My relatives were brainwashed by Osama bin Laden. I know just how dangerous Shamima Begum could be

Egypt tried to rehabilitate returning jihadis from Afghanistan and Chechnya – and it paid a terrible price for believing their views could be changed

Ahmed Aboudouh
Wednesday 20 February 2019 13:50 GMT
'I don't regret it' Shamima Begum tells Sky News moving to Syria has made her 'stronger and tougher'

The government’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her citizenship is a step in the right direction. Shamima and her fellow young jihadis have been turned ideologically, and become moving ticking bombs. It is a difficult judgment to make. As a committed defender of human rights, and a migrant myself, my first thoughts were for a fair trial for Begum in the UK. But as a Muslim, I understand too the radically dangerous implications of remaining silent.

Allowing Begum and other radicalised Britons a safe path back home from areas previously controlled by Isis in Syria and elsewhere is naive and will put our society at severe risk. I learnt that through personal experience.

A couple of people in my extended family have been turned in the past. They paid allegiance to Osama bin Laden, carried weapons and fought the authorities in the Middle East. That happened more than 20 years ago. They were young and brainwashed (just like Begum), and they paid a heavy cost for it. However, up until now they have not witnessed any ideological or mental change – not one bit.

Arab societies have been dealing with radicalised returnees since the 1980s, long before the UK had even given the issue any thought. Egypt, for example, paid a heavy toll after allowing al-Jihad and al-Qaeda hardened fighters, together with their wives and children, to come back from Afghanistan after participating in guerrilla warfare against the Soviet Union. A second wave of returnees took place after the end of the first Chechen war in 1996.

Like Begum, these fighters and their families pleaded to be allowed to come back. They reached out to authorities and managed to sign peace agreements with high officials in the government. By these agreements, they would drop their weapons and engage in a wider programme of deradicalisation in prisons and mosques. Some of them became the security and intelligence services’ eyes and ears too.

But it was not enough. In November 1997, Egypt witnessed the worst attack on tourists in its modern history: 58 mostly western tourists were slaughtered in Luxor by the very same jihadis the government had given a ”second chance” just one year earlier. Egyptians did not comprehend the extent of the returnees’ radicalisation, even after they had called for the sphinx at Giza to be demolished because it is a statue. Then they turned on freedom of speech, attempting to assassinate the world-renowned and Nobel prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz.

Allowing Shamima Begum into the UK will give an impression to the whole world that the UK is fighting terrorists but not terrorism; that they are ignoring Islamist ideology and the threat it poses, despite getting bogged down in a never-ending war with people holding them.

In her interview with BBC this week, Begum called the Manchester Arena bombing a “fair justification” and claimed that she still has the “Dawla mentality”. When I read her statement, I remembered my relatives who went through Murajaat, a deradicalisation scheme like Britain’s Prevent – and yet they still sound like Bin Laden.

Yes, I know my take on this is unpopular. As a liberal journalist, I am told I should be more committed to Begum’s right to come home. But I cannot let my commitment to the rights of one individual stand in the way of the rights of the entire British people.

It is not true that the government’s iron-fist approach will have a negative influence on younger Muslims and fuel further radicalisation in Britain. This is a pessimistic and uneducated fudge. Quite the contrary: it would put an end to the online radicalisation trend, defusing the vigorous recruitment processes that al-Qaeda and other militant groups are rubbing their hands to take over, post-Isis. Every jihad sympathiser will now have to think twice before joining other jihadis abroad.

This case shows that the government’s fist should sometimes be made of iron.

Yes, the government is making a public example out of a young woman, but it is the right thing to do. Many of my like-minded liberal British friends simply do not understand how dangerous Shamima Begum is, but the people on the streets seem frightened of her. My landlady told me this morning she will not feel safe if her “grandchildren went to the same school as Shamima’s son”. Can you blame her?

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