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Why Western Countries Must Accept Returning Extremists

Shamima Begum and Hoda Muthana have been denied reentry to the UK and the US, respectively, after having left to join the Islamic State. But, like it or not, they have a right to due process, which Western governments disregard at their peril.

OSLO/LONDON – Shamima Begum, a 19-year-old British woman who fled to Syria four years ago to marry an Islamic State (ISIS) fighter, wants to return home to the United Kingdom with her newborn son. Similarly, Hoda Muthana, a 24-year-old American woman who joined ISIS at age 20, has requested re-entry to the United States with her young child. Both have been rejected. But their cases continue to fuel heated debate about the rights of would-be returnees – and, more broadly, the compatibility between Muslims and the West.

In Begum’s case, the UK government has decided to revoke her citizenship, even though British law prohibits it if doing so renders a person stateless. The UK Home Office has apparently concluded that Begum’s mother’s Bangladeshi passport provides a sufficiently credible excuse to ignore this rule. Begum reportedly plans to appeal the decision.

As for Muthana, the US has argued that she was never really a citizen at all. Yes, she was born in New Jersey and received a US passport before fleeing to join ISIS. But the US State Department contends that her father was a Yemeni diplomat, and children born to active diplomats in the US do not receive birthright citizenship. Muthana, however, was born months after her father left his position, which has become the basis of a lawsuit filed by her father against US President Donald Trump’s administration.

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