March 12, 2019 Abdul Haqq

Left Out to Die: The Tragedy of Baby Jarrah Begum

On Friday 8th March news emerged regarding the death of baby Jarrah, Shamima Begum’s 3-week-old newborn son. The following day it was confirmed.[1] Despite the overwhelming national sentiment that Begum not be allowed to return to the UK to face justice, very few will have welcomed the death of yet another of her children – three in total – over the past 3 years. After all, she is still only 19. The backlash against the home secretary revoking Begum’s citizenship has been severe – and deservedly so – with some labelling him ‘a moral coward’ for his decision to do this while being fully aware her newborn. Lord McDonald asserted:

No dignified self-governing state should abandon responsibility for its own citizens in this way, trying to dump them on to poorer countries with failed security arrangements. Mr Javid’s behaviour is a recipe for refugee chaos and moral cowardice of the worst sort.” [2]

Following her child’s death, the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt defended Javid’s decision, alleging ‘…it would have been too risky for UK officials to rescue…Shamima Begum’s baby son.’ However, despite the risks, he went on to declare that his government were exploring options to bring other British children home from Syria.[3] These apparently contradictory positions raise immediate questions such as; what are the differences between baby Jarrah’s and these children’s circumstances, as they are all offspring of so-called Jihadi brides currently in Syria? Weren’t baby Jarrah’s circumstances more of a priority as a newborn than the others they plan to return? And what of the risks? Are they not the same or similar for the remaining children? Various charities and journalists are present in camps across Syria and do not appear to be facing adverse risks; in contrast, we have witnessed the latter scrambling to report the latest and most sensationalist accounts regarding the plight of ISIS families fleeing the final enclave of the terrorist group.[4]

Expertise & assistance was made available

The collaborative efforts of a small group of experts to provide assistance for the possible return of Begum and her son will be described at this stage.  This will highlight the approach towards government advisory bodies and legal entities representing the Begum family. STRAP UK [5] and WARN [6], two British NGOs, collaborated to explore visiting and assessing Shamima Begum to determine the viability of her return to the UK with her son.  Additional expertise was also sought from another international organisation that continues to visit refugee camps and prisons across Iraq and Syria. Professor Anne Speckhard, director for the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) confirmed her willingness to visit Shamima Begum and her son in Syria. As a result of our discussions and request, she prepared an outline of her work and experiences over there. Consequently, a letter was sent to the Commission for Countering Extremism, an independent body that acts in an advisory capacity to the Home Office, and the Begum family’s solicitor. Both acknowledged receipt. Excerpts of this letter will be reproduced in this article. Professor Speckhard’s introduction began by affirming:

This is a letter sent to the government in response to a request of Dr. Abdul Haqq Baker, of STRAP, UK and out of concern for the welfare of the newborn child of UK citizen Shamima Begum and the consequences she may suffer for a decision made as a minor living in the UK.” [7]

She proceeded to describe her extensive experience alongside interviews of 141 ISIS defectors over the past 4 years. Such experiences included her design of a Detainee Rehabilitation Program that was implemented among 22,000 Iraqi detainees, including 800 juveniles in 2006-7. Also, as a qualified child development specialist, Professor Speckhard was best equipped to address the urgent case of Begum and her son. Her frequent visits to Syria involved interviews with female detainees and refugees so she was able to highlight the dire conditions they faced in the camps:

The women (and their prison caretakers) that we have interviewed in these camps have told us that medical care is scarce, medicines are not available, good food is costly and difficult to procure, vaccinations for children are not provided, schools and child development services don’t exist, winters are cold in the tents, dust frequently fills the air, creating breathing difficulties for their children, fires break out in the tents due to cooking in them…

Mothers and children have died in the camps, including three who reportedly died of Typhoid in Camp Roj last year.  One mother we met told us about her child having regular asthma attacks due to the dusty air, attacks in which he turns blue and stops breathing with no medications provided. Another shared her terror of Pertussis (whooping cough) and others of Typhoid. Mothers told us they feared the cold winter conditions and illnesses that occur during Syrian winters.” [8]

Her observations concur with media reports describing poor sanitary conditions and adverse weather during the winter months. Alarmingly, they also illustrate the lack of medical care – essential for mothers and young children. The home office has long been aware of these prevailing conditions and so the decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship almost beggars belief.  Had Sajid Javid not ignored the expertise available, such as the ICSVE’s, he would have had little option but to depart from his routine mantra behind revoking Begum’s citizenship, this being;‘…to keep our country safe and ensure she can’t radicalise anyone else…’[9] In contrast to his uninformed commentaries regarding the risk posed by Begum and potential returnee mothers, those with the requisite expertise provided an altogether different analysis:

“While certainly she [Shamima Begum] has had many experiences inside ISIS that may make her look dangerous, if she is like most ISIS women (approximately 30) we have interviewed, she may not be dangerous at all, and she is still a teenager.” [10]

Begum’s initial interview inadvertently supports this:

“When I went to Syria I was just a housewife, the entire four years I stayed at home, took care of my husband, took care of my kids. I never did anything…I never made propaganda, I never encouraged people to come to Syria.They don’t really have proof that I did anything that is dangerous.” [11]

Such analysis continued to highlight:

Shamima has recently given birth to a son in detention. The YPG detention camps are harsh, dangerous, unsanitary and unhealthy places to house a newborn, or any child, for that matter.  The newborn should immediately be removed from the camp to ensure his best health, and preferably not separated from his mother. I am not aware if Shamima is breastfeeding but separating a newborn from its lactating mother would not be in the infant’s best interest, and normally keeping mothers and children together at that age is crucial to ensure healthy attachment.

Shamima has already lost two children and would not likely do well psychologically with being separated from her newborn. Moreover, it would certainly disrupt her attachment and bonding process and likely interfere with successful future parenting—to the detriment of both.[12]

Political Expediency over Pragmatic Diplomacy

Javid’s naked political ambition to become the 1st Asian prime minister appears to have obscured his existing portfolio as home secretary. I referred to this in my recent article and there is nothing to suggest his position has changed.[13] Labour MP, Jess Phillips elucidates the disastrous consequences of his politicking at such a crucial period:

“The problem for the home secretary in this whole tragic affair was not Begum herself, though. It was her baby boy, a tiny little cloth-swaddled British citizen. He joined no death cult, he was not unpalatable, or unsympathetic. He had rights that could, and should, have been protected by the Human Rights Act, no matter how much those who want to look hard might want it repealed.  His name was Jarrah, and now he is dead.” [14]

Another article provides a damning indictment on Javid’s decision, stating that:

“The most severe critics of Sajid Javid’s decision to revoke Shamima Begum’s UK citizenship say that he effectively killed her baby.”[15]

Cultish Tendencies

Junior offspring of so-called jihadi brides were not culpable members of ISIS; however, the same cannot be said in every instance about their mothers. This is why it is important for the government to facilitate their return and determine the extent of their commitment to the group. What is not in doubt however is that these women joined a cult. This introduces another dimension with various psychological factors. These must be considered when assessing the inevitable trauma many of them are likely to have experienced. In the Shamima Begum’s case, it is not too difficult to identify particular cognitive traits that underlined her cultish behaviour:

“…the teenager  showed all the signs during her recent interviews of having been under cultic influence. Her head was tilted down, she used monotone speech conveying no emotion and her manner was detached and cold. When she did look directly at the interviewer, it was clear that the windows to Begum’s soul were long closed.

Desensitisation is a key part of the process for cults recruiting people to commit abhorrent acts – emotion would hamper willingness to take life, so it is suppressed…Violence is normalised.” [16]

We only have to reflect on the interviews in which she displayed a complete lack of emotion as she recounted the death of her first two children during infancy. Her equally expressionless request to return to the UK with her newborn, in order to avoid him succumbing the same fate as his siblings, is another example. In fact, her behaviour is consistent with established characteristics inculcated among members of various cults.  Particular cognitive biases were evident during her interviews, these being defined as, systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment…’[17] Indeed, my 13 part audio series, entitled Cultish Tendencies, addresses some of these traits when examining a particular non-violent but behaviourally extreme cult in the UK.

Blood on our hands

It is necessary to conclude with Professor Speckhard’s observations as they are emphatic due to her insight, expertise and awareness of Begum’s and many other mothers’ current plight in Syria. To date, the government and its agencies appear to have overlooked the experience and services of experts like her alongside similar UK based entities. Nevertheless, Professor Speckhard concludes:

“In my experience working with hundreds of terrorists and designing programs for their psychological and religious treatment, my expectation would be that if Shamima was mandated into psychological treatment and received religious counseling from a moderate Muslim teacher, she would likely move away from any radical and extremists beliefs and overtime recover from her experiences inside the terrorist group.” [18]

She also cautions that:

 “…leaving her [Begum] in the YPG detention camp with no access to regular and adequate counseling resources and good medical care simply poses real threats to the life of her newborn, who is innocent of any terrorist charges…I would recommend returning her and the newborn home to the UK as quickly as possible with court-ordered treatment as a condition of return.” [19]

This letter is dated 26th February 2019 and was delivered on the same day to the parties mentioned at the beginning of this article; 10 days before baby Jarrah’s death. We will never know whether he would have survived any intervention to transport him (and his mother) to the UK; however, his death may come back to haunt the current home secretary in the foreseeable future.  Hopefully, before that time arrives, reflection followed by an extensive review of existing legislation that allowed such a travesty of justice to occur will  take place to avoid this ever happening again.

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Chulov, M & Parveen, N: ‘Shamima Begum: baby son dies in Syrian refugee camp’, The Guardian, 9thMarch 2019:https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/08/shamima-begum-confusion-after-reports-newborn-son-may-have-died

[2]Doward, J; Townsend, M & Iqbal, N: ‘Shamima Begum: Sajid Jabid labelled ‘moral coward’ over baby death’, The Guardian, 9thMarch 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/09/sajid-javid-moral-coward-death-begum-baby?CMP=share_btn_link

[3]Binns, D: ‘’Too risky’ to rescue jihadi baby, says Jeremy Hunt’, Metro, 11thMarch 2019: https://www.metro.news/too-risky-to-rescue-jihadi-baby-says-jeremy-hunt/1469412/

[4]Sanchez, R: ‘‘You’re the first infidel I’ve seen in four years’: ISIL women emerge defiant from last scrap of Syria territory’, The Telegraph, 24thFebruary 2019: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/24/first-infidel-seen-four-years-isil-women-emerge-defiant-last/

[5]Strategic, Tactical, Regional Alliance & Partnership: www.strapconsultancy.com

[6]Women Against Radicalisation Network: www.warn.org.uk

[7]Professor Anne Speckhard’s, ICSVE letter, dated 26thFebruary 2019.

[8]Ibid

[9]Mowat, L: ‘Shamima Begum: Revoking citizenship protects public but 200 jihadis are back in UK – Javid’, The Express, 27thFebruary 2019: https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1093164/URL-shamima-begum-latest-news-citizenship-sajid-javid

[10]Professor Anne Speckhard’s ICSVE letter, dated 26thFebruary 2019.

[11]Russell, R: ‘Shamima Begum: ISIS bride gives shock interview – ‘I don’t regret it’, The Express, 17thFebruary 2019: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1088471/shamima-begum-baby-isis-bride-boy-birth-syria

[12]Professor Anne Speckhard’s  ICSVE letter, dated 26thFebruary 2019.

[13]Baker, A H: ‘A Precedent of the President & UK’: https://abdulhaqqbaker.com/a-precedent-for-the-president-ignore-at-your-peril/  22ndFebruary 2019.

[14]Phillips, J: ‘Playing Politics with the life of Shamima Begum’s baby shames us all, Mr Javid’, The Guardian, 10thMarch 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/09/we-dont-get-to-un-british-those-we-dont-like-mr-javid?CMP=share_btn_link

[15]Wallis, L: ‘Shamima Begum was the victim of a cult – she needs help’, The Guardian, 11thMarch 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/11/shamima-begum-cult-victim-isis?CMP=share_btn_link

[16]Ibid

[17]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

[18]Professor Anne Speckhard’s, ICSVE letter, dated 26thFebruary 2019.

[19]Ibid

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