Social commentary and think pieces

24 March 2019

When we talk about Shamima Begum we have to remember that she is a person, not a dilemma

I vividly remember watching the news three years ago, in 2015, when Shamima Begum and two of her friends left Bethnal Green to join ISIS, aged just fifteen. 
It was something that perplexed me, why a fifteen year old girl - or anyone for that matter - would voluntarily join a terrorist group?

However, the news story has since resurfaced as Shamima has recently said that she wants to return to the UK. More specifically, she had wanted to return to the UK to give birth to her baby boy. However, since Shamima’s British citizenship has been revoked her son has sadly died of pneumonia in a Syrian refugee camp.

Prior to the revocation of her citizenship, there was much debate as to wether or not she should be granted citizenship and therefore the right to return home. 
The debate had people questioning wether or not she has ulterior motives and the possibility that she may still be under ISIS influence. 

 A key point in the arguments against Shamima’s return seemed to be the idea that young women don’t know their own minds. This is something that I find incredibly patronising and quite frankly, slightly misogynistic. Making this statement exclusive to women is incredibly narrow minded as women can be as radical as men, its ignorant to think not. 

However, when we talk about Shamima Begum we have to remember that she was just fifteen when she left the country. At such a young age it is arguable that anyone wouldn’t know their own mind. I don’t mean this to be patronising, or to undermine her freewill in any way. Rather, I want to make the point that no fifteen year old has a crystal clear understanding of the world or even themselves. Your teenage years are said to be full of experimentation and experience, taking on different personas and personal styles, all leading you to a better sense of self. 
At just fifteen, its unlikely that Shamima had a strong understanding of who she is. The fact that she was groomed and manipulated by ISIS, in the form of online propaganda videos, is a signifier that she was a particularly naive and vulnerable fifteen year old, making her an easy target for those aiming to radicalise young people.

When discussing this topic with some of my close friends, the common idea that they each seemed to have was that in joining ISIS, she had become a criminal and therefore shouldn't be able to return to England. They mentioned what she had said in one of her interviews, her account of seeing a decapitated head in a bin, which she claimed hadn’t fazed her.  The majority of people who I spoke to about this upheld the idea that someone unfazed by such a horrific thing shouldn’t be given the right to return to this country.

This is a view point I would be inclined to disagree with. Although we can only speculate, I do believe that when Shamima said she was unfazed by the decapitated head, she wasn’t denying that it was a horrible thing. Rather, she had said she’d considered it normal because she had seen such atrocious things in Syria that she has become desensitised from it. Being in a place like Syria - and under ISIS control - seeing such horrible things is likely a regular occurrence, and something which may well be normalised.
Surely, the fact that she has become desensitised from something seemingly so horrific is a sure sign that what she needs is some serious help and rehabilitation, not her citizenship revoked. 

In the revocation of her citizenship, Shamima is being forced to move to an alien country (She was denied British citizenship so applied for Bangladeshi citizenship, which she was also denied. She is now having to apply to the Dutch authorities). This is something I would argue would make her more likely to return to a familiarity like ISIS, simply because it may seem an easier option than starting again in a totally alien place. 

Not only that, but we have to remember that Shamima was radicalised in this country. She was in London when she was targeted and manipulated by ISIS, resulting in her joining the group aged just fifteen. 
Its highly unlikely that she simply decided to leave her home and join a terrorist group straight away. She had been groomed, manipulated and radicalised. 

I find it incredibly narrow minded and unfair that, as a society, we can accept that young girls can be groomed online for sex, yet we refuse to believe that they can be groomed into joining terrorist groups. 
Those who have been groomed for sex are considered the victims and will most likely receive some form of help. However, those who have been groomed into joining a terrorist organisation are considered the criminal rather than the victim and will have to face the consequences. In this case, the revocation of their citizenship.

Whilst the grooming may not have been done with the intent of the same outcome, both situations earn the trust of young people and then proceed manipulate that trust. Its a similar process and something that can be incredibly easy for young people to fall for.
So, if our government and those in power won’t do anything to prevent the grooming and radicalisation of young, naive teenagers, who are we to deny them a second chance?

Yes, Shamima has said some things that have made the British public doubt her innocence.
It is inevitable that people are going to question her genuinity or wether she is still under the influence of ISIS. It would be ridiculous to welcome someone who has the potential to be very dangerous back into our country with open arms, no questions asked. In welcoming her back into the country we should be keeping a close eye on her. I’m not suggesting that we allow her to continue life as normal.

However, far too often we treat situations like these as some kind of moral maze, totally ignoring the human aspect of the case.
Very few people in the UK have a true understanding of what its like to be a member of ISIS. We see documentaries and news reports but we can never have a clear understanding of the harsh realities.
Its impossible for any of us to truly sympathise with Shamima as its a situation we’re so far removed from that it often doesn't seem real.

Despite this, we do have a responsibility to recognise the amount of courage it has taken Shamima to come forwards, against ISIS. She’s put herself in an incredibly vulnerable position. To me, this highlights the level of desperation Shamima feels. 
We have to try and understand the situation from a human perspective. 
We have the resources and ability to try and help and rehabilitate her. So, why wouldn’t we?
As Dawn Foster said in her column for The Guardian “The compassionate course to take would be to let Begum return home and accept that an eye for an eye turns the whole world blind and that the public can still be protected if she is dealt with in the UK.” 

The question we need to be asking ourself is this; “What has she experienced to make her feel as though ISIS is a plausible solution?” Clearly she was, and still is, an incredibly vulnerable teenager. She's made a terrible mistake. But, could we try and show some compassion? We have the potential to rehabilitate her. The fact that she seemingly wants to return to the UK is a starting point. Why wouldn't we help?



  1. This was such an interesting read - thanks so much for sharing!

    -Emily |

  2. Thanks for this - this was a very interesting read! I didn't know much about her, but now I'll be reading more about her.

    cabin twenty-four

  3. Globalisation has changed the way organisations like ISIS and many other - white extremists for example - recruit. The entire definition of 'citizen' is changing before us. You could be living in Australia and be completely immersed in another culture or situation - it is both a good and bad thing. This is such stimulating content and a very interesting read, NZ is facing a similar issue as well, it'll be interesting to see what each government does.
    The Day To Day 


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