Shamima Begum and British Citizenship Conditionality | Racism News
On February 26, the UK’s highest court ruled that Shamima Begum, a 21-year-old woman of Bangladeshi descent who was stripped of her British citizenship after traveling to Syria to join ISIS (ISIS), did not should not be allowed to re-enter the country. to challenge the decision.
The decision has made headlines around the world, as millions follow Begum’s tragic story closely since she fled her home in east London at the age of 15 years old and traveled to Syria with two of his friends. It also brought out the anxieties long felt by members of my community, British Bangladeshis.
East London is home to the largest Bangladeshi community outside of Bangladesh. This is where Shamima Begum was born, raised and attended school until she decided to travel to Syria in 2015. After spending several years in Syria, Begum was “found” by a Times reporter in a Syrian refugee camp in 2019.
The Times’ so-called ‘find’ sparked a nationwide discussion about whether she should be allowed to return home to Britain. However, then Home Secretary Sajid Javid interrupted this conversation by quickly announcing the government’s intention to deprive her of her British citizenship. Javid justified this decision in legal terms by claiming that Begum “holds Bangladeshi citizenship” by descent through his parents. At the time of revocation, Begum was 19 and eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, but she should have claimed it before age 21. Javid’s announcement that Begum was not a citizen of Bangladesh and would be refused entry into the country.
Begum and her lawyers have appealed the decision to revoke her British citizenship and demanded that she be allowed to return to the country to plead her case. Three Court of Appeal judges ruled in the summer of 2020 that she should indeed be allowed to return to the UK to challenge the revocation. However, the case was subsequently taken to the Supreme Court, and it ruled last month that if Begum had the right to challenge the ruling, she should do so from outside Britain due to “issues. of security”.
The decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship demonstrated how racialized bodies are still at a stalemate in Britain. It made it clear to us that we are all on the fringes of this nation. That the state can revoke our citizenship on a whim and that our British passports do not necessarily guarantee us access to British justice.
The British state’s treatment of Begum confirmed our worst fears and forced us to ask ourselves some very difficult questions. Can the British state take our passports away from us if we commit an indiscretion? Are we too “foreign” or “brown” to be tried in UK courts? If the state decides that we have committed an “unforgivable” crime, can it just send us back to Bangladesh?
These are of course not new questions or fears. We have known for a long time that our status in Britain is precarious. As influential writer and activist Ambalavaner Sivanandan rightly put it in 2006: “We wear our passports on our faces.”
Always the “other”
Begum’s revocation of citizenship highlights how racialized communities are defined by hyphenated identities, such as the British and Bangladeshis, in this country.
The last part – Bangladeshi – serves to show where we really stand in the racial hierarchy of communities in this country. The “British” prefix is only added to indicate temporary decorum – it can be quickly removed if and when the person drops off the line.
Members of racialized communities are expected to continuously prove themselves worthy of British citizenship. Begum’s case makes it clear that for those of us with hyphenated identities, citizenship is conditional, and the country we call home can easily banish us if we commit any perceived indiscretion.
This problem does not only concern the Anglo-Bangladeshi community. In Britain, a person’s racial, ethnic and religious heritage, not their passport, determines their citizenship and place in the country.
Following the revocation of Begum’s citizenship, some argued that she should have been allowed to keep her passport because she was born in Britain. But it’s also a dangerous argument that perpetuates the idea that there are different levels of British citizenship. Yes, she was born in the UK. But even if she wasn’t, it shouldn’t have made a difference. State racism must be fought without creating new conditions to determine who has the right to be in the country.
The Windrush Generation, immigrants from Caribbean countries who arrived in the UK after World War II to deal with labor shortages, is another racialized group that the state has attempted to purge from the Great -Brittany. Faced with illegal deportation orders, many argued that they should be allowed to stay in the country because “they came here to help us rebuild Britain”. Such arguments, however, are counterproductive as they attempt to subordinate the citizenship rights of these immigrants to their contributions and subservience to the state. After all, British citizens who are white are never asked to be subservient to the state or to make substantial contributions to the nation to keep their passports and stay in the country.
It is impossible to deny that the legacy of colonialism shapes and frames the lives of racialized citizens of Britain, especially those with roots in former colonies. Regardless of their place of birth or their contribution to British society, racialized citizens are seen as “others” whose presence in Britain is simply tolerated and whose most basic rights can be denied at will.
Britain’s continued attempt to throw Begum on Bangladesh, a country it had never set foot in, came as no surprise. This act was only possible because of Begum’s identity and the most obvious fact that she is a Muslim from British Bangladesh. The lesson we can learn from the case of Shamima Begum is that it represents the institutional racism endemic within the British state.
Shamima Begum’s ordeal shouldn’t shock anyone. In Britain there is a two tier citizenship system, and those of us who live in racialized bodies remember that we never truly belong to this country we call our home every day.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.