Shamima Begum: A Terrorist or Victim?

Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines

trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs

Was Shamima Begum not a classic case of the worst part of the globalisation today? A fifteen year old girl from an immigrant family who was groomed online by a terrorist organisation for means of exploitation. She is certainly getting the expected backlash online that one could expect considering the circumstances. But is she a terrorist or victim?

I have found it hard to find an article framing her as the latter; which I believe she is.  Most news articles focus on the framing her as a terrorist and also on elite opinion regarding her future. There seems to be a strong following calling for her citizenship to be witheld or revoked but she is still a young woman who lost her three children. I have previously written about how girls can be trafficked from the west into zones of conflict.

In 2015 (the year the Bethnal trio left for Syria) almost 3,500 Western fighters joined Islamic state in one form or another. Notably, about 550 of these fighters were women. These women were lured there by the same means of exploitation that pedophiles use in online “grooming in Western countries; notably Social Media. An expert on female involvement in terrorist organisations – Mia Bloom stated:

“[It] is very similar in terms of platform, process, alienation of parents, [and] creating an environment of secrecy.”

The solution I argue, is to have her citizenship restored, receive psycho-social/bereavement support and reintegration into society. I have seen first hand benefits of such practice in cases of human trafficking and young female victims from my time in a local NGO in Nairobi, Kenya. War is obviously a traumatic experience and for a teenager it must be brutal. Being a person without citizenship seems unhelpful and further adds to the cruelty endured by the Shamima Begum.

Additionally, I feel its relevant to make a point relating to the UN which the United Kingdom is a member. I have rarely seen such an outcry over the UN and its acts of terror. There have been several reports of atrocities carried out by UN troops in areas where they claim to be keeping the peace. Central African Republic, Cambodia, DRC and Somalia among many other places are just some examples where there have seen such behaviour by people in positions of overwhelming power. This was highlighted in a study developed by the Associated Press (AP). Its showed that between 2004 and 2016, there were almost 2,000 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against its peacekeepers.

Among them is Noella, who sold bananas and mobile phone credit near the Tanzanians’ U.N. base after her parents could no longer afford her school fees. Early one morning just days after her 15th birthday in December 2014, she said, a Tanzanian peacekeeper called out to her and offered her $20. She thought he wanted phone credit.“A few minutes later, he threw himself on top of me and started to rape me,” she said. “I said nothing to my parents because I was afraid.”In a rare move, she reported the rape and identified the peacekeeper she thought fathered her child. Tanzania went ahead and conducted DNA testing, but the test was not a match.With no proof of paternity, Noella was kicked out of her parents’ home. Now she struggles to raise her 2-year-old child on her own. (Associacted Press)

Such stories as these are all too common but rarely gets the media attention to that of Shamima Begum. Is there a call for these troops to have citizenship revoked? Could it be argued that troops have terrorised the communities they occupy? Ben Wallace, the Minister for Security said that it was not worth sending people to assist citizens who left for Syria, groomed or otherwise as their “actions have consequences”. At 15 years of age Shamima Begum is being made an example of by the British Government. But she is a victim who made a stupid decision.

According to cult specialist Lynne Wallis:

No one “joins” a cult – they are targeted and recruited. They are lovebombed initially, as part of the grooming process. They are seduced, told how special they are, told what a difference they could make to the movement. Then every argument they put forward for not believing whatever is being asked of them is carefully taken apart, bit by bit. With great skill on the part of their manipulators everything they believe is replaced with the ideology of the group.

I do not believe this will stop British citizens or people from other nationalities travelling to zones of conflict. If the reason for revoking citizenship is the stop people joining terrorist organisations I would suggest firstly ending the terror being imposed upon vulnerable communities by “peacekeepers” from UN member states. Then some credibility would be attained and the British government could then be taken seriously in its support of peace for its citizens and the communities it claims to assist in conflict zones.

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