Seventeen-year-old ISIS volunteer Kadiza Sultana was killed by a Russian bombing strike in Syria, according to the BBC. One extraordinary thing about her is that she was already, at her age, a widow: The ISIS fighter she had married (or been married off to) had lately been killed in action. What brought her to the attention of the BBC is that she was from Bethnall Green, in the heart of London's historically cockney East End. Within the memory of, say, someone who went to London for graduate school in 1966, romantics could still think of Bethnall Green as a backwater of Dickensian proles who picked pockets, sold vegetables out of barrows and sang garrulous songs about booze and adultery.
Today "London's cockney East End" is "London's Muslim East End." Thirty-eight percent of the population of Bethnall Green is of Bangladeshi background, including the late Sultana's family. In February of 2015, she boarded a flight to Turkey with two of her Muslim school chums in hopes of waging jihad. The network ITV reported on its website, "Three heartbroken families were left behind."
Are we sure of that? They will certainly have been nervous about the fates of their daughters. But whether they were heartbroken depends on how they feel about Islamism. In such neighborhoods there is a full range of opinions on such matters.
Odd that people are so reluctant (or unable) to see the parallels between the idealistic Western youths who went to Spain to fight for Communism in the 1930s and the similarly idealistic Muslim youths coming out of the same neighborhoods, in some cases, to fight for what they see as a more just international order.
In the 1930s, there was such a vogue for Communism among London's well-educated young that Noël Coward wrote one of his great ditties about it:
Imagine the Duchess's feelings! You could have pierced her with swords When she discovered Her youngest liked Lenin And sold the Daily Worker near the House of Lords.
The war in Syria is the Spanish civil war of our time. It draws in hardened cynics but also callow schoolboys (and now, apparently, -girls). A lot of those inspired by Communism were disabused of their enthusiasm—some of them, like George Orwell, only after having volunteered to fight in Spain. Others considered just as promising by their generation of young English literati—writers like Christopher Caudwell and John Cornford—went and left their promising careers on the battlefields of Spain. There is evidence Kadiza Sultana had regrets similar to Orwell's.
But not all survive to reconsider.