Sunday, 24 February 2019

Of kneejerks and extremes...

"Oh, so now she appreciates the NHS? Right. Got it. Now she wants to give birth in an NHS hospital after two babies died of disease and malnutrition under IS! Is that what it takes to realise how good we have it with the NHS? I mean, really..."

That tirade was pretty much my initial reaction to Shamima Begum wanting to come back to the UK to give birth and then live quietly with her baby, when the news broke. But after my outburst, I took on a more measured view - just as extreme examples make for bad law, kneejerk reactions are not usually the best ones for informing policy or making decisions in complex situations.

Let me be clear - I do not recognise her messed-up attempt at feminism. To be casual about the sight of severed heads in bins because they may have once been attached to the bodies of people who may have attacked Muslim women, while she herself was part of a murderous cult in which girls and women in forced marriages are expected to breed more murderous cultists who will, in turn, rape and murder girls and women is nauseating. The two young women in the photograph above*, Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar, are the women who should be dominating the news - they are Iraqi Yazidis who escaped the sexual violence of IS and are now activists who speak out for the victims of the death cult - they are true feminists.

When Begum first appeared on our TV screens and in The Times, thanks to the heroic journalism of Anthony Loyd, we saw her at her most unfiltered. This is not a young woman who has been media-trained to within an inch of her life, this is a woman who is ignorant of how her vile words were playing out with the British public, and, crucially, this is a woman who has not really evolved from the absurd 15-year-old who left for Syria with two equally absurd schoolfriends in March 2015. There was plenty of East End bravado in her defiant tone where remorse should have been.

But I respectfully disagree with those who simply say she should never be allowed back in the UK and that Sajid Javid did the right thing by removing her citizenship. I understand that viewpoint but I do not share it.

Firstly, Javid has rendered Begum stateless - she is only "eligible" for Bangladeshi citizenship. She is not a Bangladeshi citizen. The Bangladeshi government has, quite rightly, asserted that she is not a citizen of their country. Begum was born and raised here. She is not Bangladesh's problem.  

"Eligibility" for citizenship is not the same as being a citizen. I am a permanent resident of the UK but I am not a British citizen. I am an Australian citizen. I am eligible for British citizenship but I have not gone through the process of becoming a British citizen. If I went to Australia tomorrow and committed a terrible crime there, everyone would expect me to be tried under the Australian system. There would be an outcry if the Australian government simply said: "She's eligible for British citizenship, put her on QF1 to Heathrow and they can deal with her." 

Javid should be made to publish his legal advice on the Begum case.

It sets a terrible precedent for revoking citizenship. Imagine, for example, if Britain had a government with a leader who was openly anti-Israel, who viewed Israel as a terrorist state. And then imagine if this future leader of the country used Britain's anti-terrorism laws to convict someone of inciting terror because, say, they donated to or publicly supported the IDF. If the convicted person happened to be Jewish, using the same rationale that Javid has applied in the past week to Begum, this hypothetical PM and Home Secretary might strip that person of British citizenship and declare that because every Jewish person is eligible for Israeli citizenship, they could be deported to Israel, even if they had never been there. 

It's a chilling precedent. 

If Begum returns to the UK, nobody reasonable would advocate that she simply be allowed to go back to Bethnal Green with her son and the rest of her family. She should be apprehended on arrival. It is not unreasonable for her innocent son to be fostered with a view to being adopted, or for her to have to meet those who lost loved ones in the Manchester attacks so they can describe the impact of that unjustifiable act of terror on their lives and communities. She should face the might of British justice to determine if she is guilty of terror offences committed in this country and punished accordingly. There is almost no doubt that a guilty verdict would involve a custodial sentence. She cannot be led to expect that life will return to exactly how it used to be. Her life will be one of permanent restrictions and surveillance.

Equally, due process must be applied. If due process is thrown out the window, we become no better than any of the states around the world that play fast and loose with this essential component of any civilised legal system. I say that as someone who was tried for adultery without due process in the United Arab Emirates - I was never properly informed that I had been charged, my passport was confiscated without explanation, I signed a document in Arabic without a translation, I was never given the option of legal representation, I was tried via an interpreter in the office of a judge, I was very lucky to be found not guilty and not risk a maximum of six years in prison.

Britain should be better than that. Due process is for everyone, not just people we like.

The other sticking point is that if Begum is not brought home to face justice, she and her son are prime targets for people smugglers. It does not take a massive leap of imagination to realise that she could find her way back to the UK or Europe via people smugglers, if the price was right and there were enough morally bankrupt people willing to fund such a venture. The upshot of that scenario is that, as well as enabling one of the most disgusting trades in the world, Begum could end up back in Europe or the UK and the authorities would have no idea. No reasonable person should view that as an acceptable possibility.

It is a mess that started in Britain and Britain can and should be the one to deal with it. It's facile to say "It's not my problem, I didn't contribute to her radicalisation!". I don't think I personally led Begum to run off and marry a jihadi either, but investigations need to take place in Britain, in her community, at the mosque she frequented before she left, among her friends and family, in the online communications she received as a girl who was almost certainly targeted as being susceptible to radicalisation. Now she is an adult, she needs to own her shit - and Britain needs to understand how this shit happens over here in the first place and stop it.


* Here are some links to articles about Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar.

Photo credit: European Union. Iraqi Yazidi activists Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar receive 2016 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

1 comment:

  1. Well said and we do need to keep a rational head on this issue. Bring her back, glean from her information and an understanding of why she went and use the info to help prevent (save) others from doing the same including young men. Would the publicity have been the same if she wasn't a young woman and pregnant?