Shamima Begum may have committed heinous acts, but she was then a fifteen year old girl failed by the British state. She is now a twenty-one year old woman who has been failed by the British state once more... [Revoking citizenship] deprives someone of their home and their family,  forcing them into a country that they do not know, and that does not want to know them. 


Having read pretty much everything on this ISIS convert [see post below this one for details and update] who now wants to go back to England, I conclude that everyone and everything failed her. Not just the state. Her parents failed her. Her school failed her. Her acquaintances who groomed her failed her. The men who trafficked her (yes, some defenders go so far as to claim this — with no evidence) failed her. The culture of infatuation and romance failed her, making her vulnerable — innocent and lovesick — to the groomers.

A British man who went to Syria to fight against ISIS writes:

She was fifteen [when she joined ISIS]. When I was fifteen I knew rape, murder, and kidnapping were wrong. There’s no indication that she has any remorse or that she’s any less dangerous.

Oh but he’s a guy! Fifteen year old girls are moral idiots, I guess. And they’re certainly too idiotic for us even to begin to imagine that rather than having been failed by everyone, they simply read ISIS literature, watched ISIS videos, thought about it, and made an ideological commitment to its goals. You can read – as UD has – scads of opinion pieces about Begum and you’ll never encounter that claim – that this A-student (apparently Begum was a gifted student) read, understood, and so fervently agreed with one particular form of fundamentalist Islam that she made a considered, life-altering commitment to it. (It reminds ol’ UD of the fate of fascism. Apparently no one was ever a fascist – no one ever absorbed the tenets of fascism, liked them, and became a committed fascist. The fault lay with the state, or history, or coercion, or the church, or charismatic leaders…)

Funny, though. Here’s Begum’s own take on the matter:

Ms Begum said she made the choice to go to Syria and could make her own decisions, despite being only 15 at the time. She said she was partly inspired by videos of fighters beheading hostages…

Although Patrick Cockburn, unsurprisingly, comes to conclusions about the Begum problem very different from mine, he is more scathing than I in his description of her moral responsibility and depravity.


[Revoking citizenship] deprives someone of their home and their family,  forcing them into a country that they do not know, and that does not want to know them. 

Strange thing to say. Begum broke – exultantly – with her home and family; she willingly went to a state – the Islamic State – that very much wanted her.

Maybe it mainly wanted her womb – she was there, as she has subsequently noted, to be knocked up as often as possible. This was fine with her – to act as a caliphate-womb, to be “married,” instantly, on arrival, to some random fighter and start having babies. Fine too were the abuse of Yazidi slaves, the sewing of human bomb vests, and the witnessing of beheadings. All in a day’s work. All in service to an ideal.

Look. Shamima Begum has a state. At the moment, it is reconstituting itself. When it is strong and stable enough, it will send for her. Maybe she will decide – as she decided with England – to break with that state. Then she will have to start looking for a third one.

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2 Responses to “Les Girls!”

  1. Greg Says:

    This is what judges do every day, at least within their sentencing discretion. They balance an offender’s interests as a human being, and the sympathetic aspects of their story of offending, against the risks, straightforward and also quite indirect to everyone else, of leniency.* I think I’m with you on the right outcome here, though I’d always like to know more. For a sentencing judge, time never stops for exploration of all. A god would know, but I’ve never seen one walking around. Sadly I think she loses her citizenship in my courtroom. But the uncertainties of making that decision would stalk me. So I couldn’t be a sentencing judge.

    *I’m leaving out the retributive aspects of just punishment. Prevention of harm is mainly what drives me, but in some cases an element of retribution seems right. Can I articulate rules for when this is so. No. Sometimes an explanation of how something happened mitigates a lot. Sometimes not. I don’t care much about how Trump became Trump, or to take an even worse case for now, anything about how largely deterministic physics, psychology etc. led to Pol Pot.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Greg: As you say, sometimes knowing more – the exploration of all, as you put it – makes things worse for the person in question. It’s quite possible that if you delved deeper into Begum’s intellect/circumstances, you’d find that she – well, why not take her word for it – was “partly inspired by videos of fighters beheading hostages.”

    Knowing more about Richard Loeb’s motivation at age 18 for killing Bobby Franks allows you to know that the intellectual curiosity of this brilliant, precocious Univ. of Chicago student simply moved in the direction of wondering what it would be like to kill someone.

    People like Begum and Loeb are the reason we have the phrase You don’t want to go there.

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