Val Waldron: The Shamima Begum case is just the latest example of adults refusing to take responsibility

Ben Wray

Common Weal campaigner Val Waldron says the response she has seen to the Shamima Begum case and to the Climate Strikes leaves her feeling adults are not taking seriously their duty of care to future generations

IN SEPTEMBER 2015 there was a wave of hope as widespread public sympathy emerged for toddler Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in the Med as his family attempted to flee war and destitution. But that now appears to have been a blip, as racism and intolerance continues apace in the culture of isolationism that is rapidly engulfing the UK. A new wave of dark populism has just broken.

The story of 19 year old Shamima Begum hit the news, with a plea to return to the UK to give birth to her child (a boy, born on 16 February), after the death of two previous babies, having left the UK at the age of 15 to join ISIS. As Home Secretary Sajid Javid made it clear that he would block every attempt to return the pair to the UK, even the Justice Secretary and the head of MI6 confirm that you cannot legally strip someone of their nationhood. All the same, he has done so.

There has, of course, been a flurry of reporting on the story since it broke, much of it of the “ISIS Bride” clickbait variety. If you look carefully, you find more thoughtful journalism by the likes of David Pratt, who has seen more than most. He writes devoid of sentimentality, and with some understanding of the public outrage, when he concludes, nevertheless, that Begum was groomed into extremism at the age of 15.

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Pratt’s assertion that “justice and its true existence after all is what in great part makes us more humane, reasoned and better than terrorists and extremists” was not enough to stem the flow of knee jerk responses from readers of The National, reflecting Javid’s views, and contending that Begum has “Made her Bed, and….”. 

Well that’s it really. She has made her bed. She and her newborn baby should lie in it whether the bed is a tent in a filthy and dangerous refugee camp in Syria, whether she is guilty of heinous crimes or an unrepentant eyewitness to them. Whether she was groomed at the age of 15 or whether she is inclined to accept full responsibility for her actions, she is damned either way. She has made her bed.

The UK wide outrage can be seen to some extent within the context of the worst excesses of the rising tide of xenophobic British nationalism. However, it seems that, going by much of the public opinion expressed north of the border, anyone who really believed that we are all Jock Tamson’s Bairns would be sorely disappointed. How can this fit within the context of a country who voted by 62 per cent to stay in the EU, a country recognised for its civic nationalism and peaceful independence campaign of 2014? How can many of those who condemn Westminster and its laws and institutions at every turn suddenly express such patriotic fervour, crying “traitor!”, and clamouring for an eye for an eye? Job done for Mr Robinson/Yaxley Lennon, his far right views reaching right across the UK and the constitutional divide, masquerading as common sense. Challenge these views, and you are likely to be labelled “virtue signalling”. 

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The vision of independence-lite as mooted by Andrew Wilson, for instance, leaves us wallowing in a kind of centre ground vacuum where there is little room for anything progressive to flourish. In this climate, how, for instance can we say that we are mature enough as a population to really embrace an immigration policy that would be different from that of Westminster? If we don’t have compassion, everything and anyone can be viewed with suspicion. Stagnation cultivates mould and rot. We are as capable of unpalatable attitudes here in Scotland as the most fervent inward looking “Little Englander” Brexiteer.

If this seems unduly harsh and pessimistic, the antidote to last week’s hate fest came in the form of the energy of the young people and their climate change protest. Someone had to do it, and the adults – the ones with the votes and the power – are in denial. These two events dovetail to illustrate a theme that has been developing for decades. Beyond the apathy, intransigence, fear and othering that engulfs the case of Shamima Begum in all its complexities and controversy, there is the issue of our duty of care towards future generations. It doesn’t look as if we accept that duty. We are shafting them.

READ MORE: Analysis: Thankfully, #YouthStrike4Climate’s hysterical critics have no power over the next generation

When we leave the fate of the planet itself to the youngsters, how can we say that we really care about their life chances and opportunities? We may never know how it turns out for Shamina and her baby, but we didn’t care about them.

We can still do this, or at least try. We can step away from social media, and get back in line with the grassroots, a movement who still believe in change and that a fairer, more just and compassionate Scotland is possible. It feels like an uphill struggle at the moment, and getting steeper by the day. We have to do it for the youngsters though. A few will make lethal, unbearable mistakes. Some will literally try to save the world. Either way, we are the grown ups. We need to act like it.

Picture courtesy of Takver

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