Shamima Begum: The approval of the right wing press should not be part of what happens next

I read the interview with Shamima Begum in today’s Times (£) with mixed emotions. I have There is no doubt that she has made some utterly horrendous decisions in her young life which will take a lot to unravel. My instinctive reaction, though, is that rehabilitation must be at the heart of what happens next.

She is a British citizen. So is her soon-to-be-born baby. She cannot be denied access to this country. If she does make it back here, there will have to specialist intervention and risk assessment but the overarching aim should be to get her to a place where she can be re-integrated into society. That is not going to be easy for her, but nor should it be excessively punitive either.

She says some things in her interview that are undeniably hard to read. And even worse to listen to. But I guess you have to remember that in the last 3 months, she has lost two young children for want of decent health care. It’s early stages in the grieving process. You can maybe see where the denial and defiance comes from. We can only imagine the pain that lies beneath it.

As I write, her family’s lawyer is making the point on Channel 4 News that she is in a camp with 36000 others, some of whom remain ISIS supporters. If she were to speak out against ISIS to the press, she could find herself in even more danger.

We also have to remember that her own mother died a year before she left this country. How might that loss have rendered her more susceptible to targeted radicalisation? A huge amount of work needs to be done by her and others to combat the effects of that, but we should give her access to the programs can achieve that.

One thing that we shouldn’t do, though, is allow the approval of the right wing press to have any part in this. We should do what is right in terms of the law, human rights and due process. We have to take into account her age and vulnerability and circumstances at the time she made the extremely poor decision to travel to Syria.

We need to deal with this sensitively and thoughtfully. I liked Michael Segalov’s article in the Guardian. He concluded:

But to try to help her must be better than leaving this teenager to languish in a camp, to quite possibly witness her third child die. If rehabilitation proves impossible, at least back in Britain she can live under supervision and be kept from doing further harm – to herself or to others. And should, one day soon, Begum be in a position to rejoin British society proper, who could be better placed to warn other vulnerable children of the dangerous reality of online grooming, of radicalisation by extremists and the acts that led her to commit?




* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul Barker 14th Feb '19 - 9:27pm

    When Begum left Britain she was underage, apart from anything else she is a victim of Sexual Abuse. Maybe she needs watching when she comes back, she certainly needs help.

  • Colin Armitt 14th Feb '19 - 11:06pm

    This is a very difficult issue, but the author has failed to show balance. By stating the right wing press must not take the lead on this issue, this demonstrates a lack of impartiality. Ms Begum’s case needs delicate assessment.
    Ms McDonagh’s view, in the Spectator, provides such an assessment supporting
    Ms Begum’s return. So much for the right wing press putting up the barriers. Whilst praising Mr Segalov’s article, Ms Lindsay failed to acknowledge the Spectator stance.
    Perhaps a little more research in future and a “neutral” stance, might lead to a positive outcome.

  • Colin,
    Caron is stating her opinion, she doesn’t have to “show balance”. Stating we shouldn’t pander to the right wing press, because a small part isn’t supportting the rest in a policy of leaving her to rot, does not under mine Carons point. For too long the polticians have hung on every word uttered by papers like the Daily Maio and The Sun, we should be better than that, we should do what is right not what they tell us to do.

  • Helen Dudden 15th Feb '19 - 8:15am

    I found it difficult to read, the severed head. She went, travelling many miles at 14 years old to reach where she wished to be.
    She is no longer the same person, she carried out her thoughts with actions.
    I’m concerned the authorities concerned, have much to do already.

  • I wish Governments hadn’t helped to glamourise terrorism by creating separate offences for it. There is enough criminal law to cover even cases like Shamima Begum. The bedrock principles and practices of English law should not be compromised in the way we deal with hard cases.

  • John McHugo 15th Feb '19 - 9:13am

    We would do well to remember that Shamima Begum is a product of our society. If she is an example of the failure of our education system and our society’s breakdown, that reflects on us and we should do something about it.

    I was shocked to see a professor from Buckingham University say on Sky yesterday that she should remain in the Middle East and that she could, for instance, go and live in Baghdad. He is wrong. She is our export, and we owe Iraq and Syria a duty to take her back.

  • Robert Hale 15th Feb '19 - 9:15am

    As yet we have no idea what this young lady got up to when following what she thought was a good idea at the time. We should also be cautious when listening to her current testimony when it’s very likely being given in a somewhat hostile environment.

    On balance I think we should respond to authorities and others in the region who want us to take back our errant nationals and deal with them appropriately here. Unfortunately listening to this morning’s news commentary it seems this lady’s very difficult situation is already being turned into a ,stick on hairy chest, for Sajid Javid.

  • Chris Bertram 15th Feb '19 - 9:27am

    Not an easy case, but a few points:

    1) How much latitude should we allow anyone for personal tragedy? I lost my mother well before her time, but I didn’t feel motivated to join a destructive religious sect as a result.
    2) While she was – and still is – a teenager, she was clearly aware of what ISIS was all about and made a conscious and deliberate decision to join them. She should have been under no illusion that there was a land of milk and honey awaiting her – the UK news was quite clear about what they got up to and the barbarity of the regime.
    3) She made it there under her own steam. Our foreign office is disinclined to run to her rescue, putting other British lives at risk to do so. This, I think, is correct. I’m sorry if this seems hard-hearted, but we can’t run to extricate every British citizen from a sticky situation that they have willingly got themselves into.
    4) The attitude of the press, right- or left-wing, is irrelevant to this situation. We should base our attitude on what *we* think is right, not what other people think is right or wrong.
    5) She doesn’t have to speak out against ISIS to the press, if she feels that this would be unwise. However, she equally doesn’t have to go out of her way to commend them in the way that she has. If she is still such a fan of ISIS, then I’m not altogether sure that I want someone who approves of the killing of kuffars back in this country.
    6) We need to have a debate about how we defend liberal values in our country. It might seem obvious that we should have her back and try to rehabilitate here, as it is the liberal thing to do. But if this proves impossible, in that she is so set in her views that she will always despise the British way of life, have we not contributed to the undermining of those very values? I sometimes fear that by trying too hard to accommodate those who are hostile, often for religious reasons, to liberal values, that we give succour to those people in their fight to have their own laws and values supplant ours. And remember that there are some very zealous promoters of those values out there. How many, you ask? Well, it doesn’t have to be very many. It just has to be “enough”. As liberals, we have to be courageous enough to draw a line in the sand against them – “this far, and no further”. I fear that Shamima Begum would be on the side of those zealots. Let’s think very hard before we decide what to do.

  • The U.K. government has a responsibility to U.K. citizens. It is essential that this responsibility is accepted. We have laws in this country. What is certain to me is that we should not refuse entry to our country to our citizens. This is particularly important for people in an area where there are already many people whose governments want to disown them.

  • She was a stupid kid. Anyone who condemns a child is just as barbaric as ISIS.

  • David Becket 15th Feb '19 - 10:16am

    The main issue must be the security of this country. If she comes back she will have to be kept under very close scrutiny, which will initially mean detention, until we can be sure she is safe. Yes she may need help, but she should not take precedence over hundreds of youngsters waiting for help from our over stretched mental health services.
    An example must not be set to encourage other young people leaving to support a terrorist organisation to think they can return without facing any consequences.

  • frankie 15th Feb ’19 – 6:45am…

    Rather an emotive post. It isn’t just the right wing showing concern (although they tend to couch it in black/white terms) over “the overarching aim should be to get her to a place where she can be re-integrated into society. That is not going to be easy for her, but nor should it be excessively punitive either.”

    It might not be easy for her but, equally it might be not easy for the society she rejected (and continues to reject). She, as an impressionable teenager, should have been protected from radicalisation but now, more importantly, others should be protected from her ‘no regrets’ radicalisation.

    As for accepting, at face value, her family’s lawyer’s “If she were to speak out against ISIS to the press, she could find herself in even more danger”. To paraphrase the Jesuit’s “Give me a child, etc” How much more likely is it that she will always pose a danger to those around her?

    TBH I’m undecided in such matters but tend to agree with Ms McDonagh’s final paragraph….”but once, if, she’s back, she can’t be turned away. She should of course face investigation and prosecution and then banged up if she’s found guilty – and I’d say her wretched child would be better off in care – but she’s Britain’s problem.”

  • Paul Barker 15th Feb '19 - 5:26pm

    The BBC coverage follows the Government/Press/MI5 line. They ignore the fact that she went to Syria as a child & is still only 19. When I was 19 my Politics was about as far from Liberalism as you could get, people change, given the chance.

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th Feb '19 - 9:39pm

    @ Joseph Bourke,

    I agree.

  • If she does make it back to our shores. Where would she live ? Would the authorities be able to guarantee our safety ?
    Perhaps those who think she should be allowed back be willing to have her as their next door neighbour.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Feb '19 - 1:39am

    It is not really for the press of whatever political stripe to make the decision, but for our government first, courts second.

    If any ISIS fighters or backers are known, they are on a watch list. Therefore how could they get into this country without security in another country getting alerted.

    She, must be prosecuted. Her age does not exempt her. We do not exempt UK youth from criminal offences, if she has committed such, the law must act.

    I think if a citizen is a dual citizen, they should be stripped of the UK citizenship if the other one is the country they are in to fight against this country, or they must be tried for treason.

    She did not fight. She did not therefore commit treason.

    We need to deal with this as with every criminal prosecution.

  • nvelope2003 16th Feb '19 - 2:31pm

    frankie: Is it not possible to show balance when expressing an opinion ? It might be more convincing. British people who have their money and travel documents stolen have to repay any money provided by the Consulate to enable them to get home and from the experience of an elderly travelling companion it is not an easy thing to deal with.

    Her family were apparently linked with extremist organisations. Being young does not necessarily mean you are a good person. She will have to be watched for many years.
    It is a difficult issue but of course she must be helped to return to normal society if that is possible.

  • She was part of a regime that threw innocent gay people from high buildings to their deaths. Where is their future?

  • @ Paul.
    Thank you for your comment.
    Yes the regime she was part of committed barbaric crimes against the LGBT community in the Middle East whose existence the Islamic State wanted to end. Perhaps if she is truly repentant and wants to show she no longer has sympathy with this fascist ideology then perhaps time spent in the Middle East supporting the LGBT community may do her some good.
    I will not be holding my breath.

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