You Can Disagree With Shamima Begum’s Words And Still Show Compassion For How She’s Being Treated Now

The woman who was groomed and radicalised from her London home as a schoolgirl is begging for your forgiveness, but the British government refuses to take responsibility for how extremism spreads in this country.

Shamima Begum

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Shamima Begum is begging for our forgiveness, desperate to come home. As she sits trapped in a Syrian detention camp, the 22-year-old who lost her British citizenship after running away from her east London home to marry an IS fighter aged just 15, gave her first live TV interview on Good Morning Britain this morning.

‘For those who have even a drop of mercy and compassion and empathy in their hearts, I tell you from the bottom of my heart that I regret every, every decision I’ve made since I stepped into Syria and I will live with it for the rest of my life,’ Shamima told hosts Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley.

Shamima explained that she was groomed by people in ISIS as a young teen, and left the UK believing she would marry, have children and live a ‘pure Islamic life’. She denies accusations that she played a part in Islamic State terrorism, which is part of the reason that former home secretary Sajid Javid revoked her British citizenship when she was discovered living in a Syrian refugee camp – having escaped ISIS - in 2019.

‘I am willing to go to court and face the people who made these claims and refute these claims, because I know I did nothing in IS but be a mother and a wife. These claims are being made to make me look worse because the government do not have anything on me,’ she explained.

The interview was hard to watch, not just because of the devastating mentions of UK terrorist attacks, but also because Shamima’s demeanour proved just how complex and haunting this case is. Talking about how she was groomed and radicalised, how she lived in fear of ISIS members after moving to Syria and how the loss of her three children means she no longer fears their attacks on her – it’s clear to many that Shamima is an incredibly traumatised young woman.

The conditions in the Al-Roj camp where she resides have been described as wretched and squalid.

But few have any empathy for her whatsoever. In fact, many have jumped to attack her for wearing nail varnish and a Nike cap, as if it somehow negates the fact she’s been living in a refugee camp since 2019 with both Britain and Bangladesh – the only other country she has a claim of citizenship to due to her mother’s ethnicity – refusing to allow her access. In fact, the conditions in the Al-Roj camp where she resides have been described as ‘wretched and squalid’ by human rights lawyer Tom Hickman QC, who claimed that was demonstrated by the death of Shamima’s third child – who died of pneumonia in the camp.

Of course, the anger at this complicated case is understandable. So many lives have been devastated by terrorism in this country, and Shamima’s own words in previous interviews have undoubtedly contributed to the vitriol towards her. In her first interview after being discovered, she told The Times that air strikes on the Islamic State in Syria ‘justified’ the Manchester Arena bombing and that she was ‘unphased’ by the sight of a severed human head while living as an ISIS member.

She addresses those words in the GMB interview, explaining that she did not have a phone nor internet access when she was part of ISIS and so had no understanding of what actually happened, nor the lives lost, during the Manchester bombing.

As Susanna Reid made clear in the interview, that will come as little comfort to many. But we can despise Shamima’s words and still hold compassion for the fact that she was once a London schoolgirl who was exploited and radicalised by a powerful group of men whose influence over young, impressionable teens we could not dream of. We can recognise that she is a woman who has experienced intense psychological trauma that will have undoubtedly reframed her mindset towards violence and any number of things we would consider abnormal in our safe, privileged lives.

But most importantly, we can understand that regardless of where she currently lives: this is Britain’s problem to solve.

The fact that a young teen in this country can fall victim to grooming, manipulation and extremism to the point she would leave her family home to live in war-torn Syria and marry a terrorist eight years her senior is terrifying. The fact the British government can then rid themselves of any and all responsibility in investigating how this happened, what punishment Shamima may or may not deserve, and how to prevent further instances of this in future is shameful.

Shamima said it herself in the interview, the British government does not understand how to fight extremism in this country. Talking to Boris Johnson directly, she said her return to the UK would not just be to fight terrorism accusations against her and start a new life, but also help the UK government understand how ISIS ‘persuade people to do what they do.’

‘I think I could very much help you in your fight against terrorism, because you clearly don’t know what you’re doing,’ she said. A Home Office spokesperson responded by saying ‘the government’s top priority remains maintaining our national security and keeping the public safe.’

Ultimately though, their words prove Shamima’s point. By continuing to ignore Shamima’s case through allegations of public safety risk, the government are deflecting responsibility for a problem that started here – and should end here.

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