Following the loss of her third child, we need to talk about Shamina Begum – the British teenage runaway not the black-shrouded, Isis-bride hate figure who we have seen giving excruciating TV interviews in recent weeks.
So inept have these media performances been that they have helped bring her extraordinary vilification. She’s been stripped of UK citizenship and driven into hiding, her image even used as a target on a shooting range.
Of course, security is paramount and due diligence must be done but on the face of it she appears to have been more domestic drudge/sex slave than fighter. Yet it’s been impossible to have a balanced discussion about her, so hysterical has our reaction been. Ever since she was tracked down to a squalid refugee camp on the Syrian border, our fear and loathing of radical Islamists seem to have robbed us of our poise and ability to engage in critical analysis.
The current ‘Jihad’ is different from those of history because it has been brought close to home. Attacks in Manchester and London, together with the wickedly cruel execution videos, have panicked us. What scares us most is the fanaticism, cult of death and barbarism beyond the experience of most of us.
While some ill-advised folk bandy about terms like “Nazi” and “fascist”, I suspect they don’t really understand the true meaning of these words. The generation that did understand and faced down real fanaticism 80 years ago have all but gone. I suspect their response to Shamina would have been more measured.
And the sickening mosque attacks in New Zealand show murderous fanaticism is not confined to any one religion or group of people.
It’s understandable that we should be frightened by Isis, but that should not blind us or rob us of our good sense. Separate the fear and loathing, ignore the black shrouds, and we have a 15-year-old girl who ran off in bad company and ended up in trouble. It’s an age-old story, since time immemorial. Impressionable, naive or just plain daft young boys and girls jump the fence and run off to the Foreign Legion, The Moonies or any other dodgy destination you may care to think of. One or two come to grief but usually they drift home eventually.
Our response especially to the girls has changed over time especially to those who return pregnant. In the 19th century, such lassies were considered morally incompetent and often detained in lunatic asylums without limit of time, more recently the institutional cruelty of women and baby units with forced adoption was the fate of many such unfortunates. Fortunately in between such harsh responses many runaways were simply welcomed back into loving families, their juvenile mistakes forgiven and eventually forgotten.
In our present enlightened times, we recognise juvenile runaways for what they are – usually vulnerable and in need of help, more to be pitied than despised. And when you look past the black robes and the gauche ineptitude of her media image, that’s what you see in Shamina, a naive immature girl who made a horrible mistake. And like it or not she is one of ours, if she does not settle in The Netherlands with her husband, we have a duty of care. So let’s not be scared out of our good judgment, let’s not get distracted by knee-jerk political posturing – our panic shames us. We know what to do in the case of Shamina so, with level heads and professional confidence, we should get on with it.
Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable