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Love and justice after terror

God’s love is for everyone, including Shamima Begum

The story of Shamima Begum has divided the country this week. The 19 year old is one of three teenagers who travelled from London to Syria in 2015 to join IS.

Now, with the movement largely defeated, Begum was discovered by a Times journalist in a refugee camp, pregnant with her third child (having lost two other children during her time in Syria). In an interview with Anthony Lloyd, she said that she wanted to return to the UK

On Tuesday it was revealed that Home Secretary Sajid Javid had decided to remove Begum’s British citizenship, on the grounds that this would be for the public good and that, as her mother is a Bangladeshi national, she could theoretically apply for citizenship there. Suddenly, we’ve been confronted with deep questions around reconciliation, citizenship and justice in the aftermath of one of the most brutal conflicts so far this century. 

At the height of IS’s rise to power, I heard a Christian minister remark that it was now much easier to speak bluntly about evil given the actions of that group. Yet, despite this, the debate around Begum and others shows that we still have some progress to make in our approach. What is the just response to such evil and those complicit in it – both for our country and for us as individuals? 

A just national response will surely mean fulfilling our responsibilities under international law and universal human rights. As political theologian Anna Rowlands argues in the Church Times: To deprive someone of statehood is to enact one of the most cruel powers in the arsenal that the liberal state possesses, and, in doing so, in a case like this, we place ourselves outside of the conventions that govern international law.” We should not be surprised if the Home Secretary’s decision is struck down by the courts on this basis. 

After all, we do not make decisions about international norms in a vacuum. Our moral reasoning on questions like this is always being watched around the world. We Christians should remember that in some countries the majority view our brothers and sisters in Christ as traitors, undeserving of protection – in much the same way as many in the UK view Shamima Begum. However unjustly, many authoritarian regimes around the world would be happy to strip people of their citizenship, citing the UK’s actions as dubious precedent. So for the sake of Christians and other minorities, if nothing else, we ourselves should be above reproach, and be wary of any action on this case which contradicts due process in the name of a majority view. 

Justice gives our country responsibilities: to protect its citizens and to honour those who have suffered. In particular, we cannot lose sight of the victims of IS in the UK, Iraq and Syria, some of whom are themselves prevented from returning home. But justice also gives our country responsibilities, however difficult, towards British perpetrators. Arguably, prosecution is the best way both of ensuring the victims are heard and of taking responsibility for perpetrators. Even punishment is not the end of a relationship; it recognises our responsibility for the one being punished, as well as holding out the hope of restoration and reconciliation. 

But, what is our responsibility as individual Christians towards our enemies? Most of us have not suffered directly at the hands of IS. Most of us will not be decision-makers in the judicial process. Nonetheless, for us Jesus’ teaching is clear. As we read in Matthew 5:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The love which Jesus commands is not vague goodwill, a hope for the best that flies in the face of how the world actually is. It is nothing less than the imitation of God, and an act of faith that this God really is the Lord of the world and that we are His children. This is the God we worship, whose kindness is intended to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4), and whose patience desires that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9).

This love, in God’s case and ours, is explicitly extended to those who are unrepentant – for such were some of us. It is a love that looks for restoration in however unlikely the circumstances – for spiritually those were our circumstances (Ephesians 2:1 – 4, 11 – 13). And it is a love that prays, for victims and for perpetrators (Luke 23:34). So as the debate continues on our country’s best response, let’s keep all involved: leaders, victims, and perpetrators, in our prayers. 

About the author

John began working at the Evangelical Alliance in 2016, focusing on issues of debate in parliament that are relevant to evangelical Christians in the UK. Before this he worked as a research assistant for the Church of England Bishop of Coventry, supporting his work in the House of Lords and his focus on freedom of religion or belief and global reconciliation. He holds a BA in Theology and an MPhil in Judaism and Christianity in the Graeco-Roman world, and he remains very interested in biblical studies and inter-religious dialogue. He also teaches English to speakers of other languages at a class run by his church.

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