Former ISIS bride Shamima Begum is one of the most recognisable, and disliked, people in Britain. That is, known to Britain, rather than in it.
The Bethnal Green-born teenager voluntarily left the UK to join ISIS in 2015 and is currently being held in a Kurdish-controlled detention centre in northeast Syria. She and 100s of other European ex-ISIS members have been abandoned to an already vulnerable region attempting to rebuild from years of devastation and in some cases genocide. The US State Department and the UN continue to warn that these facilities are probable hotbeds of renewed radicalisation.
Mere weeks ago US intervention thwarted an attempted mass breakout from a nearby prison under fire from ISIS.
A recent YouGov survey concluded that well over half (53 per cent) of British adults thought Begum was a risk to national security. They are right to do so. She turned her allegiance to a genocidal terror group past the age of criminal responsibility.
To the casual observer, it often feels as if she has been granted far more publicity than the victims of the group she joined, which includes swathes of Muslim civilians, Yazidi school girls enslaved and burned in cages and beheaded Christians. Her attempt to rebrand herself into something of a dressed-down YouTuber clad in a baseball cap and sportswear to make yet another insincere apology a la James Charles has failed to make people forget the horrors she was complicit in.
Lest we forget that the teen’s flight to ISIS in 2015 came after a year in which the group were found to have been behind around 6000 deaths via terrorist attack across the world. She knew exactly what kind of civilisation she was signing up to.
Yet was then Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision to strip Begum of her citizenship in 2019 the correct move?
While many believe returning Begum to the UK would be the “soft option”, surely it could function as a restatement of confidence in our justice system, and its grounding in principles, which distinguish us from the Islamist Caliphate Begum was seduced by.
The decision of the US, France, Germany and Australia to try their own homegrown ISIS fighters at home suggests its justice system, while remaining bitterly divided by politics, possesses a muscular self-assurance the UK is now too embarrassed and weak to attempt.
Those in these camps need to be returned home to face justice rather than risk being re-released into open warfare. Surely the UK must face this reality rather than trying to score short-term political points by stripping a justifiably disliked figure such as Begum of her citizenship.
In the US, Canada, India and in Britain itself, many genuinely reformed Islamist extremists have even been involved in efforts to educate and warn, particularly young people, about the dangers of extremism and how they may be tempted into it. Such schemes have been particularly widespread in India which is home to over 172 million Muslims and where religious conflict remains a risk.
While Ms Begum’s apparent dishonesty, flagrant lack of remorse, and alleged violation of various British and International Laws would rule her out of the high school assembly circuit, others of her ilk may well be able to offer UK intelligence and the wider public key information about how to prevent the vicious circle of hate.
Another way of tackling the very real threat of homegrown Islamist extremism in Britain is ensuring suspects face a functioning trial by jury. Her failed appeals aside, thus far Begum has merely faced the court of public-and government- opinion. The best conclusion to this long-running debacle for the UK’s reputation, Begum, and the Kurdish society currently hosting her would be returning her citizenship and allowing her to face real justice.