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OP-ED: The dilemma of Shamima Begum

  • Published at 10:36 pm February 28th, 2021
Shamima Begum
Photo: REUTERS

Does Britain really benefit from revoking her citizenship?

There are several ways of looking at the plight of Shamima Begum, who went to Syria to later become an IS bride at the age of 15. Now, 21, Shamima has lost her appeal to come to Britain to fight the decision by the British government to revoke her citizenship.

From one angle, Shamima is a radical who denounced the land where she was born and grew up to associate with extremists. But from another perspective, she is a teenager who was most probably proselytized into taking the path which has now left her in no man’s land, without any formal identity.

Mistakes by teenagers can be forgiven

Perhaps the girl should have been permitted to come back to face the court and challenge the decision to repeal her nationality because when she went to Syria, Shamima was just a teenager and totally unable to gauge the enormity of what she was doing.

She was certainly radicalized at that time, otherwise she would not have left the UK, but her life as an IS bride plus the time in the refugee camp has not been ideal, to say the least. Reportedly, she lost her husband and her children. 

Without doubt, by the age of 21, she has faced some of the greatest misfortunes of life. What she did was a betrayal to the country where she grew up; however, when people at a tender age make errors, there should always be room for allowing them to admit their mistakes.

Last year, the UK court of appeal ruled that unless she is allowed to come back to the UK, she would not be able to challenge the decision to rescind her nationality properly. 

The Home Office then appealed to the supreme court, stating that her return would create significant security risks.

Well, I am not a security expert, but how a 21-year-old girl who has faced so much trauma in the last five years can pose a security risk is anyone's guess. It’s not that Shamima will be bringing any life-threatening device with her, or getting the chance to meet other radicals in the UK.

With the pandemic severely restricting civil activities, survival and getting vaccinated are the primary objectives now.

Also, when the BBC or other news channels run reports on Shamima, there needs to be reaction from members of her community in East London, plus the observations of British MPs of South Asian origin. 

Do they think that preventing the girl from coming to the UK breaches human rights, or is the move to cancel her citizenship justified? Since she is a member of the British South Asian group, the debate about her must involve members from her community. 

As for the “security risks,” shouldn’t there be an elaboration as to what they involve? Merely using that term hardly underlines the risks that the British establishment is associating with the girl.

Is there a fear that she may be propagating extreme ideals? If so, how will she be doing that? 

Roots of radicalism

When as a one-year-old, Shamima left the UK, she was possibly indoctrinated into an extreme ideology. Naturally, the question arises as to what drove her to embrace such views. She was in the UK, and therefore, it’s possibly not wrong to say that the roots of such concepts were prevalent in the area where she grew up.

These issues are being kicked into the long grass; if the girl was initiated into religious extremism, then perhaps the propagators of such beliefs were around her. If she had been allowed to come and face the court, these matters would have been clarified, which would have helped the authorities address latent extremism within Britain.

Any country has the right to take measures aimed at alleviating radical thoughts, though for Britain, a debate about the role of her foreign policy, obliquely abetting the rise of religion-based hardline perspectives within the UK, needs to be deconstructed rationally. 

The fallacious policy of invading other nations resulted in the formation of the Islamic State. If there is a global threat of terrorism then both the US and UK have to take their share of the responsibility because they waged wars based on spurious reasoning. 

In simple language, the superpowers made a few monumental blunders, just like Shamima, who also made a mistake. 

But the latter did so when she was not even an adult. What she did is abominable, but why she and others were persuaded to leave the UK is the story that will help in fighting the allure of extremism among the young.

Like I mentioned earlier, the South Asian community must be included in this debate and asked if they feel the decision of the government to refuse her entry was right and, if yes, why?

Perhaps the lawmaker from the area where Shamima grew up, plus other senior leaders, should be brought to live TV discussions.

Shamima was radicalized, but there is always a process to exorcise the demon and instill liberal values -- depriving her of that chance appears a little selfish.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka. 

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