Picture this: You’ve been flattered with attention for probably the first time by a man you’ve only met online. You speak for a few months. He tells you that you have a duty, tells you he wants you to be a part of his lifestyle and start a family together, makes some revelations about the type of beliefs he has and convinces you that it’s right. He tells you he loves you. You’re smitten, you’re empowered by the manipulation. You’re fifteen.
Before we establish a clear argument here, let’s establish the predictable trigger responses; this will either be deflected as being an ISIS sympathiser, defending her because I’m on ‘their side’ or as hosting a pity party for Shamima Begum. Neither is my focus.
When I first saw the memes, jokes and quite apparent dehumanisation of Begum – I wondered if the nation would laugh at an underage white girl in the exact same scenario. Had she been groomed? Absolutely. Was she vulnerable? Absolutely. Was she visibly numbed by the trauma she had witnessed? Yes, but it wasn’t portrayed that way. Instead, Shamima was depicted as emotionless, remorseless and unapologetic. But what was she supposed to apologise for? For being groomed? The responses and narratives surrounding Shamima Begum’s case are laced with political islamophobia. A brown, female, Muslim teenager is denied the sympathy and outcry of a white, female, religiously ambiguous teenager – much like the one’s in Rochdale’s notorious grooming case. Why? Because if she’s a Muslim surely she’s already predetermined to join ISIS of her own accord.
Shamima mentions in an interview that she hadn’t felt she had done anything wrong to be perceived as a threat other than joining ISIS, which quickly became a popularly shared video across meme pages. Comments laughed and mocked, ridiculed her for a seemingly stupid response. When really, she wasn’t entirely wrong at all. The only threat we perceive from Shamima Begum is her association with ISIS, but we seem to simultaneously gloss over her wanting to leave ISIS and return home of her own accord. We gloss over her vulnerability, her desperation and her attempt to reconcile.
In narratives around abuse, gaslighting is something that families of abusers or perpetrators of abuse do to convince a victim that they are wrong, and that if they walk away – they will still be wrong and everyone will think they’re crazy. If we place Shamima into the roles of power and abuse, it’s quite apparent that those who side with and celebrate the removal of her UK Citizenship are also siding with the manipulative power of the man that groomed her and the organisation that upheld and encouraged this abuse. ISIS. If you can honestly look at Shamima’s story and think hey, I’m glad that a Fifteen-year-old girl fled to Syria under ‘radicalisation’ (I use that word cautiously because we should call abuse what it is and not have implicative words that have been engrained in our minds to associate Islam) and when she finally comes out of the power of her abusers and wishes to go home to her Mum – we basically just gaslight the shit out of the situation and make her out to be a villain, and ban her from coming home – then you need to reconsider your rationales.
‘Fundemental British Values’
The UK statutory guidance on prevent duty in education outlines that children should be encouraged to ‘build resilience to radicalisation’ through the promotion of fundemental British values. In Shamima’s case, I often wonder if fundemental British values are to abandon a child that has fallen victim to abuse. The Prevent Duty outlines facets of vulnerabilities and states that children should be encouraged to challenge extremist views – however when Shamima challenged the extremism she was drawn into and sought help to escape it, she wasn’t faced with encouragement and support, she was told she couldn’t come home.
Everything about the ugly media narrative downplays her abuse. She’s pejoratively referred to as ISIS Bride and IS Bride. They commend the ‘top judges’ for rejecting a young woman entry into the country she is from, for deciding that her abuse was not important enough or real enough for her to seek safety, and mention her emotions callously without really delving into why she must have felt that way.
In her poetry collection ‘Postcolonial Banter,’ Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan titles her poem about those who mock Begum’s abuse and the death of her baby as ‘A PRAYER FOR THOSE WHO JEER AT THE DEATH OF A BABY WHOSE TEENAGE MOTHER YOU FEEL DID NOT SHOW ENOUGH REMORSE’ – the title itself encapsulates so much about the portrayal of Begum in comparison to cases of abuse perpetuated by Brown bodies on white within the UK. Shamima Begum is villainised and therefore her grooming, trauma and tragic experiences are trivialised and laughed at rather than validated as a severe case of child exploitation.
Celebrating Shamima Begum’s ban on returning to the UK is celebrating a fifteen-year-old girl’s abuse. It’s a celebration of an unjust system with inconsistent laws and blatant failure to protect a citizen of it’s country. It’s celebrating the encouragement and acceptance of counter-terrorism, which really only identifies perceived threat according to another set of inconsistent rules and biases. It’s celebrating failure. We failed Shamima, and I’m deeply ashamed of it.