The evil of Shamima Begum

The cultural elite’s sympathy for this wicked extremist is deeply disturbing.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

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Topics Politics UK World

If you want to know how morally disorientated the cultural elite has become, just consider this: they have expressed more sympathy with the supposed ‘grooming victim’ Shamima Begum than they have with actual grooming victims in Manchester, Rochdale, Telford and other English cities and towns. When it comes to white working-class girls who really were groomed, in this case by largely Pakistani gangs, they are silent. But when it comes to Begum’s decision to join an Islamic death cult and to travel thousands of miles to assist a hysterical pseudo-state that was enslaving Yazidi women, crucifying Christians and executing homosexuals, they cry ‘grooming!’. They have shed more tears over a neo-fascist Islamic radical than they have over northern working-class girls.

Last week, Begum lost the first part of her appeal against Sajid Javid’s revocation of her British citizenship. Javid, when he was home secretary, stripped Begum of her citizenship in response to her depraved, treasonous abandonment of Britain in favour of the anti-Western death cult of ISIS. Begum, along with two friends, left London for the Islamic State in Syria in 2015. She was 15 years old then, she is 20 years old now. In 2019, after she was found by journalists in a Syrian refugee camp, the Home Office stripped her of her citizenship. Lawyers acting for her family appealed, and last week they lost the first stage, as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission decreed that she had not been left ‘stateless’, contrary to her legal team’s claims. It ruled that she has Bangladeshi citizenship by descent and can therefore apply for residency in Bangladesh. Naturally, Bangladesh, being deeply concerned about the scourge of Islamic radicalism, wants nothing to do with her.

There has been some uproar over this. Liberals, in particular, are concerned about the precedent potentially being set by the unilateral removal of a British citizen’s citizenship. Hard cases make for bad law, they argue, and it is possible that in our rush to punish Begum for her grotesque betrayal of Britain and its people we will denude British citizenship of its meaning and importance by making it conditional upon political belief and moral behaviour. These people raise very important points. One could argue (and I would argue this) that it was Ms Begum herself who renounced her British citizenship when she sided with a fascistic statelet that considered itself so thoroughly at war with Britain that it sanctioned the massacre of British children in Manchester in 2017 (an act of apocalyptic terror that Begum has expressed support for). But on the other hand, it is arguable that the UK should not lower itself to Begum’s standards. In rejecting her rejection of her citizenship, and keeping open the possibility that she could be tried for treason as a British citizen in Britain itself, the UK can demonstrate its commitment to enlightened, democratic values. This is a good argument, worthy of consideration.

But what is most striking in the public conversation over Begum and her citizenship is how much it is infused with sympathy and concern for Begum. Perversely, she is seen as a victim. This is increasingly how most Islamic radicals are viewed: as sad, corrupted individuals, led astray online, not really in charge of their own emotions and decisions, and in dire need of the therapeutic assistance of ‘deradicalisation’. This is in stark contrast to the way that white fascists are viewed. They, quite rightly, are seen as evil people, as conscious, willing enforcers of a wicked supremacist outlook. By contrast, radical Islamists – despite having carried out far greater murderous mayhem in the UK in recent years than traditional fascist groups have – are always seen as having been ‘groomed’, as having been ‘radicalised’ in a tragic, passive way that they cannot really control. So Begum is seen, not as the willing victimiser of Yazidis, Christians and others, but as a victim herself. As a victim of the internet, of online imams, of grooming.

‘This child was groomed and radicalised’, says a writer for the Guardian. Diane Abbott talks about Begum in teary-eyed tones, describing her as a ‘young woman who was groomed as a minor’. It is shocking that ‘society’ should blame ‘groomed young women for their fate’. In contrast, Ms Abbott’s silence on the young women who were actually groomed by gangs in various towns across the UK is deafening. Ash Sarkar, the woke doyenne of the middle-class left, said she almost cried when she found out that a shooting range in the north of England was using a picture of Shamima Begum for target practice. Whether she also almost cried over the Christian and Yazidi men, women and children who were literally shot by the death cult Begum joined and supported is unknown. So corrupting is the cult of identity politics on basic morality that Begum can be sympathised with because she is a Muslim, and therefore good, while the victims of the death cult she backed, whether it’s Yazidi women or girls in Manchester, can be subtly airbrushed from the public record.

Indeed, it is striking that the latest outpouring of perverse sympathy for Shamima should have taken place in the same week that the brother of the Manchester Arena bomber was put on trial for his alleged role in the massacre of those 22 concert attendees in 2017. Begum described the slaughter in Manchester as ‘justified’. And yet we hear more about Begum’s allegedly tragic predicament than we do about the men, women and children massacred in Manchester by one of Begum’s fellow neo-fascistic traitors. It is staggering, and depressing, how swiftly the Manchester atrocity, and the names and lives of the victims, was pushed out of the public arena, consigned to being an awkward moment we shouldn’t really talk about. In the identitarian era, being careful not to rattle the thin, fragile ‘multicultural’ consensus clearly takes precedence over commemorating the victims of an extremist who, like Begum, was convinced that Britain was a disgusting country that deserved punishment.

The sympathy for Shamima is important for two reasons. First, because it confirms that there are so many moral reprobates within the cultural elite today. So distant are these people from working-class communities in the UK that they can feel greater sympathy – or at least express greater sympathy – for an extremist traitor than they ever have for working-class girls groomed by Pakistani gangs or the good people massacred in the Manchester Arena. And secondly because it suggests that the debate over Begum’s citizenship isn’t really about citizenship – it’s about identity. In this case, the allegedly repressed, fragile identity of Muslimness in 21st-century Britain.

There is a serious, principled discussion to be had about the revocation of Begum’s citizenship. But that discussion should not be led by the kind of people who have no real attachment to the value of citizenship; by the kind of people who thought literally nothing of stripping British citizens of their most important right – the right to vote – by seeking to overthrow Brexit. No, it must be led by those of us who genuinely believe in people power, in democracy, and in citizenship as a key building block of public life. Maybe Begum should not have been stripped of her citizenship. Maybe she should be allowed back into the UK. But if she is, it should be as a traitor to citizenship, as someone suspected of the highest crime an individual can commit, and who should be subjected to the toughest punishment the law can deliver. If you believe in citizenship, you wouldn’t be weeping over Shamima – on the contrary, you would be furious with her treasonous support for the slaughter of the good citizens of this country.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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