Lewis Denby wrote:I'm super horrified by so many responses to the incredibly complicated Shamima Begum case (including by some people on my FB list tbh). "It's ISIS, even a 15 year old should know how dreadful a group ISIS is", "She shows no remorse", and "She's a threat to national security" seem to be the most common problematic responses. I've been listening to Rukmini Callimachi's phenomenal podcast Caliphate again recently - so largely for my own sanity, I'm gonna break these down based on what I've learned.
1) You gotta understand that ISIS has an entire recruitment strategy based around taking vulnerable Muslim children - kids who feel isolated and out of place and insecure about their faith - and making them feel like they have a new family. They hang out on message boards and groom kids, in the same way child sex offenders do. Over time, they paint ISIS as the misunderstood side of the story. Illustrate how they've been turned into the boogieman by the West. Show how Western society will never appreciate them they way ISIS does. They make lonely kids feel safe and wanted and make their home nation seem like the real enemy.
Then - here's the genius bit - having spent the past however long praising them for their faith, they then start to cast doubts in their mind. "Wait, you didn't know you were supposed to reject those around you who aren't Muslim? Have you even read the Quran? Maybe you don't understand this as much as we thought you did..." They make vulnerable kids feel safe and welcome for the first time in their life, then play on their insecurities to get them to fall in line. They employ professional recruiters to carry out this strategy. It's a dastardly sales technique, masterful psychological manipulation. Begum may have known what she was doing, but she didn't fully understand why.
2) Once you're in ISIS, their MO is essentially threefold, two of which are relevant here. One, they break down your empathy. Two, they convince you that everything they're asking you to do is religiously justified.
So they have counsellors who coach you through the process of leaving behind your family. Who teach you how to suppress any feelings of shame. For the men, who sign up for battle, they walk you through the emotions you're gonna feel when you first kill someone. They start you off in the slaughterhouse, then they have realistic mannequins that you kill, then you do your first kill as part of a firing squad, and all along there are people whose job it is to work with your emotions with the goal of removing your ability to fucking *feel* anything.
You're living in a community of people who are constantly showing you how the group's actions are justified. They have educated acedemics, who teach you how to interpret certain sections of the Quran in new ways. Remember, you're a vulnerable, probably uneducated kid. They use that authority to convince you. And there's no one around to help you challenge that. Over time, as your emotions are worn down, you grow to believe that to show remorse would be sacreligious anyway. It is a tremendously common thing among new ISIS defectors, to have realised there are problems with ISIS and to want to leave, while refusing to accept that you regret joining and supporting them in the first place. Radicalisation takes time to deprogram.
3) Yeah, maybe she is a threat to national security. Who knows? I have to trust that the correct procedures will be followed to ascertain this, and that if she is, she will receive a custodial sentence, just like other people who are a threat to national security or those around them.
But to strip her of her citizenship? That's playing into ISIS' hands.
Remember I said their MO is threefold? The third thing they do is they make you believe that no one outside of ISIS will ever take them back. It's how they get people to stay for long enough to break them. They take vulnerable, isolated children, and make them believe that ISIS is the only place they will ever again be safe and loved. And every time a country behaves like this to one of their own citizens, you can be sure that becomes propaganda material. "Look at the callous, uncaring West, rejecting unhappy Muslim kids yet again."
The way we break ISIS' propaganda and programming strategy is by proving it to be demonstrably false. Let Begum be tried in a court of law if needs be. But for goodness sake, bring her back, and show some fucking humanity. She was a child. She was groomed and brainwashed and programmed and had her entire sense of self destroyed and rebuilt by a murderous cult. To say she asked for it, that she deserves what she got, is the height of victim blaming.
I implore anyone who hasn't listened to Caliphate to do so - it's an extraordinary bit of reporting, phenomenal insight into a group that has surprisingly complex ways of operating, and how they managed to get tens of thousands of troubled kids to join up with them. It's terrifying, but I think it explains a lot of this really well.
Couple of updates.
1) Welp, this went a bit viral, that's a surprise. In light of this I want to clarify two things that have been strangely misconstrued a few times.
One: You can feel free to take this as a complete and utter rejection of ISIS and its beliefs and and behaviours. It is a terrorist group, a fake state that has only ever existed to expand and exert power, in the name of a religion that almost exclusively rejects its ideologies. ISIS has done, and continues to do, awful things, one of which is to employ sophisticated indoctrination techniques to convince young and vulnerable children to join its ranks. This makes it an enormously complicated situation - because in a very real sense, they are both criminals and victims.
Two: I have no idea whether or not Begum is a security threat. The correct way to deal with this, if there is a suspicion that she is, would be to put her on trial. Due process can then be followed to determine the best way to deal with the situation in order to protect the wider population. All I know is that ISIS indoctrinates children and that, in this sense, she is a victim. In any case, she is not just being treated as guilty before being proven so, but ripped of her citizenship - something so fundamentally a part of a human being's rights - before there has been any attempt to understand the circumstances of her joining ISIS, and pretty much exclusively because of the media attention on her specifically (and not the hundreds of other people who have been allowed to return from the IS and keep their citizenship). That's what is at issue here.
2) The foreign minister of Bangladesh has just now released a statement saying Begum cannot claim Bangladeshi citizenship. This means that if the UK proceeds with its plans to revoke her British citizenship, Begum will be stateless. This means she will not legally be able to settle anywhere on the planet. It is to sentence her to life as either a refugee or a criminal. It is also in breach of international law but I honestly think that's beside the point.