By Morak Babajide-Alabi
We have goals, aspirations and dreams. In fact, these are the ingredients that oil the engines of life and make it worth living. As individuals, we set goals on what we want to become at particular ages and goals that would be achieved within a particular time frame.
Identify an individual without a goal and you have unravelled a failure. We sometimes hear people accuse others of setting too high goals. It is not in our places to judge how high or low other people have set goals. Individual choices are different and this is why there are as many goals as there are billions of people.
The goal of the band of terrorists – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was to rule the region they operated from. The aspiration was to establish a caliphate across Syria and Iraq. At the height of their notoriety, they were deadly and ruthless in the pursuant of the goals. To world leaders, the fear of ISIS was the beginning of wisdom.
ISIS glamorised “jihadism” and in the process made it attractive to the younger generations. The group made use of the power of social media to achieve its goal of infiltrating Europe and America. They groomed lots of young people online to join in the aspiration to form an Islamic caliphate.
In the 2015 winter edition of The Dissent, Rafia Zakaria wrote: “A small but growing number of young Muslim women have joined an estimated 20,000–31,500 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. About 10 per cent of foreign recruits from Europe, North America and Australia are women. Of these approximately two hundred women and girls, the majority are believed to be between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. Seventy women are thought to have come from France, sixty from the United Kingdom, and scattered numbers from other European nations and from Canada.”
Among the number of females that were groomed and recruited from the UK is Shamima Begum. It seems Shamina’s aspiration has now turned into a nightmare, as the remnants of the jihadist group are cleared out of Syria and surrounding areas. Her ISIS career has ceased while her journey has ended in a refugee camp in northern Syria. Here she gave birth to a son last weekend.
Shamima is (was) a British teenager who, in 2015, made headline news when she travelled to join the band of terrorists. She, alongside two of her school friends from Bethnal Green, London was bewitched by the superficial life of the members of ISIS. They abandoned the comfort of their homes to join in prosecuting the jihad.
The departure of the teenagers was a shock to the world. They were dubbed the “jihadi brides” as females who travelled to Syria were to married off to Jihadists. A grainy CCTV image of them walking through Gatwick Airport became a representative of the defiant citizens. Another image that surfaced was of them at a local bus station in Western Istanbul en route to the frontline. Not much was heard of these girls afterwards. One of them, Kadiza Sultana, was reported killed in 2016. The world assumed the other two, including Shamima, were enjoying the best of life with the ISIS husbands.
When Shamima packed her bags in 2015 in preparation for joining the ISIS, the thought of her begging to come back to her native country, the UK, could not have crossed her mind. She must be buzzing that she was on the way to joining the forces that would make the world a better place to live in. The reported straight A’s college student would have imagined heaven on earth situation if ISIS conquers the world.
We cannot say at what point she realised that the dream had turned into a nightmare. But the fact that ISIS has lost grounds is enough reason for Shamima to retrace her steps. The Jihadi bride is face-to-face with reality in a camp where she has no control over the direction of her life, or of her child’s. She told UK’s The Times: “I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago. The caliphate is over.”
She could not resist the urge to cry out for help. Here is a young girl who got confused with the supposed ideology of ISIS. But let us look away from the present and into the past to understand that Shamima was 15 years old when she took that ill-advised trip. She is not doing much to be pitied as she has expressed no regrets over her actions or her journey.
Shamima wants to return to the United Kingdom for a better life for herself and son. But the Home Secretary Sajid Javid thinks otherwise and revoked the British citizenship of the 19-year old mother. This action has been condemned by activists and some political leaders as unfair and hitting Shamima below the belt. Javid is accused of acting in poor taste just to send out a signal that he is a minster tough on national security and immigration in his desperate bid for the highest political office in the land.
Writing in the UK’s “The Spectator” Mathew Scott, a criminal lawyer wrote: “The Home Secretary’s decision to take away Begum’s citizenship is a decision to impose on her a life sentence of exile. Some may say that that is a proper sentence for a traitor, but that again is to assume guilt without a trial. Treason – ill-defined though it may be – involves more than simply moving to the territory of an enemy. It requires proof beyond reasonable doubt of treasonous acts against Our Sovereign Lady the Queen.”
It should not be mistaken that people support Shamima’s actions. This is far from the truth. What is being demanded is fair play and justice to take its normal course. The Home Secretary’s rushed action has deflected arguments from the original discourse of Shamima’s journey to join the ISIS. On the other hand, we also need to sympathise with Javid’s decision, going by the British Nationality Act 1981, which allows an individual’s citizenship to be removed if it is “conducive to the public good”.
We can sympathise with Javid. He knows he has a big fight on his hands, and if he does not throw the hardest punch now, British airports would be flooded with returnee British Jihadists. Another British suspected of joining ISIS, Jack Letts, dubbed as “Jihad Jack”, is knocking on the door, and pleading to be let in. He told ITV news on Friday: “I feel British, I am British. If the UK accepted me, I would go back to the UK, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Would Javid bring out the sledgehammer and revoke Jack’s citizenship? He has dual citizenship. Javid revoked Shamima’s citizenship because she has Bangladeshi parentage, and by this cannot be stateless.
Shamima and many returnee terrorists are security threats to the UK. But, alienating them, without an opportunity of defence will only make them more resolute in planning terrorist acts on the UK. Shamima and others should be allowed back into the UK to stand trial and if found guilty, made to serve the time.
As written for the Diaspora Matters column, Sunday Vanguard, February 24, 2019.