Last week, in a refugee camp in Syria, a reporter from The Times newspaper stumbled upon a girl by the name of Shamima Begum. Her name is not instantly recognisable, but her story is a memorable one. Four years ago, in February of 2015, she abandoned her life in Bethnal Green, London, to go to Syria in order to become a “jihadi bride”; marrying an ISIS fighter. Of course it was a massive story at the time, and it’s a massive story again now that she’s been found, and apparently wishes to return to the UK.
As soon as the news broke, a multitude of talking heads broke cover to chastise her, wishing for her never to be allowed back into the UK, claiming that she gave that right up when she left to join ISIS. To many, at first glance, this point of view would make sense: leaving your own country to side with the enemy and then begging to be accepted back when it all goes wrong is an easy thing to say no to for many. An organisation such as ISIS would take joy in dismantling the basic principles of European democracy that we all enjoy, and as anyone who has seen any news in the last five years will agree, the actions that they have taken have been amongst some of the most inhumane possible.
This stance is strengthened by the fact that in her interview with The Times, Ms. Begum claimed that she did not regret going to Syria to marry an ISIS fighter. Doing something so reprehensible in the eyes of many, and not showing remorse thereafter even when asking to be let back into the country she deserted four years ago is more than enough for many to wish to see her never allowed into the UK again. The bond she created between herself and ISIS, and the steps she took in her life up to now make her irredeemable in the eyes of many. She took the side of those who would kill us in a heartbeat given the opportunity and has shown no remorse, why should we open our doors to her?
“We all did things when we were fifteen years old that weren’t the wisest decisions we’ve ever made”
It’s compelling, but in my opinion it’s not right. Shamima Begum was fifteen years old when she went to Syria, and so was I. At fifteen years old, you know the difference between right and wrong, but are you fully mature? Are you immune to being sold dreams that might not become reality? No. We all did things when we were fifteen years old that weren’t the wisest decisions we’ve ever made. Granted, very few people take it to such an extreme as to travel to a warzone, join a caliphate, and marry a terrorist, but in my opinion the severity of what she has done does not negate the fact that she was young, immature, and reckless. In fact, it exaggerates it.
Maybe my perspective on this is altered because I’m the same age as her, but 2015 feels like a very long time ago for me, and I would rather forget some of the less clever things I did around that time. No matter how old you are, you would probably say the same about when you were fifteen, too. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot in the last four years, and I feel like I’m still growing up to this day. Fortunately for myself, I don’t have any one reckless decision from when I was fifteen years old hanging over me.
The next argument people have is that she said she didn’t regret going to Syria when asked. This fact has a simple explanation. Shamima Begum does not view ISIS in the same way that we do, and never has. Of course, that much is obvious, but let’s analyse why a little bit. ISIS’ social media presence, at its height, was strong and powerful. Almost anyone who hadn’t seen a beheading video of theirs had heard about them, and their reach was far. They also used this social media arm to recruit and groom young people. Young people, who as young minority people in the West often are, on the edges of society; young people who felt unfulfilled by the life they had up to that point. ISIS promised them the world, glory and an escape from what they didn’t like about the lives.
So why, four years later, nine months pregnant with her third child having seen the first two die in their infancy, her husband interned somewhere in Syria, and herself in a refugee camp having trekked across Syria to get there, would she say she didn’t regret it? In my mind, it’s most likely she saw joining ISIS as taking a chance, a gamble, at the possibility of a better life than the one she had. Sure, it’s gone badly wrong for her now, but she doesn’t feel that she should regret taking that chance. Obviously that point of view is plainly wrong, but that leads me into my next point and conclusion.
Shamima Begum is not a hardened terrorist. She is not a danger to the West, or to the European way of life, in any way. She is a girl who got indoctrinated and sold a dream at fifteen years old, and now wants to go home. Her worldview is a million miles off what is normal, and she needs serious help for that reason. Is she irredeemable, however? Beyond help? Not in a million years. She’s nineteen years old, she’s pregnant, she’s British, and despite the large mistakes she’s made in her life, a caring society does not turn its back on its own citizens in their hour of need. If, therefore, European society is a caring one, she should be allowed to return home and given the help she so desperately needs.