Britain’s relationship with the 19 year old Shamima Begum today raises a pertinent question on the country’s relationship with its own immigrants. Shamima was one of the eight girls who tried to run to Syria to join ISIS from Britain. She was 15, who felt very strongly about her faith, arguably a hormonal teenager. While average 15 year olds in the UK fight and disagree with parents over parties, boyfriends, clothes, food and other mundane things, Shamima ran away to join the ISIS. She is Bangladeshi by origin, not by birth. Born in the UK, to a British Bangladeshi family, neither has she ever been to Bangladesh nor has she ever held any Bangladeshi travel documents.
Most Bangladeshis in the UK are hard working. An entrepreneurial community, many in the curry business, they take pride in running restaurants. They moved to the UK in 1970s, during the Sylhet division, and established a rapport with the UK government over the years. They even have powerful women MPs in the House of Commons like Tulip Siddiq, Rushanara Ali and Rupa Huq and hundreds of local councillors. So not only they contribute to Britain’s financial growth but also are well represented in the political arena- in the country’s thought and decision making process.
Shamima who identifies herself as British first, or as a British Muslim alone, has brought shame on a community that she never has ever adopted as a part of her identity or otherwise. But today she is suddenly not Britain’s problem and that of Bangladesh’s. According to the existing immigration laws, any child born to Bangladeshi parents, to even those who have acquired other citizenships, is considered as Bangladeshi and automatically eligible for dual citizenship till they are 21. Shamima is 19. But that does not make her less British or more Bangladeshi. She however has been refused that eligibility now by Bangladesh due to her recent actions.
Immigrants v/s Islam
To a great extend Britain is a fair country. But it’s obsession with race-relation and faith has always done worse than good. Those people who are calling Shamima a non-British today, are forgetting the key principle of this country- liberalism. They are forgetting that the country approves, acknowledges and celebrates different faiths and cultures in coexistence - unity in diversity. But Britain’s relationship with its migrants is unbelievably complex. The Home Secretary Sajid Javid who is an immigrant himself, born to Pakistani parents, is trying doubly hard to do a thankless job by overcompensating for his own cultural roots. There is no winning for him here- you are either against your own or against your nation. It is a shame to see that the country has brought two Asian immigrants, stand opposite each other in a war against their own faith.
Four years back when Shamima left home, she was allegedly following in the footsteps of Sharmeema Begum, a young woman allegedly radicalised at the East London Mosque. Most of these children have conservative families. But then most South Asians continue to be conservative in the UK, clutching on to the remains of their culture like their life depends on it. That does not mean all their children are terrorists today. In fact they are more good than bad. They are hard working and mostly self-conscious. The state is aware of it, but still much of the blame falls on families for their views, faith or a culture they have held close to themselves. It's exactly that shame that compelled Shamima's father and family to support Mr Javid's decision to refuse Shamima's permission to come back home.
Not our own?
Donald Trump has called for EU nations to take back ISIS fighters captured by US-backed forces in Syria. It is our moral duty, since most of them were radicalised in Europe. The sudden and unexpected reaction of stripping nationality from dual citizens means we would export terrorism abroad. It also has an element of racism, since it is usually applied to British Pakistanis or British Bangladeshis, while we never hear calls to strip nationality from British Americans, British Europeans or British Australians when they commit serious crimes.
The British terror suspect known as 'Jihadi Jack' also recently said that he wants to come home to the UK five years after running away to Syria. Oxford-born Jack Letts, who is being held in a Kurdish prison accused of being a member of ISIS, told ITV News that he is missing his mother, pasties and episodes of Doctor Who. He knows his return will not be easy, but his statement clearly shows what home stands for. It is not about legitimising terror or terrorists, it's about Asian children stuck between two cultures, trying to find their roots, experimenting and eventualy correcting themselves on the right and expected path.
The Daily Telegraph article by Alison Pearson has been accused of being a 'racist' piece. Reactions took twitter by storm. Britain will perhaps never cease to be racist. Brexit is the biggest example of it. What America or Ireland has given their citizens through their nation’s immigrant leaders, is not what the UK is capable of, but making a country’s youth homeless, taking away their sense of belonging, is what jihadists thrive on.
To understand the minds of radical people and to defeat them, one must step in their shoes. It’s by isolation they can brainwash and turn people against their own. Remember the old saying, strength in unity? If Shamima is responsible for any crimes she should be brought back to the UK to assess her actions in the courts, not left behind in a no man's land! The Home Secretary must understand that there is a danger in allowing the smearing of Begum to go undisputed. Turning someone into a monster is actually a very old and tested protection mechanism. It absolves us from our moral duties or expectations. It permits us to label and entrust evil deeds to a place that is usually beyond our regular way of acceptance. But the lesson one must remember, we lose something important if we don’t try to understand how evil manifests itself- and it is in the capacity to prevent it.
It is a shame to see that the country has brought two Asian immigrants, stand opposite each other in a war against their own faith.
The Home Secretary must understand that there is a danger in allowing the smearing of Begum to go undisputed.