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17 July 2020

The UK can’t pretend its radicalised citizens belong to someone else

The government is dodging its responsibility in denying the citizenship of a person born, educated and radicalised in this country.

By Stephen Bush

The Court of Appeal has ruled that Shamima Begum, who was found in a Syrian refugee camp last year after having left the UK at the age of 15 to join the self-described Islamic State (IS), should be allowed to return to the United Kingdom to fight the decision to remove her citizenship.

For the government, this is an opportunity to have an argument about the wickedness of Begum, tone-deaf “liberal judges”, and the work that ministers and the Home Office are doing to keep us safe.

The more complex reality is that whatever influences that Begum, now 20, came under when she left the United Kingdom in 2015, her decisions and actions were those of a British citizen. She was born here, she was educated here, and her radicalisation was missed by our education system and our security services.

In the here and now, both the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – of whom an estimated 11,000 died over five years to help defeat IS, and whose reward was to be abandoned – and Turkey are calling on the nations of the world to repatriate the jihadists who came from their countries to fight for IS, warning that the fate of these fighters is a ticking time bomb.

The truth is that leaving the remaining foreign fighters in Syria is not a stable or realistic option, even if it were a morally acceptable one. This is partly because the SDF has been abandoned by the West, and partly because of the diplomatic, moral and human disaster that is our Syria policy.

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The United Kingdom is not alone in trying to shirk responsibility for its jihadists. Unfortunately, we are entirely unexceptional on this issue, but we are, nonetheless, shirking it.

The UK has not even legislated to make it a criminal activity to travel to IS hotspots without express permission, a simple change that some countries made years ago, and which would have gone some way to making the difficult task of safe repatriation easier.

The debate the government wants to have is about its perceived toughness on security issues – and about how easy this would all be if it weren’t for these dreadful liberals. The debate we ought to have is why the government is so incapable of tackling any problem requiring a complex solution that can’t be reduced to a simple us-vs-them campaign.

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