‘Shamima Begum and the Case for Mercy’

Otto English argues that ‘an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind’ and that an advanced democracy like Britain should not seek to punish a naïve girl for the sins of those who groomed her.

In February 2015, Shamima Begum and her friends, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, flew to Istanbul and slipped across the border to join ISIS.

The girls had been radicalised by Aqsa Mahmood, a Glaswegian woman who had gone to live with ISIS in 2013. Mahmood groomed the girls, luring them with images of a romantic caliphate, a million miles away from their sheltered lives in Bethnal Green. It worked – and the three went off in search of the Promised Land.

Things swiftly turned bad. In May 2017, Sultana was killed, aged 17, in an air-strike. Abase probably died some months later. Shamima Begum married Yago Riedjik, a 27-year-old Dutch convert, 10 days after her arrival and gave birth to a daughter a year later and then a son. As ISIS collapsed and they fled the encroaching Syrian Defence Forces, Begum’s boy grew ill from malnutrition and died. Her 19-month-old girl died shortly afterwards.

Heavily pregnant, she finally made it to a Syrian refugee camp, where this weekend she gave birth to her third child.

The vile outpouring of commentary has a darker resonance indicative of the deep-rooted xenophobia that currently haunts this country.

In interviews, a detached Begum has talked about life in the Caliphate. Coming across as insensitive and unsympathetic, her case is clear. She is now, she says, deserving of our sympathy, despite joining a group that has brutalised a region and slaughtered thousands of innocent people in it.

Commentators, politicians and social media users have waded in with many suggesting that she ‘made her bed’ and should now be left to rot in it along with her baby son.

UKIP General Secretary Paul Oakley spoke for many when he said that Begum had a ‘choice of 50 Islamic states to sod off to’. Others were less measured. Begum should be summarily shot, hanged, publicly executed – like they do in Islamic State territories – for, well. for what? For being a child housewife to her rapist? For being naïve? For watching her own children die and her friends get blown apart? For being groomed online by agents of a predatory and murderous cult who sought to use her as a tool? For being a Muslim? For being quite obviously traumatised and depressed?

Never one to let the opportunity of a dog whistle pass him by, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said he would ‘not hesitate’ to prevent the return of Begum and other UK ISIS recruits. That can’t happen. The legal case is clear. You cannot strip someone of their nationality and leave them stateless.

Perhaps rather than mimic the abhorrent values of the ISIS death cult, the British could put the pitch forks down and demonstrate what makes ‘us’ better than them

If this young woman is able to get back to the UK she cannot be prevented from entering the country. Yes, she has joined a proscribed organisation and, yes, if there is a case, she should be prosecuted. But, the vile outpouring of commentary has a darker resonance indicative of the deep-rooted xenophobia that currently haunts this country.

Let’s be frank. If Shamima Begum had been white, middle-class and articulate, the conversation would be quite different. In those circumstances, she would obviously have been a victim, sucked into the vortex by an evil ideology that sought to rape her, abuse her and use her for sickening propaganda purposes to further a despicable cause.

Perhaps rather than mimic the abhorrent values of the ISIS death cult, the British could put the pitch forks down and demonstrate what makes ‘us’ better than them. Begum is a victim and her baby more so. They should be brought back and with time and rehabilitation we might – as Danny Dyer has suggested today – even learn from it.

‘An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind’ and an advanced democracy like Britain should show mercy – not seek to punish a naïve girl for the sins of her groomers.