Shamima Begum cannot return to the UK to fight the decision to deprive her of British citizenship made by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid. The Supreme Court agreed with the assessment made by the Home Office that national security concerns trump the rights of individuals. The weight placed on this as well as the decision to deprive Begum of her citizenship has left the nation divided. But it is exactly this division that Islamists and those that seek to undermine the UK Government were banking on. Unless there is a strong campaign against these individuals, then this will be another piece in their armour to sow divisions in society and provide them with fertile ground to grow stronger.
Shamima Begum was 15 when she travelled to Syria to join ISIS. She married an ISIS fighter and had three children, all of whom sadly died. Whether she was groomed or not, is a question that needs serious consideration. But the fact remains that no physical force or visible coercive steps which led her to making the decision to join a terrorist organisation responsible for thousands of deaths, is available to us for assessment. Those on both camps should provide their evidence because in the absence of that, their position is tenuous.
For example, in a Guardian piece by Maya Foa – the Director of the human rights charity Reprieve – posits that Begum was;
“groomed by a trafficking gang into making a terrible, life threatening mistake.”
Yet Foa offers no evidence for this claim. Instead she takes issue with the Government’s position that Begum travelled “of her own volition”. Now unless Foa knows something the Government do not, such a claim falls short of the threshold required to be taken seriously. But that is not to say Foa doesn’t have evidence of trafficking being done by ISIS. Just that in this case, she offers none.
As I have argued before, we only know what is publicly available to us. We are not party to the evidence that is available to the Home Office and we lack fully understanding their rationale for making this decision. The Supreme Court agreed and found the Court of Appeal to have erred in law because they made their own assessment on national security. They were not entitled to do that.
But more worrying is not Foa making that claim without evidence – but that ISIS are a grooming gang – as if they are somehow the same as those group of men – mainly of Pakistani origin – preying on underage white working class girls in northern industrial towns. This reframing and resituating their purpose, vision, goals and tactics reduces ISIS – a terrorist group – to something less brutal than the reality of their existence and the sum of their actions. The only ones that are benefiting from this reframing are ISIS and their sympathisers.
Then there are others that seek to use this case to promote the idea that the Government are racist and have effectively created a two-tier citizenship. Anila Baig writing in the Mirror analyses the case as one of racism. She postulates:
“we don’t revoke the citizenship of other criminals, no matter how heinous their atrocities.”
This is a bizarre claim. The UK Government have in fact revoked citizenship for heinous crimes in the past. But the real point Baig is attempting to make – despite not knowing the numbers and circumstances leading to the stripping of citizenship – is that the Government are racist.
For example – in the most strident use of language, Baig offers her evidence for this claim that;
“if you are brown you are not really British.”
This curious position is not only tenuous, but also extraordinary incorrect. We know that Jack Letts – nom de gurre Jihadi Jack – who was white and British born – lost his citizenship when he joined ISIS. He was allegeable for citizenship of Canada because of his father. Now unless white is the new brown, I am not entirely sure claiming the Government are racist is really going to work here.
Baig points out that racists will see this as a green light – to send back individuals to places they don’t come from. This is demonstrably untrue.
The fact of the matter is this, Begum was entitled to seek citizenship of Bangladesh because of her father. That is simply a statement of fact. It also follows that, the Home Office are entitled to make decisions they believe to be appropriate and proportionate. In this case, the Supreme Court agreed.
What Baig and Foa should have been arguing; is that removing citizenship could potentially give Islamists a green light. It could provide them with fertile ground they need to grow. It gives them the ammunition to position the government as being kneejerk and overreacting towards Shamima Begum.
In the absence of a counter-narrative, one that deals with facts and not just unsubstantiated opinions, Islamists will just sit back whilst we argue between ourselves – with or without evidence – about whether this was the right decision or not.
Wasiq is an academic specialising in extremism and terrorism. Follow him on Twitter: @WasiqUK