On an ill-fated day in February 2015, three girls from Bethnal Green in east London fled their homes and flew to Istanbul where they were driven into tumultuous Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (IS). Two of them were killed in drone attacks, which means only one of them is still alive today. They were 15 and 16 years old.
The past seven years have been calamitous for Shamima Begum, the sole survivor. She has been impregnated three times and lost each of her three babies within weeks of giving birth. She was brainwashed, de-brainwashed, casually told by a British journalist that she had been stripped of her British nationality and ultimately abandoned by the UK to waste away in the Al-Hawl refugee camp in north-eastern Syria.
In March 2015, game-changing information appeared that was instantly swept under the carpet by the British media, ensuring that almost none of us heard of it until a few weeks ago when the same information reappeared, with more details, in a book titled The History of the Five Eyes.
Essentially, a Canadian intelligence asset was awaiting the three girls in Turkey in early 2015 and facilitated their entry into Syria – a classic case of the trafficking of minors. They were smuggled across the border. By an affiliate of a Western intelligence service. Take a minute to process this.
Incredibly, Turkey announced all this in March 2015. The book states that Canadian intelligence informed the British authorities of the role of one of their assets in trafficking Shamima and the others.
So, the British side knew. Take another minute if you need it.
The British police sat on this information for years during which Shamima’s citizenship was taken away and, more importantly, she was vilified, condemned, and sentenced in the court of public opinion.
The British media collaborated with the government in depicting Shamima as a monster in an outstanding example of the collusion between components of “The Establishment” in the UK as British journalist Owen Jones’s book of the same name outlines it.
15-year-old Shamima did not know any better. She was not a scheming terrorist as the right-wing British media portray her. She is in fact a victim.
As the mother of a 15-year-old myself, I find it unthinkable that a child of that age is treated as a fully accountable adult when they are minors in the eyes of the law.
She has given some ill-advised interviews where she didn’t show enough remorse to win the public over. But as a traumatised young mother of dying babies who hasn’t seen her parents in years and is not allowed access to lawyers, is it really surprising that she doesn’t know how to handle a media interview?
The British intelligence service MI5 says that Shamima’s crime is staying on in Syria after she had turned 18. Who is to know if she didn’t try to escape but failed? Let her come back to the UK, the only place she has ever called home, and stand trial. Send her to prison. Allow her due process. Let justice have its way for once.
MI5 has gone on to say, as revealed in a UK supreme court hearing two years ago, that “public sentiment is overwhelmingly hostile” to her. What that tells us is that the argument against Shamima is not legal but, in fact, is political. And although Sajid Javid, the former UK home secretary who cancelled Shamima’s citizenship, is no longer in the cabinet, it is hardly expected that new Prime Minister Liz Truss will treat the matter differently. The ruling Conservatives will prioritise public opinion even over following the rule of law.
The UK authorities, the school, the police, the security forces all already failed Shamima once when they failed to stop a child from going to the most dangerous war zone on the planet. They failed her a second time when the government stripped her of her nationality. Now her case is due for an appeal in November. Don’t fail her again.
* The writer is a TV presenter based in London.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.