What Should We Do With Shamima Begum?
What Should We Do With Shamima?
The Home Secretary’s reaction to the problem posed by Shamima Begum’s desire to come home is surely right. The safety of the public must come first. This is a woman who is unrepentant about her complicity in the crimes of ISIS. But it turns out that we cannot make her stateless under international law and her child has a right to become a British citizen. So the only alternative is to bring her home and try her through judicial procedure. But perhaps it is her very lack of repentance that offers a chink of light. She could have eased her way by pretending to re-embrace western values but she didn’t. Whatever else she may be, she is honest. She also offers us a chance too, perhaps, to re-think what we mean by western values.
However evil your enemy is, however misguided, however revolting his arrogance and cruelty, it is always a mistake not to try to look at things from his point of view if you are to have a hope of entering his mind and converting him. We see ourselves as democratic, civilized, desiring only to do good in the world. People who join ISIS do not see us like that. They see the broken promises to the Arabs after the first World War. We promised them self-rule. Instead Britain and France carved up the Arab lands for themselves under Sykes-Picot. They see how we aided and abetted the Jews driving them out of their ancestral homes in Palestine. Of course, it was more complicated than that, it always is. But people reduce issues to their obvious simplicities. They always do. They see how the British stole and plundered so many countries in the nineteenth century, talking smugly and odiously of their civilizing mission and the white man’s burden. They see the vicious reaction to the Indian Mutiny, the leaders fired still living out of the mouths of canon. They see the opium wars and the concentration camps in Kenya in the nineteen fifties where thousands of Kikuyu were castrated and tortured under Harold Macmillan’s government, Toff Mac the while striding the moors in his plus fours and the British, though not the Kikuyu, never having it so good.
And then came the Iraq war. It is hard to exaggerate the self-delusion, the folly and malign consequences of this most unfortunate of ventures. I am prepared to believe that Tony Blair, an incurable romantic rather than the devious liar as he is so often supposed to be although I am not sure we could say that about George Bush, Tony Blair really did imagine he was going to free people from tyrants and bring democracy to people who were thirsting for a bit of the British. Can we have beefeaters too and Black Rod and fish and chips as well, effendi? But those on the receiving end of shock and awe didn’t see it like that. To them it was a clear signal that the West was up to its old imperialist tricks. What would you have done if you were in their situation? Would you too not have fought them on the beaches and the landing grounds? Is there not a slice of justification, in view of past history, in the way they see things? Yes they did terrible things in defence of their values. But did we not incinerate 25,000 men, women and children, most of them innocent, in Dresden, and another 40,000 in Hamburg, in defence of ours? People do terrible things in wars.
But we now have a wonderful opportunity to put all this behind us. Now the whole of humanity is threatened by the nature is has so unthinkingly and unfeelingly abused. We now have a wonderful opportunity to do that most difficult of things, to stop living in the past and live in the present. Even the most fervent of imperialists will admit that the British Empire was not without flaw. Can we not try a few apologies instead of shock and awe? Could we not invite Shamima Begum to stop thinking about Sykes-Picot and start thinking about climate change? We are still a rich nation, although whether we still will be after Brexit is an unanswered question. Even the most fervent of imperialists would admit we took on responsibilities as well as wealth from the countries we colonized. Could we not show an earnest of our changed intentions by giving them more help to resist climate change? How about trying out this approach on Shemima Begum? What, under the Tories? No chance, effendi. They all read theDaily Mail.