The UK government is in a quandary. Ministers and parliamentarians hold polarising opinions. There are those who share the view of Home Secretary Sajid Javid who is bitterly opposed to allowing 19-year-old Daesh bride Shamima Begum who has just given birth to a baby boy to return and others like the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg arguing for a more compassionate approach.
Javid initially insisted that citizens who joined the terror group were “full of hate for our country” and vowed to prevent them from returning. But he has since been obliged to u-turn because as highlighted by Justice Secretary David Gauke, the UN Convention on Human Rights dictates that no country can render a national stateless.
Speaking to a Question Time audience, Rees-Mogg considers that the pregnant teenager is a victim. She “was under the age of consent when she married in Syria,” he said, adding, “She has had two babies that have died. We must have sympathy for someone who was abused.”
The girl from Bethnal Green, who left home with two schoolmates for Syria at the tender age of 15, hasn’t done herself any favours by agreeing to be interviewed by multiple newspapers and networks. She clearly remains a Daesh devotee, saddened that the ‘caliphate’ has been dismembered.
She claims that life in Raqqa under Daesh-rule was accurately portrayed in its propaganda videos apart from the bombs. She showed no emotion when speaking of her two infants who succumbed to illness and malnutrition and seemed almost proud to admit that she was unfazed seeing severed heads in garbage bins.
Absent of any shred of remorse, she still loves her terrorist husband convicted by a Dutch court of plotting terrorist attacks in Europe and says she has no regrets. She hoped for Britain to facilitate her homecoming so her baby could be born safely courtesy of the NHS. It’s likely that the infant will be taken into state care given that her Bangladeshi-born father, who claims his daughter was brainwashed, has been filmed burning a US flag alongside the killer of British Army soldier Lee Rigby. If that is the case, then he could well be brain-washer-in-chief.
Judging by posts on social media and audience reactions to televised debates like that hosted by Channel 5’s Jeremy Vine, the British public is overwhelmingly opposed to letting her walk among them. “Do we as a nation have a duty to at least try and rehabilitate Shamima Begum,” asks Vine on Facebook? Only a handful out of the 2,800 respondents agreed with that proposition. She’s made her own bed, let her lie on it seems to be the general theme. One that garnered well over a thousand likes was drenched in sarcasm. “I think we should be tolerant. Accept her apology… Give her and her unborn child the best possible start in life by housing her in a four bedroom semi-detached in a nice area. Also give her enough money so she can throw coins at the homeless. I’m starting a Go Fund Me page for her.”
Whereas the state is obligated to open the door it is not duty bound to come to the rescue. If she turns up on her own steam, she will be taken into custody, interrogated and may face either incarceration, house arrest or she could be placed in the UK’s secretive rehabilitation programme, exposed by the Telegraph. The fact is that only one-in-ten terrorist returnees are ever prosecuted in Britain. Most of those convicted receive derisory sentences. Moreover prisons are notorious hotbeds of radicalisation.
Whereas I do feel there is an argument for treating returnees with understanding on a case-by-case basis especially misguided young women indoctrinated by recruiters on the net, Begum comes across as a hardened extremist. She left for the purpose of bearing children destined for martyrdom and could present a danger to society as a recruiter and Daesh propagandist.
In some circumstances, liberal British values clash with reality. “US plans to jail British jihadists in Guantanamo after getting fed-up with UK’s soft approach to terrorists” is a recent headline in the Telegraph. I’ve long been an opponent of that gulag where hundreds of innocents whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time were left to rot for years without trial. But considering that the founder of the Muhajiroun Daesh- recruiting terrorist group Anjem Choudary was released after serving only half of his five-year sentence, and is currently reconstituting his dangerous organisation, the US may have a point.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.