Politics & Economics

Why Shamima Begum must return

21 March 2023
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By Alex Rutherford

SHAMIMA BEGUM has lost her latest appeal to regain British citizenship after this was stripped from her on supposed ‘national security grounds’ after she travelled to Syria to join ISIL in 2015, when she was just 15 years old. She is now being held at the al-Roj detention camp in north-east Syria.

The removal of Begum’s citizenship was ruled lawful in 2019 apparently due to her parents coming from Bangladesh. This was despite the fact that she was born in Britain, has never been to Bangladesh, and that Bangladeshi officials had confirmed they would not grant her citizenship. The decision therefore left her stateless, which is supposedly prohibited by both UK and international law.

Although the Court of Appeal ruled in 2020 that Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to challenge the revocation of her citizenship, this was overturned in 2021 by the Supreme Court. Begum made a second appeal on the grounds that she had been trafficked to Syria as a minor for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Begum’s lawyers argued that there was overwhelming evidence that she had been ‘recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of sexual exploitation’. However, the Appeals Commission ruled that these were insufficient grounds for her appeal to succeed.

The ruling confirms the racist bias of the British justice system, which is nominally independent of the government but utterly unwilling to challenge it. The decision also flies in the face of basic principles of natural justice and the right to a fair trial. Instead of being accused of a specific crime and publicly tried and sentenced if found guilty, she has been denied any opportunity to stand trial and left to rot indefinitely in a Syrian detention camp.

This both reflects and perpetuates the racism inherent within British society, which arises from its history as a colonial superpower and its current imperialist domination of poor semi-colonies. British muslims are frequently subjected to islamophobic abuse and attacks, and young British muslims have witnessed the legacy of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the rise of far right ideology within Britain. 

Begum is being publicly humiliated and cruelly punished as an example to other British Muslims that rebelling against the state could result in dire consequences. However, such repressive decisions only act to strengthen the arguments of the religious extremists who organise such trafficking.

It is the duty of socialists and the working class movement to stand against such racist outrages. However, Starmer’s response has been predictably pathetic. Despite having said in 2019 that Begum should not have her citizenship revoked, he now supports the court’s decision.

Revolutionaries must demand that Begum’s citizenship be reinstated, along with all others who have had their legal status revoked. Far right jihadists thrive on examples of racist injustices like these to groom disenchanted young people into their hate-filled organisations. We must show them there is a better way to fight imperialism, both here and around the world.

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