Is Citizenship a Right?

An Analysis of the Cases of Shamima Begum and Hoda Mathuna

By Katherine Fry, CEO/President Mediafy Communications Group

Is citizenship a right? Children born in the United States have a right to US citizenship, as long as they are not born to a foreign diplomat. However, citizenship can be revoked if the person:

  • Lies on their application. Foreign-born residents must complete an application process to become citizens of the United States.
  • Owes allegiance to another country.
  • Commits treason. (1)

A citizen is defined as “a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized.” (2) Being a subject is defined as “a person who lives or who has the right to live in a particular country…” (3) A right is further defined as “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” (4) Therefore, one can surmise that citizenship is not an absolute right, but one that is eligible by being obedient to the government of which one is a citizen, and acting in a way that shows one is subject to it. An absolute right to citizenship does not exist. If one acts with malice toward one’s country, the qualified right to citizenship can be revoked.

Whether citizenship is a right or not has come center stage in the news lately, as two young girls who ran away to the Islamic state several years ago, now wish to return to their countries of origin. One such case is that of Shamima Begum. As a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, she ran away from her home in the UK and joined the Islamic State or ISIS. Shortly after arriving in Syria, she married an ISIS soldier, effectively giving aid and comfort to one of the UK’s enemies. During her tenure with ISIS, Ms. Begum gave birth to two children, both of whom died. The Syrian military ultimately arrested her husband, and she fled to a Syrian refugee camp. It is there she claimed British citizenship and asked to return “home” to the UK. In the UK, the government can deprive one of citizenship if the act of doing so is conducive to the public good, and if the person being deprived of citizenship is not left stateless. (5) The UK Home Secretary revoked Ms. Begum’s citizenship, almost immediately after her case appeared in the news. He stated that Ms. Begum could easily become a citizen of Bangladesh, the native country of her mother, and thus not be left stateless. Ms. Begum herself indicated, that while disappointed that she could not return to the UK, she could nevertheless seek citizenship in the Netherlands, the native home of her husband. (6)

Hoda Muthana is another individual recently in the news for wanting to leave ISIS territory and return to her country of origin. Born in Alabama to a newly retired Yemeni diplomat, Ms. Muthana fled to Turkey at the age of nineteen. Once in Turkey, ISIS fighters received Ms. Muthana, arranged a marriage for her to an ISIS fighter, and eventually gave birth to a child of ISIS. Following the substantial loss of territory experienced by ISIS, Ms. Muthana publicly indicated her desire to return to the USA. In fact, she indicated that she has a right to return to the USA because she is a US citizen. In response to her claim and stated wishes, the United States Secretary of State declared that “she does not qualify for citizenship and has no legal basis to return to the country.” (7) In an official statement, the Secretary of State indicated that “Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a US citizen and will not be admitted into the United States. She does not have any legal basis, no valid US passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.” (7) However, one can easily argue that this is not the case. Born in the United States to a former Yemeni Diplomat, Ms. Muthana is almost certainly a native-born US citizen. Following this line of reasoning, Ms. Muthana’s attorney stated that she “is trying to turn herself into federal authorities and face consequences for her actions.” (7) Some believe, as a result of her treasonous activities, if she is a citizen, should have her citizenship revoked, thus blocking her from re-entering the country. However, citizen or not, it is reasonable to state that Ms. Muthana will not be returning to the USA anytime soon.

If joining ISIS constitutes treason, then both Shamima Begum and Hoda Muthana can legally be deprived of citizenship to their countries of origin. But what constitutes treason? In the UK, treason is defined as, “the crime of disloyalty to the Crown.” (8) By joining ISIS, and swearing loyalty to the Islamic State, Ms. Begum most definitely committed treason. Similarly, in the United States, a traitor is one who, “owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, …(and is thus) guilty of treason…” (9) By marrying an ISIS fighter, and adhering to the will of ISIS-a known enemy of the United States-Ms. Muthana committed treason against the US. As previously stated, the US government failed to even recognize her citizenship in the first place and is subsequently refusing to allow her entry into the US period. They could of just as easily recognized her citizenship, and then deprived her of it. In either case, she is unable to return to the United States.

In conclusion, citizenship is not an absolute right. Instead, it is a qualified right that can be revoked if a person commits a crime that fits the punishment. Shamima Begum and Hoda Muthana both constitute cases of individuals, born to western countries, pledging allegiance to ISIS, and committing treason by giving comfort and aid to the enemy. As a result, they are officially traitors, and will not be permitted to return to their countries of origin.

  1. https://legalbeagle.com/8068185-ways-lose-citizenship.html
  2. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/citizen
  3. https://www.google.com/amp/s/dictionary.cambridge.org/us/amp/english/subject
  4. https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2016/nov/14/primer-prisoners-constitutional-rights/
  5. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/20/shamima-begum-could-the-plan-to-revoke-her-citizenship-be-stopped
  6. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/shamima-begum-citizenship-revoked
  7. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2019/02/20/world/middleeast/isis-bride-hoda-muthana.amp.html
  8. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_treason_in_the_United_Kingdom
  9. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treason#Federal