Shamima Begum, born and raised in East London and of Bangladeshi descent, had her citizenship revoked last week after travelling to Syria to join ISIS four years ago.
Recently, Begum asked the UK to accept her return to where she was born so that she is able to raise her new born son free from the fears that concurrently develop when living in a state of war. Yet, with her British citizenship stripped, it is hard to consider this a consequence autonomous from the fact that she is a second generation immigrant holding ethnic minority status in the UK.
By revoking her citizenship, the British government is echoing past sentiments that ethnic minorities are not, and will never be, British. The windrush scandal last year has further proven such, with British-Caribbeans having their citizenship unreasonably challenged and often downgraded. It continues a narrative that Britishness is monopolised to be synonymous with whiteness.
Whilst the British government refuses to face its responsibilities as a state in providing care for Shamima, or her new born son at the least, it has previously been quick to deport other individuals associated with terrorism to their own home countries. In 2013 Abu Qatada, a Jordanian national living in Britain, was deported back to Jordan after serving multiple sentences under terrorism laws in 2002. The British government is extremely quick to alienate its resources when involving non British nationals, yet it now has also mirrored these actions with its own people.
Over the last seven years, 900 British citizens have left to join ISIS. Rather than using Begum’s case to create a precedent of harsh ruling against former ISIS members, the government should instead explore the root causes of the crisis. I predict that this would show that social isolation of ethnic minorities due to stereotypes of both muslims and south asian culture is a huge factor in making children as young as Begum vulnerable to online grooming.
The rise of Islamophobia in the past decade has caused a hyper visibility to descend onto the British muslim population. For someone who is constantly looked at as an outsider, it is easy to look for an alternative sense of belonging, which Shamima became victim to. Helen Powell, a researcher in extremism at George Washington University, explained that ISIS exploits teenagers’ idealised vision of the world, where there is a strong search for social justice and this romanticism that comes with young naivety. It is a similar romanticism that we see in cases of sexual grooming of under age girls, yet our reactions are naturally completely different, even though Shamima was married to a man almost a decade older than her within 10 days of her arriving in Syria.
As a population and a government, we must look at the situation as how we would look at other children becoming susceptible to online grooming and coercion. If this was a young white girl, with two white parents living in the home counties would the reaction be the same? I would argue it wouldn’t be. Within the Rochdale grooming case, white girls groomed by asian men rightfully caused fury nation wide. Yet there is an absence of concern surrounding the fact that Shamima was impregnated three times before her nineteenth birthday by a man far older than her. Like the ever so patronising question of “Where are you really from?”, we must change our associations of Britain and what being British means to reflect the fact that much of what Britain is built on is owed to families like Shamima’s.
The Britishness of muslims and other minorities needs to stop being second guessed and downplayed.