Civics: Jihadi brides and the meaning of citizenship

Royal Khalaf:

There’s at least one for every country. They have names like Shamima, Mathilde and Hoda. Some are barely adults; others are now nearing middle-age. Some are repenting their sins; others remain defiant.

These are the western women lured to Syria and Iraq to marry Isis fighters. Just a few years ago, they were the cause of much soul searching in western societies and a fair amount of tension within Muslim minorities. With the Isis caliphate now collapsing, and the captured women demanding to return home with their children, a new debate is raging. This time, it is over the responsibility of states towards them and the rights and obligations attached to citizenship.

From London, to Paris and Washington, governments are trying to wash their hands of the women. Some are turning a blind eye to their existence, while others seek to strip the dual nationals among them of their citizenship (international law prohibits revoking citizenship only if it renders the person stateless). In the US, the authorities have argued that Hoda Muthana from Alabama should have never been given her American citizenship in the first place.

In effect, governments are shifting responsibility for their nationals on to other actors far less equipped to deal with them. In the UK, the case of Shamima Begum, the 19-year-old of Bangladeshi heritage, has been much publicised. The Home Office says her citizenship will be revoked, arguing that she has an alternative nationality, though Bangladesh insists it will not grant it. For now at least, she will remain in a internment camp in Syria. Her case, which is likely to play out in the courts, has raised an important question: are citizenship rights for dual nationals more conditional than those of single nationals?