Imagine this: A 15-year-old girl, in the eyes of the law a minor and in ours a kid we reprimand for leaving her bedroom untidy, commits a crime.
The courts, after adjudicating her case, admit that there was "credible suspicion", as judges called it, that she had been cajoled by adults into committing said crime, yet the girl is meted out by these very courts the most unimaginably severe punishment any court of law could inflict on a human being -- revocation of citizenship, rendering that human being stateless.
You will, of course, recognise the girl in question, now 23, as Shamima Begum, the London-born teenager from Bethnal Green -- the neighborhood in the city's East End where Cockney, as an identity and an accent was born -- who was groomed and trafficked by Daesh to join it in Syria in 2015, when the group still carried heft.
As we speak, Shamima languishes in a detention center in northeast Syria, denied repatriation to Britain. Recently a special tribunal yet again refused to vacate earlier courts' decisions to strip her of her birthright to British citizenship. Her lawyers are preparing another appeal.
This is a saga that British pundits in the media have already spilled considerable ink debating from every angle. And well they might.
Our sense of self
Stripping a human being of his or her nationality, rendering them stateless, is wrong. Look, citizenship is more than a legal status. Citizenship points both to where and to what we belong.
We carry the cultural ethos it connotes around and within us. We speak its language and treasure its history, using its idiom and metaphor to define our sense of self. And however we become alienated from it, our citizenship remains our anchor as individuals.
Stripped of citizenship, and thus rendered stateless, we effectively become a lower species of men and women, stripped of the base upon which our human being is propped, living beyond the pale of laws designed to protect our rights -- legal rights, political rights, constitutional rights and a host of other inalienable rights citizens take for granted in any organized, stable polity.
Our lives as human beings, heaven knows, are hard enough, complicated enough, indeed painful enough as it is -- without that base being stripped from under our feet.
"There's a kind of pain life that has nothing to do with sickness or with our sometime savagery", writes Eugene Kennedy, the celebrated psychologist and Loyola University professor, in his book, The Pain of Being Human, first published in 1974. "It is the suffering of healthy persons, as undramatic as it is inevitable, as common as it is uncomforted. It is the pain with a thousand private faces, the pain that comes from being human".
Plight of a stateless human
This, you will admit, is an assessment of the human condition that is as profound -- though not as contentious or convoluted -- as any that Jean Paul Sartre, along with other existentialist philosophers, may have advanced..
Now consider the existential pain of the stateless human after you have stripped him of his or her citizenship. Consider the brazenness of the act after you read the following in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be deprived of his nationality".
We all travel, far and wide, with impressive ease, but if you are stateless, you are denied that right because you are not allowed to own that little booklet other mortals call a passport.
But on those rare occasions when compassionate authorities in a foreign country -- and to you all countries are foreign, including the one that, often under duress, hosts you -- grant you that right, you are on your own, struck dumb when asked by customs officials, as you cross borders, to answer the question, "What nationality are you?"
The life you live as a stateless human being is brutal -- brutal because, as Hannah Arendt, the noted German philosopher, who found herself stateless in the years that followed the Second World War, famously wrote in her seminal work The Origins of Totalitarianism (first published in English in 1951), that if you're stateless, you are deprived of "the right to have rights".
This is the fate that has befallen Shamima Begum, this once 15-year-old girl that the justice system in Britain has deemed most befitting the crime she has committed.
She should be returned to the UK.
Fawaz Turki is a noted journalist, academic and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.