Shamima Begum’s story is a stark reminder of what second class citizenship looks like.
How the UK chooses to deal with Shamima Begum over the coming months is yet to be seen, but the message Sajid Javid has given to ethnic minorities has been received loud and clear; you’re not welcome here.
Of course, some would have you believe that racism isn’t the issue, and that anyone with a history like Begum’s would receive the same treatment.
Except that they wouldn’t.
And they haven’t.
Not if they’re White British anyway.
Having been born and raised in the UK by a White English mother and an Iranian father, it never occurred to me that my citizenship was worth any less than my white friends and family, but as it turns out, I’m a second class citizen in the eyes of this Conservative Party, who have denaturalised more people than any other government since World War II. By its very creation, this system of denaturalisation has made it impossible to strip White Britons of their citizenship, but almost too easy to take it away from people of colour.
87.1% of the population in the last census classified themselves as White British. These 55 million individuals, we now know, are the ‘elite’ residents of the UK; free to do whatever they choose, safe in the knowledge that their right to British citizenship will never be questioned. But what of the other 11 million? These people, myself included, are now acutely aware of how little value the country we call home places on our human rights. Begum’s case has shone a spotlight on the true racism of the UK justice system, whether she has broken the law or not is completely irrelevant. Every British national, regardless of their ethnicity, should be afforded the same rights, and until last week the majority of the population were seemingly unaware that this wasn’t the case.
This isn’t about keeping the country safe, it’s about holding white nationals close, and removing ‘undesirable’ ethnic minorities. We’ve seen the likes of El Shafee Elsheikh, Alexanda Kotey, Mahdi Hashi, Bilal al-Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr all stripped of their citizenship because of terrorist related activities. These men are all non-white dual-nationals, some born and raised in the UK, others having moved there as children. Compare this with the case of Jack Letts, a white dual citizen of Britain and Canada, also suspected of terrorism. There is nothing that sets him apart from the others, aside from the colour of his skin, and yet he remains a dual national with neither Canada nor Britain acting to remove his citizenship.
Essentially, the UK government has created a tiered system of citizenship whereby white nationals are treated with greater respect than people of colour. So congratulations to the Conservative government for confirming what the rest of the world already knew, if you’re not white, you’re not welcome.
Just last year, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, issued a statement outlining his vision for the future of the prison service. In this speech he determined that protection, punishment and rehabilitation are the driving forces behind imprisoning individuals who have committed crimes. He goes on to say that “It is only by prioritising rehabilitation that we can reduce reoffending and, in turn, the numbers of future victims of crime.” And yet here we are, refusing that opportunity to someone who has yet to even be arrested for a crime, let alone convicted of one.
Imagine the work that could be done to help deradicalise young women like Begum, and involve them in helping to prevent other girls following the same path. We’ve seen how well it works with former gang members, so why are we so averse to trying the same thing with radicalised individuals? The fact is, tackling this issue would mean the government admitting their complicity in decades of systemic racism…we can but dream!
So to everyone who spoke up this week in support of Sajid Javid just remember this, your approval tells every single one of your non-white friends that you believe their lives are worth less than yours. Doesn’t feel so good now does it?