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The UK should be ashamed of paving the way for Trump's inhumane treatment of Hoda Muthana

There is something seriously wrong with a society failing its citizens to such an extent that they fall prey to this kind of extremist rhetoric and are willing to give up everything to follow it through

Sirena Bergman
Thursday 21 February 2019 13:06 GMT
Shamima Begum reads Home Office letter revoking her British citizenship

Once again, Donald Trump has done something absurd, cruel, inhumane, which calls into question legal precedent and sparks outrage among anyone with even an inkling of liberal sensibilities. Except this time, horrifyingly, it was the UK that softened the blow for him.

Hoda Muthana, a 24-year-old woman from Alabama who joined Isis four years ago, has been refused entry back into the US, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claiming she has “no legal basis” to claim American citizenship, and Trump taking credit for the decision. Muthana’s lawyers say she was born on US soil and holds an American passport, meaning she should have an absolute right to return to the country, where it would then be decided whether she should be tried for criminal actions.

For anyone in the UK this provokes a profound sense of deja vu as the similar case of Shamima Begum continues to dominate the national conversation. These two women are not the same, of course. Begum was just 15 when she fled to join Isis, which calls into question her ability to understand the real repercussions of her actions, not to mention consent to become the “Isis bride” everyone keeps referring to her as. At 19, Muthana was an adult when she left America, making the case arguably more murky, yet unlike Begum she has expressed seemingly genuine remorse and denounced extremism in much more certain terms.

Yet really all this is irrelevant. Exiling citizens for their thoughts or beliefs is the work of despots, not democratic societies; punishing someone for a presumed crime while denying them any kind of due process goes against everything the American justice system – and the British one it’s largely modelled on – stands for.

If Trump’s decision had come a month ago, he would have been pilloried by the British people, quick to judge Americans for voting for a president so seemingly intent on setting aside even the most basic modicum of humanity for people who lack his level of privilege. Yet now it’s looking a bit awkward isn’t it? Because not only did we vote in a government so cruel and idiotic that it would take Trump-like measures and strip a British woman of her rightful citizenship, but according to the latest YouGov poll, 76 per cent of the population support the decision and so would presumably support Trump’s too.

For all his shortcomings, it’s worth remembering that it is Trump who got the ball rolling on criminal justice reform in the US, a much-needed reversal of decades of mass incarceration focused more on punishment than on rehabilitation, and disproportionately targeting people of colour. He seems to tacitly acknowledge that the main problem with the archaic system of locking people up is that it refuses to face up to the reality of crime – it always comes from somewhere.

These young women, and many more from across Europe, have somehow been brainwashed into giving up their entire lives in order to fight for an ideology many of them were not brought up to believe in. Much like in the case of the recruitment of children to gangs, individuals are specifically targeted for being vulnerable and easily coerced or “brainwashed”, as Muthana describes. There is something seriously wrong with a society failing its citizens to such an extent that they fall prey to this kind of extremist rhetoric and are willing to give up everything to follow it through.

In the US, Trump’s increasingly divisive and xenophobic rhetoric has led to levels of Islamophobia that are worse than in the aftermath of 9/11. In the UK we’re seeing a similar marginalisation of Muslim communities, which disproportionately impacts women. Governments are creating an environment where people feel unwelcome, unsupported and systematically discriminated against, and it’s under this backdrop of intolerance that people are left vulnerable to radicalisation. By treating the victims of this situation as pariahs we’re simply reinforcing the very situation that led to women like Begum and Muthana to join Isis in the first place.

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That saddest thing about it, is that governments are willing to circumvent the law in order to pander to popular opinion, which reserves unparalleled disdain for women who have been so let down by society that they are left vulnerable to being indoctrinated into a reprehensible ideology. Citizens of both the UK and the US repeatedly commit unspeakable acts of hate, terror and criminality, yet we do not deny them their basic rights to citizenship, a fair trial and rehabilitation.

The inhumane treatment of women like Begum and Muthana is not only immoral, it’s counterproductive. It shows that governments care more about indulging the flawed and bigoted public perception than they do about protecting the rights all of us are entitled to, and it propagates the very cycle of disenfranchisement which leads to radicalisation in the first place.

It’s the sort of backwards logic based upon shortsighted soundbite politics that we’ve come to expect from the Trump administration, but I expected better from the UK. With his actions this week Sajid Javid has not only paved the way for the dangerous Trumpian style of governing, but also endorsed it. He should be ashamed, and we should all be terrified.

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