Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

The sinister celebrification of Shamima Begum

Shamima Begum (Credit: BBC/Joshua Baker)

So is Shamima Begum a celebrity now? Tonight, a documentary about her airs on BBC Two. Over the weekend, her picture was splashed on the front page of the Times Magazine. ‘I was in love with the idea of the Islamic State. I was in denial. Now I have a lot of regret’, says the strapline, next to a pic of a madeover Begum sporting a fetching vest, baseball cap and fire-engine red nail polish. How long till she has her own reality TV show? The Only Way Is Raqqa, perhaps.

The media’s sympathy for Shamima Begum is starting to creep me out. Lovingly framed, soft-lens photos accompany the interview. She stares doe-eyed into the camera and pleads for our understanding. The reason she fled Bethnal Green for Raqqa was because she was ‘not content’ with her life, she says. Fetch me my tiny violin. Most teens are not content with their lives but they don’t run away to join a genocidal death cult that was beheading Christians and burning to death Yazidi girls in iron cages.

This is the thinnest and most nauseating claim to victimhood I have seen in some time

The Times piece is written by Josh Baker. He also made the BBC’s ten-part podcast about Begum. One of the episodes was called ‘I’m not a monster’. Some wannabe celebs would give their left arm for a glamorous magazine photo-shoot and a hit pod on BBC Sounds. Forget going on Love Island or Big Brother – it seems the speediest route to stardom these days is to throw your lot in with a psychotic foreign terror group.

Baker does press Begum in his Times piece. He challenges her on certain inconsistencies in her story. But overall it’s an empathetic portrait. Apparently racism in the UK was partly to blame for Begum’s decision to go on a 3,000-mile trek to join the murderous dystopia of the Islamic State.

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