This week the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, decided not to allow Shamima Begum to return to this country, stripping her of her British citizenship and arguing that she is instead the responsibility of Bangladesh.
His decision to do so has not been universally popular, but others have argued that the UK should not go easy on the young Isis bride. Brendan O’Neill, in an article for the Spectator, said he has ‘been worried about the moral compass of the chattering classes for a while now… But even I have been taken aback by the sympathy for Begum. It points to a complete unanchoring of sections of the opinion-forming set from any sense of morality.’ He said that Begum should not have her citizenship removed. Instead, he argued, she should be brought back to this country and tried ‘as a traitor to the British people.’
But O’Neill is missing a key point here. While a revolutionary tribunal might try someone ‘as a traitor,’ in Britain, that would be to put the tumbril before the horse. The show trial in which traitors are paraded as guilty from the start is not the British way. Traditionally the purpose of a trial in this country is to find out whether the defendants have committed a crime or not. We gather evidence, select a charge, see whether it can be proved. If it can be, a sentence follows and even at that stage the judge can – and often does – show compassion, especially if the defendant was very young, or exploited to some extent by others at the time the crime was committed.
The apparent contempt for the rule of law demonstrated by O’Neill is alarming. In a different way, this attitude is also shown by the Home Secretary.