Who was really responsible for the radicalization of the 19-year-old?
All of a sudden, the impasse involving Brexit is no longer in the news and an overwrought Theresa May, desperately trying to maintain an assertive stance despite repeated defeats in parliament with her doomed proposal, is overtaken by one Shamima Begum, a teenager from Bethnal Green, who had gone to join the IS when she was a teenager.
As news channels report, IS seems to be cornered, at least in conventional military warfare. The caliphate, which once covered roughly an area the size of the UK and had its own currency and legal system, is now staring at defeat and oblivion.
At this state, a British newspaper reportedly found Shamima Begum in a refugee camp, heavily pregnant and wanting to go back home to save her unborn baby.
This has triggered a debate as to whether a person who supported terrorism and radicalism should be allowed to come back or not.
The British home secretary has said that those who left the country to join IS were full of hate for the UK and, therefore, should not be allowed to come back.
The question as to whether the girl should be allowed to come back or not can be looked at from two angles: She supported terrorism and, therefore, no entry for her, end of discussion.
She may inveigle her way in and then engage in disruptive actions.
But, from the second perspective, there has to be a question asking why a person born and brought up in Britain decided to go against the country to join a radical outfit in an unknown state.
This second question also triggers debate about Britain’s skewed foreign policy, their involvement in the invasion of other countries based on spurious logic, and the putrid legacy of colonial-era racism -- all deeply entrenched, but conveniently covered, with lofty rhetoric about pluralism.
A symbol of failed multiculturalism?
Surprisingly, in the heated debate about the justification of allowing Shamima to come back to the UK, no one asked why Shamima had been radicalized in the first place and what beliefs motivated her and the two other girls to renounce Britain (and everything it stands for) and join IS.
It may not be wrong to state that if this issue is raised, the glaring failure of British multiculturalism will become evident. Integration has always been tough, but for certain diaspora communities in Britain, assimilation simply faltered, leading to social isolation and alienation.
There is talk that if the girl is allowed to return she will have to be investigated and de-radicalized.
That’s standard procedure, I guess, but if a probe is essential then it has to be within the UK first.
There must be a reason why young people felt that they did not belong in a country where they were born and educated. Again, in all discussions on radicalization of people from certain communities in the UK, the matter of Britain’s flawed foreign policy is never once mentioned.
When Britain went to war in Iraq, it was on a misguided rationale, one which was propagated, asserted, and forcefully made legitimate by the government. Understandably, this attack on a Muslim nation enflamed British Muslims, sowing the seeds of animosity.
But, going beyond foreign policy and the convoluted shenanigans of international politics, Britain has to investigate to what extent the diaspora communities -- which went to the UK from former colonies -- were allowed to blend in.
The fact that the mayor of London and the home secretary are of Pakistani origin belies the actual malaise which affects a large number of people from British-Asian communities.
Despite many British South-Asians making to top social positions, there are countless who possibly feel that there is a barrier preventing them from becoming truly integrated.
On the other hand, the communities are not free of blame either, because, often, their children are systematically fed with revulsion towards their adopted country from an early age. In essence, a critical social disconnect has been allowed to fester.
Shamima’s lack of repentance
Time and again, the lack of remorse on the part of Shamima in joining IS has been underlined. This has led many to state, unequivocally, that if she is not repentant for her actions then there is no room for her in the UK.
The girl is 19 and still not free from danger, so maybe, that line of not regretting her decision was made to save her from possible retribution. On the other hand, she may genuinely feel that what she did was right.
In case it’s the latter, the drive to exorcise her demons (de-radicalization) comes in. If someone is still clinging on to a set of defective and destructive notions, then they need to be debunked of their extreme concepts. Blocking them out will only deepen the repugnance and consolidate the defective ideology that they still seem to be hanging on to.
To look at it from the angle of research, Shamima is a gold mine of information as to how an extremist community operates. From military operations to day-to-day social functions, the girl has seen how IS functioned from close quarters, and since English is her first language, she will be able to give a comprehensive picture.
Then there is the humanitarian aspect with an unborn baby carried by the 19-year-old. Britain’s refusal to grant her entry will be seen as being too harsh on a youngster who made a bad choice.
Sajid Javid’s unyielding and rigid position in the case of such a teenager seemed a little disproportionate. Young people make mistakes and if they do not learn from them, parents or relatives try to inject some sense into their obsessed minds. Similarly, rejecting her flat-out does not seem very compassionate.
In several talk shows on the BBC, speakers stressed too much on the girl’s inability to be contrite for her actions, using “lack of remorse” as the deciding factor in dealing with her desire to come back to the UK. Very few actually said that her misconceptions need to be addressed, and that, using her as an example, the silent indoctrination of other teenagers within the UK should be countered.
As far as “remorse” is concerned, did Britain ever show remorse for blindly playing its part in invading other countries on concocted threats which led to the formation of a group like IS? Or, did it ever show any contrition for the centuries of repression, skullduggery, and chicanery carried out under its imperial juggernaut?
Despite the answers to these questions, and since no one made Britain a pariah for its imperfections, there’s no reason a young girl cannot be given a second chance. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, right?
Towheed Feroze is News Editor for Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.