Shamima Begum, a dangerous threat or a victim? By Angela Caldin
It’s difficult these days to avoid commentary on the plight of Shamima Begum who is living in a tent in the al Hawl refugee camp in Syria with her new born baby. She wants to come home, but the problem is that ‘home’ is what she joined Isis to destroy. The standard of living, the healthcare, the housing and the developed infrastructure are what she now wants for herself and her child, not the hard life on offer with Isis which she has fled.
A tough decision
The Home Secretary has taken away her British Citizenship and, because Bangladesh also disowns her, she has effectively been rendered stateless unless an appeal process can reverse Sajid Javid’s decision. Javid claims that allowing her to return could be a threat to public safety and this is not an invalid fear. For example, in August last year an 18-year-old woman was convicted of plotting to bomb the British Museum, along with her mother, sister and a friend. In addition, the young man who detonated the suicide bomb at the Manchester Arena concert is thought to have had links with Isis.
A foolish decision
Shamima was 15 years old when she and two friends made the momentous decision to join Isis. The presumption is that they had watched propaganda videos and been groomed either online or off until convinced that the Isis cause was just and that they could make a contribution. It must have been much more exciting to set off to Turkey with a burning desire to do something they thought worthwhile rather than stay in Bethnal Green and study for exams.
Loss and bereavement
The reality was surely dramatically different and there is no doubt that one of her main experiences over these four years must have been of constant loss. First, she lost her family, by choice admittedly, and was married to a Dutch fighter who she did not know. Then she lost two babies, one at two years and one at eight months, and has now given birth to a third baby who is not well. It’s hard to imagine what conditions were like for giving birth – no pain relief, no trained midwives, no aftercare, no help with breastfeeding, none of the things that we take for granted. Now she has lost her husband, who has apparently surrendered to Syrian fighters, and on top of that she’s lost her British Citizenship. In addition, others in the camp are apparently threatening to burn down her tent.
One of the problems is her apparent lack of remorse. She said she knew about beheadings, and wasn’t troubled because she had been told that, according to Islam, they are allowed. She doesn’t appear to think that joining Isis was wrong, but wants to return home because Isis has been defeated and she needs to take care of herself and her baby. She is seeking to return to a country that, until recently, she despised.
She has, rather grudgingly, asked people in Britain to show her more sympathy and mercy. The Guardian newspaper spoke to several people in Bethnal Green who all showed sympathy and said that Shamima should be allowed to return home. One woman, aged 49, said, “I was so shocked when I heard she went to Syria. She’s quite young and she’s a girl. I was so worried about her. She was a baby; she didn’t know what was going on there. People played a game with her and brainwashed her. She was a child.”
She did a foolish thing when she was a child and must have been unaware of what awaited her. Now, although an adult, she has experienced four years of loss and suffering. Surely our society is strong enough and civilised enough to restore her citizenship and then deal with her? She could be tried and prosecuted if there is evidence of wrongdoing available, she could be directed to take part in a deradicalisation programme, she could be offered support and bereavement counselling. The world has been looking at our country amazed and aghast at the mess and the mire that is Brexit, if they now see that we cannot deal with a bereaved woman in distress who has made a bad mistake, how much further will our reputation be damaged?
Dangerous threat or victim? Deserving of sympathy and mercy or not?
Shakespeare’s words in the Merchant of Venice come to mind:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.