shamima begum bbc

By Jonathan Lee

Another day, another outrage. This time it’s about one-time ‘ISIS bride’ Shamima Begum, a 20-year-old girl from Bethnal Green who has finally had her right to return home recognised, after leaving the UK in 2014 to join the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

Begum had her citizenship stripped from her in February 2019 by the Home Office. This was declared legal on account of her being a Bangladeshi dual national, meaning she would not be made stateless. However, when she was asked by the BBC, she said she did not have a Bangladeshi passport and had never been to the country. Regardless of the decision against her, her son was a British citizen and should have been allowed to return. Perhaps if he had been allowed to he might have survived. As it was he died of pneumonia in a refugee camp in Northern Syria, a month after his mother had her citizenship revoked. You have to wonder if this all would have happened had she been white?

But none of that matters to the pundits of today. The newspapers, news channels, chatshows, and everyone’s social media feeds are spilling over with people weighing in on the matter. My Facebook is honestly just wall-to-wall nuanced legal opinions on issues of geopolitical security in relation to individual citizen’s rights, considered debates on the rights of the child, intricacies of international law on statelessness and terrorism, and what constitutes ‘treason’ in the modern age with regard to a civilian teenager.

…not really.

Most people either want to kill her, or punish her by denying her the citizenship of the country she was born and raised in. The news cycle is obsessed with getting the all important take on the outrage-of-the-week from the ‘average Briton’. Because apparently everything is put to public vote now in Brexit Britain (but only once mind, statelessness means statelessness). Maybe this will be something we can look forward to more regularly after we leave leave the European Union at the end of the year – trial by referendum, with no chance of appeal. They could put it on telly just before the lotto numbers are drawn.

Because no matter what Shamima Begum has done – she is still British.

Scrolling through my Facebook feed has at least reminded me how lucky we are to live in a (mostly) functioning democratic nation state, where the capricious will of the mob doesn’t hold full sway on issues of justice and human rights. Because no matter what Shamima Begum has done – she is still British. It is completely illegal under international law for the United Kingdom to willfully make her stateless, a person without a nationality. Theresa May said so herself. Back in 2014, when she was doing a stellar job of persecuting immigrants as Home Secretary, she said: “it is illegal for any country to make its citizens stateless, any British national who returns from Syria and Iraq faces prosecution here for participating in terrorist activities abroad.”

Arguably, Shamima has not actually committed any acts of terror herself. She married a terrorist at the age of 15 and joined a proscribed group which, when  she returns to the UK,  she will face justice for. Perhaps if she had been a white female convert then the ‘average Briton’ would be proselytising about how she was a victim of grooming and Muslim brainwashing.

Instead, banal moral clichés abound. I have thumbed through page after page of comments reiterating the same trite sayings and inherited wisdoms from someone’s aunty or uncle somewhere. As if manners and etiquette have any bearing on the status of this girl’s nationality or the illegality of denying her entry to her own country. The patriotic evangelizing of the British public about sleeping with the enemy and making beds and lying in them has been both nauseating and tedious. Britain is a nation of armchair pseudo-philosophers, obsessed with patriot-signalling through meaningless (weirdly, always bed-related) platitudes.

The same banal arguments, which are invariably IN ALL CAPS, continue from last year. Back then some argued that her child should have been taken away from her, as to raise a child with such extremist beliefs is tantamount to child abuse. Presumably then, the same should be done for Tommy Robinson’s children? The children of EDL members? Or perhaps anyone whose views lie outside of the right-wing conception of what is free speech and what is not.

Perhaps if she had been a white female convert then the ‘average Briton’ would be proselytising about how she was a victim of grooming and Muslim brainwashing. 

The debate on whether this British person should theoretically be allowed into her own country or not because she holds fanatical religious views is not only moot legally, but the story is actually pretty pedestrian when you consider that over 400 actual ISIS fighters have likely returned to the UK already. Yet the question of whether she deserves to be let back in is repeatedly asked to fuel tabloid fodder for garden-variety Islamophobes.

All the while Boris Johnson continues marching clownishly towards the cliff-edge of December 31st 2020, where we will crash out of the European Union without any trade agreements whatsoever. Oh and 45,000 people lie dead, with more still dying in triple figures in England every day because of the Government’s disastrous mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s getting difficult to tell whether this is the Tories’ tried and tested distraction tactic politics, or if actually everyone is so genuinely bored by the coronavirus that a bit of jihadi intrigue is just a welcome break from the everyday grimness. After all, as they say, a change is as good as a rest…

Featured image via BBC

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