It was four years ago when Shamima Begum and her two friends left the UK to spend the best days of her life in Syria with the maniacal islamic fascists of ISIS. Now, nine months pregnant and in a camp in Syria, she wants to come home. She doesn’t regret going to Raqqa, but now she wants to come ‘home’. “I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago,” she says.
I wasn’t the most mature 15 year old, I admit, but sneaking off abroad to meet up with a group of psychotic lunatics in some kind of religious caliphate, or some kind of equivalent was not on my horizon. I had a whole of interests back then, including music, football and girls, pretty well in that order. Another thing was that I was not attached to a religion which in the case of islam is all encompassing.
With no God in my life, I was never going to face religious indoctrination, or radicalisation, from any religious group. My immaturity was, in effect, immaterial. Ms Begum and her friends were in a different place.
They didn’t attend a muslim school, as such, but the majority of pupils there are muslim. There is no evidence that they were radicalised at school, although being schooled in an islamic environment can’t help. Similarly, it is likely, almost certain, that her home life would be based on religious tradition. How much would it take to persuade a child of 15 that the religion her family, her mosque, told her that the truth, the full truth and the only truth was being expressed in Raqqa? The answer is not much. Should we allow Ms Begum back into the country? I’ll come to that in a moment.
As someone who believes in a secular society, where no religion gains any special privileges, and everyone lives under the same laws with the same entitlements, I feel strongly that we need to change. Of course, in a secular society everyone is free to believe in any God they like, but that cannot in any way affect the lives of anyone else. There can be no Sharia law, there can be no kosher or halal slaughter of animals, there can be no religious schools, there can be no representatives of religion in parliament (the UK and Iran are the only two countries in the world who allow this). In short, believe in whatever you want, but the law of the land comes first. Multi-ethnicity yes, multiculturalism no. Sadly, at the moment, this simply does not happen.
Thanks to successive governments, there are now more ‘faith’ schools than ever, even though we know that ‘faith’ schools encourage division. Look at Northern Ireland. That went well. We need to get rid of the lot and we need to do it now. I repeat, people should be free to express their own religions but that should not impinge on society or affect the lives of others. This will include the end of catholic schools, COfE schools, islamic schools – every single one. This will be a valuable start to making our country better, through secularism.
Now I shall sound like some right wing lunatic, but here goes anyway. What people object to the fact there are no longer any religious schools? The law of the land, which reigns supreme, declares there are no religious schools. It is up to theists to decide what they want to do. Nothing can stop them taking their children to church, or encouraging them to read religious writings, although I would rather parents didn’t force their children to be religious. It is not a coincidence that children almost always have the same religion as their parents. But unless children are persuaded at an early age that God is a thing, religion will die out. You can see why there would be an almighty fight to if and when the government showed the courage to ban religious schools. But unless we mean business, things will not stay the same; they will get worse. If you want a religious school, you won’t find one in the UK.
As for Ms Begum, my first reaction was that I would not want her back in this country in a month of Sundays. My second was much the same. In any event, Britain has no consulate in Syria so even if we wanted to help her return home, sort of sending people into a very dangerous area to collect someone who decided to live among religious maniacs, wasn’t ‘fazed’ when she saw a rubbish bin full of decapitated heads in Raqqa and still doesn’t regret going, there’s nothing we can do. I’m very happy to leave it that way.
In my view, all religions are bad but some are worse than others. Islam is definitely worse than most but in order to reduce the risks we face, we need a secular country. Anything less merely encourages the extremists. It’s a very simple choice although it is one that would require courage. Politicians of all colours are not noted for courage and I expect things to carry on getting worse.