Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Why Michaella's parents must be at their wits' end

Making news: Michaella McCollum Connolly...
Making news: Michaella McCollum Connolly...
...and Samantha Lewthwaite

Michaella McCollum Connolly. Samantha Lewthwaite. Two young women, both originally from Northern Ireland, both currently making headlines across the globe. For all the wrong reasons.

A Drugs Mule. And a White Widow. A whole new level of 'reality' celebrity there.

Michaella, formerly from Dungannon, has pleaded guilty to attempting to traffic over 10 kilos of cocaine from Peru. Almost two stones of the stuff in baggage allowance terms.

But topping even that, Banbridge-born Samantha has been linked to the murderous terror outfit al-Shabaab and her name mentioned in connection with the barbarous attack on the Nairobi shopping mall.

Millions of words have been written about the pair of them. Some of it is contradictory, much of it speculation. But the general picture emerging about both girls is shocking all right.

What must it be like for their parents, their families right now, reading all this stuff, trying to gauge what has really gone on? You may occasionally despair of your own daughter's lifestyle, the iffy friends she hangs about with. But this is a notch or two up from the usual parental nightmare.

When her story first emerged, I said I felt sorry for Michaella – and especially for her family.

I still do.

Trafficking drugs, particularly on the scale to which she has now pleaded guilty, is pedalling misery and potentially death. But I still don't think Michaella is one of the major criminals of our time. She's 20 years old. A daft, greedy, naive airhead maybe. (Although she certainly hasn't cornered the market on that). But she's no Pablo Escobar.

She made a horrendous mistake, got caught and will pay for it. Is already paying for it.

Samantha Lewthwaite is in an entirely different category of off-the-rails.

At 29, this daughter of a former soldier from England and a local woman from Banbridge has reportedly gone through at least a couple of husbands (the first, 7/7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay), has given birth to three or four children (accounts vary) and has been linked to a number of terror attacks on the African continent.

In some ways, she's as representative of her generation as the next 20-something tweeter. She poses, pouts and posts pictures of herself online. But there the similarity collides with medieval fundamentalism. Samantha's hijab selfies aim to bolster her image as Islamic terror voice-piece. Heavy-handed with both eyeliner and veiled threat, she's currently the world's Most Wanted Woman. And not in the lads' mag sense...

What led this bright young woman – product of a decent, honourable family – to this point?

Media analysis of her past makes a big deal of the fact that her parents divorced when she was around 11. This, seemingly, had a profound effect upon her.

Now most of us would accept that divorce can be painful for children. But the parents' marital break-up as the spur that leads inevitably to global terrorism? Come on. That's a hell of a guilt trip to lay upon anybody.

At 29, and a mother herself, Samantha Lewthwaite is well past the point where we can make excuses on the grounds of naiveté. Easily led maybe (had she met another, decent Muslim lad when she was younger how differently her story might have turned out). Her poor family – all of them – must be out of their wits with worry about what she may have become involved in. But also about what may now happen to her and to her children...

For she is still their daughter. Their flesh and blood. And that's the thing about being a parent. No matter what your children do, they are still your daughters or your sons and you cannot stop loving them or caring about them just like that.

However revolted you may be by their actions.

'No matter what your sons or daughters do, you cannot stop loving them or caring about them'

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