The news this week has been dominated by the story of Shamima Begum, the British teenager who fled to Syria at the age of 15 to join ISIS alongside her friends Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana. Amira was also 15 at the time, and Kadiza was 16, when they flew from Gatwick Airport to Turkey after telling their parents they were going out for the day together.
They later crossed the Turkish/Syria border and joined the Islamic State in their de-facto capital of Raqqa.
Four years on from when the schoolgirls left Britain in February 2015, Shamima is now looking to return.
Two of her children died in infancy.
Her husband is in captivity.
She fears for the health and safety of her newborn son.
Shamima’s plight has come to light after a journalist from The Times discovered her in a Kurdish-controlled camp last week.
Finding this nineteen-year-old woman, who was nine months pregnant with her third child, weak, and exhausted from her escape across the desert where she fled from the last pocket of ISIS territory, Anthony Loyd conducted a wide-ranging interview with Shamima which was published a week ago today.
In the Syrian refugee camp where she is living, she isn’t known as Shamima.
They call her number 28850, and she wants to come ‘home’.
The week since the news came out that Shamima has been found has seen a succession of headline news stories across the mainstream media. These have been accompanied by more extreme views shared by alternative media outlets and online commentators.
The headlines are, for the most part, cold in their descriptions of Shamima.
The Sun refers to her as a ‘moaning teenager’.
To the Daily Mail she is a ‘Jihadi bride’.
The Telegraph claims that she should expect ‘no sympathy’.
The headlines from journalists may be cold, but the comments from the public are callous.
On Twitter I have seen calls for her to have her ‘throat slit’, hopes that she will ‘rot in hell’ and people wishing for her newborn child to ‘die like her older two’.
On Facebook I have found viral videos telling her to ‘f**k off’ reaching millions of people, comments on news stories wishing for her death getting hundreds of likes and many memes taking glee at her current plight being shared far and wide.
Radio phone in shows, guests on television news reviews and the comment sections of news websites all present a similar view.
The majority of people have no sympathy for Shamima and do not want her to come ‘home’.
But is she truly the evil Isis bride she is being portrayed as, or is she a vulnerable woman who was the victim of child sexual exploitation and grooming?
Over the past week Shamima has expressed abhorrent views. No matter how sympathetic you are to her plight, there is no denying that fact.
Shamima has attempted to justify the Manchester Arena bombing where 22 people, including young children, were killed as they left an Ariana Grande concert on the 22nd May 2017.
She has failed to condemn the terrorist organisation that she has openly supported for the past four years.
She has shown no insight or remorse into the genocide and murderous atrocities conducted by ISIS.
Despite the heinous nature of these comments, I still think people should be mindful of the circumstances she has made them in; being interviewed by experienced journalists, whilst either heavily pregnant or having just given birth, without any legal advice or counsel on hand.
She is a vulnerable woman. She was an even more vulnerable child when she fled the UK to join ISIS.
Shamima Begum was a child when she was groomed online by ISIS. Exploited over the internet by experienced predators, she was fifteen years old when she was convinced to flee the UK and become part of the Islamic State in Syria.
Within ten days of moving to Syria, she was married to Yago Riedijk, a man who was eight years older than her.
Her first born son died at eighteen months.
Her daughter died when she was only nine months old.
Her friend Kadiza was killed when the house she lived in was bombed.
She became so desensitised to death that she told a journalist how seeing the severed heads of human beings in bins ‘didn’t faze’ her ‘at all’.
She has lived a hell that many of us can’t even begin to imagine.
But so have the victims of the very same terrorist atrocities that her words justified as fair retaliation to the bombings in Syria.
Shamima has a chance of coming home. The 22 innocent people who lost their lives at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester never did.
Sajid David has proffered a simple solution to Shamima’s situation by revoking her citizenship. He is doing so under the powers of the British Nationality Act (1981) which dictates that a British national’s citizenship can be deprived if the home secretary of the time is satisfied that such a move would be “conducive to the public good”.
While Sajid is playing to the gallery of the baying masses and telegraphing his ambitions as a future Tory leader in grandstanding in this manner, the rub is that the powers of the British Nationality Act can only be used if the citizen in question will not become stateless as a result.
His hopes of such a simple solution have already been dealt a blow in their infancy, with the Bangladeshi state minister of foreign affairs, Shahrial Alam, releasing this strongly-worded statement earlier today:
“The government of Bangladesh is deeply concerned that Begum has been erroneously identified as a holder of dual citizenship,”
“Bangladesh asserts that Ms Shamima Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen. She is a British citizen by birth and never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh … There is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh.”
You can’t make someone stateless. The law simply does not allow it.
If Bangladesh continue their stance and Sajid David continues his, the likelihood is that his decision will be challenged and subsequently overturned in court.
Although such a move will surely boost the Home Secretary’s political stature, taking this route and being defeated in court sees Javid running the risk of being legally compelled to take back others who have fled to Syria and fought for the Islamic State.
Next time it might not be someone whose only known crime has been supporting the Islamic State and being a member of a terrorist organisation. It may instead be male fighters who are known killers.
Life is not absolute. There are no certainties or definite answers when it comes to the complexity of human nature. Even more so when decisions made as a groomed and vulnerable child are born into life changing consequences as an adult.
Shamima Begum has done wrong. There is no doubt in that.
Shamima Begum has condoned atrocities. There is no doubt in that.
Shamima Begum should face justice. There is no doubt in that.
But her wrongdoing must be seen in the context of decisions she made as a groomed, conditioned and sexually exploited child.
Her condoning of atrocious acts of murderous terrorism must be seen in the context or her being brainwashed as a child and having no known direct involvement in such acts herself.
And the justice she faces must be British justice.