The activist, Moazzam Begg, as expected, has had all his terror charges dropped. And whilst the activist community which understands the games of the government, and the Muslim minority have shown their happiness, his release has accentuated the crisis in which the criminal justice system, and the government, is in.
A man has been detained for several months, and exonerated through the charges being dropped. A man who was formerly in the abomination of the West that is Guantanamo Bay as a sub-human, was incarcerated in Belmarsh. Moazzam, as evidenced in his writings, interviews and public lectures is undeterred, unshaken and iron-willed in his determination to support the very values which the neocons have been punishing the Muslim minority with whilst excusing themselves from their application: democracy, rule of law, human rights.
Some for instance, like Islamic Human Rights Commission have argued that his release proved that his political arrest was to silence activists against draconian anti-terror legislation. To some extent this is true, however the benefit the neocon government has achieved through Moazzam’s incarcerations is deeper and longer term. I believe Moazzam’s incarceration was do with two inter-related issues:
- The release of information indicating towards UK’s complicity to torture in Syria.
- This article: it articulates a forceful narrative which undoes that which followed after his arrest.
Soon after his arrest, key events occurred for which Moazzam would have proven problematic for the neocon government agenda.
The Trojan Hoax Fiasco and Extremism
The Trojan Hoax fiasco had its seeds sown in 2013 with certain counter terrorism “experts” embedded in the Birmingham Muslim community (in fact it had its seeds sown with the 2011 PREVENT Strategy Review document, fully supported and encouraged by Quilliam and co). The anti-Muslim neocon juggernaut which launched towards Birmingham was only initiated after Moazzam’s arrest. After this, a barrage of news report essentially regurgitating the same lies, distortions and exaggerations was nationally deployed from all papers, left or right, on a frequent basis. A rapid inquiry ensued by the Birmingham City Council (by Ian Kershaw) as did the Department for Education (Peter Clarke). Both reports relied upon unsworn, uncorroborated statements, which failed to take into account defence statement submitted by those who were eventually accused, tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion. The actions were judged ultra vires using the PREVENT strategy definition of “extremism” and “British values”, which have not been publicly debated and which have not been enshrined in law through a legislative process. Despite this, and with the British public thoroughly brainwashed with what “British values” (non-Muslims) and “extremism” (Muslims) are, the documents provided the basis for the reinforcement by Theresa May et al to push through the extremism agenda into their next Conservative manifesto.
Moazzam Begg had already highlighted the insidious measures which criminalise “even ideas whether at schools, universities, mosques, among friends or in the home”. CAGE on top of this have produced a detailed critique of the PREVENT strategy, which according to sources, had not gone down too well in the neocon circles of the government when published. Moazzam and CAGE were thus an obstacle to the PREVENT agenda which needed to be removed.
Returning Fighters from Syria and Embarrassment
There have been court cases of British men who have returned from Syria being charged and sentenced for terror-related offences. Moazzam’s knowledge of the situation on the ground was explicated in a nuanced fashion in his article. In short, it completely tore apart the now common narrative pushed by the neocons that practically anyone traveling to Syria, which seemingly includes aid workers, are a threat to the security of Britain. Men have travelled to Syria for the much focussed aim of fighting Bashar Al-Asad’s brutal army since 2011 and yet, as Moazzam highlights, there has not been a single “blowback” since. Coupled with the inactivity of Western “powers” to restrain the butchering, the humanitarian effort would place the government in a negative light. As Moazzam wrote,
There is much more evidence that challenges the government’s non-imperical narrative about these men but listening to the actual views of such people has never been a consideration. Could it be that the presence of so many British fighters in Syria actually exposes the British Government to embarrassment in the knowledge that is has done little to stop the carnage in Syria, facing condemnation for refusing refugees or criticism for inaction in the case of Dr. Abbas Khan?
The perception of Britain as the champion of democracy and human rights is important, for it increases its “moral authority” which enables Britain to militarily intervene in countries which are of “strategic interest”, or so the neocons likes the Henry Jackson Society, which pushes for (military) “hard power” in line with neoconservative foreign policy to the government, has led the government to believe.
Embarrassment, like this or the exposure of UK torture complicity in Syria, would tarnish UK’s reputation and inhibit such policies.
Despite the suppression of Moazzam and CAGE, CAGE continued to ask pressing questions for instance, regarding the case of the Muthana brothers and the conviction of Mashudur Choudhury, which have yet to yield any meaningful answers. Moazzam’s own case raises even more questions on top of those which were asked when he was arrested. Reports indicate that the prosecution was made “aware” of relevant material which exonerated Moazzam. Why is it not being made public? There is after all, a “public interest” in this for it completely ruined (again) someone’s life.
The point however is, with a strong public activist figure like Moazzam behind bars, the counter-narrative against these court cases has been supressed.
Military Action in Iraq
What the above two previous events elucidate above, as well as daily ISIS reports enabled was the war in Iraq, thus arriving at a paradoxical situation in which Britain has now joined U.S., albeit in a restricted fashion, in not sanctioning a brutal despotic regime which is still using chemical weapons, but rather, bombing groups fighting Asad, in effect doing his work for him. Given the sudden change of heart by the government as we stepped into 2014, the subsequent difficulties made by Britain for aid workers and the fact that Muslim charities and figures supporting humanitarian relief efforts were targeted by government bodies, it would not be a surprise if there was some sort of agreement between British security agencies and Asad.
Moazzam in his article had given a nuanced exposition of how the Western policy towards Iraq would be difficult to apply, for all the groups present were fighting Asad’s forces. Moazzam had also broken to down the nature of the infighting and the praise Al-Qaida affiliated and ISIS groups were giving to the “moderate” and “secularist” FSA and vice versa. He predicted that the UK would follow suit with the US. It seems that is to be the case, as the defence secretary Michael Fallon recently said in an interview:
“But we then of course have got to think about how we deal with ISIL more generally, ISIL is based in Syria, it’s been attacking Iraq from Syria and it needs to be defeated in Syria as well as Iraq… ISIL is based in Syria, its command and control systems are there, its headquarters are there, the personnel are coming from Syria and that’s why we’ve been supporting the US air strikes, we welcome those.”
David Cameron has gone further in a true case of mission creep and said there is no need for a Commons vote to extend the strikes in Syria.
Moazzam’s analysis drives a horse and cart through the simplistic narrative pedalled by Britain and the U.S. which has bombed Jabhat al-Nusra in addition to ISIS targets. His follow-up analyses, again coupled with revelations of UK complicity to torture in Syria would no doubt have further troubled the neocon military ambitions.
Israel, during the bombing of Gaza, also bombed key infrastructure necessary for basic amenities. Deliberately bombing the infrastructure of a people would only serve to prevent rehabilitation and inhibit future responses.
Moazzam Begg, was a painful thorn in the side of the neocon policy-makers who wished to pursue the cold war on the Muslim minority in Britain whilst projecting their liberal interventionist “hard power” with the people on their side. He needed to be taken out long enough, however fickle the charges, in order to pursue these goals. And just as the infrastructure of Gaza was bombed, so too was CAGE bombarded by the weaponised government organs, which deployed its full payload against CAGE, debilitating CAGE’s operational workings.
Despite this, CAGE continues to ensure the checks and balances of the government, subject government actions to scrutiny, uphold the rule of law and ask questions which many are afraid to ask.
A government which needs to imprison someone to suppress information is not a transparent, just government. It is a neocon government not dissimilar to Asad’s regime. For too long the neocon government has been probing the people whilst rendering itself opaque to scrutiny. In the words of Edward Snowden,
“There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny”
 By Great Britain: Parliament: House of Lords: Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, House of Lords – Persuasion and Power in the Modern World – HL 150, Report of Session, 2013-2014, p.51