The Death Of Shamima Begum's Baby Should Shame Us All

Whatever you think of the runaway teen, her baby was wholly and completely innocent, and his death is a moment to re-evaluate our country's moral compass

Sometimes it takes an event to bring into the sharp focus how far down the rabbit hole hate can take someone, or a society. A moment that brings into re-evaluation the moral compass of a society lost in fear, standing on shaky ethical foundations. That moment was when the child of Shamima Begum died.

How someone approached the case of the runaway Bethnal Green teenager now returned to public attention really depended on whether you viewed her as a victim or the complete master of her own choices and fate. The binary and sense of moral absolutism in judging her, compelled some to feel she should not be allowed back in, and others to think she could be rehabilitated successfully with a degree of compassion.

The answer, at least for me, lay somewhere in the middle. She was no more a victim deprived of agency than the male recruits were. She was committed to the cause, subscribing to the Islamist views of the false caliphate. Treating her with sympathy risked creating a situation where female Islamists were afforded leniency where it wasn’t for the men. Choices have consequences, and they should for her, for the rest of her life. But there was a moral responsibility upon Britain to deal with her, and not leave her as the burden of others. To show extremists that our laws cannot be broken without severe punishment.

Instead Sajid Javid moved to strip her of her citizenship, banking on her Bengali nationality meaning she wouldn’t be stateless. It created an uproar amongst minorities in Britain, who felt their citizenship shouldn’t be conditional, that they were made to feel like second-tier citizens.

But there is one person in this who didn’t receive a lot of focus. Until now, because he died. And that is Shamima Begum’s son. A British newborn born in a refugee camp and now a baby that died in one. There was a lot of focus on his name, Jarah, for being that of a medieval warlord who butchered many, but little that this was a British baby whose chance at life was non-existent. From the moment he was born, he was fighting for survival.

Whether you feel this is Sajid Javid’s fault isn’t the point. The truth is probably that ultimately it was still Shamima Begum’s fault that her third child died. There is creeping sadness that a woman who hasn’t reached twenty yet has lost three children, and will be deeply traumatised by this. But Sajid Javid chose to pander to the populists when he stripped her of her citizenship rather than bringing her back, putting her on trial, and giving the baby the medical attention it deserved.

What was disturbing, and should make us rethink ourselves as a society, is the callous indifference of many towards his death, and the almost sneering triumphalism others on social media showed. Diane Abbott was not wrong to think this was a moment to mourn. The collective erosion of compassion has led to the moment where a baby became a prisoner of his mother’s sins. Sajid Javid treated him as just fodder for his own leadership credentials, a chance to look strong on terrorism and make others appear weak.

Shamima Begum’s baby was wholly, completely innocent. He didn’t deserve to die.

PA Wire/PA Images

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