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Britain cannot evade its responsibility

  • Published at 12:03 am February 26th, 2019
Not addressing the larger issue BIGSTOCK

The UK’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her citizenship makes no sense

I am not going to talk at length about the legal issues related to 19-year-old Shamima Begum having her citizenship revoked, who left the UK, four years ago, to serve IS. I am also not inclined to talk about whether Shamima is entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship by virtue of her heritage.

The citizenship issues related to both the UK and Bangladesh are complicated. Instead, I would like to shed some light on certain issues related to the very notion of sending the young woman to Bangladesh and, most importantly, the responsibility of British society when it comes to Shamima’s radicalization, who is now languishing in a Syrian refugee camp with a baby boy.

Shamima made the biggest mistake of her life when she, at the age of 15, travelled to Syria via Turkey along with two other girls. Let me remind you that, at 15, she was all but a child, without the capability to make a decision like an adult would.

Having arrived in the IS-controlled area of Syria, she got married to a Dutch man who had converted to Islam and joined the terror outfit. The Dutch man had reportedly surrendered to the Syrian army, leaving his wife on her own. 

A few days ago, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripped Shamima of her citizenship, citing that the 19-year-old would be a danger for the public. The argument in favour of his action was that Shamima has an option of being a citizen of Bangladesh -- an idea that the government of Bangladesh denied outright.

Under the law, a person cannot be deprived of his or her citizenship if he or she becomes stateless. The family lawyer of Shamima said that they would appeal against the decision.

Sajid Javid’s action drew criticism from various segments of the UK society, including leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who described the move as extreme and said that Shamima has the right to return to the UK. 

What I find most ludicrous is the idea of relating Shamima in any way to Bangladesh. Though her parents are of Bangladeshi origin, Shamima was born, raised, and educated in London. She never visited Bangladesh and never applied for citizenship. Shamima was not a problem until she went to Syria. Now that she did something bad, her citizenship was stripped on the basis of her Bangladeshi heritage.

How does that make sense?

If the British home secretary were to asked how Shamima would be any less of a danger to Bangladesh compared to the UK (since that was the basis of her citizenship being revoked), his response would be interesting. I also firmly believe that British society cannot evade its responsibilities considering Shamima’s indoctrination as well. It’s important for them to ask why so many of their young boys are girls are travelling to Syria and joining groups like IS.

According to the British Home Office, more than 900 individuals have so far travelled to Syria while people from least developed countries like Bangladesh have not. Does this point towards problems in the UK in terms of awareness, education, detection, and protection? Of course, a lot of the blame also lies on Shamima’s guardians.

What Shamima did was very wrong, not to mention dangerous. Like all other peace-loving people, I am not going to condone it under any circumstance. But, sometimes, you have to put things into perspective: A 15-year-old child made a terrible decision, and people make mistakes. Yes, her decision was particularly bad and grave, but it was a mistake nonetheless.

Now, she is asking for mercy and a chance to live quietly with her child in her homeland. 

Stripping her of citizenship is not going to help address the larger problem. And, brooming her off to another country makes even less sense. In every aspect, Shamima belongs nowhere but in the UK. 

Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan is a special correspondent at the Dhaka Tribune.