The death of the baby of a British woman who left the country to join ISIS, aged just 15, has opened a debate on what countries of which such children are (through their parents) nationals should do to help them.
Shamima Begum was one of the three schoolgirls who left Britain in 2015 to join ISIS, all of whom had, within weeks, been married off to ISIS fighters. Born and brought up in Bethnal Green, east London, she is the only one of the trio alive today. Shamima Begum is now in a refugee camp in Syria from where, in an interview with The Times in mid-February, she said she would like to be able to come back to the UK with the baby she was about to deliver. Her two older children had died in Syria and she said she was very concerned about the welfare of this child.
In the interview, she sounded confident and hopeful and spoke of the failure and excess of IS or ‘Dawla’ but perhaps her saying she ‘had no regrets’ and ‘had learned a lot’ and was ‘unfazed’ by seeing a decapitated head in the bins was what really went against her. Soon the British home secretary announced that her citizenship had been revoked. After this Shamima Begum’s parents appealed to the government to allow the baby to come to Britain. But, before any decision was made, the child died of pneumonia aged just three weeks.
The case sheds light on the plight of families who are trying to get grandchildren out of Syria. Just such a case is that of Lydie Manichedda, in France, who has appealed to the Macron government to allow the three children of her only daughter (a Muslim convert killed in Syria) to come to France. So far, the response has not been positive.
But do governments have a responsibility towards the offspring of those citizens who are perceived as traitors, who have in some way betrayed the state? Will setting a precedent like the British Home Secretary, Sajid Javed, did act as a real deterrent to impressionable young women potentially in search of a cause and some adventure? Many would agree that he did the right thing — after all why should taxpayers fund the maintenance and handling of a young woman who was part of the murderous ISIS caliphate and why should they pay for the welfare of her baby?
Although mainstream opinion seemed to support Sajid Javed, a few people like the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and TV soap Eastenders actor Danny Dyer articulated the view that not only should Shamima Begum be allowed ‘home’ but she should be given sympathy and understanding.
This is a humane and civilised view but is this really realistic in today’s world? We already know of the many cases of individuals who have slipped through the monitoring net after they were allowed to return from jihadi training and have then continued their work for terrorist organizations. So, in these circumstances, opening the door for ISIS brides and their children may not be the wisest thing to do. It is difficult to imagine the pain that the families in the UK or other countries experience as they try to get these individuals repatriated, but the fact of the matter is that this is no routine passport or nationality matter.
It is cruel to condemn these children of conflict for the sins of their parents, but presumably we should consider this as just another casualty of war… Another reason people oppose the return of such offspring has to do with the ISIS media campaign about three years ago which focused on the ‘cubs of the caliphate’ or ‘ashbal al khilafa’, and showed how these children were being brutalised from an early age: trained as child soldiers, used as executioners — steeped in violence and bloody rhetoric.
If the children of ISIS were to be allowed into their parent’s country, how would their psychological state be assessed and would it not be even more cruel to bar the slightly older ones from such a facility simply because they had more years of growing up in terror and violence?
There is no easy answer here. But we are living through really difficult and bloody times. The twenty-first century is marked by the rise of insularity, intolerance and fascism and an increasing move away from rational discourse and humane values, and this is all happening in the midst of the violence that has been unleashed on the Arab and Islamic world and which has leaked into the countries largely responsible for the foreign policy that has facilitated this.
The children of ISIS are in a sort of limbo. Many countries are trying quietly to rehabilitate them and deal with their trauma, but a large number of them will probably die in the foreign land their parent chose to go and fight in.