Of course Shamima Begum should get legal aid – Channel 4’s Derry Girls helps explain why

Snide comments from Jeremy Hunt may appease the Tory faithful, but they don’t help get to grips with what happened and why

As we squirm with joy at Channel Four’s Derry Girls, Muriel Spark’s brilliant novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie comes to mind. Spark brings to life a gaggle of girls, the “Brodie set”, all of whom have fallen under the spell of their teacher. The troubled Derry in the nineties is replaced by 1930s Edinburgh with the Spanish Civil War providing the backdrop.

As with the Derry Girls, religion bumps along with political tensions in the Brodie set’s world. The genius of both is how they capture the headstrong spirit of adolescent girls who remain children at heart. The parallels with Shamima Begum are obvious.

Carefully knitted into Spark’s storyline is the plight of Joyce Emily Hammond. Girls can be cruel. The Brodie set don’t allow Joyce to join their gang, but she remains bewitched by Brodie. The most gutting moment of the book is when we hear the news that Joyce has been killed in Spain. Inspired by Brodie’s fascism, the teenager runs off to Spain to fight. She’s collateral damage for Franco’s forces, but ultimately she dies for Brodie.

That story seems very familiar. Now we are struggling with the aftermath of a deluded teenager scurrying off to join up in her very own Spanish Civil War, albeit this time in Syria, fighting for the wrong side. To the extent that Shamima is still alive, she’s lucky. She’s been spared the fate of Joyce, but she’s experienced stuff and done things that teenagers should not.

War is barbaric. It’s why international human rights law won’t allow people under 18 – children – to fight. Their youth and innocence should be protected. They’re easy to exploit. We know child soldiers are capable of committing the most heinous war crimes. Children’s brains aren’t capable of processing reality in the way that adults’ can.

Shamima’s remarkable admissions in her interview with the journalist who discovered her were a revelation. It confirmed what child rights specialists know. Because of the nature of childhood, young people must be spared the reality of war.

Instead of allowing Shamima to return to the UK, she is instead denied her UK citizenship. Today it has been disclosed that she will receive legal aid to challenge that decision. On the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, fell into the trap of saying he was personally “disappointed” by the decision to grant her legal aid. By expressing this opinion, Hunt gratuitously politicised Shamima’s circumstances. When will the government learn that they must not undermine justice?

The denial of citizenship is too serious for the foreign secretary to be expressing his off-the-cuff view. Inevitably, Shamima will win her case. Citizenship is fundamental. There have to be exceptional reasons to remove it. Shamima has known no other citizenship than British. Because citizenship is so core to social identity, human rights law defends it robustly. It goes without saying that if Shamima is eligible for legal aid, when faced with the loss of her identity, legal aid will be granted.



1 reply

  1. Of course Shamima Begum should get legal aid – Channel 4’s Derry Girls helps explain why? >> citizenship is so core to social identity:>> British citizenship bears no resemblance to ISIS (middle east terrorism).I disagree with the Derry Girls ‘go-compare’ resembled conclusion, obviously the result of geographical upbringing, a continued carried reminder of past that they were not part of.

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