Christianity and Shamima Begum


As readers will no doubt be aware, Shamima Begum’s quest to have her British citizenship returned to her has failed yet again. I’m not going to get into the details of why, and of what sort of threat she poses to our national security. Nor am I concerned with why she went to join ISIS or what she did there. All of that has been covered amply in the media.

I am far more concerned – indeed, disturbed – by the hatred that has been generated towards this young woman, who was a mere child when she left home. She had been failed by her parents, failed by her teachers and failed by the state, which has never done enough to prevent the radicalisation of young, impressionable minds. What price the emphasis on safeguarding?

Then she was trafficked for sex. How else would a 15-year-old schoolgirl travel as she did? Other people must have made all the arrangements. How many of us can be confident that all the decisions we made at 15 were correct and safe? Surely, it should be the negligence of those responsible for her safety and well-being which should be the subject of criticism, and where appropriate, punishment; it’s those who brainwashed and radicalised her who should be pursued, and the traffickers who should be behind bars.

Instead, it is this young woman who has been subjected to a campaign of vilification and contempt, especially by the worst elements of the British popular press. That she has been badly let down in her own country and, yes, even worse in the environment she travelled to, where she was almost certainly treated as a sex-slave by her ‘husband’, and endured the trauma of losing three babies, is callously disregarded by her critics.

Now the courts have confirmed that the government’s denial of her British citizenship is lawful. At least some commentators offer a fairer judgement: for example in The Guardian:

“The government peddles a caricature so we don’t see her for what she is: a child trafficking victim groomed in the UK”. In the UK

All this in a country that considers itself civilised, a country with a strong Christian tradition ‒ upon which our values are still based, despite the degree of secularisation of recent decades; a country whose monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The majority of British people of the older generation were brought up as Christian and educated according to Christian ethos. Even now the daily act of worship is still compulsory in schools, which might be a surprise to many.

As a practising Christian, I have been taught to forgive, and to love my enemies, which is not easy! The various readings for Mass on Sunday 19 February offered the following exhortations: 

“You will not harbour hatred for your brother.”

“You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against the members of your race, but will love your neighbour as yourself.”

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart.”

“But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; you have heard that it has been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’

You have heard that it has been said, ‘You shall love your neighbour, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies: do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.”

Many of those who will have cheered the news that Shamima was still being denied British citizenship last week will have heard those readings… but not listened to them. Anyone with a conscience would not have such a vindictive attitude to this young woman, the victim of child-trafficking.

What level of hypocrisy allows those who one day worship their god – our God – on the next, to write headlines containing expressions such as “Isis terror bride” and “Sympathy? You must be kidding”?

And what level of hypocrisy allows British Christians to condemn such a victim to lifelong exile, statelessness and vilification by her fellow British citizens?! Where is the forgiveness? Where is the compassion?  Where is the Christianity?