UK must restore ISIL bride Shamima Begun’s citizenship

Echoes of previous debates regarding citizenship revocation under C-24, repealed by the Liberal government. Challenge, of course, remains in successfully prosecuting those involved in ISIS.

And of course, given that those involved in ISIS range from immigrants, second generation and “old-stock” citizens, revocation has a broader impact than just immigrants and their children.

Moreover, there is a risk of viewing those involved in ISIS only as victims, without any agency or responsibility:

ISIL bride Shamima Begum, whose British citizenship was revoked in 2019 on national security grounds, can return to the UK from Syria to plead her case to restore her citizenship, according to a UK court. The Court of Appeal ruled on July 16 that Begum had been denied a fair hearing because she could not properly defend herself from Syria. The verdict means that the UK government is now required to find a way to coordinate the return of Begum, who is currently being held in Camp Roj, a refugee camp in northern Syria.

This case could set a precedent for Canada and the rest of the Western world.

At the age of 15, Begum travelled to Syria to marry a Dutch jihadi who had converted to Islam and joined ISIL. After four years with ISIL, Begum, nine months pregnant, revealed her identity to war correspondent Anthony Loyd. “I am a sister from London,” she told him. “I’m a Bethnal Green girl…I’m scared that this baby is going to get sick in this camp…That’s why I really want to get back to Britain, because I know it will get taken care of, health-wise at least.”

By then, Begum’s two other children had died in ISIL territories, reportedly due to malnutrition. Loyd’s story appeared on the front page of The Times and created a social media storm.

In under a week, the UK government stripped Begum of her citizenship. While the Geneva Conventions prohibit making citizens stateless, the government justified taking away citizenship by pointing out that Begum’s mother is Bangladeshi, which means Begum might be eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship. However, in May 2019, the Bangladeshi foreign minister, Abul-Kalam Abdul-Momen, stated that Begum has “nothing to do” with Bangladesh and would be denied entry, and if she did find her way there she would face capital punishment due to zero-tolerance policies for terrorist activities. “The British government is responsible for her,” he said. Three weeks after her citizenship was revoked, Begum’s baby died of a respiratory infection. She continues to be effectively stateless.

Loyd described Begum as emotionless and awkward, with no discernible sympathy. Begum revealed she was not disturbed by the sight of decapitated heads of fighters in a trash can in Raqqa, by other atrocities or by the torture and murder of Western journalists by ISIL. After hearing this, anyone would see Begum as someone who does not deserve empathy. Scholar Lisa Downing has argued that it should not matter how we feel about Begum. Even so, if Begum’s intention has been to return, why has she not at least pretended to be remorseful?

Begum’s statements are precisely what I would anticipate from an indoctrinated child, spending years living within the reach of ISIL’s extreme propaganda machine. Her demeanour and lack of emotion and remorse may be a response to emotional trauma. We don’t know the full story because she has not undergone a proper evaluation with a trauma specialist. Begum’s lack of emotion matches that of many born-again insurgents whom I have interviewed.

In my fieldwork, an ex-combatant with Jundallah, an insurgent group in Iran, told me about the first time he was assigned to execute a hostage to prove his devotion to the cause. “The man was weltering around, fighting for his life, screaming.” It took multiple bullets to kill the prisoner, not the single shot he had imagined. “It killed me inside…After that experience, nothing fazes me anymore…I am dead inside.” The reality of what it means to fight for the cause shook him, and he eventually escaped to Turkey to help with a disillusionment, deradicalization and disengagement initiative. He explained that many foreign recruits want to prove themselves, to be considered insiders. They take their assignments seriously and cling strongly to the ideology to remove any remnant of hesitation, doubt or guilt.

Putting aside Begum’s lack of penitence, the first question should never have been “Where are her parents from?” but rather “What is the right thing to do?” It was much easier to strip her of citizenship and reframe the discussion in the media than to ask the hard question: Why do men and women join extremist organizations? Western-born members often have the opportunity to enjoy comfortable, middle-class lives, with the chance to advance in admired, conventional careers. Instead, they choose terrorism and commit heinous acts of violence against their fellow citizens, often at the price of their own lives. We need to rewind and ask what went wrong.

During my 2018 fieldwork, I met Jabbar, a 32-year-old barbershop owner in Paris. While he disdained acts of terror, he told me that he understood why people join extremist groups. When he was younger, with no job, and “constantly getting harassed by everyone on every occasion,” he internalized vast challenges with his identity and harboured a deep sense of alienation. He was accepted neither in France nor in Algeria, where his parents emigrated from. To be accepted as French, “you have to change your hair, switch your name to Pierre, eat pork, drink wine, and in the end, they still call you a cosmopolitan Muslim.” He was also ridiculed in Algeria and was not considered a true Algerian because of his accent and clothing. He asserted that was why second-generation youths feel alienated and excluded.

Begum’s case is an example of how citizenship, along with other rights often taken for granted by the majority, is variable and portrayed as a privilege for those whose parents or grandparents are immigrants.

In a story that made headlines recently, a sales manager named Mohamed Amghar described being coerced to change his name to Antoine, a traditional French name, at work. He is suing his former firm for 440,000 euros and filing a discrimination complaint. He was pressured into using the name on business cards, conference badges, plane tickets and even performance awards. “If people like me, who did what was necessary to get good jobs, to get training, to live as citizens, are besmirched and denied our rights, where are we going?” Amghar said. “I only have one name, I only have one nationality,” he added. “My name is Mohamed, and I am French.” The systemic nature of micro-aggressions, discrimination, racism and xenophobia has been documented throughout most of Western Europe, the United States and Canada. This narrative was common across my fieldwork and may be applicable for young recruits who have gone on to conduct terrorist activities, recruited by a group that claimed to finally accept them in all aspects of their being.

As part of Western governments’ obligations to fix their counterterrorism strategies, Western countries need to create an effective response for returnees. Begum’s case is an example of how citizenship, along with other rights often taken for granted by the majority, is variable and portrayed as a privilege for those whose parents or grandparents are immigrants. Insurgent groups appeal to this notion. An ISIS magazine  stated, “They never will consider you an equal to the white man,” and claimed you will always be considered second-class citizens. Efforts have continued to “other” Begum for her mother’s immigrant status. All the while, politicians have riled up the public, framing her case as a decision about whether to “welcome back a terrorist.”

I am not saying Begum shouldn’t be held accountable. I firmly believe that she should be subject to criminal prosecution, if appropriate, along with rehabilitation. As I have argued before, bringing back returnees may provide the opportunity to enhance counterterrorism intelligence by drawing upon them as a resource on extremist recruitment and radicalization strategies. Perhaps even more importantly, bringing back returnees would allow the UK and other Western nations to uphold human rights by pursuing justice through the judicial system and by providing the appropriate rehabilitation. Instead, we are seeing an acceleration and cultivation of separate justice for separate peoples. Consider this: Would Begum have lost her citizenship if her parents were from Leeds?

Revoking citizenship based on parents’ immigration status sidesteps the ethical obligations that states have toward their citizens and alienates second-generation immigrants, deepening prejudices they are already well accustomed to experiencing. The UK has the opportunity to change its course and set an example for Canada and the rest of the world. Begum should have a fair trial in the only country where she has ever held citizenship.

Western nations should reconsider their stance on repatriation despite the challenges involved. They should bring home their citizens to demonstrate their commitment to justice for all and prevent the secondary effects of the cycle of alienation, isolation and othering that leads to extremism in the first place. This is part of any proper justice system and could reduce radicalization in youth in the long run. It could foster belonging, which is something the politics of fear cannot do. Western nations must look upstream and deconstruct the systems and policies in place that are riddled with micro-aggressions, structural xenophobia and outright racism to reconstruct an inclusive society that would eliminate the breeding ground for radicalization that currently exists.

Source: UK must restore ISIL bride Shamima Begun’s citizenship

Sajid Javid’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her citizenship questioned by one of UK’s most senior judges

On the statelessness aspect:

One of Britain’s most senior judges has called into question Sajid Javid’s decision to strip Isil bride Shamima Begum of her British citizenship.

Jonathan Sumption, who retired as a justice of the Supreme Court in December, indicated that the Home Secretary may have breached international law by effectively making Ms Begum stateless.

Mr Javid claimed that Begum, 19, whose parents came to the UK from Bangladesh, was a Bangladeshi citizen under that country’s law even though she had never been to Bangladesh.

This meant he could remove her British citizenship without making her stateless.

Speaking on the BBC’s Reith Lecture today, however, Lord Sumption said: “I am frankly surprised at the suggestion that she can be regarded as the citizen of a country with which she has never had anything to do but that is the Government’s position and I have no doubt it will be tested in the courts in due course.”

The Bangladesh Government has rejected the British claim that she is a Bangladesh citizen and said it would refuse to accept her, although its nationality laws do include a right of “citizenship by descent” to anyone who is born to a Bangladeshi parent.

This right only lapses when a person reaches the age of 21.

Lawyers for Begum, who fled London to join Isil in Syria and married an Isis fighter with whom she had three babies, all of whom died, are however appealing the Home Secretary’s decision.

Asked if the removal of citizenship also meant a person lost their standing under human rights, Lord Sumption said: “What they lose is their citizenship. That doesn’t necessarily deprive them of their standing when it comes to human rights.

“I have no problem with the notion of depriving people of their citizenship who have gone abroad to fight in foreign wars save this.

“It’s an established principle of international law that you cannot deprive somebody of his or her citizenship if the result would be to render them stateless.

“And whatever they may have done in Syria or anywhere else, that rule has always been applied and will no doubt be applied in this case.”

Source: Sajid Javid’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her citizenship questioned by one of UK’s most senior judges

Sajid Javid: difficult to strip Shamima Begum of UK citizenship

An important nuance to the UK’s citizenship revocation policy – must already have another citizenship, not just (theoretically) be able to obtain one:

Sajid Javid has indicated it could prove hugely difficult to strip Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship, telling MPs such action would not normally be taken against someone without another nationality and who was born in Britain.

Answering questions before the home affairs committee, Javid refused to discuss specifically the case of the 19-year-old, who travelled from east London to Syria to join Islamic State in 2015, but wants to return with her newborn baby.

But speaking more generally about the policy of stripping citizenship from UK nationals who are deemed a danger to the country, the home secretary said this action had never been taken if it would have left someone stateless.

“If an individual only has one citizenship, then generally the power cannot be used because by definition if you took away their British citizenship they would be stateless,” Javid said in answer to a question from the former Labour MP John Woodcock.

“I certainly haven’t done that and I am not aware that one of my predecessors has done that in a case where they know an individual only has one citizenship, as that would be breaking international law as we understand it.”

Last week, it emerged that the Home Office had written to Begum’s family to inform them an order was being made under the 1981 British Nationality Act, which allows the home secretary to remove someone’s citizenship if they are “satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”.

A 2014 amendment to the Nationality Act allows UK citizenship to be removed if there are “reasonable grounds for believing” the person would be able to become a citizen of another country.

Asked about this by Woodcock, Javid stressed this could happen only if the person involved was a naturalised UK citizen originally from another country.

Javid said: “I have not deployed the power on the basis that someone could have citizenship to a second country. I’ve always applied it on the strict advice of legal advisers in the Home Office and more broadly in the government that when the power is deployed, with respect to that individual, they already have more than one citizenship.”

This measure had never seemingly been used, he added: “I have not used that power, and to the best of my knowledge none of my predecessors have used the power that was given in 2014.”

Begum’s family has stressed she does not have Bangladeshi citizenship, while Bangladesh has also said she does not, and will not be allowed into the country.

Assuming she does not have Bangladeshi nationality, it appears hard to see how Javid could enforce the order set out in the letter, which has prompted criticism that he was seeking to exploit populist feeling without proper attention to the law.

Javid was asked by the Labour MP Kate Green whether it was “morally right to export the problem” to Bangladesh, rather than deal with Begum through UK courts.

The home secretary argued that his priority had to be to protect the UK. Asked again if he thought this was morally suspect, he added: “I’m afraid I just don’t see it like that.”

He also confirmed that Begum’s baby would be a UK national, saying that children of British-born mothers had that right. However, he added, it would be “incredibly difficult” to assist the infant, as Begum was in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

Begum left the UK along with two schoolfriends. Her case was thrust back into the spotlight last week when she declared her wish to return for the sake of her child in an interview with the Times.

Source: Sajid Javid: difficult to strip Shamima Begum of UK citizenship

A call to help the real victims of IS terrorism: the Yazidis

Valid points:

I’d like you to do me a favour. The next time you read a story like that of Shamima Begum, the UK Islamic State (IS) supporter who desperately wants to come home, although she does not regret her decision to join the terrorist group and thinks the Manchester bombing was justified, or see a report with IS ladies wailing about how they are suffering and cannot believe that their country is abandoning them, or read analysis on how we have a ‘moral obligation’ to rescue these poor souls, I want you to get access to a recent documentary called ‘On her shoulders‘. And I want you to watch it carefully (I just came back from a screening at the Canadian War Museum).

It is the story of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi young woman whom IS terrorists tore from her family in the village of Kocho back in 2014, who witnessed the killing of her kin and others, was brutally raped and sold into sexual slavery and eventually escaped. She is now a UN goodwill ambassador on human trafficking and is doing what she can to keep the plight of her people at the forefront of the world’s conscience.

To watch the film is hard. Not for its graphic content, which is mercifully absent, but for Ms. Murad’s story and the stories of thousands of other Yazidi women and girls, some as young as 10. She makes reference to what she witnessed done to those girls but there are no words to describe what grown men did in their sexual torture of so many innocent lives.

She tells of how many girls committed suicide rather than continue to suffer hellish abuse. She also gives voice to the genocide of her nation, for genocide it was. The perverted, toxic interpretation of Islam that IS practices saw the Yazidis as non-people that needed to be eliminated, except of course for the young women and girls that they used to satisfy their sexual urges.

Now go back to the IS women calling out to be ‘saved’. Look again at their stories of how they were ‘brainwashed’ or ‘coerced’ or ‘misguided’ or ‘just following orders’ (hmm, where have we heard that phrase before? In the aftermath of Nazi Germany: I wonder if their are parallels here?). Do that and try to convince me that we as a nation, as a government, as citizens should move heaven and earth to repatriate these women. Go ahead, try. I’ll wait.

The bottom line is that the surviving ‘women of IS’ are not victims: they are victimisers. Ms. Murad and the thousands of Yazidi men, women and children are the true victims. We must never forget that. Conflating the torturers and the tortured is beyond reproach. The women who joined IS were complicit by definition with the crimes against humanity that heinous terrorist group committed. They do not deserve our sympathy or our efforts to repatriate them. They deserve to be tried and incarcerated. They must pay for their actions. Sure, maybe one day they will repent and be able to rejoin society, but not until after they have answered for their crimes.

I will leave the last words to Ms. Murad. She wants those who did what they did to her and to her people to be held accountable. She wants justice. She wants the world to recognise the genocide visited upon her people by IS. So who are you to say any differently?

Those advocating for the ‘moral obligation’ to bring female IS terrorists home might want to check with Ms. Murad first.