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  Opinion   Columnists  01 Mar 2024  Farrukh Dhondy | Shamima Begum a terrorist threat or victim of ISIS? Britain is divided

Farrukh Dhondy | Shamima Begum a terrorist threat or victim of ISIS? Britain is divided

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Mar 2, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Mar 2, 2024, 12:00 am IST

Were Shamima and friends in touch with someone on the Internet or in person who groomed them into embracing ISIS?

Shamima Begum
 Shamima Begum

“They say they had camels in the promised land

And needles could see through eyes

We western Indians don’t understand

But know that He told no lies

I suppose he could have said elephants

Who can’t enter burrows of mice

Or rats or some other tiny runts

To illustrate his moral advice?”

From The Annals of Who Come Alley, by Bachchoo

Shamima Begum is now 24 years old. She lives in a camp in Syria, rows of tents inhabited by refugees -- enemies of Syria, very many of them remnants of the Islamic State, or ISIS. In previous years she used to wear the hijab and full niqab but now, when we see her on TV, she is dressed in Western clothes with flowing hair, addressing the camera in an East London English accent.

Last week the Court of Appeal rejected her plea to have her UK citizenship, of which she was deprived in 2019 by the then home secretary Sajid Javid, restored. Shamima was born in England of Bangladeshi parents who settled in East London in Tower Hamlets borough, which has a substantial Bangladeshi population and more mosques than there are in Mecca. Varieties of Islam claim the allegiance of this Bangladeshi population and play a decisive part in its electoral politics.

Passing judgment on the appeal, Lady Chief Justice Baroness Carr said: “It could be argued that the decision in Ms Begum’s case was harsh. It could also be argued that Ms Begum is the author of her own misfortune. But it is not for this court to agree or disagree with either point of view. Our only task is to assess whether the deprivation decision was unlawful. We have concluded it was not, and the appeal is dismissed.”

In 2015 Shamima and two other girls, Amira Abase and Kadira Sultana, left London and travelled via Turkey to Syria to join the ISIS. Each of them married an ISIS operative, all the three husbands were Islamic converts from Europe, Australia and the United States. Shamima and Amira were 15 years old and Kadira was barely 16.

They left their parents, school and community, somehow convinced that ISIS was the mission they felt compelled to join? Did their families and community make them religious bigots who would want to participate in ISIS -- a virtual Islamicist death cult? Was it a longing for adventure? Or escape from a possible future of arranged marriages and female subservience?

Were they looking forward to being the niqabi-jihadi brides of white men converts?

There must have been religio-ideological discussions between them. But with who else?

At the end of 2018, ISIS was defeated. The husbands of all three were dead. Shamima had lost three babies in their infancy. She was moved into a virtual POW camp.

When applying to return to Britain, she renounced all ISIS belief but Mr Javid cancelled her citizenship on the grounds that she would be a terrorist threat if she returned.

Allow me then, gentle reader, some recollections of my own convictions at that age. I was brought up in a moderately religious environment in a Parsi Zoroastrian family.

Zoroastrianism is an easy-going religion with prayers in the ancient language of Avesta which one learns by heart and mutters regularly -- by some of them every night before sleep -- without understanding a word of what it means or to whom it is addressed -- presumably to the single God, Ahura Mazda. (The light bulbs were named after him, not vice versa!)

In that era, I was surrounded, or felt I was, as a certain sort of rationality took hold, by superstition, irrational belief in religious mumbo-jumbo and abject poverty. And it certainly occurred -- or more than occurred, was persistently evident -- to me that there was a connection between the two. There had to, ought to, be a different world order.

In our neighbourhood in a rather smaller, even dingy house, lived a poor Parsi lady and her son Aspi Khambatta, six years older than myself, the offspring of her adulterous relationship with a British Army sergeant in the days of the Raj. Her Parsi husband had abandoned her at his birth as the newborn had blue eyes, fair skin and blonde hair. This Aspi became a friend and a sort of guru. He dedicatedly read Communist pamphlets and preached Marxism to us teenagers of the neighbourhood. A few of us took his observations seriously.

Were Shamima and friends in touch with someone on the Internet or in person who groomed them into embracing ISIS? My “grooming” by Aspi and my own observations and rejections of religious or shameful and pagan rites and my dedicated and active embracing of socialism as I grew up didn’t lead me into any war zone.

Shamima’s conviction, and almost certain grooming at that age, did.

I texted her lawyer to ask if Shamima now married a British passport holder, could she then claim fresh citizenship? He texted back to say it was a novel idea but probably futile. Her only recourse to overturn what I (and millions of others), regard as an unjust decision would have to be a political one.

A faint hope as Sir Keir Starmer, the probable next PM, is unlikely to favour the case of an ex-jihadi bride even though it’s clear that this teenager was groomed into virtual slavery and to consider her now as a potential terrorist threat is patently absurd.

Tags: shamima begum, isis, uk citizenship