It is impossible to feel anything but pity for the family of Aqsa Mahmood, the privately educated and westernised Glasgow girl who has joined Islamic State (IS) and is now inciting others to jihad. Her mum and dad, Khalida and Muzaffar, seem to have poured so much love into raising her to be a good citizen of Scotland. Like most parents, they harboured high ambitions for her future, dreaming of the day she would become a doctor.
Instead, Aqsa has defied her liberal upbringing, embracing a brutal cause with which her family has no truck. Last year, she dropped out of university and travelled to Syria to join the terrorist group.
The Mahmoods’ sense of betrayal was palpable in the statement read out on their behalf yesterday. Though they have thought of little else since she disappeared in November, they struggle to understand how their once “sweet, peaceful, intelligent child” could have joined a group “killing in the name of religion”.
Their incomprehension is mirrored by the rest of society. Yet it has been clear for a long time that hundreds of British Muslims are being radicalised, either in mosques or online. Though most of the cases so far have involved men from English cities, there was never any reason to suppose Scotland would be any less susceptible to the phenomenon. Earlier this year ex-Aberdeen schoolboy Abdul Raqib Amin was discovered clutching an AK-47 and spouting propaganda on an IS video. Though it seems likely his radicalisation took place after he moved to Leicester, his formative years were spent on the unremarkable estate of Froghall.
There appear to be no defining characteristics that mark young people out as predisposed to radicalisation. The phenomenon crosses social, educational and geographical boundaries, so it is alarming that so much attention has been focused on tackling the problem in England and so little in Scotland. David Cameron and Theresa May have spoken frequently about the rising threat and the need to counter it, but from the Scottish Cabinet there has been barely a word. Along with other national scandals, it appears to have been written off as a “southern” problem, until – guess what – it rears its ugly head here too.
The reluctance to confront radicalisation in Scotland may, in part, be due to the referendum. But though the Scottish Government is in pre-vote purdah, there are some issues too important to be swept under the carpet until after 18 September.
Perhaps valuable counter-radicalisation work is going on behind the scenes. But politicians need to take the lead; they need to make it clear Scotland is prepared to be proactive in identifying those who might be falling under the influence of fundamentalism, and intervening.
As IS tightens its grip on the Middle East, it is imperative something is done to stop other Scottish Muslims following Aqsa Mahmood to Syria or Iraq.
Bridge that spanned a half century
IT MAY have spent its life playing second fiddle to its neighbour, but the Forth Road Bridge will be the centre of attention as it celebrates its 50th birthday tonight.
An engineering marvel in its own right, it has nevertheless been overshadowed by the mighty metal girders of the more iconic rail bridge which pre-dates it by more than 70 years and was – until 1917 – the longest cantilever bridge span in the world.
With its three great red towers, the rail bridge bestrides the Firth, dominating its rival crossing like a great bull mastiff lying beside a greyhound. Yet, like a greyhound, the Forth Road Bridge has its own sleek grace; and it too has served faithfully, carrying more than three quarters of a billion vehicles during its lifetime.
When it opened in 1964, replacing the 800-year-old ferry service, the 1.5-mile Edinburgh to Fife crossing was the longest suspension bridge outside the US. And it’s still an impressive sight. Comprised of 39,000 tonnes of steel and 115,000 cubic metres of concrete, its own towers rise 156 metres above mean water level.
Now, of course, the Forth Road Bridge is heading for semi-retiral; when the Queensferry Crossing opens in 2016, almost all of the 23 million vehicles a year which currently use it will switch, leaving it with only buses, taxis, cycles and pedestrians.
Tonight, surviving bridge builders and long-serving bridge staff will toast its golden anniversary at a dinner at the National Museum of Scotland. It will also take centre stage in the Forth Bridges Festival which begins today.
It is only fitting that, before this Scottish landmark embarks on its twilight years, it is allowed to enjoy a brief moment in the sun.