If you want to tell a story about Begum that brings her back to Britain, finish it

As of November 2014, according to Statista, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had killed more than 6,000 people in terrorist attacks that year alone. This figure excludes “battlefield deaths committed by state and non-state combatants”.

In February 2015, Shamima Begum left the UK.

Between that point and February 2019, when times He was found in a refugee camp and began his campaign to return to Britain, the Global Terrorism Index reports that the group killed 6,141 people in 2015 and 9,150 in 2016.

After that, the numbers began to dwindle, not because of any change of heart about ISIS’s cause or methods but because it was losing; In September 2018 it controlled an area of ​​just 200km², down from nearly 100,000km² four years earlier.

There are conflicting accounts of how Begum spent her time with ISIS. She claims she was merely a housekeeper for one of the group’s fighters; Other sources claim that he was “allowed to carry a Kalashnikov rifle and earned a reputation as a strict “enforcer” of Isil’s laws” and that he “sewed suicide bombers into explosive vests, so they could not be moved without detonating them.”

All of these titles are useful contexts to keep in mind when considering the current rash of podcasts focusing on Begum. I’m not a monster (BBC) and bring me home (The Times), or The Times MagazineThe decision to accompany her interview with her, featuring a cover shoot Begum in western clothes In addition to hotel reviews and teasers for winter stew recipes:

Yet the tone of this coverage doesn’t come out of nowhere. There is a large and vocal constituency, at least among policymakers and commentators, who take a view that is more or less consistent with the idea that teenagers make mistakes.

Which they certainly do. But where the British public gave Standing on law and order, there is probably not much sympathy in the country for the idea that the Begum should get too much flexibility on that basis. If Robert Thomson and John Venables were deemed fit to stand trial as adults for the murder of ten-year-old James Bulger, why should Begum not bear the full and proper consequences of traveling to the Middle East to participate in the same heinous crime? Mass loss?

Well, we can ask Joshua Baker, producer of the “riveting, award-winning” BBC podcast. He has been quoted times By saying:

“”Because,” he admits, “there are different ways to tell Shamima Begum’s story. There’s the story of a schoolgirl who was groomed and lured into a war zone by ISIS and must now be rescued from a concentration camp. And then there’s the traitor who has to be stopped from returning to Britain – a terrorist and a monster.”

This is true in its own terms. But this is probably true of the 850 British citizens who went to fight for ISIS, and of many other monsters in history. Unlike in fiction, real-life perpetrators of evil are rarely cartoon villains, living their lives according to some. Dungeons and Dragons-Style Alignment Chart where options mark their response to Evil in a given situation.

It is fair, and even commendable, for the media to try and capture these complexities rather than sand them down with a tidy narrative. To do otherwise is to repeat the mistakes of, for example, the 2003 TV serial Hitler: The Rise of Evilwhich cast Robert Carlyle as an eccentric, looking mad in every scene, and thus embodied the powerful charisma and personal charm that facilitated the rise of Nazism in interwar Germany.

But it ceases to be admirable when it crosses the line to create a second, expository narrative that concludes that the Begum needs “saving.” Her being “a schoolgirl lured and lured into the battlefield by Isis” may be a context for her being a “terrorist and monster”, but that doesn’t contradict or excuse it.

And this storytelling has real-life consequences. Lawyers are going home over the technicalities of Sajid Javid’s decision to revoke his British citizenship, but at a political level one suspects that part of the reason for such widespread resistance to allowing him to return is the strong suspicion that he will not face it. Adequate justice if he has done it.

Many advocates of overturning Javid’s decision seem to subscribe to the schoolgirl-who-needs-saving version of the Begum story; The concept of treason, a crime he committed by any useful definition, is deeply out of fashion in legal-academic circles. Bring him back and keep him in jail forever is a perfectly coherent position, but it seems to be – or at least championed – by some.

Deportation as a formal punishment may be prohibited by Article Nine of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but if people feel actually version is the harshest punishment he is going to receive, many would be content for him to receive it.

Which in a way makes the Begum issue another facet of the larger criminal justice and rule of law debate, the dynamic of which is often that people complain about the outcome being talked about by others, usually lawyers or academics, explaining the process that produced the outcome, as if justified in itself.

But it is not; Justice is a question of both means and ends, and as the long-running row over the ECHR illustrates, people will not forever accord sacrosanct status to processes regardless of their outcome.

So if you really want to get Begum back to the UK, start telling a story that ends in a long prison sentence.