There is a British baby in Syria. His name is Jarah. He’s only a few days old. His two older siblings are dead. He might never see his father. And his mother? She’s an object of hate. Plastered across British newspapers, Shamima Begum is the ‘Jihadi bride’ who’s been told in no uncertain terms that the UK is not her home any more.
Maybe you can’t blame people for feeling no sympathy for a woman who left home to join one of the most grotesque militant groups in modern times. ISIS is one of the very few entities that can be unequivocally described as evil. Along with the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Wesboro Baptist Church, the whole political spectrum unites in disgust and condemnation of ISIS. Notably, no prominent left-wing figures have stuck their heads over the parapet to defend Begum’s right to return.
Is Shamina Begum a remorseless apologist for mass murder? Is she just a sociopath? Is she a vulnerable young girl, lured by online propaganda and brainwashed by an apocalyptic death cult? The answer is: we don’t know. We may never fully understand why Begum joined ISIS or why she seems to speak so casually and even callously about atrocities. There is one thing we know with absolute certainty: there is a baby with British citizenship whose life would be infinitely better in the UK than in Syria.
The sins of the mother don’t taint her newborn baby. Nobody so far has made that argument, but it’s been strongly implied in much of the newspaper coverage. Even the child’s name has been the subject of tabloid outrage, as if it’s Jarah’s fault what his mother chooses to call him. Jarah is not responsible for any of his parents’ actions. He is not a ‘Jihadi baby’ or an ‘ISIS infant’. He’s an innocent and deserves to be treated the same way we’d treat any newborn in potential danger. His well-being must be the first consideration.
Those opposed to allowing Begum to return to Britain are implicitly accepting a trade off: The threat from Begum outweighs the benefits of helping a British baby. Let’s look at that. Are we expected to believe that Begum can ever live a normal life in the UK? She may face criminal charges, but even if she doesn’t, there’s no way she’ll ever be in a position to do harm to British citizens. She’ll be monitored by the authorities for the rest of her life. She’ll very likely be hounded by the press, at least until a juicier story comes along.
And as for Jarah – Who genuinely believes his mother will be allowed to keep him? Begum may find herself legally barred from seeing her own son. She must be aware of this very real possibility. Yet she’s willing to come home – she’s working very hard to convince the British authorities to let her come home. Knowing this, reasonable people must conclude that the child’s welfare is her first priority. Begum wants her son to grow up in the UK, even at the risk of losing him.
Shamima Begum’s baby does not deserve to be abandoned by the British state. He doesn’t deserve to suffer because of her mistakes or her potential crimes, still less the actions of his now absent father.
Those shouting the loudest about this case seem to think that abandoning this child is an acceptable price to pay to avoid the disgust and discomfort that letting Begum come home would cause. So much for taking the moral high ground.
These are not easy decisions to make and the Conservative government has already set its face against letting this newborn come to the UK. It’s hard to shake the feeling that if Jarah is forced to stay in Syria, we’ll soon be reading a tragic story about a British baby who didn’t get help when he needed it. We’ll see how the press frames the ‘Jihadi bride’ stories then.