17 JULY 2020
7/7 survivor has written in the Metro about her belief that Shamima Begum should have the right to a fair trial like any other Brit. She also speaks of the Islamophobia and arson threat she received after previously expressing this opinion. She writes that if Shamima successfully retains her citizenship she should be investigate and prosecuted. However if it is deemed she should be ‘reintegrated’ back into society then the Government’s Counter Terror Desist and Disengage programme has its failures and needs fixing and fast.
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The Court of Appeal has decided that Shamima Begum, one of the three school girls who left London aged 15 to join the Islamic state, should be allowed to return to the UK and pursue her case for citizenship.
As someone who has experienced the impact of terrorism first hand as a survivor of the 7/7 attacks, I vehemently believe this decision to be correct. It would set a harrowing precedent if she was stripped of her citizenship for good.
Having left Bethnal Green with two friends five years ago, Begum, who is now 20, was found in the Roj refugee camp, in Northern Syria, in February 2019. She has since faced an incredibly complex journey to reach the point she is at now, and despite this most recent ruling, this is indeed by no means the end.
In the same month she was found, the then Home secretary, Sajid Javid, revoked Begum’s citizenship on the grounds that she posed a threat to national security.
It was a cruel and reckless choice. Indisputable acceptance of Begum’s citizenship (as there should have been) could have saved the loss of her innocent baby. The child had been born in the camp, but was a British citizen. Had Begum been allowed to return, it might have received the care it needed to survive.
When discussion began regarding her right to return, I argued that Begum was and remains a victim who was groomed online as a child. She made an awful mistake but as a Brit who had been radicalised on British soil, she remained our responsibility.
To revoke her citizenship was an affront to human rights and she should, just like other British citizens, have a right to a fair trial, as a fundamental part of our justice system. We are not able to pick and choose who has this ‘privilege’.
As a result of expressing these views, I have been subject to the most horrific, Islamophobic, racist and misogynistic abuse online, including a direct threat of arson.
This was not only a threat to my life, but a danger to the staff and beneficiaries of services offered by the JAN Trust, a charity I founded that works with BAME women to tackle inequalities and extremism.
The abuse I’ve suffered highlights the intolerance and hostility towards those deemed not to be British, legitimised through our Government’s position on Begum and the rise of the far-right.
Her case, alongside others in recent years such as the Windrush scandal, is another example of how citizenship is variable (at best) for those of us whose parents are from outside the UK.
We are, time and time again, considered by this Government to be second class citizens. Rhetoric around immigrants or their children being welcome has repeatedly shown to be far removed from actions of a government that has perpetuated the hostile environment.
I am by no means saying that Begum shouldn’t be held accountable. Since she was found in the Roj Camp, I have continually argued that there should be an investigation and that she should face prosecution.
This is in keeping with the Government’s own stance – and Begum is far from the only person of concern who has been accepted back into the country. According to their counter terror strategy CONTEST, 40% of the roughly 900 individuals who travelled to take part in the conflict in Syria have returned to the UK, and the majority of those were investigated on their return.
A number of prosecutions have already taken place, but a significant proportion of these people were assessed as no longer being of national security concern.
If Begum wins her case for citizenship and is not prosecuted, she will be ‘re-integrated back into society’ likely via the Desistance and Disengagement Programme.
It is paramount that this de-radicalisation process is fit for purpose – and I have numerous concerns about it. Desistance and Disengagement was initially intended as a de-radicalisation scheme implemented in prisons, and later expanded to those who have returned from conflict zones, and we also know it has failed – London Bridge attacker Usman Khan had taken part in this programme.
Revoking citizenship is not the answer to perceived threats to national security, so the onus is on the Government to fix their counter terrorism strategy and fast, in order to have an effective response to the return of any others who have been a part of the Islamic State (IS).
I have worked in counter terror for over a decade, and after the 19 terror attacks the UK has suffered since 7/7, we clearly still have a lot to learn.
Shamima Begum’s case may well be a good starting point, a way to help us build the community cohesion that is needed to stop other young people falling victim to her fate.
Her right to return to the UK and appeal the decision to revoke her citizenship is an important move in upholding the most basic principles of human rights – it goes against international law to leave an individual stateless.
Meanwhile, we must also question what messages we want to send to extremists who are no doubt watching our next move closely, and looking to use the Government’s anti-immigrant position to radicalise more of our young people.