In light of its revelations regarding the harassment of putative Islamic State executioner, Mohammed Emwazi, the advocacy group CAGE has over the past several days,come under intense scrutiny, with many keen to highlight past links between its members and “Islamist” organisations. Underpinning the recent slew of articles and media commentary, emanating from all the usual suspects, is the accusation that CAGE is effectively an Islamist front organisation that champions the cause of Muslim terrorists.
Much was made of CAGE researcher, Asim Qureishi’s statement that Mohammed Emwazi was at one point a lovely person and attendant argument that a significant contributory factor towards his departure for Syria was the sustained harassment he suffered at the hands of MI5. Apparently this amounted to an apologia and an exculpation. The resultant odium Mr Qureishi has had to bear has been shared neither by Mr Emwazi’s ex-employer who described him as “…the best employee we ever had” as well as “calm and decent” nor has it been borne by his ex-head teacher who described him as “a hardworking aspirational young man.” Quite what was expected of Mr Qureishi by his detractors, I’m not sure of but apparently the truth wasn’t it.
It is often the case that perpetrators of crime have themselves previously been the victims of crime or experienced circumstances that might explain, if not excuse, their propulsion towards criminality. Many child abusers for example have themselves been victims of child abuse. Often petty thieves and burglars are discovered to be suffering from drug addiction or have grown up in dysfunctional households. Again none of this excuses their criminal actions and many from identical backgrounds do not adopt their pattern of conduct but those charged with rehabilitating offenders and preventing others from replicating their mistakes are always keen to identify all the contributory factors actuating their behaviour in order to increase the efficacy of their programmes. While all of this is widely understood and accepted when it comes to “standard” crime when it comes to the case of young Muslim men turning to groups such as Islamic State there is permitted to be only one answer: “poisonous Islamist ideology”. Nothing more and nothing less. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of Islamists – ignoring for a moment that likely the majority of British Muslims harbour ideas that fall within the ambit of what secularists would deem “Islamism” – are not inclined towards the type of activities depicted in Islamic State’s online dispatches. A point seemingly lost upon the votaries of “muscular liberalism”.
CAGE have never condoned or excused the murder of innocents to my knowledge and I challenge anyone to show otherwise. Their most prominent face, ex-Guantanamo inmate, Moazzam Begg last year repeatedly pleaded with the British authorities for the chance to make entreaties to Islamic State for the safe release of aid worker, Alan Henning but his pleas unfortunately fell on deaf ears. He has on the social media platform, Twitter, spoken out against the excesses of Islamic State and suffered abuse as a result from several of their more fanatical (and most likely juvenescent) cheerleaders. Naturally, this isn’t good enough to spare him (or CAGE) from being tarnished as an apologist for terrorism.
CAGE as an organisation, according to their website, are: “an independent advocacy organisation working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror.” While undoubtedly it is the case that several of its members are of an “Islamist” (i.e. Muslim) orientation, the organisation itself is not campaigning for Shariah law, jihad or the establishment of a Caliphate. Rather it is focussed on highlighting the violations of due process rights, instances of illegal rendition, the existence of black site prisons, cases of torture, in fact the whole gamut of abuses perpetrated against (predominantly Muslim) suspects in the ongoing “War on Terror”. Despite this mission statement and focus, the nature of the questions repeatedly directed at its members – in their capacities as CAGE representatives – seem disproportionately focussed on their personal religious beliefs. Being an “Islamist” it seems disbars you from accounting the UK government for violating the very human rights and legal safeguards (putative bedrocks of contemporary western civilisation) it purports to be fighting to defend. The last time I checked, the law provided protection for all. If it is now the case, however, that only those willing to imbibe the ideology of secular liberalism are to be afforded the legal protections we have previously all taken for granted then it should be enunciated so in unambiguous terms. If Muslims and other dissenting minorities are to be accorded second class legal status then we need to be evinced of this fact in plain terms. There should be no more equivocation in this regard.
Regarding the adoption by CAGE of Aafia Siddiqui’s (and others like her) case then it is the contention of many that she suffered gross violations of her human rights at the hands of her captors, that there were glaring inconsistencies in the evidence against her and that her fractious mental state at trial (resulting from the aforementioned abuse) are all issues requiring serious investigation and which cast grave doubt upon the safety of her conviction. If arguing the case of “convicted terrorists” was a crime the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and others might still be languishing in prison. No doubt those who took up such cases in bygone decades were similarly lambasted as “terrorist sympathisers”. Thankfully they persevered in their advocacy thus sparing numerous men and women the soul destroying ordeal of unjust incarceration.
Back in the 70s and 80s, during the height of the IRA campaign against British rule in Ulster it was the Anglo-Irish community that was at the sharp end of the security service’s crackdown. Many of the complaints being registered by Muslims today are reminiscent of the earlier complaints of Britain’s Irish community. Being of Irish heritage during that period entailed being automatically suspected of republican/terrorist sympathies – for one was seen as equivalent of the other. In the conflation of the two we stumble upon an interesting parallel between attitudes within the Anglo-Irish community back then and those of the Muslim community today. While sympathy for the republican cause (i.e. a united Ireland, free from British rule) undoubtedly ran high in the Anglo-Irish community, support for the IRA’s campaign of bombing on the British mainland was far smaller. In a similar vein sympathy for the cause of evicting Western hegemony (in its multifarious forms) from the Muslim world and its supplanting with some form of unified Islamic rule certainly runs deep in the British Muslim community; by contrast support for cutting off aid workers’ heads is minimal. The malicious attempts by some to conflate the two finds expression in the recent torrent of smears, slurs, aspersions and innuendoes directed towards CAGE and its members. In certain quarters the predominant view is that unless a Muslim is prepared to publicly salute the flag, chant “God save the Queen” and when so required, be prepared to shoot their co-religionists in furtherance of the “national interest”, he/she should be designated a “terrorist sympathiser”. Little wonder then the vociferous support MI5’s extra-judicial methods elicit from such people.
Writing in the Telegraph Andrew Gilligan’s Philippic against CAGE berated its touting of what he avers is a false victimhood narrative. Interestingly his article made reference to the case of Mohammed Nahin Ahmed and Yusuf Zubair Sarwar who last year were sentenced to more than 12 years for travelling to Syria (where they trained but didn’t take part in active combat) for a brief stint before returning home. Gilligan stated:
‘Begg also said Ahmed and Sarwar had “no intention of harming anyone” — not a view shared by the police, who found traces of military-grade explosives on their clothes, or the trial judge, who declared them “clearly dangerous”.’
What Gilligan fails to mention is that Begg was referring to the absence of any intent to harm anyone in the UK a fact borne out by the trial judge. Furthermore the judge’s reference to them being “dangerous” was in the context of their desire to fight the army of Syrian tyrant, Bashar Assad. An army that is responsible for mass murder and industrial scale property destruction. Yet despite this the judge saw fit to sum up their case by stating: “They willingly, enthusiastically and with a great deal of purpose, persistence and determination embarked on a course intended to commit acts of terrorism.” Accordingly he sentenced them to almost 13 years imprisonment with a further 5 years extended license upon release.
Contrast the above to the case of non-Muslim Arunachalam Chrishanthakumar who in June 2009 was jailed for a paltry two years for his terrorism offences. The offences included supplying bomb-making equipment for a terrorist group (Tamil Tigers) and receiving documents for the purpose of terrorism. The judge in his case whilst conceding his case represented, “a protracted, deliberate breaking of a law…” and being “…very serious offences which warrant substantial sentences” nevertheless saw fit to describe Mr Chrishanthakumar as, “…a thoroughly decent man who deliberately broke the law in support of a cause he fervently believed in.” Accordingly his punishment was a mere two years imprisonment which would likely lead to his being released within a year.
Gilligan also poured scorn on CAGE’s contention that a dual system of justice was operating vis-à-vis Britons who go to fight in Syria for anti-IS forces stating: “This is untrue and in any case no non-Muslim Britons have gone to fight in Syria (a few have gone to Iraqi Kurdistan).” Had the moron waited but a few days before penning his diatribe he would have had the opportunity to report the death of Konstandinos Erik Scurfield who today died in Syria fighting for the Kurdish militia, YPG. To anyone inclined to point out that YPG is not a proscribed group then I might also point out that many anti-Assad rebel factions in Syria are similarly not proscribed; yet any British Muslim attempting to join up with one will most certainly face arrest and terrorism charges.
Yes, Mr Gilligan, there really is a two tier justice system for Muslims and it is NOT in our favour.
I could carry on and discuss in a similar vein the insidious nature and selective application of the “glorification of terrorism” statute or discuss how Victorian era laws have been abused for the purposes of targeting Muslims who speak out against Western interventions in Muslim lands (yet are never used to prosecute those who openly solicit the murder of innocent Muslims) but for the sake of brevity I must stop here.
The real tragedy of the on-going crusade against CAGE is that the organisation is the only one to command the genuine respect and admiration of young Muslim men. Unlike mosque imams and self-appointed representatives who they view as supine, servile and more often than not motivated by self-importance and self-interest, CAGE is viewed as untainted by governmental association and as a bulwark against state heavy handedness towards them and the wider community. Instead of working to shut it down, those in power would be better advised to engage it in constructive dialogue for the purpose of averting what appears to be an impending crisis. One which has the propensity to prove every bit as tragic as the troubles in Northern Ireland were before it.
Since its inception in 2003, CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners) has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of countless individuals across the world. It has been assiduous in taking to task politicians, police services, intelligence agencies and indeed anyone who might have seen fit to trample upon our inalienable rights. While the main beneficiary of its exertions has been the Muslim community – being as it is the community in the firing line of the “war on terror” – it should never be forgotten that CAGE’s work has ultimately benefitted us all. When a government feels it can brush aside the law with impunity for the purpose of controlling one particular segment of society it is highly unlikely it will stop there. Those who today are excoriating CAGE and applauding the misdeeds of the security services should reflect carefully on that. Perhaps one day they might just be in need of its services.
Please note that I am not connected with CAGE in any capacity and I have not written this article at their instigation or request. The views above are my own and cannot be attributed to CAGE.