syria at age 18 to fight for his religion. He believed ISIS was a just cause.
It ended badly, but unlike other followers of that hideous army, Letts is alive and well. He sits in a Kurdish prison, as annoying to his fed-up captors as he is to the British and Canadian governments and, crucially, his despairing parents.
He has laid waste to the lives of his mother, Sally Lane, his father, John Letts, and his younger brother Tyler. He can’t seem to help himself.
He expected British authorities to rescue him, despite his having emailed his parents that he wanted to fight against the British Army, as well as decapitating or shooting an old friend who had just joined it. “I hope he finds himself lost in Baji or Fallujah one day and sees me whilst I’m armed and I’ll put six bullets in his head.”
Hauling Letts home to Oxford would have been massively unpopular. So the U.K. revoked his citizenship, which is legal as long as it doesn’t render the person stateless. He is technically a Canadian citizen, courtesy of his Canadian-born father.
Yes, the British behaved Trumpishly. They have betrayed Canada, arguably their closest ally, for the silliest of persons for the silliest of reasons. Allowing him into Canada would be hugely unpopular here. But we may someday be stuck with it.
We are a rule-of-law country. Letts has the right to return, but only if he is able to talk to Canadian officials (who have no access to him or other prisoners), get a passport, get out of jail, reach an airport, buy a plane ticket and be allowed on the plane. It seems unlikely.
Letts is one of nature’s fools. “I still can’t quite believe he’s been so utterly stupid,” his mother told a friend. He suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. At one point, he was fixated on sport and slept with his football. Then Islam became his new football.
If Letts hadn’t had dual citizenship, he might not still be in a distant jail giving maddening TV interviews in which he serially alienates every possible ally. Vouching for his own character, he offered only this. “I never killed anyone. I’ve never taken anyone a slave.” Imagine him in a job interview.
When Letts learned that he’d lost his British citizenship, he said he didn’t care. Then he turned on Canada. “If I’m really a Canadian citizen, why haven’t they taken me by now? In the same way Britain hasn’t helped me for two-and-a-half years, Canada has done nothing. I always thought Canada was a better country, I had this illusion.”
Chameleon-like, he now talks with an Arabic accent. It often goes unmentioned that he married a woman, Asmaa, from an ISIS family in Syria and fathered a child. He seems to have misplaced them.
Letts’s parents have been saintly. Sally said they weighed “the pros and cons of sending him the money so he can get out alive and not sending him the money so we wouldn’t get a criminal record.” They failed on both counts. Despite police repeatedly warning them not to, they sent him money and were convicted of assisting terrorism. Unemployed, nearly bankrupt, and friendless, they were convicted and given suspended jail terms.
John, an organic farmer and gentle liberal, blames himself. In emails to a friend, read in court, he said, “I feel terrified, betrayed by Jack, embarrassed, massively let down. I know he’s not a nasty boy. But he’s very stupid. And I created him with my armchair revolutionary shite.”
His mother, beyond distressed, understood her mistakes, as few parents do. She had told her son in an email, “Clearly I indulged you, I made you think you were the centre of the universe. I was a terrible parent that gave you too much power as a child. I should have made you adapt to the world, instead of adapting myself to your world. I have done you no favours by doing this.”
Parents always love their children more than their children love them. The Lettses are the only people who remember Jack as the sweet baby and the lovely little boy he once was. They are not, like many parents, excusing Jack’s faults. They are asking for mercy.
As John once wrote to his son, in those distant early days when he still had hope, “Please give my love to your new wife. I hope I will meet her one day, and I hope that you get the chance to love and laugh and play with your little boys (or girls) as much as I did. Dad.”