Shamima Begum: Criminal or Victim?

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The case of Shamima Begum has dominated headlines recently, with a focus on one fundamental question: Should she be allowed back to the UK?

By attempting to revoke her citizenship, the British Government have clearly made up their mind, but I would argue that this case is isn’t as simple as some of the media presents it to be. Although the grey area and complex factors at play here don’t completely excuse Begum, we equally shouldn’t ignore them when making our judgement in this situation.

Begum is one of three infamous “Bethnal Green Girls” who, as teenagers, were radicalised online and travelled to Syria to become “housewives” to ISIS fighters. Recently, it has been questioned whether Begum was truly a “housewife” or a lot more actively involved in some of ISIS’s atrocities, with some reports alleging that she stitched suicide bombers into their vests, carried a rifle and was one of the feared “morality police”.

Either way, it cannot be denied that even if she was “just” a wife, she was still complicit as she flew over to Syria with the purpose of giving herself to what she was convinced was the “noble” cause of ISIS.

For the media and general public, Begum’s involvement in ISIS is made worse and all the more unforgivable due to her perceived lack of empathy. In interviews she has recounted some of the horrors she has witnessed like a severed head in a bin with a calmness many seem to interpret as being dangerous and sociopathic. This, of course, may well be the case. Yet we also can’t rule out the role trauma plays in Shamima’s perceived “unrepentant” attitude.

Psychologically, it’s not unusual for those who have experienced severe, violent trauma to “shut off” their emotions as a subconscious coping mechanism. If their mind and body become incapable of processing the extreme levels of distress following their trauma, it’s a natural coping mechanism to repress those feelings associated with the extreme situations they face. Thus they can come across as “numb” and desensitised to these experiences, as is common with victims of abuse.

Speaking of abuse, we need give appropriate consideration to the fact that Shamima was a child when she went to Syria. Although this is something that is often discussed when considering her own criminal culpability (and this is a fair point to make, of course), doesn’t that make her online grooming all the more sinister? She was essentially a child that was groomed online, and whilst terrorism is a whole different ball-game to other types of online grooming, we cannot overlook how her age and naivety made her the perfect target to groom and brainwash. If she has been systematically groomed at such a young age, this surely stunted her development and maturity, leaving her a vulnerable victim to Stockholm Syndrome.

I also think it goes without saying that whilst she consented to marriage in Syria, is a 15-year-old really capable of consent? Especially if that consent was given after months of grooming and brainwashing. We cannot ignore the fact that a teenager has been impregnated multiple times by a man much older than her after months of manipulation. Surely this counts as statutory rape?

Ultimately, whilst I don’t think Shamima Begum should be completely excused for her involvement with terrorism (far from it, actually), I do think that we need to take some of the complexities of this case into consideration: something that mainstream media seems to be failing to do.

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Wessex Scene Editor // meme queen // fan of chocolate digestives // @colombochar on Twitter.

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