By: Sienna Thomas Merrils
When the case of Shamima Begum first made the headlines in 2015, a heated debate was ignited. The 15-year-old London schoolgirl had left her home to join the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, a decision that would shape the course of her life and send shockwaves through the British public.
Now, as her plea to return to the UK becomes a subject of controversy and contention, we find ourselves grappling with a complex moral, legal, and ethical conundrum. Should Shamima Begum be allowed back into the UK?
In this debate, we will delve into the various aspects of this divisive issue, examining the arguments for and against Begum’s return, the legal and political precedents at play, and the broader implications for national security and human rights in Britain. As the battleground between ethical obligations and security concerns morphs into public discourse, it is crucial to unpack the layers of this intricate debate and question where we, as a society, should draw the line.
Being a citizen is a legal status. An individual has the legal right to reside in the nation and to utilize services like welfare, education, and healthcare if they are a citizen of the UK. A person’s sense of self and belonging are frequently influenced by their citizenship, which is also an identity.
How can one lose citizenship? In certain situations, the government has the authority to revoke someone’s British citizenship. The Nationality and Borders Act made it simpler for the Home Secretary to revoke citizenship in some situations without informing the subject. These situations can include threats to national security or a person who has been charged with a major crime.
In a recent BBC programme, Begum said that under the ISIS government, her function was to be a homemaker who did not take part in terror attacks. Within ten days of her arrival in Syria, she was married off to an ISIS fighter. By the time she was 19, she had three children, two of whom are already deceased. Begum’s interviews project how soulless and monotone her voice is. Her claims go counter to one another. She is steadfast despite having a fervent desire to return home. We are aware that ISIS uses highly effective propaganda to recruit impressionable youths, so arguably Shemima was groomed before being radicalized. We must consider the circumstances under which a 15-year-old can believe it is acceptable to travel to a foreign nation and wed a stranger.
This leads me to envision how people would react if Bethnal Green’s working-class girl Shamima Begum were white. Why isn’t Shamima Begum’s story not being looked at as an example of the state failing to shield a helpless child from exploitation? The truth is that it’s convenient for a lot of people to focus on Shamima Begum, a young woman who was recruited by ISIS while studying for her mock GCSEs, groomed online over several months to travel to Turkey, and then conveyed across the border by an IS trafficker who, according to the most recent data was a Canadian intelligence agent. We should judge the government’s reluctance to accept responsibility rather than judging Shamima Begum; something that British courts are more than adequate at doing if the Crown Prosecution Service determines there is an appeal for consideration one day.
The UK government’s approach towards Shemima Begum neglect is exposed for what it is; a political stance. It cares more about shaming and destroying her name in the news than about real, British life.
The Supreme Court ruled in February 2021 that Ms Begum could not travel back to the UK to file an appeal. But according to the Home Office, even though Ms Begum was a victim of trafficking and sexual exploitation when she travelled to Syria in 2015, the Home Secretary was able to deprive her of her British citizenship because she had now become dangerous.
At the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, Ms Begum’s attorneys contested the removal of her citizenship. Ms Begum still resides in a camp in Northern Syria that is guarded by armed men. They claimed the choice was illegal because it disregarded the possibility that she had been a victim of child trafficking. The SIAC decided on February 22, 2023, that while there was a plausible argument that Ms Begum was a victim of trafficking and sexual exploitation when she travelled to Syria, she still cannot enter the UK. According to the tribunal, Begum was aware of ISIS before joining.
In conclusion, the case of Shamima Begum is a complex and emotionally charged one that ignites debates around topics like the responsibility of the state, the fight against terrorism, and the rehabilitation and reintegration of former extremists. While it is undeniable that Begum was groomed as a child and exposed to a deeply radical and dangerous environment, this does not erase the actions she took and the decisions she made because of that grooming.
Allowing Begum to regain her British citizenship is not an easy or straightforward decision, as both sides of the debate have valid arguments to consider. However, it is essential that we approach this case with compassion and an understanding of the psychological elements at play. It is also crucial that we, as a society, reflect on the systems we have in place to prevent radicalization and how we can potentially support those who have been radicalized or groomed into extremist paths. By doing so, we can better address these issues and work together in the fight against terrorism and the spread of extremist ideologies.
In the end, the choice to grant or deny Shamima Begum her British citizenship should be based on careful consideration of her individual circumstances, the potential for rehabilitation, and the safety of the public. Regardless of the outcome, we must acknowledge that this case presents an opportunity for reflection on the broader issues at hand and a chance for us to work together to create a safer, more understanding, and united future for all.
Here are a few questions I asked students, they wanted to remain anonymous in their answers:
Q: Would you consider Shemima Begum a victim?
A: I’m not going to refer to Shemima as a victim. She was capable enough to navigate airports and the Turkish-Syrian border by herself, something I can’t even do properly at twenty-one. She wasn’t clueless.
Q: Do you think Shamima Begum would have been allowed back into the UK had she been of English descent?
A: Yes. I think they would have been more inclined to look at the nuances. For example, they would have considered that she was groomed. I do not think most 15-year-olds wake up in the morning and do something of that nature without grooming involved.
Q: If Shemima were to regain her citizenship, what do you think that would look like?
A: She should serve a sentence; she would obviously need counselling and rehabilitation. We could use her case to understand what makes someone susceptible to this. If it has happened previously, it could happen again, we could potentially help others at risk in future situations.
Q: Do you think the UK government has failed Shemima?
A: Yes, I think in a sense what she has done is criminal, but the average 15-year-old does not want to do these things. The government needs to consider why she left, and they should be held accountable for letting a massive security threat fall through their hands. She was not the first to leave, there were many people who got ignored because they were Muslim.