Shamima Begum

I haven’t written anything on this blog for almost two whole years. There is one post here, as far as I’m aware, but what I want to discuss is a bit long-winded for a facebook post. Before we get into it, the backstory:

For those of you who don’t know, Shamima Begum is a 19-year-old British girl who left the UK at 15 years old to go and be part of the caliphate under ISIS. She’s now in a refugee camp with her newborn baby and would like to return to the UK. She is seemingly unremorseful for her decisions and claims she was unfazed by the things she saw in Syria.

I’m not going to rehash what’s already been said, that’s not the point of this post. I want to explain what I think and why I think it, and this will include some details about my own personal experiences with trauma. The reason I want to do this is that I think it might be difficult for people who have never experienced this level of fear to understand what might be happening with Shamima Begum. I say ‘might’ because I honestly don’t know. I’m neither a psychologist nor a specialist on the Syrian conflict. I’m just one of many many many uninformed voices sharing what I think may be helpful. Right, let’s get to it.

Shamima Begum should be assessed by a psychologist or psychiatrist before any decision is made.  

As we know, she was groomed before she made the decision to leave the UK, when she was fifteen. The trauma since she has been in Syria must not be underestimated. She may say she is unfazed and does not regret the things she has seen and done, but it would not surprise me if that were a front. I think that it’s possible that her trauma and her survival instincts are possibly masking how she really feels. I think it’s likely that once she was there, she knew the road back was almost impossible and she’s grown to accept her new normal. That’s one possibility.

She is likely afraid of saying too much or being too critical of ISIS while still in Syria.

I imagine Shamima Begum is extremely aware of the fact that whatever she says will possibly be heard by ISIS and could put a target on her back. She’s still in Syria: I’d be interested to see what she had to say if her safety were guaranteed.

I think this because I have personally defended and lied about my feelings about someone who has done something terrible without even actively deciding to do so. Just to briefly cover my backstory: my biological father was violent and terrifying. The police came often, he spent time in prison, etc… I remember when I was twelve or thirteen years old saying to people that I couldn’t wait to go back and live with my dad. I remember telling people I’d rather that than live with my mum. I remember crying so hard when we were leaving. I know now that people in my family would think how awful it was that I would defend and pine for someone who had hurt me and my family so much. I now know these were conditioned responses. I knew that if we had to go back for whatever reason and he found out I hadn’t been on his side, it would be awful. It was only after a few weeks, maybe months when I finally understood we weren’t going back that I started to be honest about how I felt. This is why I think it is possible that Shamima Begum is not really unremorseful, but we cannot know for sure unless we have someone assess this. I don’t think we will really know while she is still in danger, because she cannot risk being seen as a threat by ISIS while she is still in Syria.

That said, I don’t think that she should be allowed to merrily stroll back in without having to answer for her mistakes. I think she should be closely surveilled, assessed and, if possible, rehabilitated. Maybe she is completely unremorseful. Maybe she didn’t care about the people she saw who had died. Maybe she still believes that ISIS is doing the right thing. I don’t know, but I don’t think any sweeping decisions about her future, safety and punishment should be made until her case has been properly assessed. I don’t think a 3-minute interview by ITV news really cuts it as evidence, either.


French Learning

Now that I’m almost finished with my dissertation for MA Modern French Studies, I’ve been thinking about ways that I can continue to improve my French. This year my French has improved a lot, however I still lack speaking and oral comprehension skills. Also, my written French and reading comprehension is not at a professional working level yet, but I have made big improvements.

To continue learning and improving my French I am going to do the following:

  1. Listening to the radio in French every day.
    In my opinion, only doing passive listening activities does not work. However, if you pair that with regular active study, I believe it could be beneficial. This theory is just based on my own experience of language learning.
  2. French course 3 hours per week.
    At the moment, this is a wish rather than a certainty. French courses are expensive but hopefully, come mid-September I should be able to sign up to some kind of French course.
  3. Try to read once per week in French.
    This will be active reading, i.e. writing down unknown vocabulary, etc…

Hopefully with these few activities, I will be able to make decent progress.

I’ll update in a while about how it’s going!


On work worth doing.

Working full time and doing a master’s degree at the same time is difficult. Lots of people probably know this already, and I really thought I knew this when I applied. I now realise I really didn’t have a thorough understanding of just how challenging it would be. I didn’t know or expect to spend night after night working or studying to catch up on things I just have not had time to do. I didn’t imagine that it would be so difficult to organise my time to fit in both work and study. The theory was that I work freelance, I can accept and reject work whenever I like. December 2016 me is laughing in the naive face of June 2016 me. How very foolish I was.

In addition to time management difficulties, it’s also difficult because a master’s degree is bloody difficult. I feel like this is a fact that has crept up on me and slapped me in the face. I had expected that I would understand the things I am learning after having read about it enough. That’s not what has happened. It’s probably a combination of the fact that I have never studied in this field before and that it’s a master’s degree so it is, by nature, of a higher level. All in all, it’s been challenging. I am just now, nearing the end of the first semester, starting to understand things sufficiently to be able to write the essays I have to write – whether I have time to write them is another matter!

Having struggled with this since September, I’ve questioned whether I did the right thing in deciding to do a master’s degree. The course material isn’t what I expected, some things, I feel, are not necessarily useful for my career as a translator. Some things are just fundamentally uninteresting to me.

However, I have found that, although it’s not what I expected, I have learned quite a lot about areas which I never imagined would be interesting to me. History of Art is an area that has never interested me; had you told me a year ago that I would choose to write an essay about Velázquez’s Las Meninas and van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But here I am, writing this after almost three full days of research on these two paintings, having thoroughly enjoyed it. Cultural criticism, in general, and literary criticism, in particular, are areas which have sparked a huge interest in me, and I find myself reading about it for enjoyment, not study purposes.

Although it’s not 100% in line with what I expected, it is thoroughly intellectually enriching. It could even open up new career paths and goals in the future. It’s made me consider new fields in which I may like to work. Therefore, I’ve come to the conclusion that although this master’s degree is not necessarily what I expected, and it may not provide me with what I originally intended to achieve from it, it is work worth doing. And as someone famous once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy”.

So I suppose my intention for writing this, aside from a sense of catharsis, is to encourage you to pursue new objectives; try something new, study a new subject or language, work on a new interest or hobby. Learn about something you would never have thought would interest you. You might just find that that little tangent leads you to newer, more interesting paths.


Success – Whatever that is.

Success is something I’ve thought about since I was a young teenager. From an early age the pressure of being successful is thrust upon us; in the UK, for example, we’re forced to think about our future and what goals we want to achieve from as early as thirteen or fourteen years old when we choose which subjects to study, and this decision often has a profound effect on the rest of our lives.

I think our perception of success changes with age and our personal experiences. It also varies hugely between cultures; not only Western and Non- Western Cultures, but also between countries that seem to have relatively similar cultures. To give you an example, a sixteen year old Amy would have told you that she will feel successful when she has a full time job, a house and a husband. Perhaps even some children. Fast forward eight years and my whole idea of what success is is completely different. I think the main reason for this is that I am completely different. The experiences upon which I base my decisions and opinions are now much more varied. And I think that is the key to defining success.

Success is not one goal, one path or one type of achievement. Success comes in many forms and levels. I also don’t think that success is comparable. How can you compare Maya Angelou’s success in literature to Mae Jemison’s success in astrophysics? Success isn’t comparable because it is relative. Success for one person might be passing an exam, getting a degree or having the dream job they had always worked towards, while for another person it might be that they look after their health or that they’ve been positive for a whole day. The term ‘success’ is meaningful to us because of our experiences. It is defined by what it means to each individual. And that’s what I really want whoever reads this to take away from this entry. If you’re working on something that makes you happy or towards a goal that is important to you, you are successful. You define your success because you choose your goals. You choose what you want to do with your life, and if you’re doing what you want to do with your life, or if you’re on your way to doing so, you are successful. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.