Head to Head: Shamima Begum

On Wednesday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to the family of Shamima Begum- a teenager who travelled from London to Syria in 2015 to join ISIS. In this letter, Javid announced that he had decided to revoke their daughter’s citizenship- stating that the nineteen year old’s Bangladeshi heritage means she can apply for citizenship their. This is important as, according to the 1981 British nationality act, the Home Secretary can deprive someone of their citizenship provided they would not become stateless as a result. The Bangladeshi government have since responded that she will not be granted citizenship. The question that remains is whether Javid made the correct decision.

Against the Home Office decision- Campaign Agent Ethan Moxam

The Home Secretary’s decision to deprive Shamima Begum of her British citizenship has rendered the teenager stateless. It is illegal under international law to strip an individual of their nationality, if doing so leaves that person stateless. Home Secretary Sajid Javid argued that the power to remove citizenship had been used 150 times since 2010 in the case of individuals linked to terrorism and serious crimes. In 2013, the home office attempted to strip Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali al-Jedda of his UK citizenship, as he was being held for suspected terrorism. However, this was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court. Al-Jedda was suspected of aiding and conspiring with a known terrorist explosives expert. Such a crime is far more serious than foolishly sympathising with a terrorist organisation at a mere 15 years old.

 To deprive Shamima of her UK citizenship is also dependent on Javid having; “reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the UK, to become a national of such a country or territory”. When Javid wrote to Shamima’s family, he stated that because her parents are of Bangladeshi descent, she can apply for citizenship there, a country for which Shamima has never visited. Shamima is also not a Bangladeshi citizen, as Bangladesh’s ministry of foreign affairs has stated that there is “no question” of her being allowed into Bangladesh. It seems that the Home office has decided to make a public example of Shamima, rather than treat her fairly in accordance with the law. The world has watched and found British mercy lacking. We in the West often judge the extreme attitudes towards apostasy shared by radical Islamists, resulting in people being disowned and killed by their communities. It is shameful to see us throw aside our compassion and liberal values in exchange for this ‘all or nothing’ mentality. 

When it was first reported that Shamima and her friends had left to join ISIS, it was accepted they had been groomed and brainwashed by an evil ideology. Today, we can see in her interviews she still holds sympathies towards evil acts committed by Isis. Rather than casting her out, she could be placed in a de-radicalisation programme, which could show her the error of her ways, allowing her to reject the evil ideology which seduced her. Through rehabilitation she could become a symbol of British decency; in the future she could help others who are targeted by extremists for radicalisation. 

If we feel that Shamima needs to be used as a deterrent for likeminded young people who are considering joining a terrorist group, surely her experience is enough. Shamima was forced to marry a man twice her age just 10 days after arriving in Syria. She has lost two children in brutal conditions, and is having to care for a new born child in a refugee camp. Whether or not Begum is a victim or villain should not be decided by Javid, but the British legal system. Whether she needs to be rehabilitated or convicted is a matter for the courts, not us. It is absolutely wrong for Begum to be abandoned by the UK to be used as a poster child for anti-western sentiment.

In favour of the Home Office decision- Campaign Agent Samuel Rhydderch

The only thing currently holding this divided kingdom together is the unanimous public verdict that Shamima Begum should never be allowed back onto British soil. 

If you’re an ISIS bride, stuck in Kurdish-held territory, then there actually is a way to persuade your country to take you back – perhaps even more so when you have just given birth. There is also a way to make that not happen, and that is by lining up the Times, the BBC, and ITV, one after the other, and telling them that she doesn’t really mind seeing a beheaded head in a bin, it doesn’t ‘faze’ her. That is an outright dangerous mindset to possess, and one which demonstrates the need to avoid repatriating this dangerous ideology back home.

Shamima Begum has shown she is unrepentant and unapologetic. She could have made her life a lot easier by not hesitating when asked whether the or not the Manchester terror attack was a bad thing. Even Tasnime Akunjee, the lawyer acting for her family, found it “disgraceful”- remember, he is the one trying to persuade the Home Office that she poses no threat and should be allowed safe passage back into the UK.

In her words, she does not see how the Home Secretary views her as a threat “other than I was in ISIS”; so she apparently wasn’t a threat apart from being a member of a terrorist organisation, known for beheading journalists and waging a holy jihad against infidels (anyone who isn’t ISIS). According to MI5, the threat to the UK from international terrorism is currently classed as severe – meaning an attack is highly likely. The Manchester Arena bombing, which was carried out by ISIS, killed 22 people and raised the UK terror threat level to critical, the highest level since 2006. So yes, perhaps I’m inclined to argue that she was, and still is a threat.

The real issue, then, is her citizenship status. Shamima Begum was a British national, until her family was issued a letter from the Home Office stating that the Home Secretary had issued an order to revoke her citizenship on the basis that both her parents are from Bangladesh, and Bangladeshi law includes a right of citizenship by descent to anyone born to Bangladeshi parents. Unfortunately, Britain isn’t the only country seeking to prevent her return; the Bangladeshi foreign minister, Shahriar Alam, has made it clear that Bangladesh won’t allow her return.

However, Shamima Begum will not have been the first UK national to have been stripped of her nationality; since 2010, up to 150 people have had their UK nationality stripped, 120 since 2016; including El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, who were part of ‘the Beatles’ ISIS terror cell responsible for the brutal killings of British aid workers James Foley, Alan Henning, and David Haines. Begum has indicated that she could seek nationality from Holland, which is true: according to Dutch laws regarding statelessness, individuals can apply for a ‘no-fault residence’ permit if no country is prepared to repatriate them. 

I think the decision to revoke her citizenship is correct. However, as with anything which involves a mixture of international human rights, citizenship laws, and diplomacy, it is not a simple process to revoke one’s nationality. There is a lack of contextual clarity when it comes to international human rights; the laws fail to take into account the threat of an individual, as well as links to a terror organisation which could potentially void their ability to claim their human rights. As such, I think that international human rights legislation, in some cases, interferes and nullifies a country’s sovereign right to revoke an individual’s citizenship, should the need arise.

For all those who think that she should return to the UK in order to face ‘due process’ and the full force of the law, I would just like to take a minute to remind those people of the UK’s woeful track record in holding terrorists to account. Of the approximately 400 ISIS members who have returned, only one in ten have been prosecuted; security services spend a lot of money monitoring those individuals, which is a waste of precious public resources for someone who will clearly not contribute to British society, and who still abides by her jihadist faith and dislike of western society.

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office @flickr


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