Although a phrase that has become more commonplace in recent years where desperate Z-list celebrities and even the living rooms of plebs on the telly are concerned, ‘makeover’ has nonetheless been a routine PR tool in showbiz circles ever since the dawn of mass media. Hollywood effectively wrote the manual, formulating a familiar device to extend careers as Tinsel Town’s leading ladies received makeovers via the magic of the lighting men on set, keeping the ageing process at bay before excessive cosmetic surgery found a way to do it for them. In the 21st century, most post-Madonna female pop stars seem to ‘get sexy’ when seeking to re-launch their fading stock, and squeaky-clean members of clean-cut boy-bands usually embark on solo careers by forgetting to shave whilst suddenly acquiring a Maori-like range of tattoos, supposedly to signify ‘street cred’ – all examples of the makeover in action. Turd-polishers have never had it so good these days, though I would imagine even the most experienced would have faced an unusually tough challenge when entrusted with transforming a Jihadi bride into a sexy R&B siren.
Okay, so the team behind Shamima Begum’s makeover didn’t exactly team her up with Jay-Z and persuade her to filter her vocals through the tiresome Auto-tune machinery; but there was no mistaking the look Ms Begum’s posse were aiming for when she resurfaced shorn of her regulation burqa, dressed in the style most girls her age would have seamlessly slipped into had they not had their adolescence disrupted by signing-up to an Islamic death cult. Sure, Shamima had followed a not-uncommon path by becoming a teenage mother, even if the grotesque circumstances and tragic outcome of her brief parenthood singled her out from her contemporaries. But a large part of the campaign to regain her British citizenship was a cleverly-orchestrated effort aimed at portraying Shamima Begum as ‘just’ an ordinary girl via her dress sense, not to mention rebranding her as that most profitable personality in the current celebrity firmament, the Victim.
As befitting someone seeking rehabilitation in the eyes of the general public following such widespread and extreme demonisation, Shamima Begum has been embraced by the left-leaning quarters of the MSM, with the usual suspects queuing-up to declare their support; the BBC even gave her a platform to state her case with a podcast. Their argument is that, as an impressionable 15-year-old at the time of her conversion to ISIS and her flight to Syria, Shamima Begum was essentially ‘trafficked’ and didn’t know what she was letting herself in for; by the time it belatedly dawned on her what her role in the Jihadi hierarchy amounted to, it was too late. Of course, teenage girls going astray and running away from home is hardly a scenario unique to this day and age, though the majority of young ladies who do so tend to be either in search of the bright lights or have fallen under the spell of a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Joining an organisation whose…erm…negative elements had been heavily publicised at the time of Shamima Begum’s conversion, leaving her comfortable Western home to relocate to a war-zone, doesn’t really adhere to the standard pattern.
I recall penning a post on this subject four or five years back and the arguments haven’t really changed in the wake of the latest legal ruling that has ruled out Shamima Begum returning to the UK. As I said back then, ISIS were well-known as barbaric mass-murderers when they encroached upon Shamima Begum’s radar, so it’s not as though she could claim absolute ignorance of their aims and intentions, even if her tender years perhaps lacked the nous to see through the romantic Islamic imagery they no doubt employed to entice new recruits. And even if she was still a schoolgirl, Shamima Begum nevertheless managed to organise and successfully undertake an escape to Turkey, which suggests she possessed the kind of intelligence and skills in excess of most 15-year-olds, many of whom find keeping their bedrooms tidy a Herculean task way beyond their abilities. Shamima Begum demonstrated she was exceptionally talented in organisational terms, and this is where the ‘grooming’ narrative favoured by her supporters doesn’t necessarily hold up. Certainly, she was seduced by the Dark Web propaganda of ISIS in the same way the perpetrators of US high-school massacres are tipped over the edge by far-right websites; but one could argue the environment in which Shamima Begum was raised had primed her to respond in the way she did to this propaganda as much as troubled teens surrounded by a normalised gun culture respond to white supremacist dogma in America. Shamima Begum had grown up in a ‘multicultural’ society that had repeatedly left immigrant communities to their own devices for fear of racism accusations, a situation of separatist faith schools and in-house policing that led to the turning of blind eyes to grooming gangs on one hand and the easy radicalisation of vulnerable adolescents by unscrupulous hate-preachers on the other.
If one looks at the Shamima Begum saga from this angle, then it’s hard not to conclude she is indeed a victim; but does that excuse her actions or warrant what effectively amounts to a pardon? The newest setback to her rehabilitation has come via a court ruling upholding the decision of then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid to strip Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship in 2019. That decision was made on the grounds that Ms Begum posed a threat to British security should she be allowed to return from the Syrian refugee camp she’s been detained in for the past five years. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission essentially came to the same findings as last time round in 2020; Mr Justice Jay announced the Commission’s position with an acknowledgement that the circumstances of Shamima Begum are far from being the straightforward issue both her supporters and detractors are keen to paint it as being.
‘This commission concluded there was a credible suspicion that Ms Begum had been trafficked to Syria,’ said Justice Jay. ‘The motive for bringing her to Syria was sexual exploitation to which, as a child, she could not give her valid consent. The commission also concluded that there were arguable breaches of duty on the part of various state bodies in permitting Ms Begum to leave the country as she did and eventually cross the border from Turkey into Syria.’ The Judge went on to state that Sajid Javid’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her British nationality remained founded in genuine security concerns that even the trafficking aspect of the story didn’t render redundant. ‘There is some merit in the argument that those advising the secretary of state see this as a black and white issue,’ he added, ‘when many would say that there are shades of grey…if asked to evaluate all the circumstances of Ms Begum’s case, reasonable people with knowledge of all the relevant evidence will differ, in particular in relation to the issue of the extent to which her travel to Syria was voluntary and the weight to be given to that factor in the context of all others.’
It goes without saying that Shamima Begum’s legal team intend to fight on. They still stand by their belief that the decision of the Home Secretary in 2019 had left their client ‘de facto stateless’, with the counterargument by the British Government being that, as she was eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, they weren’t legally required to retain her rights as a UK citizen anyway. The case for Shamima Begum to be recognised as a child exploitation victim is one that the likes of Amnesty International is also in favour of, and I’ve no doubt this sorry story is far from over. The current makeover of Shamima Begum appears to have faltered, but there are undoubtedly several makeovers yet to come; and as Ms Begum herself remains indefinitely detained in Syria, the question of how responsible the 23-year-old is for the actions of her 15-year-old self is still a potent one. We all have our teenage skeletons in our adult closets, but most are merely embarrassing fashion statements; if that were all Shamima Begum’s closet contained, she’d have been back home a long time ago.
© The Editor