Removing Shamima Begum's citizenship is a violation of international and human rights law and would set a dangerous precedent, argues Shabbir Lakha
The Home Office has now announced that it is moving to strip Shamima Begum of her British citizenship. We should be clear about two things: this is unlawful, and even if it was within the law, it’s wrong.
Shamima Begum was 15 when she went to Syria to join ISIS. It’s telling how the Parliamentarians and media commentators who don’t think 16 and 17 year olds should have the right to vote, and only last week patronised school students on strike as simply wanting to skive lessons, are the same arguing that Shamima Begum made her decision consciously and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to come back.
The reality is that she was radicalised and groomed. Given the profile that has been given to grooming in Rotherham and elsewhere, which MPs like Sarah Champion have gone to great lengths to speak out about in sweeping racialised statements, it’s absurd that the word grooming has barely been mentioned in relation to Shamima and isn’t given any consideration in her case.
Saying this in no way justifies her decision and arguing that she should be allowed to return doesn’t mean excusing her actions at all. Indeed, if she has committed crimes, she should face charges and justice, in a British court of law.
There is also the small matter that she has an infant child, who has done nothing wrong and should not be condemned to effectively a death sentence, like Shamima’s first two children. What possible justification is there for stopping a British child from being allowed to come back to Britain?
It is a clear violation of international and human rights law to make a person stateless. Incredibly, Sajid Javid’s justification is that because she has Bangladeshi heritage, she may be eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship. To the absolute shame of the British media, this argument has been presented with such deliberately obscure language, they have created the impression that she is a dual citizen. She is not, as the Bangladeshi government has now clarified in clear terms, and she would be made stateless.
It would be setting a dangerous precedent for the Home Office to revoke citizenship and make someone stateless on the premise that they might get citizenship elsewhere, and without trial. It is also deeply hypocritical considering the hundreds of British citizens who work as private mercenaries in conflict zones, and who volunteer with the Israeli Defence Forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. These individuals not only face no questions of having their citizenships revoked, but they also face no accountability whatsoever for any crimes they may be committing.
The way the media has presented Shamima Begum as unremorseful “Isis Briton” and obfuscated the legality of the Home Office’s actions is disgraceful. What has also been entirely absent from the conversation is the question of how and why a 15 year old girl from East London was radicalised and pushed into that decision, did our oh-so-rigorous counterterrorism framework and intelligence fail or was it counterproductive in any way? Nor has there been any mention of where our foreign policy fits into this story.
It’s also shocking that I’ve heard no reference to the ongoing Windrush scandal in relation to this story. Are we supposed to forget that this government has deported thousands of British citizens to countries they’ve never been to, for absolutely no reason other than to meet self-set targets on removals of illegal immigrants? The facts of this case have been spun differently, but it is still very much the same racist government violating the human rights of a British citizen and forcing her and her child to stay out of Britain.
No one should be supporting this, and it’s sad that parts of the left and Muslim communities have justified the government’s actions on this.
Muslims in Britain have been subject to state-led Islamophobia for the last two decades. We make up around 90% of referrals under the Prevent agenda since it began, we are dozens of times more likely to be stopped, questioned and detained at airports, and every time there’s an Islamist terrorist attack somewhere in the West we are expected to be the first to condemn the perpetrators and reaffirm our loyalty to our country. And Muslim communities, out of fear of reprisal or from internalising the racism, indeed are the first to make the required statements, to sell poppies every November and to act against our own human rights and civil liberties if it means showing we’re loyal.
So it’s unsurprising to see so many Muslims vocal in calling for Shamima Begum not to be allowed to come back. And to be fair, particularly for hijabi women, they probably realise that the longer the story is in the news, the higher the chance of them facing racist attacks.
But if the case of Shamima Begum shows us anything, it’s that this government is willing to break the law when it wants to, and is willing to send you to a country you’ve never been to and aren’t a citizen of, without any trial. We shouldn’t let them. We must demand that Shamima’s citizenship isn’t revoked and she’s allowed to return to the UK with her child and face due process.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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