You don’t have to look very far at all on social media sites to experience the torrent of racist hatred and abuse directed at Shamima Begum, the young Muslim woman who went to join IS when she was 15 years old.
I have been asked many times what I think should happen to Shamima – whether the UK should have her back, or whether to withdraw her citizenship.
What is patently clear is that as human beings we can and must do better than pour out abuse and hatred towards her. We diminish ourselves by resorting to such hate speech.
My view, as a local Christian leader is two-fold.
First, we should allow her back into the UK to face the consequences in our legal system of the decisions she made originally in leaving the UK to join IS. To fail to do so means that she is effectively stateless, floating on the ocean of rootlessness, remaining vulnerable to the depraved influence of IS and other extremist peddlers of violence and blind hatred. By stripping Shamima of her UK citizenship, the Home Secretary has played to the gallery of popular opinion and has not acted in the best interests of either the UK or Shamima Begum herself.
We know that she has said some deplorable things since she hit the news in recent weeks about her apparent lack of regrets and how she was unfazed by the gruesome sights she witnessed during her time with IS. These were clearly very unguarded utterances, but we do not know the circumstances under which she said these things, although we do know they were said in a refugee camp containing many IS sympathisers and people who are likely to have a direct influence over her fate in the immediate short term.
We do know that she has lost two children due to disease and the conditions she has found herself in. We also know that she has given birth to a baby son in the last couple of weeks. In light of this fact we should be clear that by stripping her of her UK citizenship, we are not just subjecting Shamima to being stateless and a very dangerous and uncertain future, but also an innocent new born child.
It will only be in the safety of the UK judicial system that we will ever know her true state of mind, and the degree and impact of the trauma she has experienced and the extent of any continuing sympathies with IS that she may have. To prevent her return to the UK blocks any possible way back for her, and this, as a Christian, I believe is not right.
The second thing that I consider very important is the requirement for us to hold open the possibility of restoration and rehabilitation, and therein forgiveness. The Christian faith holds out the message of God’s forgiveness to all people, whatever they have done in the past. The Christian faith has a message of robust and tough love. Face the consequences of your actions, but also know that we are all within the grasp of a forgiving and compassionate God. People, including Shamima Begum, will always have to face the consequences of their actions and be held accountable. It may be good to remember that the UK’s entire judicial system is based on accountability and justice rooted in Christian standards and ethics. This is what has historically made the UK a well-respected upholder of justice and fairness in the world. It is therefore very distressing that so much space on social media websites is now filled with the views of people whose intolerance, prejudice and hatred for the likes of Shamima Begum is so extreme and impervious to reason and grace.