Former Child Soldier Interview
The best part about my work is you will always find someone interesting to talk to, even when you are on holiday in the middle of no where. Freaks like us attract in the industry. So what do you do when you find out the dude has been sitting on the "Grey Side" of the fence in his previous life? You get to work! For the sake of this blog, we will call our friend "Mo".
Mo provided me personally with a very deep insight into how much of an impact fighting can have on someone at a very young age.
"This was out culture and this is all we knew. It was a very strict upbringing. I was married off and expected to raise a family by 13,14. Everything in my life was about guns. Even during weddings, we used to compete and see which side of the family fired the most rounds during the wedding (in the air)". When asked how much, he said anything from 10,000 to 20,000 rounds "yeah you'll remember that one next time you're out on the range!"
What came across to me was how entrenched this idea of being "The Ultimate Man" was into the mind of these young people. There had to behave in certain ways and could not go out and play or even smile because some of these qualities were seen as "Feminine". These traditional values were completely not in line with the religion they were practising but sadly tribalism is the trend in Yemen nowadays. As a result, all these individuals can do is talk about war, even when the hostilities are over or when they have left.
He goes on to say,"I used to compete with my wife and tell her that if she can shoot that bird, ill let here go and see her parents this weekend". I remember asking him what he feels about the war and Yemen. He goes on to explain "Look, we grew up now and we can clearly tell that we have been manipulated. Unfortunately things are and will continue to get worse. Now the word on the street is if you haven't killed someone by the time you are 12 or 13, something is wrong with you. So what do you do? This becomes your play time. We used to walk around and swap slings on each shoulder because when we go inspected (by government troops) at checkpoints, they knew if you carried a rifle simply by looking at the marks under your shirt. This is the only playtime we had."
It is clear that Mohammad is sick of the whole concept of war. He decided to move to Indonesia before "it got worse" and unfortunately things do not look too promising. Having settled there for nearly a year, he tells me "The worst thing that happened to us from this war is that it desensitised us. Today the kids have been brainwashed, there are no schools, there is death all around and killing has been looked at as something to be proud of rather than a sin, I am sick of it....If the international community do not want to help us out, then let them deal with this mess once it gets out into their own turf"
It is really clear that any re-integration program moving forward has to have a "split-component" in order to help address issues of child soldiers when it comes to contemporary counter-terrorism strategy. Fighting at such a young age, the 'fighter' plays a very major role in the identity of the child and the strength of the emotions felt by this person at such a young age definitely has a physical impact on their brain development and how they see the world as they grow up. We would like to think that Mohammad is doing fine now, he is in the process of bringing his family over and is very happy with his life, but the question he raises is still relevant. How about the other ones that are still out there? What will happen to them when they grow up?