The incident that led British students and doctors of Sudanese origin to join the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria created waves of surprise, indignation and condemnation among British and Sudanese media. The fate of the British doctors and students in addition to an American, a Canadian and two Sudanese citizens are still unknown. At this time, we have to support the bereaved families in these difficult circumstances.
This incident raised many hard questions to the Sudanese migrants (diaspora) in Europe, USA and Canada. The key question is what are the reasons that led this young group to extreme radicalisation? Whereas the implicit question is why families send their sons and daughters from UK, USA and Canada to study at Sudan universities?
The obvious answer to the implicit question is that families are keen for their children to connect with their values and roots. However, this answer is not completely honest, because establishing true values begins at home and children can be linked to their roots early in life through visits during school holidays. However, there is a group of the Sudanese community still lives outside the framework of analytical thought and rational logic, and did not understand that their children grew up in an environment altogether different from their own. In addition, this group pushes their children to become doctors and dentists, and are willing to employ devious means to achieve that.
For example, students who fail to enter British medical and dental colleges, and those with only GCSE grades are readily accepted at Sudan universities because their parents are able to pay the tuition fees in foreign currencies. Such students with huge disposable cash and foreign passports are targets to Islamic jihadist groups on one hand, and criminal gangs on the other.
Many British students who graduate from Sudan universities pay high price for future medical and professional careers, especially when they choose to practice in the UK. This is due to firstly, lack of recognitions of their degrees by the European medical boards; secondly, shrinking opportunities of training in medical and dental hospitals; thirdly, competition with doctors from Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth; and finally, the recent policy of the UK government that adopted self-sufficiency from home universities.
At my work at The Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, I have witnessed the suffering of Sudan graduates and their remorse for heeding their parents’ wishes. This analysis is not against the desire of families to guide their children to select a profession but rather it criticizes the means used to achieve such goals. One cannot comprehend why educated parents choose Sudan universities over British ones. When they know that UK students can sit for A-level examinations many times to achieve the necessary grades, or they can study medicine or dentistry after BSc, MSc and PhD.
Sudanese migrants/diaspora in Europe, USA and Canada had never realised that they will live for decades in these countries and might not return back to Sudan as they always imagined. They did not formulate any vision to teach moderate Islam to the second, or the third generation. Many diaspora never changed their naïve Sudanese ways of thinking and did not utilize the available resources in these countries to build coherent communities. In addition, they lack a unified curriculum for teaching Arabic Language and Islamic Studies. That is why children are often sent to schools and mosques run by extremists Muslims from Arab, African and Asian countries and financially supported by Salafist groups. This may be one of the reasons that the Sudanese community in UK is implicated as a recruitment base for extremists such as ISIS.
It is highly urgent to come up with practical answers to the hard questions facing the diaspora and to devise road maps to prevent and stop this deadliest migration to ISIS. This will require both family and community efforts. At the family level, parents should carefully select Arabic Schools and mosques and monitor any signs of change in behaviour. Behavioural changes such as keeping a distance from family and friends, and the tendency to use extremist views and language. At community level, we have to exploit all available resources to acquire and set up schools, mosques, and work hard to satisfy the spiritual needs of our children and young people on moderate Islam.
Dr Ahmed Hashim