BBC Sounds divides listeners after launching 10-part podcast about Shamima Begum’s time in ISIS
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Begum was just age 15 when she left her home in East London alongside her school friends Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase to join the Islamic State group in 2015.
She was banned from entering Britain and had her citizenship withdrawn after being found in a refugee camp in 2019.
The 23-year-old, who now lives at the Al-Roj camp in northern Syria, spent a year talking to journalist Josh Baker to get “her full account of what really happened after she disappeared” for the BBC Sounds podcast.
Episode one of the 10-part podcast which seeks “to separate fact from fiction” was released today on BBC Sounds and is set to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
Speaking ahead of its debut, Josh Baker said: "There are different ways to tell the Shamima Begum story. There’s the one about a 15-year-old schoolgirl who was groomed and lured to a war zone by ISIS and now needs saving from a Syrian detention camp.
“And there’s the one about a traitor, who fled Britain to join ISIS and became known the world over as a terrorist and must be stopped from coming back to Britain.
“As Shamima challenges the removal of her British citizenship by the UK government, I’ve examined her accounts to give listeners a definitive narrative on this complex, nuanced and shocking story."
In episode one, Begum explains that she found instructions about what to do before travelling to Syria online but the experience was still “scary”.
She also complains about now having to live in a detention camp run by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
“This is, I feel, worse than a prison. I think it’s because at least with prison sentences you know that there will be an end but here you don’t know if there’s going to be an end,” she says.
Begum is fighting to have her citizenship restored, despite knowing that the public see her “as a danger” and “potential risk to them, to their safety, to their way of living.”
The Home Office centres are having to consider if she is a victim of trafficking for sexual exploitation, or was fully committed to the terrorist group when she and her teenage friends joined.
She blames the media for the anger the public feels towards her, saying: “I don’t think it’s actually towards me. I think it’s towards ISIS.
“When they think of ISIS they think of me because I’ve been put on the media so much but what was there to obsess over?
“We went to Isis, that was it. It was over, it was over and done with, what more is there to say?
“Like, they just wanted to continue the story because it was a story, it was the big story.”
Twitter users have been left divided by the decision to release the podcast, with many arguing that Begum shouldn’t be given a platform to recount what happened.
One wrote: “Why on earth are the BBC doing a 10 part podcast on Shamima Begum so she can tell her story ? Absolutely disgusting by them using license payers money for this propaganda 😡 and they wonder why the public think they’re not fit for purpose #DefundTheBBC #BBC”
Another said: “BBC gives Shamima Begum 10-part PODCAST to tell her story of how she joined ISIS. I’m all for different views but I draw the line at giving terrorists a platform.
“Shamima Begum was promoting and giving care and comfort to ISIS, the enemy of many countries, including Syria.”
A third added: “Exactly how much did the BBC pay Shamima Begum, the ISIS terrorist, for a 10 part podcast?
“British citizens who have had the licence fee extorted from them by the BBC have funded this rubbish & propaganda! DISGUSTING.”
However, others have admitted they are eager to listen to the podcast and believe it could prevent similar situations from occuring in the future.
One commented: “You don’t need to have mental health issues to be groomed, which is why we need to be aware of it. I’m glad BBC is giving Shamima Begum a podcast. Maybe her experience can help prevent others following suit.”
Another wrote: “I’m not a fan of Podcasts, but this is one I’d really like to listen to. Shamima Begum was a 15 year old child who was groomed by Isis. Everyone talks about her from their own perspective, it would be nice to hear her side of the story.”