On Shamima Begum and other returnees from warzones

Three young girls feared to be on the way to Syria

Three young girls feared to be on the way to Syria
Three young girls feared to be on the way to Syria

Over the past couple of weeks there has been mass media attention to the case of Shamima Begum, who along with a couple of friends left to join ISIS in 2014.

At the time she was a 15 year old and is now 19. In that time she has talked about two of her children being killed and has recently given birth to a third.

The whole topic has brought up a lot of emotion, mostly because it seems Sajid Javid, the home secretary decided to make it into a political power play, just like he did his canceled holiday over Christmas to deal with the UK being swamped with about 10 migrants.

The media have had a field day with rolling coverage, the most hypocritical of which being Sky News who brought on who himself had gone to Syria and joined a terrorist organisation. His opinion was that she should not be allowed to return. I am not sure if he had any self awareness.

While the topic is emotive many aspects of it can be dealt with on a factual basis and should be seen through a lense of factual (in)correctness.

There are identical stories being played out concurrently in Canadian Media and the US Media about former residents of their countries seeking to return so I will try to keep the following generic.

Have 400 ISIS fighters already returned to the UK?

The above statement is (most likely) false. It is suggested that 400 people have gone to Syria and returned over the time of this conflict. The real number may be much higher, but that does not mean they went to join ISIS and also includes people like Alan Henning, a charity worker to was executed by ISIS.

The majority of people who have visited Syria have done so as part of aid convoys and support work and this should not be dehumanised for the purposes of political point-scoring.

How was she taken to Syria?

Now most will have forgotten about this, but if you read the comments on the original post about potentially having been trafficked via a Canadian intelligence officer.

Further, you have to consider that she was a minor and she was traveling on someone else's passport.

Unfortunately the security services seem to have developed a record for having connections to terrorist event - links have been found between the Manchester bomber's family having had backing from the MI6 (to operate in Libya), and more recently it has been reported that a close confidante of the terrorist who carried out the Berlin Christmas Market attack worked for the Moroccan secret service and had warned the authorities about him. Whether it be incompetence or blow-back it seems our intelligence services have close links to many terrorist groups.

In this instance if she was trafficked by a member of the Canadian intelligence services, it should not be left uncovered.

But what about others that have joined militias abroad?

This is a good question. However this is not the first person to return back to the UK after having joined a militia abroad.

There are many cases from Syria alone. In addition to the above pundit used by Sky News, there are other cases that have been reported in the media.

James Matthews was a former British soldier, who after having reached adulthood decided to go to Syria to join the YPG and "fight ISIS". He was allowed back in to the UK and , however the charges were later dropped.

Joe Robinson was another British Soldier who decided to join the YPG in Syria. He was charged and sentenced over his terrorist activities in Turkey, without serving his sentence. he was charged in the UK, .

The YPG might be described lazily as "the Kurds" in the media, but it is anything but. It is a marxist separatist organisation that does not tolerate dissenting voices within the Kurdish (or non-Kurdish) communities under its control. It has carried out many terrorist attacks and is a sister organisation to the PKK in Turkey, sharing much of the leadership.

Of course the YPG is not the only military organisation operating in the middle east which has a track record of human rights abuses and/or war crimes. Most military groups operating in the region have tainted records, including those operated by countries.

Sagiv Amos, when watching the destruction being heaped on Gaza in 2014 had a very different reaction to the shock and horror felt by most people. and joined the IDF, a military that has a well known record for human rights abuses and war crimes. Not only is his citizenship not being revoked, his case is used for propaganda purposes in the press.

These members of terrorist organisations are not apologetic for their actions and are able to walk freely within the UK without care for their actions. They have not had their citizenship revoked.

When considering non-combatants, there is also the case of the wife of Bashar al Assad, Asma al Assad. Her husband may have butchered half a million people which she provided cover for, but she is free to visit the UK.

When compared to such cases, why is the case of Shamima Begum, who was a minor who was groomed and trafficked so much different? She should be thoroughly investigated and if crimes have been comitted, she should be charged (though some may have been wen she was a minor) and the rule of law followed.

Only the worst of the worst have their citizenship revoked

The above statement is false. Often the revocation will occur before any conviction for a crime. The government has to merely decide that the presence of the individual in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’. No evidence has to be provided of the individual committing any crimes.

Even worse, there are where Theresa May specifically instructed her officials to wait until a target traveled abroad before taking action in order to prevent him from having the same rights of appeal.

Sometimes there are mere suspicions that someone may be radicalised, as happened in who was operating in an area that did not have ISIS presence.

Is it Legal to revoke Shamima Begum's Citizenship

The courts will have to decide this but most people versed in immigration law say no. However by then the political damage will have been done. Sajid Javid will have recieved his plaudits and extremist groups will have a documented case to show how not every citizen of the UK is born equal.

What about our safety?

We have laws to protect us. No one will expect returnees from any conflict to not be questioned, interrogated, charged for their crimes, monitored or treated.

What about their crimes?

Now this is a biggie that most people ignore. These people will often have gone abroad to another country in something that is neocolonialist. Some times their presence and accomodation will require confiscation of property from locals and their presence will often require oppressive actions against the local population.

However we must deal with this through fair rules that apply equally to all cases. This does not mean you leave those people to be dealt with by war torn societies that often do not have the facilities to handle them.

We are better equipped to deal with these people that are the product of our societies.

But she said X! She lacks eloquence!

She was 15 when she was groomed and left the UK. She is still only 19. She will not even have completed her GCSE's, you cannot expect her to be as eloquent as someone who has spent years in further and higher education learning the intricacies of language.

My on this topic ended with this question:

Will they be treated as the young girls they are or as hardened terrorists made out to be a threat to the UK and its citizens?

I had hoped that we were better.


Well put. I agree with you, but you beat me to writing first.

The thing is we need to find a way to end the cycle of violence.

The old sentiment of "An eye for an eye, or tooth for a tooth", just leaves us with lots of blind toothless people.



Shamima Begum is not so much a "product of our society", as you claim, as she is a "product of, arguably, a xenophic, culturally rigid section of  British the Muslim community. This religio-ideological agenda is fed by Saudi Salafi funds. 

While I agree about the probable collusion of security services in so-called terrorist groups (as happened with MI5 conversion of some  of the IRA's leadership), that, unfortunately, is just realpolitik.

The facts of the Shamima Begum case are tragic in the respect of her being a young naive girl, but she willingly travelled to Syria, having joined a group that had declared war on the UK. Do not forget that DAESH have claimed responsibility for the murder of hundreds of civilians in the West and thousands of civilians in Syria and Iraq. 

This should not be reduced to an argument about moral equivalence, but should remain an argument about moral agency. As young as Shamima Begum was when she joined DAESH, she made the choice to do so by herself, and although a minor at the time, the age of criminal responsibility in the UK is 10, and the legal marriage age in shariah is 9, if we are to follow the example of Muhammad.

A crime is still a crime, even when there are mitigating circumstances, such as Shamima's age, collusion with security agencies, grooming etc. 

Obviously, claims that Shamima did such and such while in Syria are unproven and possibly unprovable in a UK court, and I think that is why she was stripped of her nationality.

Regarding the issue of nationality, you claim that it was probably unlawful to make her persona non granta. That is for the SIAC to decide, but the decision was legal and based on legal argument from the attorney general on the basis of her Bangladeshi heritage.

The question remains whether Bangladesh acted lawfully by denying her nationality status and threatening her with execution, which would invalidate any extradition attempt, but not her application for a Bangladeshi passport. 

I am a Muslim, but I am revolted by DAESH and their supporters and fund raisers, some of whom I have met in the UK. There no ethical basis for the existence of DAESH. They are anti-civilization, year zero nihilist and it says a lot about the salafi current in Western Muslim populations that Westerners could even consider DAESH to be legitimate. Also, I would have appreciated an unequivocal rejection of DAESH raison d'etre in your article, but am disapointing not to have found one.

Respectfully yours,

Nadir Akyildiz