Mal Fletcher
Should An ISIS Bride Become Stateless?

ISIS bride and mother Shamima Begum, now aged 19, has been stripped of her British citizenship by the Home Office.

Her parents, British citizens born in Bangladesh, are considering a legal appeal.

To form a reasoned view on this troubling case, there are at least three issues we must be considered. Emotion will form part of any human opinion, but it should not rule over reason.

This could prove to be an important test case for years to come - and not just for the UK.

The first question to be answered is this: how many of this young woman’s decisions during her time in Syria were made with an adult awareness and perspective? Was she willing - and free - to flee ISIS territory at any time during her stay? Would she have done so, with her child, if she could?

Ms Begum left the UK, of her own volition, at age 15, in defiance of her parents.

She might well have known that she was headed into a war zone. She may have been aware that marrying an ISIS fighter meant aligning with an enemy of this country. But was she aware of the long-term implications of her decision?

A new report demonstrates that while boys joining terror groups are influenced by their families, girls are more likely to become self-radicalised.

The Radicalising Our Children study, published by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, reveals that girls are more active in seeking extremist materials than boys. Girls also have more say in their decision to radicalise.

This may have been true for the 15-year-old Shamima Begum. But even so, can we be sure that she fully understood the implications of her decision?

As someone who worked directly with teenagers for the first 20 years of my professional life, I can testify that the mind and emotions of a 15-year-old are not well-equipped to make certain types of decision.

I did work with some very troubled youngsters but, no, none of them were considering life as enemy combatants, as far as I know. Yet psychological studies have suggested that because teens use different parts of their brain to make decisions, they are more impulsive than their elders. Their physiology leads them to take less account of longer-term consequences.

That said, Ms Begum has recently claimed that the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, carried out by an ISIS sympathiser, was a form of pay-back for attacks on ISIS territories. She has also said that she had a “good time” during her time away.

At least one UK newspaper has reported that Shamima plans to get back with her "jihadi husband" in the Netherlands, if denied entry to Britain.

All of this may suggest that, as an adult, she has now settled on a pro-ISIS line.

While in Syria, she gave birth to three children in Syria, two of whom died there. It can be argued that even if she started out with the mindset of a child, her circumstances and environment encouraged her to grow up quickly.

The Home Office must explore these issues thoroughly if it has not already done so. An appeal tribunal may yet be called upon to do the same.

The second question we need to consider has to do with the role Ms Begum might have played in the conflict.

What kind of support did she offer the enemy? Was she just the wife of a Dutch-born ISIS fighter, or did she actively recruit for the cause? Did she go further, taking up arms at any time?

Then we must decide whether any or all of these options should be tried in a court of law within the UK, with appropriate penalties.

Finally, there is the vexed question of what happens to a person who is rendered stateless. Is the British or any other government permitted, under international law or convention, to render a person stateless?

In Ms Begum’s case, while her parents are British citizens, she is not. Nor does she have Bangladeshi citizenship. Her husband is Dutch, which may mean that her child might be granted either British or Dutch citizenship. But what of the mother and what of the future relationship with her child?

What due process is available to people who have no citizenship? Does she become the UN’s responsibility? If an appeal is made and it is unsuccessful, what recourse is there then for Shamima or her parents?

In all of this, without having access to the information available to the government and potentially the courts, it’s hard to form a hard and fast view. First impressions are not always sound. Emotion can easily cloud sound judgement.

Whatever the eventual outcome, this case will have far-reaching implications, because the world is now increasingly mobile.

Some 244 million individuals now live outside of their country of origin. That represents 3.3 per cent of the globe’s population, but the number may be growing.

Most of those people are economic migrants, looking for a better deal for themselves and their families. But a growing number are refugees who are fleeing one crisis or another in the world.

This is understandable given the terrible living conditions millions of people have to endure. Just eight per cent of the global population controls 82 per cent of its resources.

Ubiquitous social media carry readily accessible images of life on the “other side of the tracks”, encouraging those who can afford it to buy passage on illegal refugee boats.

Will a feature of the future be hundreds, or thousands, of people who are considered, by national and/or international law, to have rendered themselves stateless? Is this the best way to deal with treacherous behaviour?

The line between raw justice and humane treatment has always been difficult to navigate. With Shamima Begum, it may have become a little more so.

Mal Fletcher's BBC Interview on Shamima Begum

Mal Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is the founder and chairman of 2030Plus. He is a respected keynote speaker, social commentator and social futurist, author and broadcaster based in London.

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