The Other I

September 27, 2019

Would you forgive her?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:23 pm

Shamima Begum was 15 years old in 2015 when she and two friends left Britain where they had grown up with their Muslim family and sneaked over the border from Turkey into Syria.  They had been radicalized online by Isis, and wanted to contribute to establishing a caliphate reflecting Isis’ values.  She and her friends were quickly married off, Shamima to a Dutch convert to Islam.

Things began well for her, but as Isis has gradually been defeated, they deteriorated badly.  Isis women and children have been driven to refugee camps, while Shamima’s husband has surrendered and is now in a Syrian prison.  The two friends with whom she defected are dead, and Shamima has lost three children, due primarily to lack of adequate nutrition and care.  She now wants to return to Britain.

Britain says Shamima gave up her UK citizenship when she joined forces with Isis, and she is not being permitted to return.  Initially she expressed no regret for anything she had done.  On the contrary, she defended it, and expressed regret only at her weakness in not being able to participate more fully in the Isis attacks.

Shamima now, though, has been moved to a camp where refugees are not supporters of Isis.  According to her Kurdish guard, her life was under threat in the camp for Isis residents because she no longer is supporting their cause.  She is isolated, under-stimulated, extremely unhappy, and begging to be allowed to return to Britain, or Holland on the grounds of her marriage to a Dutch citizen.

The question now being broadly asked for these Western democracies is whether she should be allowed to return.  But the media is often framing the question instead as “Should Shamima be forgiven?”

My own feeling is that this is two different, if related, questions.  In my old age, I look back over the years and often regret what I did or didn’t do.  I regret my ignorance, insensitivity on occasion, my disregard for others, my dismissal of well-meant, and in retrospect often salutary advice from those who truly had my welfare in mind.  I sometimes have defended my own rights at the cost of the rights of others.  I need to be forgiven.  And to my great good fortune, I am unaware of anyone walking around determined that for the rest of my life I will pay the price for my errant behavior.

From that perspective, I can contemplate the possibility of forgiving Shamima for her betrayals and her cruelty.  But that does not fully address the question of whether she should be allowed to return to Britain or Holland.

In that context, I would ask first whether she regrets what she did only because her actions have brought her to what is obviously a personally an unhappy situation.  Or does she feel the need to make up for her mistakes?  to even apologize for them?  to ask for forgiveness?

And if she were permitted to return to Britain, should she be required to face trial and to serve the same sentence that would be required had she engaged in the same behavior fighting for Isis on UK soil?  That would mean, of course, that it is UK citizens who must pay the cost of her potentially many years of incarceration in UK prisons.  And is it likely that years of imprisonment here would help make her a more caring, insightful, responsible woman?  Evidence isn’t strong that our prisons very often encourage that kind of healing.

If I had to decide Shamima’s future, what would I do?  I don’t know.  I’m grateful that, thus far at least, life has spared me that kind of decision.

If you are interested in a more in-depth examination of this last question, John Humphrys is worth a read:






  1. Well! This post touches on so many issues it’s hard to know where to start. You’ll be aware that by now her child has been born and died at an early age. Your question ‘Would you forgive her?’ is important but I don’t think it’s the first question to ask. I think one of the first questions relates to whether she is the UK’s problem or not. My own opinion is that she is, or at least should be. Arguably the UK failed in a serious duty of care in allowing a 15-year-old child to be radicalised and as a result exposed to danger. Also I don’t think her apparent absence of remorse in her original interviews (which were made such a lot of by the usual suspects in our right-wing press) should be taken at face value. It was at least possible that she was surrounded by Isis members at the time so her life could well have been in danger were she to have said the wrong thing to the world’s media. Another important point (to me) is that if the UK disowns her as a problem then she stays the problem of her Kurdish captors. I don’t see why the Kurds have to bear this burden, just because they happen to be the ones on the ground.

    Based on what I’ve heard (which is obviously only scraps) I do not see why she shouldn’t be returned to the UK and, as she is now an adult, be charged with whatever offence(s) she might reasonably be considered potentially guilty of, and then put on trial, to ascertain what if anything she might be guilty of. I remember at the time that Sajid Javid tried to rob her of her UK citizenship on the grounds that she was also entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship – although as far as I know she wasn’t actually a Bangladeshi citizen, and I don’t think she had ever been to Bangladesh. That didn’t make any sense to me. To be honest I thought Sajid Javid behaved fairly despicably, playing to the gallery/Daily Mail headlines throughout.

    In the unlikely event of her returning to the UK and standing trial, I think that would be the time to consider whether she needs to be forgiven, and for what. She might of course be the devil incarnate, but we have no way of knowing in the absence of a fair trial. IMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Chris Lawrence — September 27, 2019 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t really have a locus standi here, being neither Muslim nor from the UK. But Chris Lawrence’s comment above makes a lot of sense. I also found myself wondering idly about something else. Another girl in the news. Another 15 year old girl, in fact, who felt so passionately about something – probably by reading about it on the internet – that she felt the need to take up cudgels against her government, to travel across the world to stand by her beliefs…I refer, of course, to Ms. Greta Thunburg, a young lady that many of us have profound admiration for.
    Fifteen IS the age to passionately feel things, to rage against injustice, to believe that one has the power and stamina to change the world, to be so SURE of one’s convictions…the fact that ISIS managed to tap into that is a shame. But that spirit of rebellion lies latent in all our children, and it needs to be channeled – either by our society into constructive things and social reform, or by other agencies to suit their own nefarious purpose, or (what is most common) allowed to wither away or even deliberately cruelly crushed underfoot, by a society demanding conformance above all. We can choose an option – but we will have to live with the world that it engenders.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by psriblog — September 27, 2019 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  3. You’ve both just added a whole list of very significant issues to this question. And in the process to my own thinking on the subject.. Thank you so very very much. I didn’t expect to be so enriched.

    For what it’s worth, between you, you have convinced me that Samima should be allowed to return to the UK, even though there may be consequences from the far right against the entirely innocent British Muslim community.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by theotheri — September 27, 2019 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

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