Wednesday 20 March 2019

Patricia Casey: 'Why Britain should take back Isil bride and her baby'

Radicalised: Londoner Shamima Begum (19) and baby son Jarrah during an interview with ITN in a Syrian refugee camp on Wednesday. Photo: PA
Radicalised: Londoner Shamima Begum (19) and baby son Jarrah during an interview with ITN in a Syrian refugee camp on Wednesday. Photo: PA

Patricia Casey

Shamima Begum, the most hated woman in Britain, has not been helping her own cause.

She left her home and family in Bethnal Green, London, in 2015 to join Isil. The images of her were captured on camera as she walked through security at Gatwick airport, turning her back on England. Whether she aligned herself with the brutal Isil caliphate because of some fantasy of heroism or of being cared for in this new enclave is anybody's guess.

She and the teenagers who accompanied her were linking themselves as allies to one of the most extreme, sadistic and hated groups modern history has known. All three were under the age of 18 and Begum was 15.

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By the age of 19, she had married a young Dutch man, also a member of Isil, who like her had left his home after he too became radicalised. They had two children who died at the ages of 18 months and nine months from unknown diseases in Syria. He would appear to have left the organisation and the couple apparently led an ordinary life in Syria.

A few weeks ago they were fleeing from the last Isil stronghold to a refugee camp run by the British in Syria when he was captured. Begum, heavily pregnant, reached the camp and last weekend was identified by a 'Times' journalist, to whom she gave her now infamous interview before giving birth to her third baby, a little boy. He was given the name Jarrah, meaning warlord.

She has asked to return to Britain with her son as she wants him to be brought up in a peaceful country. The British government refused her permission to return by stripping her of her citizenship.

This is now complicated by the fact that the Bangladeshi government has refused her entry - it was believed she might be able to claim citizenship there because it is her mother's country of origin. Under British law, a person can be deprived of citizenship only if they will not be rendered stateless. It is unclear what is next for her, a woman without a country and with a baby son.

She has done little to endear herself to the public, having expressed no regret for the lives so brutally claimed by Isil, executed by beheading or burning alive in cages. She has expressed no concern at the genocide of the Yazidi people and has said that the Manchester Arena bombings were a retaliation. Yet she naïvely asks to come home to peace and security.

Her situation raises ethical questions as well as legal ones. Ethically, can a person be allowed to remain stateless because if so, then they have no rights? Unless she is recognised as a citizen in the Netherlands, her husband's home country, Britain may well have to reinstate her as a British citizen.

A further ethical issue is the fact that she was 15 when she became indoctrinated and left Britain. Decisions made at such a young age are often poorly thought-out, driven by make-believe and based only on short-term considerations rather than weighing long-term consequences.

Can she be held fully responsible for her actions at that time? Subsequently, her radicalisation was likely reinforced as she was separated from her family and subject to continuing indoctrination by Isil.

A question that looms large and played a decisive role in stripping her of citizenship is that she poses a threat to British society because of her radicalisation. She expresses odious beliefs about Isil but does this mean she herself would pose a threat should she return? She may do, but this clearly needs to be evaluated, not least because a number of former jihadists have already returned to Britain and others are awaiting repatriation. While she remains in Syria in proximity to other radicals, is she likely to remain as committed to Isil's cause, or whatever replaces it?

By remaining in the camp she is likely to meet disgruntled radicals seeking vengeance and recrimination. A return to Britain to her family may dilute the malign influence of the jihadists.

Should she return to Britain, there is no question but that she should be investigated and charged with whatever offences are applicable to 15-year-olds who join terrorist organisations. She is still only 19 and arguably could be deradicalised.

In Britain, the Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DDP) is aimed at rehabilitating those who are already convicted of terrorist offences or returning from conflict zones. She could potentially benefit from this after the extent of her radicalisation is evaluated by experts in this area. They will have to decide whether she is a murderous psychopath or an immature woman, suggestible, manipulated and led sadly astray.

There is then the ethical and legal question of her son. If she has to remain stateless in the Syrian refugee camp, her son, a British citizen, will also be there. Can he have his citizenship stripped when there is no possibility that he poses any threat to Britain as he's only a baby?

Can he be taken from her and on what grounds - that she supports brutality but doesn't engage in it directly herself? Do her opinions mean she is incapable of loving and nurturing her son? Her parenting capacity can only be assessed if she is in Britain.

This is a controversial and emotion-ridden case, riddled with dilemmas and uncertainties.

For the sake of her son, an innocent baby, she should be returned to Britain where her radicalism, her parenting skills and her risk to the public can be evaluated. It's easy to say 'let her rot in Syria', but there is another life at stake and everybody deserves respect, even the most hated woman in Britain.

Irish Independent

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