Where is the 'Shamima treatment' for British fighters joining Israel's genocide in Gaza?

Where is the 'Shamima treatment' for British fighters joining Israel's genocide in Gaza?
The glorification of British soldiers joining the Israeli army and committing war crimes in Gaza reveals Islamophobic double standards, writes Nadeine Asbali.
6 min read
05 Jan, 2024
The treatment of these Britons compared to young British Muslims reveals a glaring double standard, writes Nadeine Asbali.

Over the past three months, hundreds of British citizens have rushed to the Middle East to take part in a genocidal military campaign far from home.

These Britons have willingly participated in heinous acts of terror, including carpet bombing hospitals, schools and refugee camps, deliberately murdering journalists and their families, extrajudicial killings, and parading innocent civilians through the streets naked.

Now, assuming that mainstream Western media has succeeded in normalising Islamophobia, it’s likely that you have a certain kind of person in mind when you imagine Britons fleeing to the Middle East: young, impressionable Muslims going off to join Islamist movements.

However, unlike previous moments in recent history, there has been no public panic, no institutional outrage at this exodus of Britons abroad.

"But where there should be shock, outrage and even condemnation at this phenomenon, there is nothing but silence at best and glorification at worst"

There is no increased police presence at the border or in places of worship to root out those intent on killing civilians. No haphazard policies hurried through parliament to ensure those that go can never return without facing justice for their war crimes.

No tabloid papers postulating: Where were they radicalised? Where did they learn to hate? Why can’t they integrate?

Because this time, the Britons flocking to the Middle East are not kids from Tower Hamlets and Bradford named Mohammad and Shamima.

These are British Israelis and British Jews who have rushed to join Israel’s war on Gaza. NHS doctors, army veterans and university chaplains have all signed up to join the Israeli army, which masquerades behind the misnomer Israeli Defence Force.

These British citizens are complicit in an ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people of Gaza, one that has killed more than 22,400 people so far, including over 9,000 children. 

But where there should be shock, outrage and even condemnation at this phenomenon, there is nothing but silence at best and glorification at worst.

It is impossible to miss the glaring double standards between the treatment of these young British Jews running to Israel to fight with Israel’s occupation forces (IOF) versus young British Muslims who joined the Islamic State (IS) in the 2010s in media, government and society alike.

When a 15-year-old British child called Shamima Begum was groomed in her east London bedroom by a grown man, who just happened to be a Western intelligence asset, to go join IS in Syria, she was immediately outcast by the only nation she had called home.

Begum became the ultimate symbol of Islam’s threat to the West. She became a harbinger of social decline, a mascot for the right-wing conviction that multiculturalism never worked anyway.

It didn’t matter that Begum was British. It didn’t matter that she was a child, or that she had been a victim of human trafficking. It didn’t matter because she was Muslim.

Her face was plastered on the front page of every tabloid newspaper and her name became part racial slur, part sick joke. Her British citizenship was immediately revoked, rendering her stateless, her babies dying as she languished in a Syrian refugee camp.

Indeed, such a preoccupation did her case become in the minds of the government that it paved the way for the Nationality and Borders Bill 2022, which now means any of us with even tenuous ties to another country can be stripped of our British citizenship. Even if this is the only country we have ever known.

In contrast, this recent spate of British IOF volunteer recruits (who are not only grown adults with full agency but also actively joining battle rather than simply choosing to participate in society) have invariably been portrayed as heroes by the press.

"Whereas British Jews joining the IDF are selfless and heroic, young Muslims radicalised online saw their humanity stripped from them as soon as they left British soil"

Words like ‘bravery’ and ‘sacrifice’ adorn headlines next to carefully chosen photos of them embracing their grandma or doing volunteer work in Africa, hugging their childhood pet or graduating from a top university.

Their justifications for travelling to a foreign country to engage in genocide are framed as ‘protecting’ and ‘defending’ rather than engaging in the calculated mass eradication of an entire population.

Their aims are painted as legitimate and moral and their own trepidations or anxieties are centred while obscuring the mass suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, who bear the brunt of their genocidal endeavours.

Whereas British Jews joining the IDF are selfless and heroic, young Muslims radicalised online saw their humanity stripped from them as soon as they left British soil.

Teenage girls groomed online became ‘Jihadi brides’. Young British men were given sensationalist nicknames like ‘Jihadi John’ and depicted by the media not as Britons cast astray who need to be returned home, but as barbarians wielding knives with faces obscured by ominous-looking flags with Arabic writing.

By valorising the British citizens choosing to take up arms against a civilian population in Gaza, the British media is not only complicit in the ongoing genocide of Palestinians but is also actively manufacturing a dangerous narrative that has real implications for Muslims in Britain.

The reality of the situation on the ground in Gaza is readily visible to everyone with a smartphone. Parents cradling their children’s corpses. Babies blown to pieces. Elderly slowly decomposing under rubble. Women giving birth in bombed out refugee camps. Children reciting Qur’an to themselves whilst having their limbs amputated with no anaesthetic. None of this is hidden from us.

At the same time, only the most precursory glance at Israeli soldiers’ own TikTok feeds is required to see the glee and hubris with which these acts of genocide are orchestrated. The marriage proposals taking place in obliterated schools. Writing love messages to their children on bombs that will kill or dismember Palestinian children. The jokes about nobody answering the door in a shelled out home.

In one video currently going viral, British-born Israeli soldier Levi Simon records himself shamelessly rummaging through the lingerie drawer in an abandoned Gaza home, captioning it “kinky terrorism”. 

When it was IS enacting heinous crimes against civilians, there was rightful outrage. Why, then, is this kind of violence okay? Why is ethnic cleansing of Palestine acceptable when it is being enacted by those with proximity to whiteness and when the victims are those racialised exclusively as Muslims?

Of course, the answer is already there, staring us right in the face. Some lives don’t matter. Some lives are denied the right to be victims, considered acceptable collateral damage to broader political aims.

The West is desperately clinging onto its last colonial outpost. And yet, the realities of truth and falsehood, of occupier and occupied, of right and wrong, has never been clearer.

By glorifying the Britons choosing to partake in the genocide of Palestinians as brave heroes, the British establishment has chosen its side. And it’s the side it has always been on, after all.

Nadeine Asbali is a secondary school teacher in London.

Follow her on Twitter: @najourno

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of their employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.