Notes on Shamima

Because that’s all these can be really isn’t it? Notes on her. Not for her. Not about her – this will never be about her will it? Its not really about her and never was. No one wants to know what her favourite sauce was with chips, she is far too much gone for that, or too far gone, I suppose.

Is it that I want her humanity restored? No I don’t think so, or not only – I am sick of chasing for our humanity.

I suppose I am wondering about this attempt to humanise her – which is really an attempt to victimise her, to allow her to be a victim. Which is important. And ironic. Because every other day of the year all Muslim women ever get to be is victims – victims to every ghoul imaginable and even those not – victim even to our own decision. And yet on this day of this year Shamima becomes the ultimate agent with more agency than any White Feminist ever trying to save her from ISIS would ever have dreamed of achieving – she is the unrepentant terrorist and we are all astounded, apparently, but also somehow not at all… a Muslim girl from East London was always predisposed to this sort of possibility wasn’t she? We murmur in the back of our minds – or the TV does, or the policies, or the politics.

Was it the leaving that was the sin? Or the staying too long? Or the wanting to come back? Or the lack of the right kind of remorse?

I wonder about the way the British military recruits soldiers. How young white boys are neither really agents or victims just excited and easily enticed by the prospect of adventure.

So I wonder if this is really about whose deaths you condemn more. Or, its about whose deaths you care less about isn’t it? Because we care very little about most death – Syria, Yemen, Nairobi, Gaza, Grenfell, Kenya, Eritrea, five homeless people in a month in Cambridge, Sudanese protestors, political prisoners, babies in the Mediterranean sea – so why is it so important to care about one life and not another? If that’s where the bar is? And I’m not saying it is… I’m asking. Is it that all beheadings should disgust us, or is it that certain ones should and if they don’t rather than address the hypocrisy that may expose we, instead, in turn, must be disgusted?

I wonder what it felt like to give birth and lose a baby twice in a warzone. And I wonder whether Shamima had the words in their language to voice it.

I suppose I am trying to ask myself if I want her humanity to come with her victimhood. Why can’t she be both a victim and an agent? Why is the only possibility for redemption in suggesting she is so utterly irreparably deranged and damaged that she needs fixing. Of course she is traumatised. But how intriguing that her right to citizenship comes to rest on this moral question of remorse – which is not really a question of remorse at all but about whether her body maps onto the body of the nation – which is to say, it is a question of the boundaries of Britishness. We still masquerade that ‘British values’ means something but only use it in imperial tones of “superiority” and “must be learnt by the foreigners” and to demark those who “oppose our values”… and I’m still unsure of them because we say with one hand what they are and do the opposite with the other… stripping citizenship itself being a case in point… law and order till its not ey lads?

I am trying to understand – if it is possible for us to think beyond two opposing options and consider further: what would it mean if Shamima was both groomed and actively a decision-maker in her own life? If both, where would she fit? Could she still be human? Why can Muslim women only be victims or villains? Ofsted want to make sure we’re not being forced to wear scarves to school. Then the Department for Communities and Local Government want to empower us to speak English which will somehow prevent Muslim men becoming terrorists because whilst our need to gain confidence apparently stems from them stopping us, we also somehow wield the power to influence every single one of them… Boris says we are bank robbers, the newspapers say we are “jihadi brides”… which I still cannot fathom as a phrase… but it quite impressively encapsulates our innate victimhood and villany in one go: our colonially construed predisposition to violence and innate disposition to patriarchy…

I suppose I just wonder how Shamima is. I wish there was space to wonder that. Or space for her to come to her family safely without it having to be her being “saved” – though in a way, of course it is. But being safe and being saved are not the same, and saviours may sometimes be captors of another kind, no? Suddenly our borders become the marker of our hospitality and generosity – a reminder that those of us on the inside aren’t really permanently placed. Could she come back and still be angry? Would that be okay or would that be unforgivable? Could she come back and hate Britain? Or would she receive the Pharonic, ‘didn’t we raise you in our household, how can you be ungrateful?’

I just wonder what the end-goal is for everyone. I know no one cares what it is for Shamima, or I doubt they do. For her to heal is probably not that high on anyone’s agenda. As I have always said, what is said about Muslim women is never as much about us than it is about policing the boundaries of the nation, displacing political grievances, depoliticising problems and justifying state violence. In this case the boxes are all ticked regarding whose babies she is birthing and the racial, temporal and geographic reproduction that her biological function will serve; the idea that what she has experienced is not an experience but an innate predisposition awakened (radicalisation) in her working-class brown girl Muslim body; and the displacement of the problem as solely “grooming” – if we are going to eventually go with that – not the conditions that made her vulnerable to start with.

And maybe that is where I want to land – at vulnerability. Can we think of Shamima as vulnerable? For to be vulnerable is to be neither solely a victim or a villain, it is to be agent and antagonised, exploited and provoked, but also, ultimately, to be young, to be human, to have context and individuality and the opportunity to not stay the same.


8 thoughts on “Notes on Shamima

  1. As I have always said, what is said about Muslim women is never as much about us than it is about policing the boundaries of the nation, displacing political grievances, depoliticising problems and justifying state violence.

    Well said. 🙂


  2. This is such a good, thought-provoking, powerful and important post! These are just the thoughts that I have but you’ve weaved them in such good language and words. I wish more people would read this and try to see the situation from this perspective. Shamima was brought up in Britain and was radicalised in Britain. She always was and is Britain’s responsibility. It’s so shallow how they expect someone who was groomed to suddenly begin to think differently once she’s turned an ‘adult’ legally without taking into consideration the environment where she was and the impact it had. Sorry I’m venting but I’m so glad I came across this post!


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