Separating children from parents: A sordid modern practice

Separating families is the most terrifying form of state
oppression to maintain dominance over populations



The story
of
hijrah – the migration of
the first Muslim community – is known well throughout the Islamic world. The
Muslim calendar even begins from this date. What may be less well-known is that
some of the people who tried to make this momentous journey were forcibly
separated from their children.


One
notable story is that of Umm Salamah – a woman who would later become a wife of
the Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him).


Like most of the
the nascent Muslim community facing persecution in Makkah and hopes of a new
beginning in Madinah, Umm Salamah and her husband made preparations and set off
for the migration. However, they were stopped in their tracks and forced to
separate. After tribal intervention, Umm Salamah’s
husband
left with their only
child. She was forced to stay behind.



Most right minded people understand
that forcible separation of children from their parents is the cruelest of
punishments and can only be justified if the child itself is at risk of
harm


A year passed
before she was freed and allowed to join her family. This is how
she
described her ordeal:


“From the day when
my husband and my son were separated from me, I went out at noon every day to
that valley and sat in the spot where this tragedy occurred. I would recall
those terrible moments and weep until night fell on me. I continued like this
for a year.”


Cultural genocide
in Canada


Most
right-minded people understand that forcible separation of children from their
parents is the cruelest of punishments and can only be justified if the child
itself is at risk of harm. However, splitting children from their mothers for
the purpose of enlightened “education” and indoctrination has been a far more
common practice in recent times.


In November 2017,
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an
emotional
apology for
unspeakable crimes committed by the Canadian state against its native
population.


Between 1949 and
1979 thousands of indigenous First Nation children were forcibly separated from
their families and placed in residential “schools” in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The children were sometimes taken at gunpoint and handcuffed and then flown off
to schools that were deliberately located at a considerable distance from
children’s rural communities.


Some media reports state that
school-related deaths of native children exceed 6,000. Details of the deaths
were usually not recorded and parents were not informed.
Instead,
children were
buried
 
in unmarked
graves.


Demonstrators hold placards as they march against the
separation of immigrant families, on 30 June 2018 in Washington, DC
(AFP)


In
his apology, with tearful eyes, Trudeau acknowledged the children had suffered
“physical, psychological and sexual abuse” and that “all were deprived of the
love and the care of their families, of their parents and of their
communities.”


Of course, the
purpose of these schools was to re-educate and “civilise” the children to
becoming better Canadian citizens. The schools were run by churches and funded
by the federal government. Their original
stated
aim
was to “kill the Indian in the child”.


In 2015,
the
National Centre for Truth
and Reconciliation – a body established to find the truth behind the abuses of
the residential schools – concluded that what happened to the children of First
Nation Canadians amounted to
cultural
genocide
. Others have argued that
what happened with Canada’s children was actual genocide.


The last
residential school run by the Canadian government, Gordon Indian Residential
School in Saskatchewan, closed in 1996.


Australia’s Stolen
Generations


In the
award-winning film Rabbit
Proof Fence
, three mixed-race Australian children, 14-year-old Molly, her
sister eight-year-old Daisy, and their 10-year-old cousin Gracie (renamed as
such by Europeans) are taken from their Aboriginal mothers by white government
officials and placed in a fostering centre over 1000 km from their tribal home,
in an attempt to “civilise” them by teaching them to be domestic
workers.


As the children of
mixed unions, they had been raised by their mothers as Aboriginal children,
absorbed into families and gifted with the knowledge of how to live off the
country’s difficult, arid land. However, such an existence was deemed
‘uncivilised’ by white church and government officials.



Separating families is arguably the
most terrifying form of state oppression – and also the most effective, even
when threatened, to maintain dominance over populations


The story of these
children is well known: between 1910 and 1970 as many as 50,000 children at
least were removed from their families so they could be “educated”, and
“civilised” into a system of dominance that remains intact to this day in
Australia.


Known as the
Stolen Generations, this deadening blot on Australia’s past is not an isolated
event. It is a notable part of the long, sad and staggering history of eugenic
experiments wrought on indigenous people, people of colour, or those who ascribe
to different belief systems, by successive governments of the
day.



A volunteer hangs traditional Aboriginal art, painted by
school children, up to dry at Sydney’s Hyde Park on 3 July, 2017. The week long
annual event celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture
(AFP


Separating
families is arguably the most terrifying form of state oppression – and also the
most effective, even when threatened, to maintain dominance over
populations.


It is no surprise
then that is still being done – not only in Australia, whose notorious detention
centres
violate international law and
profit through the separation and abuse of children, but in other countries
too:
Denmark in
its ruthless immigration policy that seeks to “re-educate” Muslim toddlers
including forcing them to celebrate Christmas; the United States and now, it
appears, more subtly in Britain.


This
abuse is facilitated by a fear-driven narrative perpetuated by the media
particularly against immigrant people and Muslims, a legislative environment
enabling increasingly acute structural discrimination, most notably through the
lens of the “war on terror”, and – not to be forgotten, though it is often
overlooked – the staggering profits to be made from different sectors who play a
role in removing, detaining, psychologically assessing and placing children with
other families.


China’s
Uighurs


The language of
the “war on terror” has been used by both despots and democrats across the globe
to hone in on Islamic beliefs and practices. In the West, Muslims
face
unprecedented
discrimination
in the streets, in the media and in
legislation. In other places Muslims have been incarcerated en masse,
tortured,
ethnically
cleansed
 
and killed in the name of
“fighting terrorism”.


One of the more
disturbing tactics used to purge Muslims of their basic values and beliefs is
the use of re-education internment camps by the Chinese government against
Muslim Uighurs in East Turkestan, China.


In these camps,
where eyewitnesses have reported
reported
torture
, rape and extrajudicial killings, Uighurs are imprisoned
without trial and forced to renounce their religion and swear allegiance to the
Communist party. Uighurs say they have been imprisoned for praying, reading the
Quran or just speaking to someone abroad.



One of the more disturbing tactics
used to purge Muslims of their basic values and beliefs is the use of
re-education internment camps by the Chinese government against Muslim Uighurs
in East Turkestan, China


Recent reports describe shocking
accounts of how up to one million adults have been sent for re-education in
internment camps designed to inculcate ethnic Muslim Uighurs with “Chinese
values”.


The children of
the internees are effectively left without parents and sent to be rehoused in
orphanages where they are systematically divested of their parent’s religion and
culture. They are forced to learn Mandarin and punished for speaking in their
native tongue.


The Chinese government says this is all necessary in
order to prevent terrorism, separatism and to nurture that of- repeated but
highly ironic phrase we hear often in the UK, “community
cohesion”.



A protest of supporters of the mostly Muslim Uighur
minority and Turkish nationalists to denounce China’s treatment of ethnic Uighur
Muslims, in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul, on 5 July 2018
(AFP)


The
Chinese government does not use the term “orphanages”. Instead, these holding
centres for children are known as “welfare centres” and “protection centres”.
The state argues children in these institutions are taught “civilised living
habits.” Echoes of Australia’s appalling treatment of its aboriginal “Stolen
Generation” seem to have fallen on deaf ears. But, communist China is far from
the only child-snatching culprit in the 21st century.


Shocking
stories


In the space of
two weeks, between mid-April to May,
more than 2,500
children
(and one anonymous government official is reported to
have said as many as 11,500) from Central America who had come to the United
States across the border, were removed from their families at the border and
placed in euphemistically named “government holding
facilities”.


These
“facilities”, it was later
revealed,
corralled the children into enclosures that resembled cages – wire meshed on the
top and sides so that children could not climb out, in which mattresses lay side
by side. Even the right-wing website Breitbart struggled linguistically to
describe these facilities, settling finally, obliquely, on the phrase
“chain-link partitions”.


Casa Padre, the
largest government-contracted migrant youth shelter, located in Brownsville,
Texas, is located in a former Walmart Supercenter. This facility – which houses
only boys – features murals espousing American “freedom” and featuring portraits
of Obama and Trump, and bright American flags, next to which one ambiguous
slogan proclaimed: “Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the
war.”


One might be forgiven for assuming that these young boys
were being groomed on arrival for service in the US military.



These shocking stories acknowledge
that the numbers of lost children are growing, as the lens of the media turns to
other things


And the terrible
and heavy question remains: where are all the girls? One New
Yorker
investigation tells how “Helen”,
a five year old girl, was made to sign a document relinquishing all of her
rights, in between classes where she drew symbols of the United States,
including the Statue of Liberty.


These shocking
stories acknowledge that the numbers of lost children are growing, as the lens
of the media turns to other things. US officials in
June
cited the
figure of children in US government custody likely being as high as 30,000 by
August.


The path of these
children from the cages at the border is unclear. Location of detainees is
determined through a computerised system run by the notorious Immigration and
Customs Enforcement ICE). But when you click through to
the
Detainee
Location
page it says that children under the age of 18 cannot
be located.


Irma Levin (L) holds a placard during a “Keeping
Families Together” march in protest of family seperations at the US-Mexico
border on 20 July 2018 (AFP)


There
is also growing confusion and the usual political mudslinging at the expense of
pressing issues at hand over who should be taking responsibility of reuniting
children with their families: the state or the charity sector, with neither
stepping in with any definitive measures so far. In fact, many have
decried that there is actually no
government mechanism in place to facilitate reunions.


Prevent on separating families


In today’s world
where charities must encounter differing belief systems, the desire to dominate
or suppress these systems is no longer appropriate or justified, and was really
never so.


Of
course, Britain is not doing what Canada, Australia and China have done but, the
pattern of attempting to force separation for the purpose of re-education is a
disturbing one. The veneer of doing good by separating children from their
families is wrapped in the language of “safeguarding”, and in this way it fits
perfectly the historical paradigm.


This is evidenced
clearly and startlingly by CAGE’s latest
report,
Separating Families: How Prevent Seeks the Removal of Children. The report
features robust academic research alongside testimonies from parents who have
faced the prospect of having their children removed, or have been threatened
with their removal.


Removals through
Prevent are based on the state’s faulty definition of “extremism” or perceived
“signs of radicalisation”. The words “extremism” and “radicalisation” are
rapidly becoming part of the new colonial lexicon heralded by the “War on
Terror”, and yet they have little factual substance despite wielding much
emotive – and increasingly judicial – weight.



Britain is not doing what Canada,
Australia and China have done but, the pattern of attempting to force separation
for the purpose of re-education is a disturbing one


While nobody can
deny that the need to address political violence is pressing, the
counter-extremism sector dodges the key issues – British foreign policy, a
two-tier justice system at home – and instead relies on faulty and
scientifically unsound methods of evaluating belief and behaviour under the
broad umbrella of “extremism” and “radicalisation”.


As is evidenced in
the report, “extremism” in the eyes of Prevent includes a set of beliefs and
behaviours deemed unacceptable by the government. This includes opposition to
the key issues mentioned previously, as well as practices that are
characteristic of normative Islamic belief.


In
one of CAGE’s testimonies, a father whose daughter was removed tells of her
foster family refusing to let her associate with Muslims, denying her Islamic
literature and encouraging her to change her dress and eating habits to emulate
an un-Islamic culture. “They are trying to take the Islam out of our children,”
he said.


A giant step
backwards


We must pause here
to say that in the rare cases of actual child abuse, certainly there must be
systems in place to find children better homes. However, invoking such drastic
measures based on unreliable, and at times political notions of what is correct
belief and what is not, can do deep generational damage to children and
communities.


It will also
damage the crucial social services sector itself, since it will lose credibility
and simply be seen as the tool of a police state. This is why the report is very
important, and must be considered carefully by those who care about the future
of this country.



Activists, including childcare providers, parents and
their children, protest against the Trump administrations recent family
detention and separation policies for migrants along the southern border, near
the New York offices of US Immigration (AFP)


It
is also worth stating that in Iraq, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces are
holding British families, among other nationalities, who are suspected Islamic
State group (IS) supporters. They are keeping
thousands of women and
children
 
in custody in both Syria
and Iraq, but they do not separate children from their mothers. This even
includes those who have been convicted of memberships of IS.


These
were women who either chose to take their children into IS territory or gave
birth to children in their “caliphate”. Separating children from their mothers,
even for those most affected by violence, seems a step too far.


Surely, there are
lessons that governments need to learn.


In Rabbit Proof Fence, the three girls who are
taken from their Aboriginal mothers, saddened and puzzled by institutional
existence, escape from the centre and embark on an incredible journey across the
country. Braving the beating sun, wild animals and near-starvation, they follow
the fence across swathes of desert land because they know it will lead them back
home to their mothers, and their birth families.



READ MORE ►


ANALYSIS:
US and Canada’s immigration policies moving in opposite
directions


After completing a
harrowing journey of three months and 1500km, the state is so astounded by their
resilience, faith and love for one another and their mothers, that they leave
them be.


The film, a
metaphorical triumph for the right of children to be raised by their birth
families, is based on the real-life account published in a book of the same name
and written by Doris Pilkington Garimara
(born
Nugi Garimara), who narrated the story of her mother “Molly Craig”, her sister,
Daisy, and cousin Gracie whose resistance lives on in their remarkable
story.


Like the other
mothers and fathers who tell their stories to those who will listen, when aired,
their words fly like eagles with such simple beauty and strength that it is no
wonder the powerful seek to silence them.



This satellite image obtained 20 June 2018 courtesy of
PlanetLabs shows the US Department of Health and Human Services newly
constructed desert tent city for migrant children in Texas
(AFP)


It
is a fitting closing then, to pause and consider the words of one mother who
triumphed over the state’s attempts to remove her children:


“There’s
really absolutely nothing to prove the ‘signs of radicalisation’. ‘Signs of
radicalisation’ simply don’t exist. There’s no characteristic that you can spot
to determine who is dangerous and who isn’t. But for them, number one is that
you are Muslim, that you pray five times a day, and you have
grievances.


“If my children were to grow up, pierce their bodies,
put tattoos all over themselves and worship Satan, that won’t cause an
intervention – but if my daughter wears hijab, and my son grows a beard and
wears a thobe, that is a cause for concern


“I always try to
safeguard their Islamic identity and I remain very unapologetic about that. For
my kids, it didn’t really impact them on their Islamic side, because – a lot of
people withdraw their kids from Quran classes, or Westernise their dress for the
court – but I didn’t do that. I didn’t want to change the way I am or the way my
kids were. I want them to see us for what we are. It is a means of educating
them, and I wasn’t going to pretend.”


This
is not only because preserving the family unit is necessary for a healthy
society. It is because mercy to children through preserving the mother-child
bond whenever possible and humanely viable is a way to remove the darkness from
our own hearts – in a manner fitting to that sacred quality of mercy.



Moazzam
Begg
is
a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, author of Enemy Combatant and outreach
director for UK-based campaigning organisation CAGE. Follow him on twitter:
@Moazzam_Begg


– Karen
Jayes
is
currently the spokesperson for CAGE Africa, a branch of CAGE advocacy group
in the UK


The views expressed in this article belong to the author
and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East
Eye.


Photo: Activists, including childcare providers, parents
and their children, protest against the Trump administrations recent family
detention and separation policies for migrants along the southern border,18
July, 2018 (AFP)

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