by Fahad Ansari (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 10, Muharram, 1434)
In order to deny providing citizenship rights to Muslims, the British government has started stripping British Muslims stranded on other countries of their citizenship altogether.
Throughout the 1930s, part of the Nazis “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem” was to completely dehumanize the Jews and thereby facilitate their ethnic cleansing either by slaughter or through emigration. One of the tools used by Hitler in this process was the implementation of laws and policies that aimed to strip Jews of any citizenship rights, and economic and political rights. As early as 1935, the Nazis had passed the infamous Nuremberg Laws regarding racial purity and, in subsequent statutes, defined the Jews as non-citizens.
It is telling that a live debate within political circles in Washington and London is that of stripping American and British Muslims of their citizenship if suspected of involvement in “extremism,” which would thereby absolve the governments of any responsibility or duty to them. The US government has less qualms or any duty to Muslims suspected of involvement in extremism as is evident from the extrajudicial killings of Imam Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son last year in Yemen. Both were US citizens. For Britain, the need to demonstrate a facade of due process is part and parcel of their duplicitous nature. So in the case of British citizens suspected of involvement in extremism, rather than charge and prosecute them in a court of law, it is far easier to simply strip them of citizenship at times when they are most in need of diplomatic and consular assistance.
There is no clearer example of this than the recent case of Mahdi Hashi, a 23-year-old careworker whose current whereabouts are unknown but who is thought to be detained in a prison in Djibouti. Hashi is a dual British-Somali national. He has no criminal record and has never been arrested for criminal offence. He was a volunteer who worked with disadvantaged youth in the community. Nevertheless, from the age of 16, Hashi was subjected to severe harassment by the security services in the UK. For several years, he was systematically detained at airports, deported from different countries — allegedly at the request of British authorities —without proper explanation and received constant phone calls urging him to spy on his fellow Muslims.
In April 2009, Hashi was detained at Gatwick Airport when he was travelling to Djibouti to visit his sick grandmother. MI5 officers warned him not to board the flight threatening that whatever might happen to him outside the UK was not their responsibility. After Hashi arrived in Djibouti, he was stopped at passport control before being held in a cell for 16 hours. He was then deported back to the UK. Hashi claims that Somali security officers told him that the orders had come from London.
On his return to Heathrow just over 24 hours after departing the UK, Hashi was detained once more by the same MI5 officers. The officers made it clear that it was because of them that he had been refused entry and deported and that the travel restrictions would only be lifted if Hashi agreed to work for them. He was told he was a terror suspect and that he could prove his innocence by working for them. Hashi refused and instead complained to his Member of Parliament, the police and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which oversees the work of the Security Services.
The following month, he decided to come forward with four other British-Somalis who had been similarly harassed and discuss his case with Robert Verkaik, a journalist who then worked with the London daily, the Independent. Verkaik published the story but MI5 refused to comment on the particular cases, instead giving a generic statement that the security services did not harass Muslims.
Later that year, tired of such harassment and refusing to work for MI5, Hashi decided to return temporarily to Somalia. There, he married and had a child. In summer of this year, Hashi’s family in the UK received a simple letter from the Home Office stating that his British citizenship had been revoked. Soon after that, Hashi was in the custody of the Americans. When they found out he was a British citizen, they contacted the British consulate who informed them that he had been stripped of his nationality. He was then transferred to an unknown location. It is suspected that he may have been taken to Camp Lemonier, in Djibouti, the notorious US anti-terrorist base that is part of the American extraordinary rendition programme whereby suspects are taken to third-party states to be illegally detained, interrogated and tortured.
It has been reported that Hashi requested the British consular assistance which was denied to him as he was not a British citizen anymore. Essentially, the British authorities manipulated the situation so that they were not obliged to assist one of their own nationals at a time when he urgently needed it, leaving his family, and all British citizens, without any assistance.
In a desperate attempt to find Hashi, his mother-in-law travelled from Mogadishu to Djibouti, but despite repeated requests prison staff refused to say if he was there. The family has also approached the Djibouti and US authorities but have been given no information about him. The US ambassador in London has written to his family denying any involvement in Hashi’s detention, stating that if Hashi is a British citizen then he must contact the Foreign Office.
According to the human rights organisation Cageprisoners, Hashi had been missing for several months before his family received a call this year from another man who had been detained with Hashi. He was the one who informed them that he had been transferred to American custody after he was initially detained at Nagaar prison where he was reportedly mistreated. It is not known by whom, when or where he was arrested or how he ended up in Djibouti.
The deprivation of citizenship order signed by the Home Secretary Theresa May says Hashi has lost his rights to live in the UK because of the “public good.” A letter adds, “The Security Service assess that you have been involved in Islamicist extremism and present a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom due to your extremist activities.” In response to a request for information surrounding Hashi’s disappearance, the Home Office has formally responded that it cannot confirm or deny the allegations made by Hashi.
The law which gives the government the power to strip British citizens of their nationality if it is deemed to be in the “public interest” came into effect in the wake of the 2005 London bombings. However it was only used four times over the next four years. But since the coalition government came to power in 2010, it has been used ten times. Five of the dual nationals deprived of their citizenship were British Pakistanis, while two were of dual British and Sudanese nationality. The remaining six were Australian, Iraqi, Russian, Egyptian, Somali and Lebanese dual nationals. At least one of those who have lost their British citizenship is understood to have been born in the UK, while others are thought to have lived in Britain since infancy.
In January this year, a dual British-Lebanese citizen Bilal el-Berjawi was killed by a US drone in Somalia. Berjawi had been stripped of his citizenship 12 months earlier, thereby clearing the way for the British government to cooperate and assist the US in his assassination. Berjawi had sought to appeal the decision but lawyers representing his family were unable to take instructions from him amid concerns that any telephone contact could precipitate a drone attack. His death came hours after his wife gave birth to his child in a London hospital suggesting that his location had been pinpointed as a result of a monitored telephone conversation between the couple. The Home Office refused to comment, simply stating that Berjawi was not a British citizen.
Some, like Hilal al-Jedda, have successfully appealed against these decisions. Al-Jedda came to the UK as a refugee from Iraq in 1992 before obtaining British citizenship in 2000. In 2004, he travelled to Iraq where he was detained by British forces on grounds of suspected involvement with terrorism until December 30, 2007 when he was released from detention without charge. Just prior to his release, on December 14, 2007, the Home Secretary made an order depriving him of his British nationality. In March this year, three Court of Appeal judges “reluctantly” held that the decision to deprive him of his nationality was unlawful as it rendered him stateless due to his having previously lost his Iraqi citizenship automatically when he acquired British citizenship.
The manner in which Hashi, Berjawi, al-Jedda and others have been treated by the British government is reflective of the Islamophobic lens through which British Muslims are viewed today. They are never fully accepted by the politicians and the press and as a result by the public. In October this year, two British Muslims were extradited to the US for computer related offences committed in the UK, immediately after which a British non-Muslim accused of hacking into the Pentagon had his extradition stopped on human rights grounds. On the same day that the Home Secretary announced this, she also announced a change in the law that would have prevented the extraditions which took place ten days earlier.
A common cry of Muslims in Britain today is that they are treated as second class citizens. For some however, even that privilege can be snatched away when necessary. How long before the introduction of a law which allows the government to deprive you of your citizenship even if it renders you stateless? This might have sounded far-fetched 15 years ago but now anything goes in the name of national security.