‘You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.’ These are the powerful words spoken by Greta Thunberg at the UN on Monday, where she accused world leaders of promoting ‘fairytales of eternal economic growth’ over resolving the current climate breakdown.
At the tender age of 16, many would argue Thunberg is clearly wise beyond her years. She speaks with passion and emotion, while demanding respect from everyone, no matter if they’re 16 or 96. Her tearful speech has brought climate change to the world’s centre stage, provoking people all over the world to stand up and take note.
However, while some people see Thunberg as the voice of the millennial generation, many rightwing political commentators have used her age as a reason to tarnish her credibility, because they believe a 16-year-old couldn’t possibly know enough to have a global voice on climate change.
American conservative political commentator Michael Knowles caused outrage on Fox News, when he dismissed Thunberg as a ‘mentally ill Swedish child’ who he claims was ‘being exploited by her parents and the international left.’
After reports referring to Thunberg as an ‘environmental messiah’ began to emerge, tabloids latched on to the concept and began printing headlines such as ‘prophet or puppet?’ to push the agenda of the activist not being a victim of climate change, but a victim of pushy parents and energy giants.
At the age of 16, you can leave home without parental consent, you can consent to sexual activity, you can leave school and work full-time, you can get a national insurance number or buy a lottery ticket. The thing you can’t do, at the age of 16, according to said rightwing commentators, is have the brain power to form your own view on a ginormous issue that will affect almost every aspect of your future.
She is clearly being manipulated. All powerful stuff, but somebody pulling her strings sadly imo.
— Tim Fairley (@timfairley) September 24, 2019
Greta Thunberg is another brainwashed child.
— Inkwellrunner (@Inkwellrunner) September 24, 2019
My opinion only. I think Greta Thunberg is terribly disturbed and brainwashed by her parents. Can someone please help her live a normal life and someone tell her parents and UN to stop using her. The kid is under 18 years old! She needs to live like a kid! pic.twitter.com/FJtC8AWX9h
— Racusta Freedom 007 (@racusta007) September 24, 2019
This, according to my Twitter timeline, is a seemingly common consensus. However I urge you to take a stroll down memory lane, to earlier this year, when a young girl divided the nation more than Brexit, Bo-Jo and Marmite put together.
Shamima Begum hit the international headlines when a Times journalist found her in a Kurdish refugee camp filled with refugees escaping the bloody battle for the Isis stronghold. She was 19 and pregnant with her third child when she was found, four years after she had fled to Syria to marry ISIS jihadi Yago Riedijk, from Holland.
The former Bethnal Green resident said she had fled the war-torn village of Baghouz because she ‘could not endure any more’ and she appealed to the British government to have sympathy for her, and allow her to return to the UK to deliver her child.
In an interview with Sky News, she insisted:
When I went to Syria I was just a housewife for the entire four years. I never did anything dangerous.
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I left. I was hoping that maybe for the sake of me and my child they’d let me come back. Because I can’t live in this camp for ever.
Begum was just 15 years old when she was groomed online by ISIS and brainwashed into stealing her older sister’s passport to flee to Turkey, before crossing the border into ISIS territory in Syria.
At the age of 15, you can’t consent to sex, you can’t leave home without your parent’s permission, you can’t vote, you can only enter a pub with the landlord’s permission, you can’t get married, and you can’t even apply for a passport without your parents’ written consent.
Following her desperate pleas, many people were quick to insist she was old enough to know what she was getting into, despite still being classed as a child in her native East London.
@SkyNews No way should this ISIS bride be allowed back in to the U.K. she shows no remorse what so ever and she knew what she was doing at the time so should accept the consequences of what she did.
— Bob Brown (@BobBrow46506283) February 18, 2019
How have this morning even found this crazy woman in support of this ISIS bride returning to Britain?? Wtf is wrong with people?? This school girl knew exactly what she was doing how can anyone make excuses for her? She could be planning a terror attack in the UK?? #ThisMorning
— ✨Chloé✨ (@MissChloeMarie_) February 15, 2019
Begum had two previous children to Riedijk, who both died of disease and malnourishment, yet when she pleaded for empathy for the life of her unborn child, she was denied, and stripped of her British citizenship because, according to then-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, and thousands of people on Twitter, she ‘knew the choices she was making.’ Her third child had also died.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and while I would agree that people are justified in their concerns for letting a jihadi bride back into the country, must we not apply the same principle when deciding who can and can’t make informed decisions about their beliefs and their own future?
Many people have taken to Twitter to highlight the hypocrisy from those commentators who deem Greta Thunberg too young and easily influenced to make her own mind up, but Shamima Begum old enough to know her own mind despite being groomed for months in the build up to her fleeing the country.
'16 year old Greta Thunberg is too young to make her own mind up and has been groomed' scream people who said that Shamima Begum knew at 15 exactly what she was doing and should be treated as an adult.
Weird, almost like they have an agenda.
— 🅳🅾🆁🅻🅸🅽🅶 (@Dorling83) September 23, 2019
I bet those that say 15 year old ISIS bride knew exactly what she was doing are the same that say 16 year old's are to young to vote and the kids protesting climate change the other day were brainwashed.
— Dr Mariana (@MarianaSteal) February 20, 2019
Someone just pointed out that Shamima Begum was ‘old enough to know better’ and yet Greta Thunberg is a ‘brat’ being ‘manipulated by adults’ — make up your mind, pals
— Pandora Sykes (@PINsykes) September 25, 2019
My favourite thing about the right wing gammons losing their shit over 16yr old Greta Thunberg, saying she's just a kid, what does she know, is that they all totally say that 15yr old Shamima Begum is an adult and knew what she was doing.
Can't have it both ways knob heads.
— HisLady366 🖤 (@Lady_Blew_) September 23, 2019
What is arguably even more concerning, is those commentators who are tarring them with same brush as teens exploited and radicalised by the older generation.
In response to Brendan O’Neill’s ill-advised Spiked article, which critiqued Thunberg’s role as the messiah of environmentalism, Dr Michael Fitzpatrick wrote a response comparing the teens.
He wrote: ‘Like that other precocious teenager, Shamima Begum, Thunberg has been radicalised by an older generation which ought to be more careful about exploiting childhood innocence in pursuit of their political agenda, and ought to teach children to think for themselves.’
Regardless of how much the right try to invalidate Thunberg, it’s too late. She’s already brought climate change to the table while bagging a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in the process.
Thanks to her tireless work, those at the top can no longer ignore the concerns of an entire generation, and while her critics continue to moan, her momentum and her cause continues to grow.
Given all the evidence, it’s hard to argue against a certain type of person simply having an agenda they’re constantly trying to push.
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Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining the LADbible Group team in 2017.