“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
Near the end of The Shamima Begum Story, Josh Baker asked her a question we often hear: ‘What would you tell your fifteen-year-old self?’
Shamima’s answer is as you’d expect. ‘Don’t go.’ But the honesty many of us would recognise comes with the afterthought. ‘I probably wouldn’t have listened.’
Ought never is in our fifteen-year-old lives. Not even maybe. I should do more. Be more. But I am indifferent. I am not she-made-her-bed-and-should- lie-in-it school of thought. That would be a hectoring step beyond indifference.
Rationality v Irrationality.
Allow Begum home. If she has committed crimes, she should face trial. The Nuremberg Trials, for example, were a collective response to genocide. They did not include the curious case of a teenage guard at Auschwitz, who fled to America after the war. She married a German Jew. Not surprisingly, telling him little of her past. I’m sick enough to find that quite funny. She later was tried for war crimes in Austria.
The Begum affair is, of course, follows a familiar pattern of how moral outrage becomes moral panic. Like all witch hunts her presence would rot children’s bones. Her threat is dressed in the modern clothes of an ongoing security crisis. She belonged to ISIS. She will always belong to ISIS. And is likely to commit a terrorist outrage when allowed back into England. This is the ongoing narrative used to exclude refugees. Women and children fleeing war in Ukraine, for example, were classified as a security threat. The Polish government, who took millions of refugees, urged Boris Johnston’s government to help more. Not to take as many women and children as Germany, because that wouldn’t happen, but as many as say a comparable nation, France. In the scramble to deny entry because of paperwork and apparent security issues, government ministers lied and lied again. A Ukrainian family in Paris, for example, hoping to come to London were told to contact government officials in a Paris office that didn’t exist. Passing the buck didn’t work because of media attention.
Begum, born and raised in Bethnal Green, has her right of British Citizenship revoked. An outraged reporter asked if she felt responsible for the children killed at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena. By then Begum was in a refugee camp in the Syrian desert, bordering Turkey. Her guard were Kurds. The Turkish President, Erdogan classifies Kurds as an ongoing threat to Turkish security and terrorists. Begum was no longer stalked by paparazzi and photographed in a hijab. She wore a baseball cap and white t-shirt with a hint of breast. With her long hair and full lips, she looked like a teenager that could have attended the Ariana Grande concert. But she was no longer a teenager. She was pregnant at sixteen and lost five children. Two before birth and three toddlers afterwards. Her son died of pneumonia in a Turkish hospital. She had to have special permission to take her dying child outside the camp to try and save him.
Yes or No questions are a way of shutting down debate. You’re black or white, yes or no? No blacks. No Irish. No dogs. That well-known message scrawled on rooms for rent in London suburbs in the sixties and early seventies. I qualify on the Irish side of things. Perhaps even the dog side. I didn’t get a vote on this. As a non-practicing Catholic, are you responsible for the decades of child abuse perpetuated by members of your clergy? As a Jew, are you responsible for the oppression of Palestine nationals? Do you feel responsible for children murdered in the Manchester Arena at the Ariana Grande concert?
I can answer no here. I didn’t know who the singer was before the killing of 22 people and the injury of hundreds at the Manchester Arena by a suicide bomber. I was in Scotland. Begum in Syria. With moral outrage few dare to ask questions about the government’s duty of care. Prevention being better than cure. We don’t live in America and allow children handguns.
The bungling by MI5 and MI6. When three children show up at Gatwick Airport and purchase one-way tickets to Turkey, shouldn’t someone ask questions about security, or even common decency? When three girls spend several days in a bus station in Turkey waiting to meet child smugglers, known to the Canadian secret service, and presumably, therefore, the British intelligence service, shouldn’t they have stopped him? Arrested him?
What if fifteen-year-old Shane MacGowan joined the IRA and hadn’t swapped his white England—until I die—shirt with the three lions for the green of Ireland, and instead of wailing about the New York drunk tank with national treasure Kirsty MacColl?
Every Celtic match supporters sings pro-IRA songs. Listen in. Every Rangers’ match, until they were repeatedly fined by UEFA on an escalating scale they’d be ‘Up to their knees in Fenian blood. Surrender or you die’. Historically, they favoured the die option. When I heard about the Brighton bombing, my only regret was they didn’t get Thatcher. ‘Ding-Dong the witch is dead,’ was a tweet when she died. By then I felt sorry for her, she’d Alzheimer’s disease. I could change my mind. But I was largely indifferent. The damage was done. I’d new hate figures in the Laurel and Hardy of British politics, Cameron and Osborne. The moron’s moron and 45th American President. Boris Johnston and all his lies and likes.
Shamima Begum is not allowed to change her mind, or that shows she’s lying. Even changing her clothes makes her suspect. I feel sorry for her. She wants to come back and live in Great Britain, where she was born. I’d let her, but I’m indifferent. If you want to get worked up about that I don’t really care about that either. As a rule of thumb, whatever position the moron’s moron and Nigel Farage unofficial leader of the Tory Party takes, I take the opposite view. What about you?
At 15, Shamima Begum left London to join the terror group Islamic State. It made global headlines. She and her two friends became known as the Bethnal Green Girls. Four years later, pregnant with her third child, Begum emerged from the ashes of the so-called caliphate, desperate to come home. But she showed little remorse for her time with the group. The British government decided she was a threat and took away her citizenship, leaving her in a Syrian prison camp. Her lawyers claim she is a victim of trafficking and should be allowed to return to the UK.
For the first time, she’s given her account of what happened since 2014 to investigative journalist Josh Baker. He’s been following her story since the day she left, trying to understand what really happened. For more than a year, he’s retraced her journey, piecing together where she went, who she met and what she did while she was living with IS to try and find out the truth about Shamima Begum’s story.