Shamima Begum: The Latest Example of the Institutionally Racist British Media?
The following article does not reflect the views of KUBE or Keele University, and only of the writer.
Foreword: This is a not an article about the moral dilemma of whether new mother and IS Bride, Shamima Begum, should be allowed to return to the UK after leaving the isle at age 15 to become an IS Bride. This is an article about the world’s reaction to Begum’s story. Do I have an opinion on whether Begum should be allowed back into the country? Yes. That opinion, however, is irrelevant to the content of this article. This is an article that focuses on the media portrayal of the story surrounding Begum.
Begum’s story starts at age 15 when she left the UK to marry an IS fighter who she had yet to meet. 10 days after arriving in Syria she was the bride of IS fighter named Yago Riedijk. Two lost children and four years later, Begum wants to return to the UK to give birth to her third baby, where the baby will be safe. Over the last week the media have struggled to talk about anything else. The full original interview with Sky News can be found here.
Stories like this (“Stories-of-the-Week”, as I like to call them) are not uncommon in the media. The story of Begum will soon be resolved, and the media will go from reporting about nothing but Begum to avoiding the topic entirely. As society we love our weekly serialised storytelling. One needs to look no further than the weekly structure of TV shows to see that. When the next controversial Story-of-the-Week comes along people will almost forget about Begum, but should they?
While a lot of UK media outlets are trying to squeeze out articles about every little detail of the story, foreign news outlets are starting to turn their attention to the bigger picture. Instead of asking “what’s the story of Shamima Begum?” they have started to ask: “what does Begum’s story mean?” After reporting the initial story surrounding Begum, Gulf News begins to explain ‘How Daesh recruits young brides for militants.’ The methods used do not differ much to a sexual predators’ grooming of a young person, and pose a problem that needs addressing. Meanwhile some UK news outlets choose to focus on Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to Begum’s story, and prove to be no help at all to the situation.
Meanwhile, The Irish Times have taken a statistics-heavy approach to the overall situation of IS fighters and followers returning to Europe filled with regret for their actions. Reports on the stances of politicians and world leaders are also reported in the article, with very little mention of Begum. They have approached the larger issue. Begum, like many others, is now a refugee. Her innocent baby, like many others, has been born a refugee. What many UK news outlets are misunderstanding is that Begum is not just the story, but an example of it.
Begum is of interest, however, because she is a person. She is an identity. Though she did not want to become the poster girl of IS, Begum has inadvertently become the poster girl of returning IS brides. It is likely that less people will click on an article about IS Brides as an entity becoming refugees, and this is where the media turns bad. In an attempt to gain readership, Begum has been demonised by the media.
In what must be the most contradictory article of all time, The Sun ran the sub-heading ‘REMORSELESS jihadi bride Shamima Begum today gloated how the Manchester bombing which killed 22 people was “justified” retaliation for Syria air strikes,’ though later report ‘the 19-year-old said, however, that she felt “regret” for the attack, where 22 innocent lives were lost on May 2017 at the Manchester Arena at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.’ Here The Sun are seen taking an abhorrent disaster, and invasion of national security, and indirectly weaponising to turn their readers against Begum. They paint her as ‘remorseless’ to then later report that she is regretful in the same article. I suppose ‘REGRETFUL jihadi bride’ does not pull in the same amount of readers, however. The comment on the justification of the attack is addressed in the article, though is done so in a quote from Begum that is obviously a past opinion.
The Sun have run many articles on Begum’s story, including the opinion of notorious racist Piers Morgan, in which there is an out-of-context image of Begum smiling with the caption ‘Shamima Begum smiled as she was interviewed about her time in Syria’. In another article The Sun run the headline ‘PRINCESS PUSHY Shamima Begum moans she’s not getting ‘supplies right now’ as ISIS bride festers in squalid Syrian refugee camp,’ thus addressing the horrid conditions of a Syrian Refugee camp but instead choosing to demonise Begum as opposed to addressing them.
News outlet The Mirror continues this trend with articles titled ‘Shamima Begum could “launch terror attacks in Britain if she’s allowed back”’, of which the headline fails to state that the quote is in reference to Home Secretary Sajid Javid instead, acting as a statement that continues to demonise Begum. Though I personally would not call The Sun and Mirror the crème-de-la-crème of high-quality reporting, it is undeniable that they are two of Britain’s most popular news outlets. Their influence over the British public is often felt (especially around election time), and their negative approach to Begum could potentially be viewed as propaganda against all in her situation, despite their individual stories.
Begum’s tale has all the ingredients for a Story-of-the-Week: it opposes the sanctity of British Nationalism, it features the bad guys to Britain’s heroic nation, and it is centred around somebody who is not a white British citizen. It is a Story-of-the-Week because it is easy to position Shamima Begum as an outsider in this narrative. She is of Bangladeshi heritage, despite never visiting Bangladesh. In many simple narratives the antagonist is an outsider who disrupts life-as-we-know-it for the protagonist, and in the eyes of the British public IS is that antagonist. Every antagonist, however, needs a face, and Shamima Begum has become the current face of IS for the British public due to the rest of IS remaining faceless. It is easy for the media to pin Begum’s face onto the poster of IS because she is, by biological heritage and her status as a minority, an outsider. Despite all this, however, until a few days ago she was classified as a British.
IS, as a terrorist organisation, poses a disruption to national security and life-as-we-know-it in Britain. But have you ever heard of Nation Action? They are a Neo-Nazi terrorist organisation made up mainly of white members with direct comparisons to the KKK. I would not blame you if you have never heard of them, for Media Outlets seldom report on them despite their activity taking place solely in the UK. Of course, IS (as we understand) are bigger and more active than National Action and so they will have a more regular presence in the media, but this week’s news surrounding IS has been dominated by one young woman who has not been reported to have committed a single act of terrorism (with the possible exception of marrying a terrorist, depending on where your opinion falls) and wants to get away from terrorism.
Did you know that the number of white people arrested for acts of terror in the UK surpassed people of an Asian background in 2017? Yet where are the mass amounts of articles about this statistic? I suppose demonising white terrorists does not gather readership as successfully as demonising one British woman of Bangladeshi descent who married a terrorist. And this is where the institutionalised racism of Britain, its media, and its people really begins to make itself apparent. The corrupt side of the media has a face and it is institutionalised discrimination against all those who are not white males.
Some members of the public decided to join in with the institutionalised racism too, creating memes such as this:
Now, I enjoy a good meme as much as the next Millennial, but every meme created about Begum being a terrorist only perpetuates the stereotype that every Muslim is a member of IS (which I do not need to tell you is wrong). There starts being a point when a joke stops being a joke, though the strong media presence that demonises Begum creates justification in the minds of some people for racist memes and jokes like this. To them it is all in the name of British solidarity.
Media influence can be found throughout history. Though British media may not be as overt as Nazi Propaganda, the institutionalised racism that it creates and encourages bleeds through the UK like a virus, inflicting many who consume it. Instead of discussing the wider issues, one young woman becomes the victim of its lust for readership. When IS is eventually dismantled, what will happen to all the brides and children of the IS fighters? With the recent news of Begum being refused access to Bangladesh, where can she and so many others turn? If she is a national threat, then is it right to send her to another country? Only this morning, a week after the release of the initial story, have the BBC asked “where now for the IS bride?”. The delay in this question being asked by the BBC has ruptured throughout the country.
Instead of turning the country against her and many like her, perhaps it is time for the British Media to start trying to open the discussion as to what comes next. Once all those who were once affiliated with IS but committed no direct act of terror are left to return to their homes from Syria and face the resistance that Begum has faced, where can they turn? Then again, that question is less interesting for some news outlets than subliminally calling Begum a terrorist.
By Ryan Hutton