Blame it on John Craven. Without ‘Newsround’, I probably wouldn’t have been aware of numerous stories that grabbed headlines when I was an otherwise disinterested schoolboy in the mid-70s, ones provoking many questions that began with the prefix ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’. Alas, poor parents, presented with enquiries re white mercenaries heading for the Dark Continent – how to explain the presence of Brits in the likes of Angola? At that time, I had yet to hear Johnny Rotten’s reference, ‘is this the MPLA?’ due to the BBC’s post-Grundy blanket ban of ‘Anarchy in the UK’, and wouldn’t have got it anyway; my babysitters (largely secretaries from my father’s firm) professed more of a fondness for The Real Thing. Maybe comparisons back then were made with those who had volunteered for action in the Spanish Civil War forty years previously. Such comparisons emerged anew when Syria exploded into conflict forty years later.
There’s a difference, though. British recruits to the International Brigades of the 1930s were mostly motivated by idealistic (if naive) anti-fascist principles, whereas 70s mercenaries were motivated by money, despite attempts to paint them as heroic upholders of White Africa at a time when minority colonials were engaged in an increasingly desperate and doomed struggle to retain control over the natives and their Marxist leanings. Come the Arab Spring aftermath and the turmoil it gave birth to in Syria, however, religion reared its ugly head as the prime motivator and did so via newfangled methods of recruitment courtesy of the inter-web thingy.
It’s interesting in a week that saw sympathy for professional pissers on yet another famous grave – those whose bladders were emptied for the voyeuristic delectation of TV viewers prepared to accept their wobbly testimony against a dead man as Gospel (yes, we’ve been here before) – that concepts of innocent children groomed by knowing elders didn’t extend to those rendered stateless by their misplaced embrace of a nihilistic philosophy that even racism sniffer-dogs like Lammy and Abbott are hard-pressed to present as one more legacy of Evil White Men. Yesterday, it was confirmed that the baby born to ‘ISIS Bride’ Shamima Begum has died in the same refugee camp that his short, miserable life began in just three weeks ago.
It must be difficult for Guardian readers to fall back on favoured accusations when the blood of this unfortunate British subject is seemingly on the hands of a Home Secretary who inconveniently happens to be a Muslim. The decision of Sajid Javid to strip the baby’s mother of her citizenship has been seen by some as a cynical, populist move in a bid for the Tory leadership during the run-up to Theresa May’s imminent exit, whereas others have viewed it as another example of the Home Secretary’s ‘Coconut’ tendencies. Whichever perspective one takes, however, the refusal to retrieve Shamima Begum and her newborn from the Syrian hellhole they were discovered in by the war correspondent for the Times has now taken a tragic turn with this latest announcement.
The recruitment of deluded British Muslims to the ISIS cause in Syria four or five years back was facilitated by the same call-to-romantic-arms previously utilised by old-school paramilitary outfits such as the IRA. In the States, armchair Irish Republicans who had never set foot in the Emerald Isle gleefully contributed to the begging bowls passed around Boston bars, having being seduced by deep-rooted sentimental attachment to inherited Irishness; but (luckily for those funding ‘the revolution’) flying to Belfast to participate in person wasn’t deemed necessary. Comparisons with Brits who made the journey to Spain eighty years ago are more prescient in the case of Syria, though few of those 30s idealists rushed to join the fascist cause; the prevailing aim was to fight fascism. In contrast, home-grown ISIS recruits were knowingly signing-up to a blatantly barbaric death cult that had never shied away from publicising its methods of madness; nobody, however young, naive or gullible, could have responded to the ISIS cry for help utterly ignorant of what it would ultimately entail. Shamima Begum showed herself to be a resourceful young woman far from clueless when she embarked on her backpacking gap-year with a difference, despite being legally defined as a child. She’s still only just 19, yet is now stateless, and has three dead babies to her name. At least she’s one 19-year-old who can’t blame Brexit for ‘stealing her future’.
In the recent blitz of media coverage afforded this articulate adolescent since her discovery, the absence of remorse in her account of her Jihadi holiday convinced many that bringing her back would sow seeds of future atrocities on home soil. Had she sought public redemption by shedding tears and pleading for forgiveness in the manner of a disgraced celebrity coached by Max Clifford before the late PR guru was hoisted by his own petard, perhaps the assertion that she poses no threat to the UK would have sealed her return; post-Diana, few emotional gestures provoke a sympathetic response in Brits more than the waterworks. Instead, like a disability claimant failing an ATOS assessment, Begum forgot to play the victim and has therefore faced the harshest consequences.
The complicated case of Shamima Begum and what to do with her has presented politicians with many problems, and in the process has exposed some double standards in the definition of children. If, rather than volunteering for Holy War service, Begum had been involved in a sexual relationship with her teacher when weeks away from her 16th birthday, she would have been viewed as an innocent, blameless victim of grooming and regarded as unable to distinguish between consent and rape. Yet, the fact she made her way to join ISIS in Syria as a 15-year-old by cannily using her older sister’s passport appears to negate the blameless innocence that would have applied in the aforementioned other circumstances. Yes, the facts suggest she knowingly endorsed the philosophy of an organisation committed to eradicating western civilisation – one responsible for the deaths of many of Begum’s countrymen and women; but surely the indoctrination she received presumably online and (possibly) within her own community is a classic case of grooming as so severely defined in other areas of the law?
Blair’s disastrous faith schools policy and the willingness of police and politicians to leave ‘them’ to their own devices when it comes to education and designs for life for fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobic has helped engineer the situation that allows some Muslim communities to be effectively governed in the style of Mafiosi Sicily or the East End during the reign of the Krays. It has enabled hate preachers to have a platform or underage white girls to be repeatedly abused by gangs or a 15-year-old Muslim schoolgirl to voluntarily put herself in one of the most dangerous environments on the planet. Sadly, the multicultural fault-lines run much deeper than one person stripped of her nationality or one freshly buried baby.
© The Editor