“Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another.” [John Locke – Two Treatises on Government]
“[N]or shall any person . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . .” [15th Amendment to the US Constitution]
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If history has taught us anything it should have taught us this. It was as a protection against the potential excesses of absolutism that enlightenment thinkers formulated such concepts as due process and the separation of powers. These protections, hard won over centuries of, sometimes bloody, conflict between rulers and the ruled, have relied on the constant vigilance of civil society for their preservation, a vigilance that in the years following the 9/11 attacks has sadly been conspicuous by its absence.
Since the felling of the Twin Towers in 2001, Britain’s traditional libertarian culture has found itself under steady attack from the proponents of a particularly insidious strain of totalitarianism, known variously as ‘muscular liberalism’ or neo-conservatism – a political ideology that seeks to enforce conformity via paradoxical appeals to freedom. Peaceful political dissent and activism, supposed hallmarks of a vibrant democracy, find themselves subjected to an array of draconian countermeasures – allegedly drafted to protect the very freedoms they curtail. Extensive use of ever more intrusive surveillance capabilities, the infiltration and subversion of activist groups not to mention the implementation of a cradle-to-grave policy of thought policing (PREVENT), has led some to draw parallels with Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But then a full twelve years ago the then information commissioner, Richard Thomas warned that Britain was at risk of “…sleepwalk[ing] into a surveillance society…”. And this in the days before PREVENT, the 2006 Terrorism Act or proposals for a “Snoopers Charter”.
One exception to this process of gradual surrender has been the advocacy group, CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners). Established in late 2003 as an advocacy group for those impacted by the War on (of?) Terror it has in recent years come to increasing public prominence partly as a result of the fallout arising from the conflict in Syria and partly due to its staunch opposition to the PREVENT ‘counterterrorism’ strategy.
Run from a small office in east London, manned by skeleton staff, funded by public donations and operating without bank accounts – in many ways it is the archetypal plucky British underdog, a modern day David facing off to the Goliath of an overbearing security state. Maligned and reviled (in equal measure) by the right wing press, it has been labelled a ‘jihadist front org’, its members smeared as ‘terrorist apologists’ and its head of outreach subject to malicious prosecution – enduring an eight month prison stint before having all charges against him dropped.
The truth is that CAGE is the one organisation willing to hold authority to account without fear of censure or consequence. While mainstream human rights organisations have been selective in their battles, CAGE has picked up cases others would not (initially at least) touch. Although its main arena of operations lies in the UK (a South African office opened last year) it has also successfully brought to light numerous instances of the wanton abuse of terrorism suspects from across the globe. Rendition, torture, denial of due process rights, unaccountable drone ‘kill lists’, the disproportionately harsh treatment and sentencing of Muslims convicted of terrorism offences as compared to their white racist counterparts, the broad sweep of counterterrorism strategies that stigmatise the innocent and guilty alike – just some of the abuses that CAGE has been active in exposing and opposing.
Any of which would be reason enough to lend it support. There is, however, an overlooked aspect of CAGE’s work that transcends all of the above – the battle of ideas and narratives. And in this area it has undoubtedly left an indelible imprint on the public psyche. It has been a struggle against both the narratives that enable the perpetration of the (numerous) abuses committed in the War on Terror as well as against the apathy and indifference which help perpetuate them. In this respect they have rendered an invaluable service not only to the Muslim community but to civil society at large. Their successful legal challenge last year against Charity Commissioner, William Shawcross’ abusive exercise of power (in relation to charitable grants made to CAGE), was a boon not just to them. but to the charity sector at large.
CAGE’s work has afforded a measure of hope and confidence to a beleaguered Muslim community as well as to others that find themselves pitted in the struggle against the entrenched power structures that regard the concept of oversight and accountability with thinly veiled contempt. The 27 year cover up of the events surrounding the Hillsborough tragedy. The vacillating and procrastination of the Home Office around the public enquiry into organised historic child sex abuse (in which senior civil servants and politicians lie implicated). Neither of these are issues that substantially impact the Muslim community yet both have everything to do with the dogged pursuit of accountability and justice – a struggle in which CAGE is heavily invested.
The demonization of any minority group and its beliefs, their relentless targeting by a hostile media (whose ownership is often unhealthily close to the political establishment) and the systematic stripping of legal rights and protections from those the authorities have deemed troublesome should give rise to considerable angst amongst all bien-pensant citizens. When we sacrifice the protections of the law for one segment of society it is but a short hop to those protections being stripped from all. I put it to you that it behoves us all, Muslims and non-Muslim alike to support CAGE.
May the peace and blessings of Allah (swt) be upon Sayyidina Muhammad. Ameen.
[I am not a paid employee of CAGE nor do I undertake unpaid work for them. The views expressed herein are completely my own and not necessarily reflective of theirs. To find out more about CAGE and how to donate to them please go to http://cage.ngo/donate/]