Britain, in recent days, has had a rare distraction from its seemingly endless Brexit debate. The distraction, however, has not been an altogether welcome one. It involves the case of Shamima Begum, one of a number of girls who left their school in Bethnal Green in London in 2015 to go and join ISIS.
Back then, in 2015, the story of the Bethnal Green schoolgirls was headline news. Many British people were genuinely shocked that anyone—let alone young women at the start of their lives—would find ISIS’s promise of a Caliphate so alluring that they would leave the comforts of their friends, family, and country in the UK to go to join the group. There was much national debate about this. Various people, including some of the girls’ family members, blamed the British police and security services for not stopping the girls from leaving the UK. Ironically, the people who blamed the police—including the lawyer representing the girls’ families—were often precisely the same people as those who had spent previous years urging Muslims in Britain not to cooperate with the British police. How exactly the British police were either to blame, or to find any way to “win” in such a situation, was never explained. It was just one of many paradoxes thrown up in these circumstances.
Now, members of the British media have caught up with Shamima Begum, who is living in a Syrian refugee camp. The interviews she has given, in which she has expressed no remorse for her actions and has described life in the Caliphate—which included seeing severed heads in trash cans—as not especially troubling, have not helped her in her request to return home to Britain. The general public has reacted badly to her self-pity and lack of remorse; and British politicians have—unusually—responded to the public mood. Specifically, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid has announced that he is stripping Begum of her British citizenship. It is a move which is not just unprecedented but certain to bog him down in legal action for a while to come.
What is most interesting is the debate about whether Begum should be allowed to return and whether the Home Secretary was right in this unprecedented action. It is at times such as this that we are able to measure any change in the public and political debate . . .
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