The case of Shamima Begum, a British-born woman who joined ISIS as a teenager and now wants to return to the UK, has been widely dissected and debated over the last two years, drawing sympathy from some and reminders about human rights from others.
The media, the government, legal experts and the general public have considered Begum’s situation from nearly every angle during this time, bringing up extenuating factors such as her age, gender and background. But despite significant efforts to give Begum the benefit of the doubt, she has been left with the same result – legal limbo.
Begum, 21, travelled to Syria to join ISIS when she was just 15, resulting in her citizenship being revoked and her being banned from the UK. The case sparked extensive media debate and her appeal to return to the UK was eventually rejected by the Supreme Court. Her lawyers argue that she cannot freely participate in the case to have her citizenship returned due to her exceptionally dangerous situation. Other people banned from the UK have participated in their cases from overseas, but the camp she is being held in in Syria will not allow her lawyers to visit. Her case is now paused until she is able to participate, which is unlikely to happen.
Begum claims to want forgiveness from the UK, for which she has garnered significant public sympathy. But would she be asking for forgiveness if ISIS was still as powerful as it was when she joined?
Begum could indeed be an innocent victim of radicalisation, especially considering that she was only fifteen when she travelled to Syria. However, fifteen-year-olds can be punished for crimes they commit within the UK, so her age is not the only factor to consider. We may never know the answers to our concerns about this case.
What we do know is that there are factors that led to the making of Begum’s demise. It could be related to her gender — perhaps she was a young girl susceptible to the manipulation of a man, much like other girls have been vulnerable to non-Islamic related predators. Her social class could also have been a factor. But with cases related to Islamic extremism, factors such as fundamentalism and identity crises should not continue to be shied away from. It should be considered acceptable to criticise Muslims, like those of any other race or religion. Such criticism should have no bearing on attitudes regarding Islam as a faith.
Begum has lost her rights as a Westerner and all the luxuries that go with it. She has lost all of the privileges most people in her parents’ native Bangladesh would dream of. She did not appreciate it. If she had committed a crime that does not pose a threat to national security, she would have been tried as fairly as any British national. The problem is that a lot of Muslim immigrants have failed to integrate into British society, snubbing the benefits of living in a multi-cultural country and failing to see the advantages that different cultures can offer. They cannot see how lucky they are to be able to choose the best of both worlds.
Begum’s case is exceptional in that she is unable to reach her lawyers. This should serve as a warning to future radicals — that in their pursuit, they risk losing one of their most basic British human rights, the right to a free and fair trial. However, in another way Begum’s case is not exceptional — many youth have been radicalised before her and many will be radicalised after her.