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Do ISIS brides deserve re-entry into the countries they left?

By Aymen Sherwani, March 13 2019 —

Imagine being hired to work for a company that provides full health benefits but then leaving said company to work for its rival. You work there for a few years until the new company starts losing money and stops giving its employees benefits, so you decide to go back to your old job. You expect to be taken back because you weren’t actually fired — you just left.

Seems ridiculous, right?

Apparently, that’s the situation we’re facing right now, in light of news that former Islamic State sympathizers want to return to their home countries, including Canada, now that the terror group’s regime is imploding.

Last month the United Kingdom revoked the citizenship of Shamima Begum, now 19. She’s one of the three 15-year-old British girls dubbed the “Bethnal Green trio” who left London to join ISIS in 2015. She is among an estimated 550 other women and girls who have left Western countries to become the brides of ISIS fighters — fighters who routinely took part in the executions of journalists, aid workers and Yazidi civilians.

To me, the most jarring aspect of this story is that Begum, who is of Bangladeshi descent, speaks and carries herself like an average teenager. Why would someone like her join ISIS? As someone who is also of South Asian descent, this further complicates the way innocent minorities are perceived, especially in a time of growing isolationist movements.

U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid made the decision to revoke Begum’s British citizenship after reaching out to journalists in a Syrian refugee camp. The decision was controversial, as revoking her British citizenship — the only citizenship she possessed — left her stateless, which is illegal under international law.

“I think a lot of people should have, like, sympathy towards me for everything I’ve been through,” Begum said in an interview with Britain’s Sky News. “I didn’t know what I was getting into when I left and I just was hoping that for the sake of me and my child, they could let me come back.”

Since the collapse of its leadership in mid-December, many ISIS fighters and brides who left their original countries of residence have appealed for their right to return due to birthright citizenship. While she absolutely does not deserve the privilege of returning to the safety of the U.K., leaving Begum in Syria may simply have turned her and her newborn child into martyr figures for a new wave of future terrorism. Western countries, learning from the aftermaths of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, must make an effort to prevent further potential radicalization in their societies.

Making matters worse is Begum’s response when asked about whether she believed that she made a mistake in leaving London to live under the Islamic State. She replied, “In a way, yes, but I don’t regret it because it’s changed me as a person. It’s made me stronger, tougher. I did have a good time there, it’s just that at the end things got harder and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to leave.”

Begum is talking about ISIS as if it was like going on an exchange program and realizing that it was not what was advertised, so she tried to come back. Sympathizers of terror groups should not deserve the privilege of returning to the normal lives that they renounced in the name of radical violence. Whether or not it violates international law, no one should support a former terrorist just because she no longer has the comfort which bought her years of complicitness. Though reintegration into society is something our country often strives for, a line has to be drawn.

Aymen Sherwani is a second-year business (accounting) major at the University of Calgary. She writes a column for the Gauntlet about issues that are affecting students called “Get It Together, People”

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