Shamima Begum: Villain or Victim?

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You’ve been living under a rock if you have managed to avoid getting involved in the conversation about Shamima Begum. Her face has appeared on my social media timeline daily as well as across all news media channels for weeks now, overshadowing even the never-ending Brexit headlines (it’s almost as though the media needed some sort of distraction tactic). The fact that she looks like your average 19 year-old girl makes the story all the more chilling. How could something like this have happened? How could we have allowed a British girl, born and raised in the UK, to become radicalised? Why did PREVENT not work? How did she manage to slip through the cracks and end up joining ISIS? Why is she trying to come back now?

Sky News did an online poll – 16% voted for the option “we should let her back in – she has a child and deserves a chance at rehabilitation” while 86% voted “we should not let her back in – she lived under IS and could be a danger to the country”. So I realise that what I’m about to say is not going to be very popular but you have to hear me out.

The facts are as follows: Shamima Begum was 15 when she was radicalised online by adults. She was essentially groomed. She was then transported by the UK to Syria by adults. She was, in every sense of the word, trafficked. She was then married off and conceived a child. She was raped – this is a fact. The man she was married off to was ten years older than her making their relationship statutory rape, according to UK law, because she was not in a position to consent. She was then exposed to horrific, traumatising violence – she saw beheadings, knew of torture and then had to experience the death of two of her own children. What the UK media is currently doing is the definition of victim-blaming. This is a young woman who has just had her third child and she needs help. Like many victims of childhood trauma, grooming and exploitation– she is defensive, distrustful and trying to hold on to what she was indoctrinated to believe.

Instead of trying to find those responsible we seem to have entirely shifted the blame on a teenage girl who, and I will say this again, was raped and very likely has PTSD. I’ve heard countless arguments about how “well when I was 15 I was skipping school and trying my first cigarette, not joining a terrorist organisation”. That is a fair argument. But sometimes children do unspeakable things. Those of you familiar with the Jamie Bulger case in 1993 – when two 11 year-old boys kidnapped and murdered  three year-old Jamie Bulger – they faced trial and were punished. Not excommunicated, made stateless and turned into someone else’s responsibility. Why is Shamima any different? Dare I say it might have something to do with the colour of her skin?

Admittedly her PR tactics are lacking. Her blasé comment about her exposure to beheadings and how it “did not faze” her definitely did not do much for her public image. But those interviews took place inside an IS camp. Do you really expect a frightened 19 year-old girl to sit in an IS camp and condemn their actions? I am certain she realised that, once the journalists and the cameras had all left, she would still be left there on her own with her new-born child. Reports are now indicating Begum’s child has since passed away.

Absolutely, she has to be held accountable for her actions. But that accountability does not and should not have to involve leaving her stateless. By all means, bring her back to the UK and allow her a fair and lawful trial. The government should do better than going as far as to break international law by leaving her stateless in order to pander to an angry mob. Moreover, the British media choses to focus on this case, thereby ignoring the 3 million British Muslims peacefully living in the UK. This narrative, I worry, only serves to perpetuate the existing divide and hate that has already permeated modern political discourse. Just take a look at some of the comments and memes posted under articles about Shamima – it is shameful and worrying how much hate we are capable of and how little understanding we seem to show to another human being.

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