I’ve been thinking about this for almost a week now. To be honest, even longer than that, but Shamima’s little boy’s death touched and pained me even more. How do you write about this case without getting too emotional? When I think about the response to the loss of Shamima’s third child, it makes me feel sick. Can we not even empathise with the loss of a young mother? And it’s not even about who’s to blame for little Jarrah’s death. It’s more about how it could have been easily avoided, if someone had acknowledged his human rights as a British citizen. Then I read this article, and it sums up a lot of thoughts I had and couldn’t articulate so well.
But also – the way we treat Shamima Begum is not only about the UK not taking responsibility for its own citizens, it’s also a result of our patriarchal society. She is a young woman, barely an adult, but all we see are her wrongdoings, not her victimhood. We’re demonizing her. She was 15 when she left the UK. She was sexually groomed by ISIS to become one of theirs. After they’ve groomed her, they raped her. She was 15, she was a child.
Grooming gangs are a well-documented thing in the UK. How many times have we heard of them? How organized they are and how they abuse girls? How the girls hadn’t been mature enough to understand they were exploited? How the girls had believed that sex was the price for friendship? How they were sucked into this circle and then manipulated with drugs and alcohol? How the perpetrators were Asian? How most of their victims were white teens?
On the media right now, there’s a lot of talk about R. Kelly, how he groomed young girls and is using them as sex slaves. His victims are called sex slaves, and rightly so. What are the wives of ISIS fighters being used for? To please their husbands? To give birth to the next generation of fighters? Is that, why we’re demonising her, because she was a baby-making machine for the wrong side?
Right after the Bethnal Green trio (Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana and Shamima Begum) had disappeared, the Metropolitan police announced that the girls would be treated as victims, not criminals, if they returned home. The principal of their school Mark Keary said, “The priority for all of us is the safe return of the girls.” That’s four years ago. After one of the girls, Kadiza Sultana, was killed in an airstrike in 2016, a lot of the reporting was around how she was trying to escape, and that she had changed her mind about ISIS. The sympathy for the girls was not gone yet. They were portrayed as victims just after they had left the country. Now Shamima is being othered; when exactly did we change our narrative on this story? And why?
It takes some brainwashing to join a cult. And this is what ISIS is. It’s a death cult that has itself organized to brainwash vulnerable potential followers. Shamima is also a cult victim, that should be allowed to speak out about her experience and how she was recruited. But again, a woman of colour is being silenced. We pick the words she said that are unpalatable and act horrified and disgusted. We listen up, when we hear what we want to get out of her, but we don’t listen to her. The way we judge her, speak about her and use her, mirrors our own agenda.
How free is she to speak her mind in Syria? Would she not risk her life by condemning ISIS? Would she not have endangered her little son, who passed away now? How fair was it to interview her in Syria? Without any legal representation? Any kind of advice and support? Can we imagine a white girl grooming victim being interrogated like Shamima was by the BBC? Being interviewed without their experiences being acknowledged to be terrible? Without any sign of empathy and compassion? Why is it so hard to see, that Shamima could be a brainwashed victim who is repeating the propaganda that was used on her to render her obedient?
“It’s one thing to kill a soldier, it’s fine, it’s self-defence. But to kill people like women and children just like the women and children in Baghuz who are being killed right now unjustly by the bombings – it’s a two-way thing really because women and children are being killed back in the Islamic State right now.” (Shamima Begum in the interview with the BBC) The comparisons between the Manchester attack and the bombings in Syria – do we think she came to them on her own accord? Or has she possibly heard those words again and again, uttered by the people who groomed her, raped her and then made it impossible for her to leave the cult? Is this the ideology, that was repeated a million times to justify ISIS’ horrifying and medieval methods? Do we expect a brainwashed victim – without any sort of therapy or rehabilitation treatment – to differentiate and see through all of this?
Hundreds of terrorists have been allowed back to the UK. Why are we treating Shamima Begum differently? Why is it right to “un-British” her and strip her off her basic human rights? Has she been put on trial? Has she been convicted? Why can we not see that Shamima was vulnerable, when she was indoctrinated to join ISIS? That she was exploited by ISIS? That she is young, human and has every chance and opportunity to change – as all of us do?
And why don’t we consider what kind of message this sends to other Brits of colour? How will it make them feel, that the one person who looks like them and is all over the media is being demonised and does not get to have a voice of her own to tell us about the horrible ordeal she’s gone through?