Shamima Begum’s interviews are difficult to watch. The 19 year old comes across as unrepentant, insincere and blasé about her decision to leave her family for a new life with a terrorist organisation.
What Begum has witnessed and been through since that day in 2015 is unthinkable, but it would be unfair to cast her as a victim. She bought into an ideology that is based on hatred and violence and an insult to Islam.
There is no evidence that Begum has committed any crime, but her decision to join Isis in Syria was a propaganda victory for the regime. It showed Isis, their victims and enemies that they had power, and that power subsequently led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people.
The atrocities committed by Isis fighters are well documented, but little is said of the roles of some women in the caliphate. Yazidi women who were abducted, sold and repeatedly raped by Isis soldiers have spoken about how the wives of their oppressors saw them as their “slaves”, ordering them to do chores and even preparing them to be raped by their husbands by applying makeup to their faces and tying them to the bed.
Begum went to Syria when Isis was positioning itself as an extremist utopia. The group revelled in its barbarity, sharing videos of beheadings and innocent people being burned alive. Life in the caliphate was never sugar-coated. The truth was there for everyone to see.
At the age of 15 Begum made a poor decision that had consequences not only for herself and her family but for other British Muslims who have fallen victim to hate crime as a result of Isis’s reputation.
But it doesn’t mean she should be disowned by her country. It is in the UK where Begum was born and later radicalised. Somewhere along the line she felt that a life with murderous extremists would be more appealing than the one she had here, and the UK authorities missed opportunities to prevent her from going to Syria. We have to take responsibility.
The Home Office’s decision to strip Begum of her British citizenship is short-sighted and sets a dangerous precedent for people who commit crimes in future.
To take away Begum’s citizenship is to make a statement that some people are “less British” than others. It sends out a message to the children of immigrants that their rights can be taken away from them, that they can be cast off at the drop of a hat, that they have dual citizenship by descent.
The law is not a vehicle for revenge and retribution – it is an instrument of justice. Justice is not leaving a young mother and baby stateless.
Without the right to return to the UK Begum is at risk of becoming radicalised further, floating from camp to camp and having more reason than ever to hate the UK and everything it stands for.
Begum should be brought home, her child should be given protection, if she has committed a crime she should be tried, and steps should be taken to deradicalise her.
If what Begum did is immoral and “un-British”, it is now up to the British authorities to set an example not by leaving a young mother and child homeless, but by thinking about the wider implications of choosing to shut her out.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy
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