Christianne Boudreau lost her son to the Islamic State. 22-year-old Damian Clairmont died fighting for the jihadist group in Syria after converting to Islam and radicalizing in Canada. Now, Boudreau is organizing a support group for Western mothers of slain jihadists, in the hopes of helping others cope with their pain.
“I have no choice at this point, because I can’t just let Damian die in vain and that’s the end of it, and just walk away from it and let it happen to another family … I can’t,” Boudreau tells Canada’s CBC, explaining that those intimately familiar with what the Islamist radicalization process looks like can have a hand in helping prevent such a change from happening in the sons of other people.
Clairmont died fighting near Aleppo in January, after having changed his name to Abu Talha al-Canadi. Islamic State sources claimed Clairmont was killed at the hands of the Free Syrian Army, a rival anti-Assad faction working in Syria that some in the West have argued is more moderate than the Islamic State. Since his death, his mother has worked to organize a support group for families that have similarly lost family members, and work to bring preventative operations into Canada to help families who suspect their children may be on the path to radicalization.
Boudreau explains that she hit a wall trying to communicate with families of converted jihadists in Canada. Many, she says, would have rather kept their grief private than try to discuss it with others in similar situations. “I had no one to reach out to, there was nobody who understood what I was going through… It was like I was in a bad movie and I couldn’t make it stop,” she says.
Instead, she began seeking others in the international community who, like her, wanted an outlet for their pain. She found a French woman named Domnique Bons, who lost two sons to the Islamic State. The two women are now working to expand a German program called “Hayat,” intended to help parents whose children have not yet been fully radicalized re-integrate their children into mainstream society. The group, CBC explains, is an offshoot of a similar group used to deradicalize neo-Nazis within Germany. “It’s a sense of reining them [radicals] back in so they are closer to the family again,” Boudreau explains.
The Islamic State has had unprecedented success in the West with converting young men to radical Islamism. The group has specifically targeted Canadian Muslim men in its propaganda videos, releasing a video in honor of slain jihadist André Poulin, who explained that before Islam he enjoyed bacon and hockey but came to see the sin in Western life.