Let’s talk about Shamima begum. Why not, everyone else is. The teenage mum who left the UK at fifteen to join Islamic State in Syria has recently had her passport revoked. The debates over the legality of this move will rage on. As will the debates over whether she should be allowed to return.
At the age of just fifteen Begum along with two other students from Bethnal Green Academy travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State. It was shocking at the time but their meant IS were able to use the sensationalism in order to elevate the girls and use them as “poster girls” for IS recruitment.
Fast forward 4 years. Begum is in a Syrian refugee camp and wants to return home for fear of losing her newly born child. She has already lost two children. Begum is married to a known terrorist and member of IS (who is currently living in Holland). Because of this, the government has revoked her British citizenship, meaning, at least for now, she won’t be allowed to return to Great Britain.
This is where things get a bit “dicey”. Legally she was born in Great Britain so she is a citizen of Britain. In past cases, similar to this one, where people who left for Syria to join IS their British passports were revoked as they had dual nationality. There is an element of “not our problem” about this approach.
Legally, people are not allowed to be left without a state. Begum does not have dual nationality. Although her mother was Bangladeshi so she does qualify for a passport from Bangladesh, although whether she has one or not is unclear. Her parents intend on challenging the decision and if it goes to the courts it could be quite embarrassing for the government if they rule she is allowed to return.
Her motivations for wanting to return are clear. She doesn’t want to live in a refugee camp and she is concerned for her child. Having lost two children already this is understandable. In the one interview that exists with her, she hasn’t exactly ingratiated herself with the British public. While she claims the Manchester Attack was wrong, she later justifies it as retaliation. She claims that the bombs being dropped on Syria are akin to the terror attacks in the UK.
In the video, she is not tearful and her body language doesn’t show any real signs of shame. She talks about beheadings dispassionately, like it is mundane. However, it is unclear if this is the effects of radicalisation.
The arguments for her return
The main arguments for her returning to the country are the fact that she is a British citizen. Her supporters feel that she was failed by the system. The also site her age when she made the decision to leave for Syria, she wasn’t legally an adult and that should mitigate the situation. They also point to the fact that she was radicalised, effectively brainwashed.
The arguments against
She joined a terrorist organisation. She made that choice. If she comes back to Britain she could spread her rhetoric. People aren’t happy about her lack of remorse and it seems like she is still an IS supporter at heart. As for Begum’s age, I think it’s fair to say that if at the age of 11 years old the killers of Jamie Bulger were sentenced then at 15 she should face up to the decisions she has made.
There is none, at least not from me, both sides make compelling arguments but ultimately it is the hands of the government and probably the legal system.