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Editorial Britain cannot wash its hands of Shamima Begum

WHEN, in 2015, three teenage girls from east London were captured on CCTV heading off, to all appearances, for a half-term holiday jaunt no-one observing them would have thought that they were to risk life and limb for a cause which excites hatred and contempt in equal measure from their fellow British citizens.

The 15 and 16-year-old pupils from Bethnal Green Academy — Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase — flew to Turkey and crossed the border into Syria. Begum was married off to a Dutch jihadi 10 days after she arrived in Raqqa. Under siege, two of her children died, her third was born just days ago in a refugee camp in Syria.

She is the only one of the trio who wants to return to Britain. Her family have asked the government to allow her to come home citing their desire to provide a safe upbringing for her child. But Tory Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he is determined to prevent her return.

Jeremy Corbyn criticised the government’s decision to strip her of British citizenship and said she has a right to return and face questioning.

While her language and demeanour bear a striking resemblance to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, the right-wing press have gone into witch-hunt mode with acres of print devoted to cod-psychological speculation about her motivation and current state of mind. And now we hear that active shooters at a range on Merseyside are using Shamima Begum’s image for target practice.

Something of a consensus is emerging that, as distinct from the baby’s mother, the newborn child has unquestioned British citizenship and all that goes with it.

But what are the duties, obligations and responsibilities of Shamima Begum herself and of the state to which she claims citizenship?

Unlike foreigners who obtain British citizenship, people born entitled to it are not required to acquire a familiarity with the British constitution, participate in the various rituals of citizenship like voting or even learn any of our languages. And there is some doubt whether Javid’s knee-jerk decision to deny her the privileges and duties of a subject of Her Britannic Majesty is legally fireproof.

Begum should be returned to Britain. Firstly because her child needs a mother and is entitled to a family life. She should face investigation and, if there is evidence that she has committed any crimes, she should face the justice system. In doing so she will meet the basic responsibility of a citizen and thus allow the state to meet its.

Investigating her is both the right and a responsibility of the British state and by abandoning this Javid weakens the state’s claim to hold its citizens to account for what they have done.

Britain’s complicity in aiding the Syrian insurgents – who quite early on in this conflict became indistinguishable from Isis – adds a new layer of responsibility on our state. It is unjust to leave Syria to deal with the problem of foreigners who entered their country in the service of a regime-change conflict armed and equipped by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Britain, France and the US.

Beyond these questions there is the human tragedy of a young and grieving mother who may well have been groomed as a child during a decade or more in which Britain has been engaged in a series of imperial wars in Muslim lands.

Tory and tabloid hypocrisy — shared by the likes of Tommy Robinson – proclaims a sympathy for young white women groomed by gangs of predators. Nobody is questioning the despicable nature of the organisation Begum joined or the atrocities it has inflicted on the peoples of Syria and Iraq. But the bid to wash our hands of this young brown woman, born and raised here, smacks of racism.


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