Shamima Begum is back in the news. Firstly because she’s had a makeover. She can be seen on the front page of today’s Telegraph sporting long, flowing locks, trendy shades and Western clothing. Is Shamima the Islamist now aspiring to be Shamima the celeb? Perhaps she’s angling for her own reality TV show: The Real Housewives of Raqqa.
But the second reason she’s in the news is because the British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor has expressed sympathy for her. He says she’s a victim of British racism. I really wish Sir Anish would stick to what he’s (very) good at — public art installations — and leave the Shamima business alone. Because his comments are risible.
They aren’t only factually wrong — they’re morally wrong, too.
In a statement co-authored with Tasnime Akunjee, the Begum family’s lawyer, Kapoor rages against what he sees as Britain’s mistreatment of Ms Begum. He says that in revoking her citizenship, the UK has behaved like Soviet Russia. The Supreme Court decision at the end of February, which said the government was well within its rights to block Begum’s return to the UK, was ‘disgraceful’, Kapoor and Akunjee insist.
Their killer argument — or so they seem to think — is that Begum is being treated like this because she is brown-skinned. Had it been ‘white school girls’ who had run off to join the Islamic State, it would have been a very different story, they claim. There can be ‘no doubt’, the statement says, that ‘we would be demanding that no expense be spared and not a moment wasted’ in returning these poor white citizens back to their rightful home of the United Kingdom.
But the facts don’t back up this fantasy scenario. On the contrary — we have clear proof that they are wrong to suggest Begum is being singled out on the basis of her skin colour by racist British officialdom. A white British citizen who ran off to join the deranged death cult of Isis has, like Begum, been deprived of his citizenship. His name is Jack Letts. Or Jihadi Jack, as he is sometimes referred to. He’s a white, middle-class young man from Oxfordshire who has dual citizenship with Canada, and in August 2019 he was as unceremoniously stripped of his British citizenship as Begum had been in February that same year.
Do Kapoor and Akunjee know this? They must. They must know British officials have been colour-blind in their revoking of the British citizenship rights of dual citizens who joined the Islamic State. And yet still they depict Shamima as a victim of racism.
Outrageously, the statement paints Shamima as the victim in all this — something about which the Yazidi women and Christian Syrians who suffered so barbarously at the hands of the movement Shamima joined might have something to say. ‘Shamima is the tragic scapegoat of a punitive unforgiving government intent on harsh retribution’, it says. She is apparently the victim of two home secretaries — Sajid Javid and Priti Patel — who are ‘desperate to prove their right-wing credentials’.
This is dangerous nonsense. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, Kapoor and Akunjee are granting Shamima moral authority. They are gifting her the elevated status of victimhood. The victim is the most celebrated identity of our era. In depicting Ms Belgium as a tragic scapegoat, as a hapless casualty of Britain’s racist bureaucracy, they do not only downplay her conscious decision to join what at the time was the most barbaric movement on earth, which would be bad enough; they also pave the way for her future emergence as a kind of victim-hero, a poster-girl for identity politics, perhaps even with a guest column in the Guardian.
This all points to the infantilism and folly of identity politics. In the binary moral universe of the woke, there are the Privileged and the Oppressed. The Privileged are white, male, heterosexual, ‘cis’; the Oppressed are black, brown, Muslim, gay, trans. And on these childishly drawn charts, Shamima, of course, gets ticked as a victim. She is, after all, brown, female and Muslim. Everything that happens to her must therefore be a product of the racist machinations of the other lot, of the Privileged.
The real world, of course, is more complicated than this. In the real world it was Shamima Begum, not Priti Patel, who joined a genuinely hateful, supremacist movement. One which was sectarian, misogynistic and homophobic. One which brutally executed gay people, beheaded Christians, enslaved Yazidi women, slaughtered Kurds and visited hell upon dissidents. Only in the perverse world of identitarianism could the young woman who joined such a violently hateful movement be described as a victim of racism, while the woman who wants to punish her for such a despicable defection to the Islamic State (Priti Patel) is accused of being a friend of racism.
Mr Kapoor, may I respectfully suggest your tears would be better spent on the young Yazidi women who were enslaved, raped and slaughtered by Isis, rather than on the young British woman who offered Isis her support?