The sinister celebrification of Shamima Begum


Brendan O’Neill

Shamima Begum (Credit: GMB)

Brendan O’Neill

7 February 2023

7:07 PM

So is Shamima Begum a celebrity now? She was splashed on the front page of the Times’ Magazine over the weekend. ‘I was in love with the idea of the Islamic State. I was in denial. Now I have a lot of regret’, says the strapline, next to a pic of a madeover Begum sporting a fetching vest, baseball cap and fire-engine red nail polish. How long till she has her own reality TV show? The Only Way Is Raqqa, perhaps.

The media’s sympathy for Shamima Begum is starting to creep me out. Lovingly framed, soft-lens photos accompany the interview. She stares doe-eyed into the camera and pleads for our understanding. The reason she fled Bethnal Green for Raqqa was because she was ‘not content’ with her life, she says. Fetch me my tiny violin. Most teens are not content with their lives but they don’t run away to join a genocidal death cult that was beheading Christians and burning to death Yazidi girls in iron cages.

This is the thinnest and most nauseating claim to victimhood I have seen in some time

The Times piece is written by Josh Baker. He also made the BBC’s ten-part podcast about Begum. One of the episodes was called ‘I’m not a monster’. Some wannabe celebs would give their left arm for a glamorous magazine photo-shoot and a hit pod on BBC Sounds. Forget going on Love Island or Big Brother – it seems the speediest route to stardom these days is to throw your lot in with a psychotic foreign terror group.

Baker does press Begum in his Times’ piece. He challenges her on certain inconsistencies in her story. But overall it’s an empathetic portrait. Apparently racism in the UK was partly to blame for Begum’s decision to go on a 3,000-mile trek to join the murderous dystopia of the Islamic State. She wanted to be ‘accepted by (British) society’ but she never felt that she was, ‘because of racism and other things’.

This is the thinnest and most nauseating claim to victimhood I have seen in some time. For Shamima to implicate Britons, us apparently bigoted imbeciles, in her decision to align with the forces of barbarism is perverse. In this telling, the problem was not so much Begum’s morally depraved choice to sign up with the enemies of humanity – it was the failure of us terrible Brits to make her feel content here at home. We’re the real villains of the piece.

To appreciate how unusual it is for the newspaper of record to give space to Begum to play the pity card, imagine if the scenario was a little different. Imagine if a white British boy had run away to join a neo-Nazi movement that was massacring black people in their thousands. Do you think he’d get a sexy photo shoot at the Times and a soppy pod with the BBC? Do you think the middle classes would nod sympathetically over their granola as they read his pained pleas about never feeling ‘content’ at home? ‘Poor lad.’ Not a chance.

Identity politics is at play in the celebrification of Shamima. The chattering classes’ view of British Muslims as victims, as an oppressed category, has unquestionably shaped their attitude to Begum. Some even present her as a survivor of Islamophobia. A writer for the Metro says she was the target of a ‘media-induced Islamophobia frenzy’. Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu suggested Shamima’s citizenship was only stripped ‘because she is brown’. This is such arrant nonsense. The British-Canadian Jack Letts also had his British citizenship rescinded when he worked for Isis and he’s as white as me.

There is something really off in the transformation of Begum into a celebrity sufferer. It steals the focus from those who really suffered – from the Yazidi women, Kurdish citizens, Christians and ‘heretical’ Muslims who were slaughtered on a neo-fascistic scale by the organisation Begum joined. Every tear shed for Shamima’s Islamic State experience is one less tear shed for those who experienced the Islamic State’s ferocious, apocalyptic violence.

I can’t help but wonder what Yazidi women will think if they see that cool, sad photo of Shamima on the front of the Times’ magazine. They have every right to think Britain has lost the moral plot. Indeed, a couple of years ago the Muslim Council of Britain published a report slamming the UK media’s treatment of Islam. The report was widely praised by liberal and leftish observers. One of the media articles flagged up as problematic in the report was a Daily Mail interview with a Yazidi woman who had been enslaved and raped by Isis. The MCB suggested the Mail’s decision to turn one of the woman’s comments into a big, blown-up pull quote – the bit where she said Isis members considered it ‘Islamic law’ to rape non-Muslim women – was wrong. It risked ‘perpetuating falsehoods about Islam’.

Take that in. Stop for a minute and think about this. You now live in a country where an interview with a Yazidi victim of the Islamic State’s terror can be treated as problematic, while a soft, friendly interview with a former Islamic State supporter is viewed as normal. We are well and truly through the moral looking-glass.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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