Lisa Smith: Revisiting the tale of an Irish Jihadi Bride

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The story of an Irish woman named Lisa Smith remains an enigma and a case of serious deliberation. Lisa Smith is a known example of a woman who travelled to Syria for joining ISIS. Smith converted to Islam in 2005 and travelled to Syria in 2015 to embrace the caliphate. She got married to a British jihadist and also had a daughter during her time in Syria. Astonishingly, She was also a member of Irish defence forces and her radicalisation raises some pertinent questions on the vulnerability of Irish society to radicalisation. According to Orla Lynch, “her conversion to Islam was quite normal and many people undergo that process. The focus is on meaning-making and a search for identity. When we think about how and why people get involved in ISIS. a lot of the time we’re looking at identity – personal identity, social identity, a shift in how you see the in-group and out-group – and also action-orientated individuals. If you think about what ISIS offers. it offers individuals the opportunity to enact what they think” (Lynch, 2020). The remark of Lynch brings a deeper understanding of the process of radicalisation. The radicalisation of Lisa Smith shows her need to exert and explicate her identity which she was inaccessible in the society she was living in. Oliver Roy further elucidates it by linking it to the theme of rebellion against the society where individuals struggle to express themselves. According to Roy, a “typical European-born ISIS fighter does not place religious beliefs as the number one reason for their decision to join. Instead, Roy demonstrates that the ‘typical extremist’ is a young man who has become radicalised, often during short-term prison sentences for minor crimes. As a rejection of authority, he travels abroad to fight for ISIS” (Clerx, 2020)  


In 2019, Lisa Smith was granted entry into Ireland as her return was the only option that was left with the Irish State. Her return created uproar in the Irish society as people feared her entry as propagation of jihadist ideology.  Shaykh Dr Umar al-Qadri, the chairman of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council decisively commented that Smith would be banished from the Irish Islamic society and would not be allowed to enter the mosques. This is also a prevalent pattern in many European societies where the foreign fighter is not allowed to enter the country or is isolated on his/her arrival. The reason behind their marginalization is the fear of them being the “agents of destruction” and also an encouragement for other citizens. Rob Wainwright who is an ex-Europol director supports this argument by stating that “returning fighters may encourage others to join ISIS, or use their experience and contacts to conduct extremist activities at home”. On the other hand, alternative research from the European Council on Foreign Relations (Clerx, 2020) supports the idea of bringing European ISIS fighters back to the country as “the repeat offending rate for political violence and terrorism is under 10%, compared to 50 to 70% for ordinary crime” (Clerx, 2020). Another important reason behind the incorporation of foreign fighters in society is to systematically de-radicalize them and help them with their re-integration into society. 

The Irish government lacks in developing re-integration plans which other countries like the United Kingdom and Australia have efficiently developed. For example, the United Kingdom has a ‘desistance and disengagement programme’. This program aids and supports the issue that arises from radicalisation. It also includes an exhaustive plan for the re-integration of foreign fighters into society by providing them mentoring tools and psychological support. A similar strategy is also being adopted by countries like Germany and France. The reason behind adopting this approach is the understanding that disengagement from radicalisation can happen only through a copious understanding of the fighters’ circumstances and strategic steps to deal with it. The inclusive and participatory planning processes can also help to identify specific factors like in case Smith that are usually left unexplored but greatly contribute to the marginalization of women like her and hence in their contribution to radical violence.


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  4. Irish, I. (2019). Lisa Smith walked through “bombs, poverty and desert” to get back to Ireland, court told as she’s charged with Isis membership. [online] independent. Available at: [Accessed 20 Sep. 2021].
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