Comment Opinion & Features

Shamima Begum’s son didn’t choose ISIS

Renu Begum, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, holds her sister's photo (Getty)

In all humanity, we are bound to proceed in the best interests of Shamima's child

The woman selling daily papers at the supermarket pointed to a picture of Shamima Begum, the “jihadi bride” who now wants to return to Britain.

“No way is that girl coming back to this country,” she said firmly. “Those ISIS monsters have beheaded people. And she says she’s not bothered by that.”

“But she’s just about to have a baby,” I said. “It’s not the child’s fault, after all. And two of her previous children have died.”

“Should have thought of that before she joined up with terrorists, shouldn’t she?”

This, I reflected, was probably the majority attitude towards Shamima Begum, who has since given birth to a son. She made her choice and she should take the consequences. Even though she was only 15 at the time of this choice, and legally a child herself.

“Choice” is a catchphrase which has gained cult-like currency in recent years: the measure of everything is personal choice. But in a highly publicised case like this one, the notion of “consequences” has been given a more public airing. And maybe a salutary one. All choices have consequences. We get away with nothing.

But a thread in this story is motherhood, and a young woman’s capacity to become a mother. This adds another dimension to any choice.

She made a choice for herself when she joined ISIS; but she didn’t make that choice for her child. And because she is now the mother of a son, the circumstances have changed. In all humanity, we are bound to try to proceed in the best interests of the child.

As she is, at the time of writing, a British citizen, she must eventually be allowed to return to this country. The due process of law should then unfold. Everyone has to face the consequence of their choices, but the wellbeing of the baby she has just borne – who also qualifies as British – must surely also be taken into consideration.

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In his new book, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy, the French journalist Frédéric Martel claims that 80 per cent of the clergy in the Holy See are homosexual, and hiding it – that is, “in the closet”. But the American commentator, Frank Bruni, an openly gay man who has reported from Rome, and who might be expected to hail the work as a critique of hypocrisy in high places, doesn’t give it his endorsement.

Martel’s book, says Bruni in the New York Times, is sensationalist. There is no proof whatsoever that 80 per cent of the Vatican is gay – the claim is neither knowable nor credible. Martel’s language is “profoundly silly and deeply offensive” – with wisecracks like writing that Pope Francis is “among the queens”. It could well have the effect of starting a witch-hunt against gay priests – many of whom, says Bruni, “are exemplary – and chaste – servants of the Church”.

Bruni suggests that the true figure of clergy of homosexual orientation is possibly between 15 and 20 per cent. But must we have statistical evidence of everyone’s sexual orientation? It strikes me as tasteless. Unless a person has committed an offence, their sexual orientation is their own business, surely. Speculation on who they are attracted to is just titillation.

To some extent, the gay lobby has made such a big issue about sexual orientation, underlining it as being such a prominent aspect of identity – rainbow flags, gay-friendly policies, people who choose to keep their private lives private “outed” – that it’s become an over-defined element of personality. Was Leonardo da Vinci homosexual? Possibly. But his multi-faceted genius is a far more important aspect of the man. A person is more than their sexual orientation.

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I watched some of the schoolkids “on strike” last weekend, protesting about climate change, and calling on the Government to “do something”.

I was minded to put some interrogatory environmental questions to them, such as “Are you driven to school, or do you walk or cycle?” Do you shower three times a day, as Dr Alison Browne at Manchester University claims some teenagers do? Do you wear deliberately torn jeans, which take twice as much energy to confect? Do you use a tumble dryer rather than hanging clothes on the line? Et cetera. But I hadn’t the heart to rain on their youthful parade.

Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4