Today’s edition of The Big Questions on BBC One was asking whether Shamima Begum is Britain’s moral responsibility. In the studio, host Nicky Campbell was joined by guests with a variety of backgrounds and expertise, as well as some on a live video link. Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu was one of the latter and when the topic got underway, there was uproar when she suggested Shamima Begum’s citizenship was stripped “because she is brown, she’s Asian”.
Nicky told those at home a quick summary of what had happened to Shamima Begum: “In 2015, 15-year-old Shamima Begum and two of er schools friends left East London and travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State group.
“10 days after arriving she was married to a Dutch convert to Islam, she went on to bear him three children, all of whom are now dead.
“Two years ago, after she was found in a refugee camp, she said she hoped to be able to return to Britain, although she did not regret her initial decision to join the IS.
“The then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripped of her British citizenship on national security grounds. Now, Shamima Begum wants to return to Britain to challenge this decision.
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“The Court of Appeal ruled that the only fair way forward would be to allow her back into the UK because she cannot effectively appeal the Home Secretary’s decision from the camp in northern Syria.
“However, last Friday, that ruling was overturned. The Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling said the government is entitled to prevent her return,” he concluded.
Nicky then detailed some of the other developments in Shamima Begum case, included some of the comments she made to the press about her involvement in IS.
“No regrets joining, she said she was ‘untroubled’ about seeing a decapitated head because he was an enemy of Island. She was asked about the Manchester bombing and she said it was ‘justified as retaliation for bombing IS-held areas’. And she was was asked about the rape and enslavement of Yazidi women and she said ‘the Shia do the same in Iraq’.
“Do you want her back?” Nicky asked. Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director of Human Rights Watch said in response: “One thing I have certainly noticed in this particular situation… is that security, morality and the law are on the side of the women and the children in the camps. And should be on their side.
“And why do I say that? First of all, from a moral perspective and from a legal perspective, Shamima Begum was 15 years old when she was likely groomed and trafficked.”
Nicky jumped in and said: “She was 19 when she said [those things previously mentioned] and I noticed you haven’t responded to any of that stuff.”
“I’m going to come to that,” Yasmine replied. “It’s important that we zoom out because when we hear stuff like that it’s really important but it’s also highly emotive.”
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“I’m sorry, the Manchester bombing is highly emotive. It’s justified!” Nicky hit back.
“Of course, absolutely, but what I’m trying to say is, is that we should also take account of the broader situation. She was 15 years old when she was likely groomed and trafficked. She was married underage when she was there and consistently people who have been involved in psychological trauma exhibit signs such as this where they are unable to express their emotions effectively.”
“You’ve said a lot of very powerful and interesting stuff we can pick up on,” Nicky continued.
Shamima Begum applying for citizenship elsewhere was brought up: “She can [apply for citizenship] in Bangladesh, which they said they would impose the death penalty on her,” Nicky read.
“They’ve completely pulled that rug from underneath her feet [taken away the opportunity to apply for citizenship in Bangladesh], so that may not be a possibility available to her either,” journalist and writer Aina Khan said.
A little later, Dr Shola wanted to jump in: “I think some people are missing the point. The question is whether or not we have a moral responsibility to Shamima Begum or not – absolutely yes.
“Using security as a reason [to strip her of British citizenship], it doesn’t make sense, that’s politics.
“Let me make it clear to you, this isn’t about her being 15, I don’t condone or support what she did – that’s not the point here – we need to understand that Shamima Begum as a British citizen deserves to have British justice.
“From a security perspective, she’s more of a danger to us out there. British people like to pack their bags travel, go work and live in other countries, you’re creating a bigger security problem, the countries Shamima and others are put in have no ground to deliver any form of justice,” Dr Shola continued.
“What has Shamima Begum done that is worse than the terrorists we have, the mass murderers and the paedophiles and we have them locked up and we do not strip them of their citizenship! It is because she is brown, she’s Asian.”
“No, that is ridiculous,” Emma Webb, a Research Fellow jumped in but Nicky had to take control before things really escalated: “Wait, wait wait. There’s a point there, let me pick it up. it’s because she’s brown.”
“Jack Lets was stripped of his citizenship and he’s a Canadian and a man,” Emma commented. “The only why we’re discussing Begum is because she’s a woman, somehow she is less morally culpable for her decision to go and join IS.”
“No, she is more culpable,” Aina argued. “She’s absolutely more culpable than male fighters in this way.”
“Shola’s point there, she’s less dangerous here and she can be monitored and we can try to understand the mindset and mentality,” Nicky said. “There are two people I know really well, former Jihadis who are working on anti-radicalisation in this country.”