Caroline Hilgers, BA International Relations and Social Anthropology
The last few weeks have stirred up big questions regarding nationality and citizenship in the UK, as the case of 19-year-old Shamima Begum has become national news. Shamima Begum was first reported on in 2015 when she left the UK with two other girls from London to go to Syria to support ISIS. This February, four years later, she reached out to her family in the UK through an interview with The Times to help her get home, as she was awaiting the birth of her third child. In several interviews with UK newspapers and TV channels, she spoke of her desire to come back to the UK. This is because the refugee camp in Syria, where she is currently living “is really not a place to raise children”, and she has already lost her first two babies.
What followed these interviews was a wide split not only within UK media but also the whole nation, debating whether she should be allowed back into the country. Many argued that her media appearances showed her lack of remorse after she stated that the observation of the beheaded corpses of ISIS’ captives “did not faze [her] at all”.
International law experts question the legality of the Home Secretary’s decision
Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced his decision on the 20th February that he “will do everything in [his] power to prevent their return”, and consequently stripped Begum of her British citizenship. The complexity of Begum’s case does not end here, as international law experts question the legality of the Home Secretary’s decision. According to international law, an individual can only be stripped of their citizenship if they have a second citizenship. In the case of Shamima Begum, her parents’ Bangladeshi citizenship was referred to as an option for her, but this was rejected by Bangladeshi authorities stating that “there is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh”.
Beyond the complexity of her legal status, Shamima Begum’s story has been made a platform to discuss the wider issues of racism, counter-terrorism, agency and gender. Some voices claim that it is Britain’s responsibility to investigate her role within ISIS and persecute her under British law accordingly, as she was radicalised in Britain. Others celebrated Javid’s decision, based on her own decision to leave the UK and seeing her case embedded within the wider fight against terrorism for national security. The language around not only Begum’s case but that of other young women leaving their home countries to support ISIS has further triggered a discourse on gender and agency. Azadeh Moaveni commented in the Guardian, “this inherited thinking [such as labelling Begum a jihadi bride] has outlived its use, especially in light of the way militant groups themselves play on gender to recruit and swell their ranks”.
On social media, her story has generated amusement for some people, with memes circulating on Twitter that ridicule her appearance or her ethnicity and religion. This escalated on the 27 February when a shooting range in Wallasey used images of Begum as targets based on customer requests, claiming it was “light-hearted fun”, to which many people responded with shock on social media.
For now, it looks like it will take a long time for Begum’s family to appeal against Javid’s decision. They are currently trying to find a way to get her newborn son to the UK as his citizenship is legally unaffected by her status.
Photo Credits: John O Nolan, Flickr