Shamima Begum: why being British is a question of race

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGAxm6KJTWE

Let me make my position clear from the outset.

I am not going to defend Shamima Begum‘s action in going to Syria to join ISIS. I am not going to use her age as a defence nor am I going to use the possibility that she was groomed as a defence. I am not going to use the fragility of new mothers to defend her interview remarks and nor will I mount any other defence for her. That is for others to do should they wish to.

I do not know if Shamima Begum’s return to the UK will put the country at risk. I do not know if she intends to come back and start wreaking havoc about the place. I do not know if there are sufficient resources to monitor her if she did return to the UK. I do not know if she should be in jail or if she has committed serious crimes. I do not know if she was brainwashed or if she truly holds the views she espouses. That is for others to decide.

What I do believe is that the Home Secretary’s decision to ‘strip’ her of her British citizenship is downright dangerous, a threat to the rule of law and a threat to all non-whites (in particular) in the UK.

The Home Secretary’s decision is not surprising

Last year, I spent a couple of days in Croatia. What a beautiful country it is. In Dubrovnik, I was approached by a white American man in his late 70s/early 80s who asked me where I was from. I said that I was from London, UK. His reply to me was the following ‘you don’t look like someone who would be from the UK.’ His assumption that I was not from the UK could not have been based on anything other than my race. My accent is British, I was not wearing any garms which could be said to be particularly non-British and nor was I speaking in any other language but English. He later added to his question by asking me where my parents were from. When he told me he was American, I did not ask him whether his parents were actually Italians, Greeks or Scots. I did not make any other assumption. I was not able to and nor did I choose to.

And whilst I consider myself to be both British and Nigerian, truth is, I have spent most of my life in the UK and was born in the UK and am pleased to say, I consider it my home. Nigeria is in my heart and in my blood and if anyone dares to put down Nigerian jollof* or tells me that traditional attire is not beautiful and that the Yoruba language is not full of wonder, I will mount a strong defence. I may not do the same when it comes to Nollywood though. Jokes aside, the UK is the place I call home.

The Home Secretary’s position on Shamima Begum reflects something that many Blacks and non-whites experience in day to day life.

  1. We are asked where we come from as though the default thought of the person asking is that we are not British because we are not white.
  2. Our race is one of the first things highlighted about us when we are ‘losing’ in life but when we are ‘winning’ in life our Britishness is the first thing that the glory hunters set upon. We are claimed as one of them, a Brit.
  3. We are expected to be grateful for being in the UK as though it is only by grace not right that we are British.
  4. It sometimes feels as though non-whites are tolerated in the UK rather than accepted as being just as British as those who are white.

 

Why the Shamima Begum decision threatens the security of non-whites and second generation Brits in the UK

The decision of the Home Secretary is dangerous for the following reasons:

  1. It means that anyone who has a parent born in another country outside of the UK,  can be deemed not British if they are deemed a threat to national security.
  2. It means that irrespective of how long you have lived in the UK and irrespective of whether or not you were born or brought up in the UK, your right to be called British is not a given.
  3. It means that a white British girl in the same position as Shamima Begum would be allowed back in the UK whilst non-whites and those who are second-generation Brits (plastic Brits- let’s say) would not be accorded the same right.
  4. It means that there will be one rule for White British folk and another for non-White British folk and whites whose parents were not born in the UK.
  5. It means that we as non-whites are simply here by the grace of the UK government. We cannot assume that our British citizenship will always be guaranteed to us.

 

Why the Home Secretary’s decision is a threat to the rule of law

Shamima Begum was born in the UK and is a British citizen. No-one disputes that. But, the Home Secretary has decided that since Shamima Begum’s mum is Bangladeshi, Shamima will have claims to Bangladeshi citizenship through that, meaning that she can be stripped of her British citizenship.

The UK Immigration rules, Part 14, 401 states that:

401. For the purposes of this Part a stateless person is a person who:

  1. (a) satisfies the requirements of Article 1(1) of the 1954 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, as a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law;
  2. (b) is in the United Kingdom; and
  3. (c) is not excluded from recognition as a Stateless person under paragraph 402.

402. states that:

A person is excluded from recognition as a stateless person if there are serious reasons for considering that they:

  1. (a) are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations, other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, protection or assistance, so long as they are receiving such protection or assistance;
  2. (b) are recognised by the competent authorities of the country of their former habitual residence as having the rights and obligations which are attached to the possession of the nationality of that country;
  3. (c) have committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provisions in respect of such crimes;
  4. (d) have committed a serious non-political crime outside the UK prior to their arrival in the UK;
  5. (e) have been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

My reading of 401 means that even if Shamima’s mum is from Bangladesh, at present, Shamima herself could not be considered to be Bangladeshi because she has not made an application to be considered as such. So at this particular moment, she cannot be considered a Bangladeshi national. It seems to me that the government have taken advantage of the fact that she is not in the UK to make her, in fact, stateless.

But, if I skip to 402, it seems to me that if she has committed a crime against peace or a war crime etc,  the British government may well be within their rights to exclude her from recognition as a stateless person. 

To my knowledge, Shamima Begum has not been tried in a court of law so it has not been proven that she has in fact committed any of the crimes which may mean that she is excluded from the rules about statelessness. That said, she has been tried in the court of public opinion and deemed a threat. Yet, I firmly believe that the rule of law must never give way to the court of public opinion.

Finally……

The Home Secretary made it clear after the first Shamima Begum interview was aired, that he would do everything in his power to make sure that she was not able to return to this country. He has made good on his word. Well done. A round of applause to you fine sir.

Unfortunately, what he has also done is threaten the rights of all British non-whites in this country and made the ground we walk on feel just a little more unstable today.

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I am not a convert: the problem with gender-neutral toilets

I recently went to see a play called ‘The Convert’ at the Young Vic in Waterloo. For reasons which will remain known only to me and the person who accompanied me, I was not really able to focus on the play and did in fact sleep without shame at points. This will therefore not be a review of ‘The Convert’. I’m sure the play was great. The reviews tell me so. However, the thing that really grabbed my attention were the gender-neutral toilets.

Gender-neutral toilets are a tokenistic concept

In reality, there was nothing new or neutral about the toilets. What was formerly the women’s toilets was now designated as ‘gender-neutral: cubicles’ and what was formerly the men’s toilets were now, ‘gender-neutral: urinals and cubicles’.

The reality of gender-neutral toilets 

Before the play began, I made the following observations. I saw 3 men come out of what were essentially the women’s toilet but saw no woman leave what were essentially the men’s loo.

In the first interval, I heard a woman in the women’s loo exclaim how wonderful it was to have gender neutral toilets and how much she loved it. I then wondered why she still made the decision to use the women’s loo if it was all so wonderful.

In the second interval, I saw a long queue outside the women’s loo. I saw all the men enter the men’s loo and I saw only one woman use the men’s loo. Good for her given that both loos were available for all to use. Personally, I have no desire to visit a men’s loo. I don’t care how long the women’s loo queue is. More fool me you may say. That’s just fine is what I’ll say.

So the question is, why are most women still choosing to use the women’s loo and why are most men still choosing to use the men’s loo? I think it is because we do what we are most comfortable with. For the 3 men who decided to use the women’s loo, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But, in this new world, I have the feeling that the people that will benefit most from this change, will be men, not women.

Why do I care so much?

I made another observation as I queued outside the women’s loo in the second interval. I saw at least 3 men leave the loo and then do up the zips on their trousers. I am not sure if this is normal or a guy thing but it is certainly not something I wish to be exposed to which may have been the case if I had chosen to use the men’s loo.

As a woman, there are times when I want to change outfit or do something which exposes a part of my body that I will only be comfortable doing in front of other women who have breasts and a vagina just as I do. That is my prerogative and my business. I should not have to worry about whether a man who has the right to enter this ‘gender-neutral: cubicles’ loo will enter just as I am about to take my top off or put it back on. Of course, this would not be an everyday occurence anyway but what is wrong with men and women having safe spaces?

I think that what this trend to neutralise the distinction between men and women does is that it risks us no longer being able to acknowledge and celebrate our womanhood and manhood.

I remember a talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in which I asked her what it means to be a woman. Unfortunately, I cannot remember her answer. But when I posed the question to many of my other friends, what I realised is the following. It is definitely about biology but it is also about who we are on the sliding scale of ‘womanness’.

I know some may say I am confusing gender with sex and that is just fine for me. I don’t mind putting the two together because I am a woman who hates clothes shopping but loves book shopping. I love football and UFC but I hate violence. I hate cooking but love to cook for others. I am also a woman who believes being a woman does not mean an iron is an extension of my arm nor does it mean that a hoover is my best friend or any other stereotypes that may exist of how I should be because I am a woman. My hair is short which means sometimes I am mistaken for a guy. I am not offended since I am secure in my womanhood.

Being a woman is like being on a sliding scale. I hate make-up but will go nowhere without earrings. My body is curvy but I am athletic.

So how does all this relate to gender-neutral toilets?

Womanhood is not one thing. But in my opinion, being a woman is first and foremost about our biological difference.

There are biological differences which mean that one person is a woman and another a man. This is irrespective of our opinion about who we are. Surely in the place where we we need to use those biological tools, we should be able to have loos which are for those with penises and loos for those with vaginas. Surely we should have spaces where we can feel comfortable dealing with needs related to menstruation or milk-filled breasts or anything else that affects us because of our female biology.

Surely we can have a gender-neutral loo without disposing of men’s and women’s loos.

 

 

The dying art of conversation/Where now for Rage?*

 

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This was going to be the shortest blog I would ever have written. But then I started writing.

I would like to defend the right of people to debate and discuss. There is a lot going on in our world today and sometimes it feels like a scary world to live in.

Why? Because it feels like we are living in an increasingly polarised world. In this world there are only two camps: THE RIGHT OPINION and THE WRONG OPINION.

The first casualty of this new set-up may just be conversation or at least the right to respectfully diverge in opinion.

What I’m increasingly seeing are attempts to suppress the opinions of or shame those with whom we disagree.

This has left me asking the following questions:

When did we as a society decide that cohabitation is no longer an option when it comes to diverging opinions?

When did we decide that the way to deal with an opinion we disagree with is to abuse or shame a person?

And when did we decide that if you don’t agree with me, YOU are the problem?

Is free speech really alive and kicking in this new world order?

A wise person told me this week that the problem is that some want peace whilst others want war. I think this person might have been right.

This brings me to a separate but connected topic: Rage.

When old wounds or even new ones are opened up, we as individuals and a society need to decide how best to deal with the inevitability of Rage. If we don’t decide on this, then it’s like leaving your front door wide open for the thief to enter.

In this discussion entitled ‘Where now for Rage?’, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:

Is the ultimate aim war or peace?

Is it too early to speak of peace when Rage is still being unleashed?

Should Rage ever be organised or remain unfettered?

Does Rage need a conduit?

Do we seek out a process by which Rage is given the space for self-expression?

And is it even possible to have controlled rage?

Do we have any precedents?

In the aftermath of apartheid and the liberation of the ANC under the leadership of Nelson Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The ANC decided that the best response to the apartheid and brutality that Blacks was not vengeance but reconciliation.

Rage was never completely unleashed because Rage was consigned to the room called RECONCILIATION. This room was imperfect but led to a platform from which to move forwards rather than the regression of all-out war.

Again, I’m left with more questions than answers:

Would some not have preferred retribution?

Should we seek forgiveness and can there be forgiveness without confession or remorse?

Can there be reconciliation even though lives have been destroyed?

With all the issues that are going on in our world today, we need to talk without FEAR of …….

We need to decide how best to respond when we feel/are wronged or when we hear opinions we disagree with.

Do we go for all-out war, or do we seek peace as the end-goal?

These questions are for you and me to weigh-up and answer. This post is not intended as a forum for my opinions. I’m simply saying: WE NEED TO TALK.

I wish to leave you with my final thoughts which are only to be read in the context of DISCUSSION/OPINIONS rather than TRUTH/FACT.

If I say that I am right and you say that you are right, we are one step closer to war. This is called an ARGUMENT. But if I say that I believe I am right but agree to leave room open to change my mind, and you do the same, then we are one step closer to PEACE and RECONCILIATION. This is called a DEBATE or CONVERSATION.

*the original post was edited after a night spent marinating.