‘I Was An ISIS Bride Too, Shamima Begum Needs Help’

As the Supreme Court rules Shamima Begum cannot return to the UK to challenge the revoking of her British citizenship, Grazia revisits Anna Silverman's conversation with Tania Joya, who was once married to a senior ISIS fighter

Tania Joya

by Anna Silverman |
Updated on

Update: Shamima Begum will not be allowed to return and fight her citizenship case, the Supreme Court has ruled.

After requesting to return in order to challenge the home secretary's decision to remove her British nationality, the court ruled that her rights were not breached when she was refused permission to return. Currently, she resides in a camp controlled by armed guards in northern Syria.

Last year, her story divided the country when she first spoke to news outlets about her experience. Here, Anna Silverman spoke to former British ISIS bride Tania Joya who urged the public to show Shamima mercy.

It’s the questIon that has divided the country: whether Shamima Begum, the teenager who fled London in 2015 to join ISIS, should be allowed to return to the UK.

Earlier this month, a journalist found Shamima in a refugee camp in Syria, where she declared she wanted to come home. It sparked uproar among those – including the Home Secretary Sajid Javid – who feel she would be a threat to national security. But as the 19-year-old gave birth to a baby boy last weekend, having previously lost two children, some say she should be allowed back for the sake of her son. Others point out that she was groomed and indoctrinated at 15, and believe that we must do our best to rehabilitate her. Meanwhile, the conflicting view, held by many, is that since Shamima is showing little remorse for her actions, she should never be allowed back into the UK again.

One woman who knows all too well what it’s like to be radicalised is former British ISIS brideTania Joya, who was married to a senior fighter. After struggling to integrate in London as a teen, Tania, 35, was radicalised and married jihadi John Georgelas, who forced her to go to Syria. She grew disillusioned with ISIS and, six years ago, while pregnant, persuaded her husband to help her escape. He drove her and their three children to the border, where they ran through sniper fire to the Turkish side. Now, Tania works with organisations to counter extremism and urges us to show Shamima mercy.

John Georgelas

‘She’s still a child in that she’s not thinking like an adult and she needs psychiatric help. She needs education. She needs to be brought back to reality because she’s so brainwashed,’ she tells Grazia. Shamima drew fierce criticism when she showed little regret about joining ISIS in interviews and compared the Manchester Arena bombing to air strikes by Western allies in ISIS-held areas. How does Tania explain her lack of remorse? ‘I think that’s trauma. PTSD. I believe that’s a coping mechanism. She’s been through starvation and seen two kids die and she wants to blame the people who attacked her home, even though she broke the law by going there.’

Despite Tania spending the past few years working as an anti-extremism activist, she is emotional when we speak, because she’s just found out that John – who stayed in Syria – died in 2017. In a choked voice, she says, ‘I’m crying and mourning and grieving... I hoped he would be invincible and one day I’d see him again.’ This is the same man who allegedly pushed ISIS to declare a murderous caliphate in 2014. Presumably he was behind the deaths of many people? ‘I don’t know how many people he killed. I think he was really misled like so many. We were puppets and sheep and half of us got slaughtered because of it. It was just a bunch of religious bullshit; politics and power.’

Tania, who now lives in Texas, says that she deradicalised gradually by reading books about American values, humanism, psychology, philosophy and evolutionary biology, as well as some Buddhist self-help. ‘I needed peace of mind and time to heal my fractured mental state,’ she says. ‘I came back suffering from PTSD, but couldn’t afford professional help, so instead I just kept reading as much as I could. I was happy to start a normal life but that’s not to say I didn’t suffer from culture shock, such as the heavy drinking here.' Now she feels completely Westernised and says integration was necessary to survive. She doesn’t face prejudice from Americans, except some trolls online. On the whole, people are supportive and want to see her succeed. She describes her second husband, Craig David Burma, as ‘all-American’. They met on Match.com in 2015 and, unlike her ex-husband, she says he gives her as much freedom as she needs.

Tanya can understand how Shamima feels about her jihadi husband, though. She draws parallels between their relationships: ‘They were our first loves and we were so young and had children with that person,’ she says. ‘Once Shamima is out of that poisonous environment, she’ll learn with education and enlightenment what her true conscience really is.'

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