Shamima Begum, the Demon Bride
‘Jihadi bride’ Shamima Begum and her fight for repatriation are back in the news. This time there appears to be evidence to suggest she and her two companions were trafficked, with various newspapers carrying the latest story. It may come as no particular surprise that Shamima and her two school friends Khadiza Sultana, now dead and Amira Abase, presumed dead, were recruited and helped with their journey from the UK via Turkey to Syria in February 2015. All the girls were between 15 and 16 years old.
A BBC online news article on 30 August reads ‘Shamima Begum and her two friends were smuggled into Syria by an intelligence agent for Canada’ (bbc.in/3h7Cbbd). In Reuters Europe (21 November) it says: ‘Likely a victim of child trafficking her lawyers also said that Begum and her friends entry into Syria was “facilitated” by a Canadian agent working for ISIS’ (reut.rs/3VUKFB7). It seems that the information for those articles comes from a claim made in the book The Secret History of Five Eyes by Richard Kerbaj. Five Eyes is the network of intelligence sharing between Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This information may have been known as early as 2015.
There was a Reuters (Ankara) news article on 12 March 2015 by Tulay Karadeniz in which the writer states: A spy who worked for a country in the US-led coalition that is fighting Islamic State had helped three British girls to cross into Syria to join the militants has been caught, the Turkish Foreign minister said on Thursday’ (reut.rs/3iJGLN5). This information came only a month after the girls left the UK. The British public will have heard about this only recently.
Shamima is now 23 years old and is still languishing in a detention camp in Northern Syria. Her UK citizenship was revoked in March 2019 by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid. The British government is not in theory allowed to deprive a British citizen of their citizenship if that is the only form of citizenship they have. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Arbitrary deprivation of nationality which means deliberately moving to make a citizen stateless is prohibited under these instruments’.
The UK government contended Shamima could apply for Bangladeshi citizenship as her parents were Bangladeshi nationals and as she was under 21 at the time she supposedly could automatically qualify for Bangladeshi citizenship. Bangladesh has continuously denied that possibility. In any case Shamima was born in the UK and has never even been to Bangladesh, her culture is British.
Shortly after arriving in Syria she was married to a Dutch fighter and convert to Islam and went on to have three children who all died young. Her youngest was born in a refugee camp and died within a month of a lung infection. The conditions in these camps were appalling, with temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius in summer and below freezing in the winter, bad sanitary conditions and almost non-existent healthcare.
Responding to the death of her last child in the camp Jeremy Hunt stated ‘Shamima knew when she made the decision to join Daesh she was going to a country where there was no embassy, no consular assistance, and I’m afraid those decisions awful though it is, they do have consequences’ (bbc.in/3iLmkzi). But how could a 15-year old have had any idea of what was in store for her when she left the UK?
What makes a girl not yet 16 willingly leave her home, travel to Syria to marry a man she had not even met? Is it romantic notions of marriage and children of her own, a life away from the boredom and monotony of Bethnal Green, or the seduction of going to help her religious compatriots in the face of perceived injustice and alienation, or was it just an ill-thought-out teenage adventure? Shamima maintains she was just a housewife looking after the house and children and said she was assured they (Isis) would take care of her and she would have a perfect family life, but whether she was just a housewife as she claimed or she allegedly sewed explosives into suicide bombers’ vests we probably will never know.
The hypocrisy of accepting that girls of the same age and older were trafficked and abused in the Jeffrey Epstein case but not for Shamima and her even more unfortunate school friends is striking. She has been vilified and demonised in the press, and the British public seemed to be in agreement with her being made stateless. Could it be that women are traditionally regarded as the caring nurturing sex and Shamima was an abomination, or was she made the scapegoat, an example of the government showing it was doing something, picking on the easy target of a young girl?
Since the fall of the Caliphate, the international community was faced with dealing with more than 52,000 ‘foreigners’ stranded in Syria. Thousands returned to their respective countries independently and unmonitored and thousands of others were repatriated to some, including women facing arrest and imprisonment. Out of more than 400 former fighters believed to be back in Britain only about 40 (in 2019) have been prosecuted, most have been placed in rehabilitation schemes. It not as easy for women and children to make their way back home.
The Guardian (26 November 2020) reported that 35 children and 15 British women were being held in barbaric conditions at a camp in Northern Syria. A report by the Rights and Security International charity described conditions as inhumane and degrading, unsafe environments, physical violence common and psychological trauma. Children living in the camps suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and hypothermia with the effect on these children of starting the whole cycle of alienation again. You have to wonder what kind of society turns a blind eye to deliberately causing suffering to women and children, somehow making them responsible for nationalism and war.
The Shamima Begum situation brings up so many issues. The fact that the government can take away what we consider fundamental rights but which turn out to be mere privileges which can be given or taken away arbitrarily. What constitutes a danger to security and the state, your political beliefs, like being a communist in McCarthy’s America? What constitutes an illegal organisation, one that is contrary to the status quo? The misogyny of not only the Islamic fighters wanting what could be described as ‘comfort women’ and the attitude of the British government towards making an example of a young girl. Islamophobia and nationalism rearing its ugly head, seeing them as the savages, fanatics, the ‘other’, dividing workers with god on both sides. The state’s lackeys, the media, constantly pushing the official narrative, hiding news from the public, guiding our opinion to suit the state agenda. We have no idea what is ‘fake news’ anymore.
The world is divided with constantly changing borders, constant wars. The arms industry is the second biggest industry in the world. How many other Shamimas are out there? It does not have to be like this, we could live in a borderless, stateless moneyless society where we co-operate rather than compete. All it takes is a little imagination and the belief that we humans are not the greedy aggressive creatures we are told we are. We are family after all.