The case of Shamima Begum has circled the media rapidly over the past few weeks. In short, she left the UK at the age of fifteen to join the Islamic state in Syria. Having given birth to a baby boy who has since tragically died, she made a plea to return to the UK to bring up her child, arguing that she had some British values, and that her child would have been better off living in the UK.
Begum has become a central hate figure, after publicising her plea to return to the UK in numerous interviews. People are angered by her lack of remorse, and her seemingly selfish decision to come back to the country she has been opposing.
When asked about the Manchester Arena bombing, she claimed that whilst it was wrong to kill innocents, ISIL saw it to be a justified retaliation for the coalition bombing of ISIL-held areas. Now that she is asking to return to the country, citizens are mainly scared for their own wellbeing, and unable to feel sympathy towards her.
We only have information that she is giving the media within a danger zone, where what she says may be mediated by who can hear it
In the 2014 Immigration Act, parliament confirmed that one can be stripped of their British citizenship, if the deprivation is conducive to the public good. It states that this is acceptable when a citizen “has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interest of the United Kingdom”. Furthermore, she allegedly also has Bangladeshi citizenship, despite having denied this.
Personally, while I think that while Begum does fit into the criteria of those whose citizenship can be stripped, I do not think that this was the correct way of dealing with her.
Firstly, bringing her back to the UK would not be a danger but an opportunity to ensure that she is tried under a fair justice system. Of course it initially seems difficult to see bringing her to the UK as the safest option, but it is important that we can deal with her properly, and this can include imprisonment if necessary.
The problem with Begum as we have now, is that we do not know how to justly deal with her case. We only have information that she is giving the media within a danger zone, where what she says may be mediated by who can hear it. She is one of many similar cases, who just happens to have been interviewed and publicised, and so it is important for us not to oversimplify her case.
If we want to ensure justice prevails then we must look at each individual and understand what has gone wrong for them
Further, we also do not know the extent of her grooming or brainwashing. There have been many instances in which people who have had such experiences have successfully been reintegrated into society through therapy programmes and the like. Of course, this is not to deflect the blame away from Begum, or provide an alternative to punishment through the justice system. The lack of emotion she expresses when mentioning repulsive, violent and murderous acts should not make us angry, but should be seen as a sign of what may have happened to her.
Perhaps you may feel that this position is too focused on Begum as an individual, and an understanding of her case rather than a consideration of all the UK citizens who will not welcome her return. I believe, however, that if we want to ensure justice prevails then we must look at each individual and understand what has gone wrong for them. We must show her respect, even if she will show us none, rather than simply stripping her of her citizenship based on the presumptions of a highly popularised case. No matter how awful a person’s crimes, we cannot allow mob rule.
The basis of the argument that Begum should not return to the UK is the idea that she does not condone our values. Even if this is true, her innocent child has been the true victim of our refusal to allow her to return – justice has hardly been served to him. However, perhaps we should be looking at this from another angle. Our values of justice should not be compromised because of our distaste for what an individual has done.