10.03.2019 Author: Henry Kamens

Terrorist or Naive 15 Year Old: Poster Girl for Terrorist Organisation or Home Secretary?


A UK journalist went to a refugee camp in Syria and found a “British” girl who had travelled from London to join ISIS when she was 15. Shamima Begum, now 19, was interviewed and asked to be forgiven and allowed to return home. However, as she also said she doesn’t regret her decision or have any remorse, the UK’s Home Secretary revoked her citizenship.

Perhaps this is the proper thing to do – maybe is it a way to make an example out of her to deter others from making the same mistake. However, I’m reminded of totalitarian states which, like the USSR and Zimbabwe, have made their citizens stateless with this power and worry that it sets a dangerous precedent.

My first reaction was that Shamima has made her bed and now has to lie on it. Why should she expect the UK to act with open arms and forgiveness?

15 is not a child for a girl, though a boy may be different. She knew what she was doing. So not to show remorse – sorry!

She said, “I got tricked, and I was hoping someone would have sympathy with me.” So if she’d have come grovelling for help the UK public might have had sympathy for her. But her refusal to apologise, her brazen demands for sympathy and her failure to repudiate the ISIL worldview has meant that Shamima has now become the most unpopular figure in Britain since the Jimmy Savile and BBC scandal over child abuse.

At one point in a recent interview she went as far to say that the severed heads she’d come across were perfectly fine, and hadn’t bothered her because they’d been consistent with Islamic doctrine.

Unless there are unusual circumstances to this case, and very special ones at that … then good riddance to her, her husband and her child. That is the price to be paid, regardless of the father having Dutch citizenship.

Setting an example

It is likely that most Brits would agree that Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripping her of her British citizenship was not only an effort to stop her returning but likely the best thing to do in itself, as it would set an example for others.

However, is that the only motivation? I think she could be a distraction from Brexit and UK policies in the region as a whole! That would be a small price to pay if it would really work.

Otherwise, why not just send her to jail for a few years and make her go around the UK to give talks as part of her sentence and rehabilitation – to redeem herself and contribute something to the society that she turned her back on. After all, if she is a criminal she is far from the only one, and if you go to jail for murdering 26 people you don’t then get your citizenship taken away.

Muhammed most popular baby name

The problem Shamila faces is that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the UK, with millions of adherents, and in its various spellings, Muhammed is the most popular baby name. The UK has also suffered from several deadly terror attacks in recent years. As this demographic shift and terrorist threat remain an issue for many UK voters, British politicians will be keen to appear tough on extremism, even if they actually support it, through co-operation with Saudi Arabia and other means.

It would be consistent with UK law to give more weight to the decisions of a 19 year old, an adult under that law, than a child of 15. It would also be consistent however to describe her lack of remorse as the equivalent of hate speech and support of terrorism, both of which are criminal offences.

There are also many fighters from Western Europe and elsewhere, including Russia and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia who share similar problems. It is too early to fully comprehend what will be their fate. In some cases they have been intercepted at the Turkish-Georgia border and summary executed.

The question is whether removing citizenship is the resolution of a problem, goes far enough, or a way for politicians to run away from this dilemma by removing it from their jurisdiction – much like Castro did in the 1980s when he emptied his prisons and mental hospitals and sent the inmates to the US as “refugees”.

Much of the concern about the rehabilitation of such lost souls is that they may know too much about alleged collusion between the so-called alliance against terrorism and those who claim at the same time to be fighting terrorism. The he US, UK and France immediately come to mind as topping the list of state sponsors of “freedom fighters.”

As the saying goes, “your terrorist is my freedom fighter.”

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.