Tory home secretary Sajid Javid has stripped Shamima Begum of British citizenship to stop her returning from Syria.
Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana left Tower Hamlets, east London, in 2015. The secondary school pupils went to join Isis, a reactionary, sectarian outfit fighting against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Right wingers see the Shamima Begum case as an opportunity to bolster racism and the state’s powers over Muslim people in Britain.
Governments cannot make citizens stateless under international law. But Javid has said that Shamima Begum could be entitled to dual citizenship, as her family are of Bangladeshi origin.
Yet on Wednesday Shahrial Alam, Bangladesh's minister of foreign affairs, said, “Bangladesh asserts that Ms Shamima Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen. She is a British citizen by birth and never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh. There is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh.”
Her family have said they will appeal Javid's decision in the courts.
The withdrawal of citizenship is a huge punishment, delivered without trial. Shamima Begum is now stateless and with no rights or home.
But such measures have become almost routine.
In 2017 the Sunday Times reported that “More than 150 suspected jihadists and criminals have been stripped of their citizenship and banned from returning to the UK”.
Another 100 suffered the same fate last year.
Changes to the law in 2002, under New Labour, had allowed Britain’s home secretary to deprive dual-nationality Britons of their citizenship on national security grounds, without any prior approval from the courts.
The law was made even harsher under the Tories in 2014.
In 2015 then home secretary Theresa May deprived five people of their British citizenship, allegedly on terror-related grounds.
In total May stripped 33 individuals of British nationality between 2010 and 2015.
Javid has now gone further by saying the possibility, not the reality, of dual citizenship is enough to remove citizenship. He may lose in the courts.
In November last year the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission allowed an appeal by two men—codenamed E3 and N3—after closed hearings.
Allegations made by the security services were not detailed in the published judgment or shared with the men’s lawyers, who had to leave the courtroom for “closed evidence”.
The government argued they were dual British-Bangladeshi nationals, but a judge ruled that the deprivation orders had rendered them stateless and therefore violated international law.
But that won’t worry Javid. He will gather favourable media coverage and sees another chance to prove his right wing credentials to the Tory party’s racist base ahead of a leadership election.
And Shamima Begum and her child, stuck in desperate conditions in Syria, might be dead by the time the legal procedures are completed.
Right wingers and some liberals have latched onto Shamima Begum’s remarks about the horrific bombings at Manchester Arena in May 2017. They killed 22 people, including five children, as they left an Ariana Grande concert.
The Daily Mail newspaper claimed that Shamima Begum had said the Manchester bombing was “justified” because of Western airstrikes.
In fact Shamima Begum said that at the time she had accepted Isis’s line that the Manchester bombing was justified as form of retaliation. But she went on to say that it wasn’t “fair” on the women and children killed in Mancheser.
And she suggested there was an equivalence between the Manchester bombing and the mass murder by the West in the Middle East.
Certainly it is utterly hypocritical to hear denunciations of violence from those who backed mass slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan, urged on the devastation of Libya and support the bombing and starving of Yemen.
The West is responsible for the horrors of Isis. Had it not been for its imperialist wars in the Middle East, there would have been no Isis for Shamima Begum and her school friends to join.
The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq smashed its society and led to a sectarian civil war.
As soon as the US invaded, they faced resistance from both the Shia and Sunni Muslims. They drove a wedge into the opposition by creating a Shia sectarian state in the south of the country.
This left the US facing an array of Sunni resistance groups in the north of Iraq. One of them was al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, forerunner of Isis, but it was marginal because of its politics and suicide bombing strategy.
The US sought to buy off the other Sunni groups by promising to bring them in to a “national unity government” if they crushed al-Qaida. The Sunni opposition signed up—but was betrayed by the US after they’d completed the task.
This made fertile ground for Isis’s reactionary brand of sectarian politics after it had rebuilt its forces in the Syrian civil war in 2012.
The West’s wars in the Middle East and Islamophobia go hand in hand. Politicians have stoked Islamophobia in order to justify the wars abroad and divide opposition to imperialism at home.
Many liberals fall into the trap of seeing a division between “good” and “bad Muslims”—such as Shamima Begum who deserve to feel the full force of the law. But any Muslim that dares to question British foreign policy is considered to be a “bad Muslim” by the British state.
Accepting the division only helps to entrench racism against Muslims.
Shamima Begum should be allowed to return home.
Anti-racists must stand against such divisions—and argue for scrapping the whole plethora of state surveillance that Muslims face.