I was angry when a couple of weeks ago the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, stripped IS bride Shamima Begum of her British nationality. I immediately found out what other people were saying. No doubt many were supportive of the Home Secretary’s actions, but many others disagreed.
There are two main reasons to disagree. The first is justice. Conservative MP George Freeman said, ‘I think today’s decision to strip Miss Begum of her UK citizenship is a mistake ... She was born here, educated here and is our responsibility. We should defend our system and she should be brought back to face the UK courts.’ It seems crazy that we go to such lengths to extradite some people from other parts of the world, but our Home Secretary is unwilling to allow this when the person is so willing to return home.
Sir Ed Davey MP of the Liberal Democrats said similar things: ‘I want to know how to improve national security. Here you have a huge opportunity to interview these people, to really grill them.’ But he also pointed out that by law you can’t just take away their citizenship, making them stateless. Justice comes from a variety of angles.
The second reason is compassion. Kathy Evans, CEO of Children England points out that Shamima Begum was groomed; and Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary, took a similar stance. Her leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said that Ms Begum should be ‘given our support’ – and was ridiculed for it.
Some have said that Ms Begum has shown no sign of remorse. But Abbott wrote, ‘Anyone seeing this sad teenager on the television, mouthing her ISIS “lines to take” will see a groomed and abused young woman.’
This month at Messy Church we thought about the woman ‘caught in adultery’ who was brought to Jesus (John 8.1-11). The Jews of the day could never have stoned her because only a Roman court could pass the death sentence. But the Jewish Law said that the man should be stoned as well – and where was he? Who knows what the truth was? It really doesn’t sound very fair. I wonder if Jesus knew the total truth – or did he simply respond in a wise and loving way? (see verse 11.) Jesus neither condemns nor lets her go without a challenge.
It struck me how similar this is to the case of Shamima Begum. Both women have arguably done something wrong, but neither is completely to blame for their actions, and in neither case are we sure of all the facts.
Justice and compassion aren’t always that far apart. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, expressing support for Ms Begum’s return, quoted Psalm 85: ‘Mercy and truth are met together.’ Often, people need both. And Jesus came to bring us God’s justice, and, even more so, God’s compassion and forgiveness. I’m not sure if we are a ‘Christian country’ any more, but if we are, we need to find our values in Jesus, including radical justice and radical compassion.
Which should it be for Ms Begum? We won’t know unless we allow her to come home and speak to us. And even then, it might not be straightforward – it could be a mixture.
I guess I could end this month’s thought right there, but I haven’t quite said everything I think or why I’m so concerned and angry about this.
Let’s assume that Ms Begum and her friends were groomed – and there really must have been some sort of grooming. Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills conjures up the scene on the Church Times website:
‘A 15-year-old child is groomed online by a sophisticated criminal organisation which arranges for her, and other children, to travel across international borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation. She gives birth to two children, both of whom die due to the circumstances in which she is forced to live.
‘She witnesses atrocities and “oppression” (her quote), starvation and homelessness, and is worried for her own safety and that of her unborn child. All of this is while she is below the legal age of consent. She escapes these circumstances, to become trapped having to sleep on the ground, living at starvation level, surrounded by others in similar circumstances, and guarded by an armed militia...
‘A journalist, followed by a succession of others, interviews her and puts that interview in the public realm, jeopardising any criminal or legal investigation that may need to take place. She is clearly exhausted and traumatised, and unused to having to choose her words carefully. She states her time was “good” in that she has grown through the experience — while sitting next to a woman in a niqab who is holding her crying newborn. We know from the testimony of other women in the camp that their every move is scrutinised...’
If this is the sort of thing that happened, then it becomes a Safeguarding case, and Ms Begum isn’t a perpetrator but a victim. She needs justice not because she’s done wrong, but because she’s been wronged. She needs compassion not because of her folly, but because she’s traumatised. It’s normal for abusers to make their victims think they are the ones to blame. And as long as our Government fails to allow her back, they perpetuate the abuse which she has suffered – abuse that would not be tolerated anywhere in Britain today.
We must now do something right: be fair, show compassion, encourage a change of heart and mind if need be, bring healing and restoration – just what Jesus did for so many people – and still does.
With every blessing