Shamima Begum is all over today’s front pages after being stripped her of her British citizenship by Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Before dipping further into the moral murk of this decision, let’s summon up a different scenario. Imagine that a group of white Christian British girls smuggle themselves out of the country and manage to reach, say, the US. Once there, they seek out the far-right religious cult that has brainwashed them from afar. They join the group and possibly engage in terrorist activities, or at least associate with those who do.
Of course, this parallel doesn’t fully stand up. But if that had happened, would the Home Office have stripped the white Christian girl of her citizenship; or would every effort have been made to bring her back for counselling and, yes, punishment? Almost certainly.
The headlines today are for the most part crowing and condemnatory – “Stripped of her passport” in the Daily Mail and “Isis bride told: You’re no longer British” in the Daily Express.
It is reasonable to feel uneasy about this decision for many reasons. A moral maze indeed – and one that will be ranted about/discussed on BBC Radio Four’s Moral Maze later today, for those with stronger stomachs than mine (dear me, that programme).
Why has Sajid Javid taken this decision to officially disown a British girl who, aged 15, fled to join the so-called Islamic State group? Almost certainly for reasons of political posturing. Politicians such as Javid love nothing better than throwing a bone to the ageing Tory jackals. Oh, strike that – ageing Tory poodles with a nasty habit of snapping.
The legal argument will now begin. A country cannot disown a citizen unless that citizen is eligible for citizenship of another country.
Shamima Begum is thought to be of Bangladeshi heritage, but does not have a Bangladeshi passport – and, also, has no links to that country at all.
In other words, what Javid has done is pass the buck and try to shrug off the problem, under the guise of supposedly protecting Britain. Shamima Begum was a child when she left this country and even now, after losing two children of her own and giving birth to another, she is only 19. That’s the age of a first-year student at university, and some of them are still so young.
Shamima Begum was born in Britain and, importantly, was radicalised while living here. Britain therefore has a responsibility towards her; legally and morally, she is one of ours and should be allowed to return as a British citizen.
This is not to condone or forgive out of hand. We should not be allowed to cast Shamima Begum away. But she should not be cast simply as a victim. Young she may have been, but she is responsible for her decisions and actions.
We should see her as neither victim or villain, but as a confused and abused young British woman who needs help and, yes, some form of punishment in the country where she was born.
Casting aside Shamima Begum and others like her will create stateless citizens of nowhere – and, if anything, will spawn more terrorists or terrorist sympathisers.
Sajid Javid has come over all Clint Eastwood and played the tough guy to bolster his image. But the law should unmake his day and allow this young woman to return to face the consequences of her actions. And with the hope that she may find redemption, for that’s what a decent society should do; isn’t it?