Leaving Shamima Begum to fester in a foreign land is a cop-out that pushes our problems elsewhere

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 25 February 2019 in Comment

What is choice when you are 15 and have been expertly groomed?

Abused British teen rescued from barbaric death cult in Syria found safe and well with her newborn baby is reunited with her family in the UK.

That’s the good news story that could have been written, but instead we are now caught in a legal and moral maze about whether a British teenager should or should not have had her British citizenship revoked.

Should Shamima Begum be condemned to live in stateless exile in Syria, where we are told two of her babies have already died, or be sent to Bangladesh, which her parents left before she was born, where she has never been, and where the authorities would neither welcome nor want her?

The one and only question that appears to have been answered so far in this quagmire over Begum’s citizenship, instigated by Sajid Javid’s potentially illegal pronouncement that she now has none, is that she cannot come home.

As Scotland’s justice secretary has said, in as many words, human rights are all very well when you are dealing with good behaviour but much harder to swallow when you are applying them to actions you find unpalatable.

I feel the natural revulsion shared by many at the choice this teenager made in leaving the country of her birth to go to Syria, a country she had never been to, to join a terrorist group whose raison d’être was to destroy the Western culture that she had just left behind.

But what is choice when you are 15 and have been expertly groomed? What is choice when you are married off to a man twice your age, who you have never met, and while you are still below the age of consent in the country of your birth?

What is choice when you reportedly have given birth to three children in the space of four years and apparently see two die in penury?

And what is choice when after four years living in a foreign land, being fed daily bile about the West while existing in domestic drudgery, shackled in a marriage to an ISIS fighter and saturated by propaganda such that it inures you to the inhumanity of severed heads discarded in public bins?

What is choice when clearly you are living a half-life where choice has all but been removed?

Let’s be clear here, Shamima Begum was an adolescent whose ‘choices’ were not ones that you can apply any sense of logic or rationality to.

And no, four years on, she does not present like the victim we would prefer her to be. She displays no emotion, no contrition, no sense of shame.

But for that, should she be condemned?

She reminds me of the brainwashed victims of cults I met during the early 1990s after they had been rescued but were still suffering from the delusion that they were not prisoners of oppression, but volunteers bonded by a cause.

Do we strip citizenship from victims of cults or from our homegrown mass murderers, rapists, paedophiles, and other detestables, or do we seek their reconciliation with the mainstream?

Do we believe in rehabilitation or do we despair?

The Home Secretary’s decision to strip Begum of British citizenship is an uncomfortable one for any Brit with a liberal bone in their body. Of course, you can understand it – he is charged with keeping us safe – but he is also a deeply ambitious politician whose record smacks of popular opportunism.

He chases a headline whenever he can. Remember the war ships sent out into the English Channel in what was called an immigrant emergency or his more antagonistic approach to the hostility already baked into an immigration system he inherited?

Javid is always quick to tell his own back story. About how his father came to this country penniless from Pakistan, while ignoring the inconvenient truth that according to Javid’s own rules, his father would not now be let in and nor would he now be home secretary.

For me, there is a sneaking feeling that as a son of an immigrant from Pakistan, Javid feels he has a licence by virtue of his heritage to be seen to be harder on matters of race than anyone that has come before.

And his reaction to Begum is as racist as it is popular. Why did he not strip her of citizenship when she left rather than wait till now when she appears alive in the media, apparently devoid of remorse?

Begum was born in Britain, grew up in Britain, was schooled in Britain and in my book, that makes her British.

The fact that her parents came from another country doesn’t alter that fact. And Bangladesh is right to say so. If Begum had been white and her parents not immigrants, Javid would not have even had this card to play because it is illegal to make a citizen stateless. Which is what he has done.

Begum should be brought back here, tried here, and at the very least, de-radicalised here if she is still of a mindset that Britain is the enemy.

As for her newborn baby. What sins has he committed? Right now, that little boy is one of Britain’s most vulnerable citizens and unless we have given up on compassion as well as to our adherence to international law, that boy has a home and it is here.

What is it we afraid of? Are we scared Begum will seek to destroy? And if that is the reason for our abandonment, then are we are giving up on all the investment, intelligence and expertise that has gone into our security services and programmes like Prevent to tackle extremism?

Is the Home Secretary really ready to admit that there is ‘nothing we can do?’

Saying Begum is not British and leaving her to fester in a foreign land is a cop-out that pushes our problems elsewhere. We need to face up to our responsibilities and bring her home where she can face hers.

And if we don’t, there will be plenty more Begums who just slip back into the country with their motives unchallenged and their hatred simmering. That’s the real danger, not just this one teen from Bethnal Green.

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