After reports emerged of the Supreme Court ruling that Shamima Begum, who left the UK to join Islamic State when she was 15, was denied entry back and stripped of her citizenship, many in the general public were quick to praise or criticise the decision. A quick search of #ShamimaBegum on Twitter yields tweets from both sides of the argument. Some say that she deserves everything she got for joining a terrorist group, whilst others noted their great disappointment with the ruling, claiming that Begum was a victim of child grooming, and therefore should be allowed to return.
I was staunchly opposed to Begum’s return to the UK in 2019. I thought that some mistakes cannot be forgiven. I still hold my view that what Begum did was wrong today; the fact that she was “okay” with executions by the Islamic State, and that she knew of it before she left, shows her indifference to terrorism. And terrorism, of course, cannot be tolerated under any circumstance in any country. So in that sense, the spirit of the Court ruling is indeed one which should be appreciated. It demonstrates our unity against those who ‘prey upon their neighbours’ and should set a precedent of our country’s attitude against things like this in the future.
If Venables and Thompsons could not be excused for a crime at 10 years old then why should Begum at 15?
What I have changed my mind on is whether citizenship denial is the correct punishment for people involved with terrorism, or any crime for that matter. Instead of doing what any normal system of law would do, which would be to imprison Begum and try to rehabilitate her, the British government chose the ‘kick them out’ mindset, seemingly only to please the feelings of the masses.
This risks making the person subject to the punishment stateless, which is illegal under international law, but this is what the government has effectively been trying to do in the past two years, succeeding last month. Although she does have Bangladeshi citizenship, Bangladesh have been insistent from the very start that they would not take Begum, claiming that she had been “erroneously identified” as a citizen.
And herein lies the grand problem with Begum’s situation. It is overall the correct thing to do to punish her; the legal age of responsibility is 10 after all. If Venables and Thompsons could not be excused for a crime at 10 years old then why should Begum at 15? Yet the UK’s treatment of her case was nonetheless disappointing. We can’t just kick someone out of the country as punishment. If anything, as a British national, the UK has even more responsibility to take her back and give her a proper punishment and rehabilitation. Not only is the current government and the Court’s outlook not at all in line with the tradition we have in the UK of upholding the rule of law, which would give Begum a genuine prison sentence, their actions are borderline criminal by potentially leaving a human being with rights stateless.
Putting her at risk of statelessness is merely countering wrong with more wrong
Imprisonment and rehabilitation would have been sufficient punishment, and that way she may even have stood a chance of being reincorporated into British society a better person. Begum’s current situation leaves a bleak future for her, where it is likely she’ll have nowhere to turn to but more of the “freedom” that potential extremist groups offered her once already.
Nothing in this world is black and white. There are many views out there and just because there are two dominant ones, it does not mean that one of these must be the right view. Joining the Islamic State is inexcusable, even if Begum was only 15. But at the same time, putting her at risk of statelessness is merely countering wrong with more wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and it is regrettable that our government would add a second wrong to Shamima Begum’s first.