An exchange with David Aaronovitch

This was originally posted on the website but in order to preserve it I decided to copy it onto the blog. Was originally posted a few days after the unmasking of Emwazi.

Dear David

You asked me on Friday: “Do you really believe Emwazi went to Tanzania on safari?”

But first let’s quickly recap where this started…

You: “Reinhard Heydrich – lovely boy. Beautiful manners. Driven crazy by the French.”

Me [several tweets concatenated with superflous ellipses elided]: “Interesting view. [Thumb up emoticon] Not sure the French security services ever did anything to him. You know, like upending his entire life? Had they done so over a period of three years your tweet would make some sense. As opposed to being the sophomoric (2nd use today) drivel it actually is. The policies you have supported and continue to do so engender the hate in Emwazi et al”

Before I get round to answering your question let’s first acknowledge the fatuity of your original remark. Reinhard Heydrich suffered no harrassment by the French security services. No threats to make his life hell. No repeated demands to work for them. No physical violence. No curtailment of his right to travel (to his land of ethnic origin at that). No ruination of his personal and professional life such as forcing him to abandon a planned marriage and lose a job opportunity. So in summary your comparison of the two is fundamentally flawed in its most key aspect. Oh and incidentally Mr Qureishi used the past tense “was” not “is”. He stated that Mr Emwazi WAS etc. etc. Not that he currently is. Just to clarify that for you and the legions of morons who lap up such smear and innuendo with alacrity.

Now, to your question….

My initial thought was: all it needs is Nicky Campbell, a studio, you to be shouting “yes or no?!” and it’ll be picture perfect for endless shares on Twitter!

I appreciate people of your disposition toil  with the concept of presumption of innocence when it comes to Muslims and triply so when the Muslim in question happens to be of a “radical” mindset. Your question betrays the ingrained prejudices that underpin injustices such as rendition, Guantanamo, secret prisons, disproportionate sentencing. It is the mindset of “guilty until proven innocent” and “who cares if we can prove it in court, we know they’re guilty so we’re going to do something about it regardless.” While no doubt you (and many of those you tend to associate with) will assert you don’t agree with extra-judicial sanctions or punishments the reality is that you seem to have no scruples about excusing such behaviour on the part of the police and intelligence services if the victims are “radical” muslims.

Ask any police detective in London and he’ll tell you that he deals daily with suspects who he is certain are guilty of the crimes they are accused of. Such crimes sometimes include murder. However, where the evidence is lacking for a formal indictment the police are, rightly, compelled by law to release such suspects and are subsequently forbidden from interferring with their lawful activities except by court order. To do so would indeed be an injustice – regardless of whether the suspects are in matter of fact guilty.

The danger of adopting the approach to justice you appear to be endorsing is that it inevitably results in injustice. We’ve been there before and in the not so distant past – just ask the Guildford Four or the Birmingham Six. In the aftermath of the Omagh bombing Tony Blair was asked whether the identities of the suspects were known to the British authorities to which he replied that the intelligence services had a fairly good idea of who were responsible and where they were. He went on to state that were he so inclined he could order the SAS to “take out” ,as it were, the putative culprits but that wasn’t how democracies behave. Fast forward 10 years and using information supplied by British intelligence a British citizen is “taken out” via a US Predator drone. It would appear that democracies have no compunctions about extra-judicial executions so long as the victims are brown and Muslim. To this day, despite an abundance of “overwhelming” (in the words of an Irish judge) circumstancial evidence against several suspects, nobody has yet been criminally convicted (although one is due to go on trial in the near future in N Ireland) of the Omagh bombing that killed 29 people. The accused in the forthcoming trial, Seamus Daly has previously been convicted of Real IRA membership and found liable for the atrocity in a civil court case brought by the families of the victims. Yet despite this he was allowed to reside in Northern Ireland – within the jurisdiction of the UK authorities – unhindered and unmenaced until his arrest. I wonder had his name been Mohammed Emwazi if this would have been the case?

People react to injustice in different ways. From the e-mails released by CAGE it would appear Mr Emwazi’s initial approach was to pursue legal avenues. When these proved fruitless and after a sustained campaign of harrassment and intimidation (which included the use of physical violence) he decided to flee Britain an embittered man in order to join a revolutionary cause that was, at that time, supported by the UK government (and still supposedly is). His treatment at the hands of the UK authorities undoubtedly contributed to making him the vicious killer he is today.

As to whether he was travelling to Tanzania to safari or whether as some allege his intended final destination was Somalia – I have no idea. And if you are being truthful, neither do you. Mr Emwazi referred to this allegation in one of his e-mails to CAGE, denying it outright, pointing out that Kenya lies between Tanzania and Somalia. Regardless, mere suspicion on the part of the security services, even backed by circumstancial evidence, didn’t warrant the litany of extra-judicial measures that were subsequently employed upon him.

I can’t speak for CAGE as I do not work for them in any capacity but I applaud the work they are doing in holding the security services to account, in challeging the entire narrative behind the “war on terror” and pointing out its hypocrisies – of which there are legion. All right- minded people should do likewise.


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