Life

Leona O'Neill on why 'Isis mother' Shamima Begum deserves compassion

Shamima Begum may have gone to Syria to wage war on the west, but that doesn't mean we should just lock the teenage mother up and throw away the key now that she wants to come home, writes Leona O'Neill

We should show compassion to this young mother who has experienced tragedy
Leona O'Neill

THE case of the young English mother who was radicalised, moved to Syria and joined IS but now wants to come home has fiercely divided opinions.

Shamima Begum left her home in Bethnal Green in 2015 to join Isis. Shamima, who doesn't appear to be anyway remorseful about her association with Isis, has gone public with her plea to be allowed to come home and live quietly with her child in Britain.

The story has sparked widespread debate and emotions are running high. It is a highly complex situation and one which jars the consciences of many.

As an impressionable 15-year-old girl, Shamima left east London and travelled to Syria after being influenced by Isis videos online. She left with three teenage girls, one of whom was later killed in a house bombing, the other whose fate is unknown.

She got married to a Dutch convert to Islam and had two children with him, both of whom later died. At 19 she escaped an Isis stronghold in Syria and, at nine months pregnant and worried for her baby, made her way to a refugee camp where she gave birth to a baby boy over the weekend. She now hopes to return to her family in England.

The 19-year-old told Sky News: "People should have sympathy towards me for everything I've been through."

But asked if she had made a mistake by leaving her home and travelling to Syria she said: "In a way, yes, but I don't regret it because it's changed me as a person. It's made me stronger, tougher.

"I married my husband. I wouldn't have found someone like him back in the UK. I had my kids, I did have a good time there. It's just that then things got harder and I couldn't take it anymore."

But as a war of words erupted over her being allowed back into Britain, she told the news channel that she was "just a housewife for the entire four years" and that "they don't really have proof I did anything that is dangerous".

She talked about IS beheadings, saying she was "OK with it", that she didn't regret going to Syria until her child died and that she "never did anything dangerous, never made propaganda, never encouraged people to come to Syria".

She said that she hopes that she and her young son will have a good future in England.

"Yes, if the UK are willing to take me back and help me start a new life again," she said.

"I'm just trying to move on from everything that's happened over the last four years."

There is no excusing what Shamima did. She joined a fundamentalist death cult who are waging war on the western world and she doesn't seem to be in any way remorseful. Her age when she first travelled could be seen as an excuse, but many of us were impressionable teenagers who refrained from signing up to murderous organisations.

If she comes back to Britain she will no doubt have questions to answer, and may perhaps even face prison. She could have her baby son taken from her. Yet she still wants to come home so he can have a better life and survive in an environment outside a refugee camp.

If treated properly Shamima could help to provide insight into the mindset and structure of Isis and could help prevent future attacks.

Life is hard and gritty and people make mistakes and do stupid things when they are young and easily influenced. If we can just look past the parts of someone's story that jar with our own beliefs to see the human being beyond, then maybe we can meet somewhere in the middle.

Strip it all back and here is a teenage mother, a British citizen, wanting to keep her baby son safe after losing two children, all born before she was even 20-years-old. There surely is some way that a compromise or arrangement could be worked out which means we wouldn't have to cast this young woman adrift.

Showing compassion to a young woman who has seen more tragedy and heartache than most, who watched her two babies die and is desperate to keep her third alive would be the right thing to do.

If she has committed crimes, she should be punished. Treating her with mercy and compassion could go some way in preventing other impressionable teenagers from being radicalised.

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