Olympic sculptor says Shamima Begum ‘would be treated as a victim if she was white’


Olympic sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor has slammed the UK’s treatment of Shamima Begum, calling it a “disgraceful indictment of our national conscience.”

Ms Begum was 15 when she and two other east London schoolgirls travelled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State group (IS) in February 2015.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that Ms Begum cannot return to the UK to pursue an appeal against the removal of her British citizenship.

In a statement Sir Anish compared Britain to “Soviet Russia” and said Ms Begum’s treatment was a continuation of the “‘divide and rule’, the horror that sustained the British Empire for 200 years”.

The artist said: “Let us for one moment imagine that four young white school girls from Wiltshire were enticed to go to Syria and join ISIS.

Shamima Begum
Shamima Begum

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“Would they be seen as terrorists or victims of terrorists?

“We have no doubt that we would be demanding that no expense be spared and not a moment wasted in having them returned to the safety of their homes in England.”

He said “Britain has shamelessly shirked its responsibility” and “authorities have “deliberately and knowingly removed Shamima’s ability to access basic rights anywhere in the world”.

The Supreme Court ruling is a “disgraceful indictment of our national conscience”, he said.

Ms Begum’s British citizenship was revoked on national security grounds shortly after she was found, nine months’ pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.

She said she married Dutch convert Yago Riedijk 10 days after arriving in IS territory.

She told The Times in 2019 that her children, a one-year-old girl and a three-month-old boy, had both since died.

Her third child died in the al-Roj camp in March 2019, shortly after he was born.

Shamima Begum
The British teenager fled to join the Islamic State group in Syria

Sir Anish said: “Shamima is a British citizen, and it is her right to be tried in the British courts by a jury of her peers for any offence she may have committed.”

Criticising Priti Patel and Sajid Javid, he said that “at the hands of two home secretaries” who are “desperate to prove their right wing credentials, (her) birth right has been stolen from her and from the people of this country”.

And Sir Anish, whose Olympic Park sculpture is a famous landmark, said: “This is ‘divide and rule’, the horror that sustained the British Empire for 200 years. Have we regressed to now practising this on home turf?”

He said Ms Begum’s radicalisation, as as schoolgirl, was “an indictment of the lack of care and funding for those of non-white ethnic backgrounds”.

Anish Kapoor poses for photographers in front of the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Anish Kapoor designed the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower

And he said in the statement, co-authored by Tasnime Akunjee, Ms Begum’s family’s lawyer in the UK: “Shamima is the tragic scapegoat of a punitive unforgiving government intent on harsh retribution.

“What happened to Christian forgiveness? Does it not apply to a woman – and a dark skinned one at that? It seem that different rules apply.”

He added: “Is it perhaps that some of us are more British than others of us? Shamima is of Bangladeshi descent, does that change her right to British nationality? I am tempted to think it does especially in the light of the Supreme Court’s judgment.”

Britain “needs to show compassion and understanding” and “the fact that Shamima wants to come back to the UK shows that she is willing to face the law here for her past mistakes”, Sir Anish wrote.

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