It’s hard to avoid the news, no matter how much you try to do so. I’ve been trying – and failing – since 2011, but I do believe that shunning news broadcasts is good for me. At least if I read something in the paper I’ve been active in my decision to engage. It’s a far cry from being assaulted by the Today programme because you didn’t manage to switch off in time.
I am currently outside the UK. Would i normally blog whilst away? No, of course not, but I woke up early and so here we are.
Shamima Begum has had her British citizenship revoked because – aged 15 – she made a stupid decision. And now she has two dead children and one tiny baby and she lives in a Syrian refugee camp and it must be one of the most godforsaken places imaginable.
And the noble British government, dedicated to safeguarding its people, thinks this is an appropriate response.
I am disgusted but not surprised.
I know people who are surprised – they are surprised that the government would do such a thing; that it would leave one of its own – brainwashed, traumatised, and with a baby, who did nothing wrong – to rot in a place like that. Those people are all white. White people are astonished that the British government would tell someone born in Britain to apply for Bengali citizenship when they have no real link to the place. Why would Bangladesh allow that? Why would they want to deal with the aftermath of this situation when, as far as they see it, Begum is not one of their own?
The white people I know are astonished by this scenario because they believe – in their liberal, fair-minded naïveté – that brown people born in Britain are as British as white people born in Britain. But brown people know different. Brown people know that they are not seen as truly British, and with the state of politics as it is, I’m not sure we ever will be.
Shamima Begum participated in terrorist activity, you may say. We don’t want her kind here, you may say. But we’ve never take away the citizenship of terrorists before. Indeed, in Northern Ireland, everyone – terrorist or not – has the right to two passports; a British one and an Irish one. Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams were not told that their acts condemned them to statelessness. They were older than fifteen. Their decisions were likely rooted less in stupidity and more in personal belief. Yet they were treated less harshly.
The government seems to think that brown people can belong in two places. The reality is that we belong nowhere. We do not belong in the countries our ancestors came from because we do not know those countries, and we do not understand them. But we do not belong here because our skin tone sets us apart. This was made abundantly clear when Sadiq Khan visited India recently and was asked by a British journalist what it was like to ‘come home’. Khan retorted that London was home, but the message was clear. You can be born in the UK and live as an upstanding citizen in the UK; you can even become Mayor of London, but if you’re brown you will never be British. You will always be a foreigner. If Khan had had French ancestry and had gone to Paris for the weekend I doubt very much whether he would have been asked the same question.
But all this was inevitable, if we’re frank. ‘Go home’ vans. Windrush. Brexit. The hostile environment. Spurious claims of ‘crises’ when a few people tried to cross the Channel on Christmas day so that they could apply for asylum and try to forge the kind of life than doesn’t result in you crossing the Channel in an unsuitable vessel in the dead of winter.
Begum still has some views we might term ‘problematic’. Of course she does. She’s spent four years in hell, surrounded by people who spout hatred. But what is counter-terrorism strategy for if we don’t use it because it’s easier to just rip up someone’s passport? Prevent is nonsense, obviously, but there are ways to deradicalise people. Since when do we just give up on them because they screwed up?
And where do we go from here? What misdemeanours will result in brown people being stripped of their citizenship in future? Will there be a separate rule of law for people like me? Not in the laws of statute, necessarily, but in the application of those laws by a government which appears to care little for promoting tolerance and unity; a government which can’t even meaningfully apply its own counter radicalisation program.
So no, I am not surprised by this turn of events. But I am disturbed by them. Because this is not about one person and one passport; it is about how the government seeks to make scapegoats of people with particular demographics. The only question is how they’re going to come for us next.