Apologists for terror or defenders of human rights? The Cage controversy in context

Crosspost: Tom Mills, Narzanin Massoumi, and David Miller

Last week, in a widely trailed speech, the Prime Minister laid out the government’s counter-terrorism strategy for the next five years. It is necessary, Cameron explained, to challenge the idea that political violence is rooted in ‘historic injustices and recent wars, or… poverty and hardship’.  Terrorism, he said, is caused by ‘extremist ideology’, which his government is determined to confront.

There was little new in Cameron’s speech, which simply affirmed in strong terms the authoritarian drift of counter-terrorism policy. Influenced by the security apparatus and its supporters in Parliament, and by neoconservative think tanks, such as the Henry Jackson Society, and (partly) state funded propaganda outfits like Quilliam, policy makers have become increasingly preoccupied with ‘non-violent extremism’ rather than political violence. Officially this is portrayed as a political campaign against ‘intolerance’. Thus Cameron claims that his government will be facing down ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ by asserting ‘basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality’.

‘For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society’

On the face of it this seems agreeable enough. But the actual policy is another matter. As was pointed out in a recent letter to which we were signatories, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 will ‘mean that individuals working within statutory organisations must report individuals suspected of being “potential terrorists” to external bodies for “de-radicalisation”‘. In effect, the government has drawn the entire public sector into its controversial counter-extremist agenda, meaning that public servants once responsible for the welfare of citizens – including children – must now monitor their behaviour, appearance and political views, feeding into the most unaccountable and repressive elements of the state. Since 2014, 400 children, even as young as three-years-old, have been referred to the government’s ‘Channel’ programme for ‘de-radicalisation’. The true political implications of the policy, which has now passed into law, were made clear in May when Cameron told the first meeting of the National Security Council: ‘For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone”.’  So much for liberalism.

The letter we signed in opposition to this plainly authoritarian approach, published before Cameron’s speech, was an attempt to bring together a range of academics and others to draw attention to the problem of repressive anti-terrorism laws. Written by two academics and initiated by the human rights group Cage, it seemed to us a fairly unexceptional statement of the problem. Ten days after the letter was published, Cameron singled out Cage in the aforementioned speech, describing it as an extremist organisation which had called ‘Jihadi John a “beautiful young man” and told people to “support the jihad” in Iraq and Afghanistan’. Working with Cage, he said, ‘shame[d]’ organisations like the National Union of Students.

The NUS’s Black Students’ Officer, Malia Bouattia, responded by condemning the ‘state-sponsored witch-hunt of Muslims’. But the NUS itself was quick to point out that it had already publicly declared that it would no longer work with Cage, as had another of the organisation’s former partners, Amnesty International. Moreover, Cage’s former donors, under intense pressure from the Charity Commission, had already made public undertakings that they will never support the organisation’s work, and last year banks unilaterally froze the accounts of a number of Muslim groups, including those of Cage staff and their family members. In attacking Cage then, Cameron was simply lending his Prime Ministerial authority to a campaign that had already proved remarkably successful in marginalising this small organisation. So what is Cage and what has it done to invite such opprobrium?

What is Cage?

Cage is an advocacy group and one of very few organisations working with victims of abuse or mistreatment in the ‘War on Terror’. Through research, advocacy and casework it offers support for those who are being denied due process when accused of terrorism offences – which we should remember are much broader than what most people consider ‘terrorism’. By putting citizens in touch with lawyers and informing them of their rights, Cage has been able to develop the trust of many Muslims subjected to harassment, torture and other abuses. As such, it has documented cases of miscarriages of justice about which we would otherwise know very little.

Cage began its work in 2003 with a focus on Guantanamo Bay, and was one of the leading organisations working on publicising the names of those detained at the base. Since then it has consistently documented the involvement and complicity of UK and US governments in torture and rendition. In December 2006, it was the first organisation to publish a list of almost 100 prisons used to detain and torture terror suspects. It is also reportedly the only organisation to offer support to Muslims harassed by the security services. In the case of Michael Adebolajo, Cage was instrumental in revealing evidence that he was tortured in Kenya, which led to an official inquiry, ordered by Cameron. These activities are in themselves important in holding the security services to account.

Another little remarked upon aspect of the work Cage has done is their campaigning for the release of hostages. In 2006, it worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq to secure the release of Norman Kember and Harmeet Soodan – both of whom were spared execution. More recently, it worked for the release of Alan Henning, a taxi driver who had gone to Syria to help deliver aid relief to refugees and was taken prisoner by ISIS. His friends approached Cage’s Director, the former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, for help, and Cage made several appeals to Henning’s captors calling for his release. Begg used contacts from his work in Syria investigating UK and US involvement in rendition, and prepared a letter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi pleading for Henning’s release.

Yet despite – and indeed in some cases clearly because of – this important work, there is an intense air of suspicion around Cage on the left, and outright, sometimes hysterical, hostility towards them on the right. The organisation has been described as ‘a pro-terrorist group’ by Douglas Murray and Robin Simcox of the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society, as ‘nauseating… apologists  for terror‘ by the Daily Mail and as ‘quite clearly, a terrorism advocacy group’ by the Telegraph. Not only that but, as noted above, after years of pressure, liberal groups like Amnesty have publicly criticised Cage, announcing that they would no longer work with the organisation.

The latest allegations

For years Cage has faced accusations of ‘extremism’, the substance of which we will examine further below. The latest allegations, which seem to have been quite effective in finally marginalising the organisation from public life, relate to comments made by Cage’s director of research, Asim Qureshi; firstly about Mohammed Emwazi, the British-Kuwaiti ISIS fighter dubbed ‘Jihadi John’ by the tabloids, and secondly in relation to the practice of stoning adulterous women. The headlines tell the story:

–          Cage director Asim Qureshi refuses to condemn stoning of adulterous women (Telegraph)

–          Jihadi John apologist who said killer was a ‘beautiful man’ sparks new outrage after refusing to condemn stoning of women (Daily Mail)

–          Muslim rights activist who defended Jihadi John refuses to condemn female stoning (Express)

Mohammed Emwazi had been on Cage’s casefile for several years. So when news broke that he was ‘Jihadi John’, Cage held a press conference announcing the publications of a comprehensive account of their correspondence with him. This included details of Emwazi’s harassment by the security service. This was despite Emwazi having never been charged with, or even arrested for, any terrorism-related crime. Emwazi faced repeated detention at airports, interrogation by MI5, deportation, and prevention from returning to Kuwait to take up a job and get married. In addition, the security services had tried to recruit Emwazi as an informant. When he refused, he was told: ‘You’re going to be known… you’re going to be followed… life will be harder for you’.  In a letter sent to the journalist Robert Verkaik, Emwazi wrote that he was a ‘dead man walking’.  The picture that emerged was of course contested by the authorities. It is reported that Emwazi was ‘mixing in radical Islamist circles’ prior to attracting the attention of MI5. But even if true, questions still remain about their tactics and harassment – as well as the accusation that they tried to strangle him.

The evidence presented by Cage at that press conference amounted, as Ben Hayes puts it, to ‘a credible allegation of state-sanctioned blackmail of one of our citizens upon pain of having his life ruined by unaccountable security forces.’

Speaking at the press conference, Cage’s Qureshi contrasted the young man he had corresponded with, with the brutality displayed by ‘Jihadi John’, describing the Emwazi he had known years earlier as ‘extremely gentle’. Qureshi’s comments were seized upon and shamelessly distorted by the right-wing press. The Telegraph, for example, reported that Qureshi had said that ‘Emwazi is “extremely gentle”‘, removing the past tense from his comments, which had made clear he was referring to Emwazi before his apparent ‘radicalisation’.

Perhaps Qureshi’s comments were ill advised given the attacks that were likely to follow any high profile and credible accusations against the security service. But that does not detract from the fact that the media response was both overwrought and plainly misleading; not to mention a serious dereliction of the journalistic duty to hold power to account. Instead of addressing the evidence presented by Cage, and pursuing the awkward questions raised about the British intelligence services, the British media decided that Cage themselves were the story.

The organisation’s representatives were in fact unequivocal in their condemnation of ‘Jihadi John’ and the violence of ISIS. In an interview on Sky News, Cage spokesperson Cerie Bullivant said: ‘nobody here is apologising or trying to make an excuse for what happened… We are shocked when we see beheadings… I am shocked by something as brutal as this… everybody should be held accountable for any torture that they do or any killings’. Yet Cage has continually faced claims that it is in some way responsible for, or has condoned, such acts.

The politics of the last atrocity

Increasingly marginalised by a media smear campaign, Cage has now achieved the status of public pariah once reserved for critics of government policy on Northern Ireland before the peace process. Broadcast media anchors have treated Cage representatives with open contempt and hostility, routinely putting words in their mouths and insisting they condemn abuses in Muslims countries, or the latest ‘terror’ attack. In Ireland, this became known as the politics of the last atrocity. The British state and their mainstream media cheerleaders adopted the ‘hostile interview technique’ for critics of British rule. Interviewees were branded as apologists for terrorism if they would not indulge in selective condemnation of the latest act of violence by the official enemy. Meanwhile, journalists, fearless in interrogating critics of British policy, managed to maintain a tight-lipped silence when interviewing British Ministers after the latest British or Loyalist abuse or attack.

Imagine the reverse of the current pattern of media ‘monstering’ of Cage. Imagine that the mainstream media repeatedly required UK, US or Israeli officials to condemn extra-judicial executions or the killing of civilians by their forces. In Pakistan alone, for example, the US is estimated to have killed between 172 and 207 children in drone strikes since 2004, yet no condemnations are demanded of US officials, let alone civil society groups sympathetic with the US military. In its latest assault on Gaza, Israel killed 577 children, and in response, Cameron remarked that it is ‘important to speak out’ in favour of Israel’s right ‘to defend against indiscriminate attacks’. Imagine the BBC refusing to interview Cameron or any other Minister of the Crown until they condemn such crimes. It is of course literally incredible to imagine. Yet this is precisely what representatives of Cage have been subjected to, and in relation to acts for which they bear no responsibility and for which they have professed no sympathy. Treated as partisans in a terrorist war, they are required to issue meaningless condemnations before being allowed to speak.

The ‘salafi-jihadi’ smear

Having attacked Qureshi for his comments on Emwazi, Cage’s critics focused on comments he made when asked about stoning and Islamic law. The charges are based on comments Qureshi made in two interviews, the first with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Russia Today in 2012, and the second with the right-wing TV presenter Andrew Neil on the BBC’s This Week shortly after the Emwazi press conference.

In the interview with Assange, Qureshi spoke of his ‘personal’ belief in ‘Islamic concepts’ in relation to punishments and the rule of law, in the abstract. But he also noted that the practical implementation of Sharia today often ‘totally goes against what the rule of law requires from the Sharia’. In the case of stoning (of both men and women) for adultery he said that the ‘evidentiary standard is four live witnesses to the act of sexual relations at the time it is taking place’. So, ‘from an evidentiary perspective it is almost impossible to establish that’. ‘The fact that you have’, he said, ‘the punishment even taking place means that effectively the rule of law is being abused at some point, because it is impossible to establish that evidentiary standard’. Whilst hardly an unequivocal condemnation, this is a rather more complex picture than that recognised in the headlines.

On the BBC, Andrew Neil confronted Qureshi about the views of Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad, a Muslim scholar who Neil claimed was Qureshi’s ‘spiritual mentor and guide’. Qureshi responded that Haddad was just ‘one scholar in the UK that I think has an important contribution to make’.  Neil stated that Haddad:

believes in the following: Female Genital Mutilation is not only acceptable, it is probably obligatory; that you should not question a man’s right to hit his wife; that non-Muslim prisoners should be taken as slaves; that Jews are descendants of pigs; death by stoning is OK for adultery and homosexuality is a crime against humanity.

He asked Qureshi if he had ‘been guided to believe’ these things, to which Qureshi responded: ‘I’ve never been guided to believe any of those things’. Pressed further, Qureshi stated, ‘I am not a theologian’, and when asked directly about his comments to Julian Assange on stoning stated: ‘I do a lot of work, actually, against the death penalty’. ‘What I am about,’ he continued, ‘and what my organisation is about is due process of the law.’

There is no doubt that Haddad expresses a conservative strand of Islam, in particular on the appropriateness of punishment fitting the crime (Hudud) and on questions of sexuality. It is not clear, though, that the other views attributed to him are accurately rendered. Much of the substance of the question from Neil appears to be based on a report from the Council of Ex Muslims, an organisation close to the ‘new atheist’ movement which enjoys the ‘generous support’ of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, amongst other benefactors. Their 2014 report Evangelising Hate: Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), was drawn to Andrew Neil’s attention on Twitter in advance of the programme.

In the end, as Qureshi argued to Andrew Neil: ‘What we are talking about here is how counter terrorism policy is affecting our youth here in the UK.  What you’ve done is that you are trying to conflate theological issues within Islam with what we’re talking about’. The alternative view – as put by Andrew Neil – is that Cage is ‘putting up a moderate front and behind it hangs a jihadist agenda’. Ultimately, this is what the accusations against Cage boil down to: the claim that it may be working on civil liberties and human rights, but these activities are simply a means to advance a broader political agenda, and one which poses a grave threat to democracy and ultimately to human rights.

But whatever one might say about the politics or religious beliefs of individuals working at Cage, the fact remains that it is a human rights organisation and bases its work on the notion that everyone should have access to due process, including those suspected of ‘terrorism’ offences.  This is not an especially controversial position. Indeed, it is that held by other human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International and Reprieve. Critics of human rights work have always sought to deflect the issues raised by attempting to conflate criticism with particular political agendas, or by seeking to portray human rights workers as partisans. In the 1970s and 1980s, for example, Amnesty International came under intense pressure when it queried British human rights abuses in Ireland. An example of this is Amnesty’s response to the suspected extrajudicial execution of three unarmed members of the IRA on the rock of Gibraltar in March 1988. Jonathan Power, the author of The Story of Amnesty International (see p.172), writes:

When Amnesty called for an inquiry, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher accused the organization of being ‘IRA apologists’. So intense was the criticism of Amnesty by both the government and sections of the media that many British members resigned. Amnesty stuck to its guns and, finally, in 1995, the European Court of Human Rights declared that the killings by the British army were unlawful.

Another even more apposite historical analogy is the British state’s position on the National Council of Civil Liberties – now Liberty, the well-known liberal campaigning group led by Shami Chakrabarti – during the Cold War. In 1951, MI5 advised the Home Office that despite being ‘ostensibly based on Liberal principles’, the National Council of Civil Liberties had been ‘penetrated from the start by Communists’ and since it had ‘Communists and Communist-sympathisers [sic.] serving as officers’, membership was ‘a prima facie case for reference to our records’.

Indeed, the future Cabinet Ministers Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt were both placed under surveillance by MI5 whilst working there. This is more than a coincidence of history. As two of us showed in a 2011 report, the key think tanks that have influenced the shift in counter-terrorism policy away from terrorism and towards ‘extremist’ ideas, explicitly sought to revive Cold War style counter-subversion. In one 2009 pamphlet published by ‘Cameron’s favourite think tank’ Policy Exchange, for example, the authors criticised the then focus on security, favouring instead an effort to counter the ‘non-violent radicals’ they claimed were ‘indoctrinating young people with an ideology of hostility to western values.’ The report explicitly called for the British state to engage in large-scale political counter-subversion, criticising MI5 for ‘not draw[ing] as much as it might on British experiences during the Cold War’.

Smoke without fire: the left-wing criticisms of Cage

If the accusations and insinuations were limited to neoconservative think tanks, right wing politicians and the reactionary press, they could be easily dismissed by liberals, leftists and human rights activists as nothing more than cynical political smears. And in large part the claims made against Cage are just that. But attacks on Cage and its leading figures have also come from sections of the left, and this has afforded legitimacy to reactionary attacks, and discouraged some who would otherwise have supported Cage’s work.

Much of the left-wing criticism has come from secularist, anti-racist activists, particularly those close to the campaigning groups Women Against Fundamentalism and Southall Black Sisters. Both these feminist organisations emerged out of the radical anti-racist movement and are notable for having advanced a left-wing critique of multiculturalism, opposing both racist state practices and ‘religious fundamentalism’. Their argument, in short, is that through elevating more conservative figures as ‘community leaders’ multiculturalist policies have strengthened patriarchal and reactionary forces amongst minorities and thereby fostered identity politics, patriarchy and religious conservatism at the expense of the secular, cosmopolitan vision of the radical anti-racist movement. This placed these secularist activists in opposition to the Muslim Council of Great Britain (MCB) and over time increasingly in step with elements of the government and the conservative movement, as the MCB was attacked and then sidelined for its opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – part of a broader political attack on multiculturalism. This strange political convergence between radical feminist anti-racists and various Islamophobic movements come to the fore very publicly in early 2010 when Gita Sahgal, a co-founder of Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism, publicly attacked Cage’s Moazzam Begg in the pages of the Sunday Times.

In a relatively short article leading to an international media storm, Sahgal aired her objections to her then employer Amnesty International partnering with Begg and Cage. Sahgal, who was head of Amnesty International’s Gender Unit at the time, was quoted as saying: ‘it was absolutely wrong to legitimise [Moazzam Begg] as a partner’. The article quoted an email she had sent to her bosses in which she described Cage as a ‘jihadi’ organisation and Begg as ‘Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban’. The inflammatory accusations were repeated across the British and international media, putting Amnesty under intense pressure to sever its relationship with Cage.

Gita Sahgal was suspended and later forced to resign from Amnesty, becoming something of a cause célèbre for neoconservatives, the pro-war left and similar Islamophobic groupings. She and her supporters then wrote a number of articles attacking both her former employer and Moazzam Begg. In one such piece, published in DNA India a week after her forced departure from Amnesty, Sahgal writes: ‘One of the issues at stake is whether there is any evidence.’ We agree. Indeed, we think it revealing how little attention was paid then, and has been since, to the substance of the allegations against Cage, which have left an enduring air of suspicion around the organisation, making it and those it works with more vulnerable to abuse at the hands of the authorities.

In her DNA India piece, which to our knowledge is the most detailed critique Sahgal has published, she refers to Cage as ‘an obscure outfit devoted to the promotion of those detainees and convicted prisoners from groups that are associated with al-Qaeda and other exponents of the ideology that is known as salafi jihadism.’ In so far as the piece contains any concrete allegations, they relate first to Begg’s political activities and affiliations before his incarceration and torture by the United States, and secondly to his subsequent endorsement of ‘defensive jihad’. Below we examine both aspects.

Many politically engaged Muslims in the 1990s were animated by the conflicts in Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere, and Cage’s Moazzam Begg was no exception. In her DNA India piece, Sahgal notes that Begg – as he details in his book Enemy Combatant – ran a bookshop in Birmingham which sold literature by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and who before his death in 1989 co-founded groupings which became Al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba. For Sahgal, this makes Begg beyond the pale politically.  Towards the end of her piece she asks rhetorically:

Would Amnesty International members and supporters decide that a man who had once sold Mein Kampf but now said that Hitler, who was a great inspiration, went a little over the top in carrying out the final solution, be considered a suitable person to adorn Amnesty platforms?

This is a remarkably inflammatory passage and the sort of political rhetoric that has for the most part been limited to the more extreme fringes of the Zionist and Counterjihad movements. But let us assume that the analogy is meant to be taken seriously. In what sense is Abdullah Azzam comparable to Hitler? Mein Kampf is a racist, genocidal, ultra-nationalist tract and the movement its author led was committed to territorial expansion, colonialism and ethnic cleansing. Can the same be said of the writings of Azzam or any other seminal figure in the various political movements conventionally referred to as ‘Islamist’ or ‘jihadist’? Religiously inspired political movements in the Middle East are not homogenous and different groups have pursued different goals and adopted different strategies and tactics at different times. But whilst generally they tend to be broadly conservative – indeed many are highly reactionary – even the most extreme groupings bear only the most superficial resemblance to the German National Socialists. Even the neoconservative historian Niall Ferguson has described the analogy as a ‘fantasy’ used to morally blackmail opponents of the ‘War on Terror’; remarked that ‘there’s virtually no overlap between the ideology of al Qaeda and fascism’; and suggested that a more historically literate comparison would be with the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. If Ferguson is right, should we refuse to support anyone who at one stage sold the writings of Lenin or Trotsky? If so, that would likely include anyone who has worked for any major book retailer. And what about those who have sold any of the writings of the Argentinean revolutionary Che Guevara, who in 1967 declared:

We must carry the war into every corner the enemy happens to carry it: to his home, to his centres of entertainment; a total war. It is necessary to prevent him from having a moment of peace, a quiet moment outside his barracks or even inside; we must attack him wherever he may be; make him feel like a cornered beast wherever he may move.  Then his moral fibre shall begin to decline. He will even become more beastly, but we shall notice how the signs of decadence begin to appear.

And what, conversely, should be our position on those who have sold any of the writings of Henry Kissinger, who in 1970 instructed the US military to escalate their bombing campaign against neutral Cambodia with the words, ‘Anything that flies on anything that moves.’? After all, Kissinger, through this and his broader involvement in US aggression in South East Asia is implicated not only in terrorism, but in some of the most grave crimes of the 20th century.

What is remarkable about the criticisms of Begg by Sahgal and others is that no one alleges that he has been involved in any violence, or that he has voiced any support for the targeting of civilians or for ‘offensive jihad’ in general. Indeed, Begg and other members of Cage have stressed again and again that they have never, and never will, support attacks on civilians. But this is not enough for critics of Cage, for whom the issue is support for ‘defensive jihad’ – and support for ‘jihad’, Sahgal argues, ‘whether of the defensive or offensive variety, constitutes a profound threat to all human rights.’ This is the second and more extensive claim made in the DNA India piece, and Sahgal and her supporters have repeated it elsewhere.

In a statement published by the New York Review of Book, for example, Sahgal made oblique reference to ‘the views of Begg, his associates, and his organization’, but the only specific allegation was that they had expressed support for ‘jihad in self-defence’. This is true, but it is a curious basis for criticism since ‘defensive jihad’ – that is the violent resistance to invasion or oppression – happens to be a right under international law. This begs the question: what position on the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, could Begg have taken to make himself acceptable to Sahgal and her supporters? Must he publicly oppose violence in all circumstances to make himself an acceptable partner? This is not an issue Sahgal thinks to address, since she chooses to interpret jihad not as a right or obligation to be exercised in particular circumstances, but as an ‘ideology’ which ‘promotes the destruction of human rights generally’ and women and minorities in particular. In a subsequent article published on Open Democracy, Sahgal goes further, claiming that ‘defensive jihad’ is ‘after all, waged to establish systematic discrimination’. She thus ignores the question of under what circumstances it is legitimate to use violence, arguing instead that by expressing even equivocal support for violent resistance in Islamic terms, Begg and his associates, no matter what they say, by definition support discrimination and the violent subordination of women and minorities.

A similar argument is advanced by the US feminist Meredith Tax, who wrote a pamphlet developing and broadening the arguments against Cage for Sahgal’s Centre for Secular Space. In her pamphlet, Tax blurs the lines between religiously inspired political movements and terrorist organisations by defining human rights abuses justified in religious terms as acts of terrorism.  She argues that it is ‘critically important’ that human rights advocates should track violations by states, but argues that ‘it is also incumbent upon human rights organisations to scrutinise the ideology of groups they defend’ and to make it clear they ‘do not support their beliefs’ (p.28). Even leaving aside the highly questionable argument that the abuses Tax describes should be defined as terrorism, or the notion that such abuses justified in religious terms should be treated as fundamentally distinct from those that are not, there is still a serious problem here.

The implications of Tax’s argument seems to be that one should focus on the practices of states, and the ideologies of non-state actors. But then why is it not equally incumbent on human rights organisations to make clear that they do not support the beliefs or ideologies of particular governments? Should Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International be condemning the ideology of Zionism rather than the abuses of the Israeli government? No, and the reason is obvious: human rights organisations have always focused on recording abuses, campaigning on due process and advocating for reforms, whilst avoiding being drawn onto the slippery slope of criticising political ideologies. The distinction between ideas and action is fundamental to human rights work, and indeed to the liberal system of law on which it is based, and it is precisely this distinction which authoritarian counter-terrorism laws have eroded.

The logical leaps in the arguments advanced by Sahgal, Tax and others are clear enough if one chooses to address the substance and the evidence, rather than being drawn in by the rhetoric and insinuations. Begg may have voiced support for armed resistance to occupation and oppression, but where is the actual evidence that he opposes women’s rights, for example? Neither Sahgal, nor her supporters, nor the array of reactionary forces determined to undermine Cage’s work have to our knowledge produced any.

Conclusion: what is at stake

In a way though, all this heat and light on the alleged misdeeds of Cage and its staff are not really the point. The real reason Cage is being attacked is not to be found in any speech by the Prime Minister, the ‘research’ by the think tanks, or the howls of outrage from the media. The real reason is that it is an effective human rights organisation that is dedicated to defending the rights of terror suspects (and indeed of convicted ‘terrorists’ where there are concerns about due process and the safety of convictions). What is actually at stake here? It is not just a question of defending the reputation of Cage, but of actively supporting its work with the victims of the ‘War on Terror’. This is because it is intrinsically a matter of justice, but also because the more injustice is piled up by wrongful convictions and abuses of power, the greater the price that British society will pay for its failure to listen to those pointing to its abuse of ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’.  These are, as alert observers will have noted, the terms used by the government to define ‘British values’.

The attack on Cage is part of the more general assault on politically active Muslims and an attempt to push Muslim organisations to the margins of public life. Cage is not the only group to have had its banks accounts, those of its staff and – let it be emphasised – their children, closed.  Not being a charity, it is not even one of the 55 Muslim charities that are currently being attacked (or ‘investigated’ as they would have it) by the Charity Commission. The Commission, headed by the neoconservative ideologue Lord Shawcross, has put ‘intense regulatory pressure’ on charities that have funded Cage to publically declare they will never do so again. In addition, Amnesty and others have been pressurised to draw a cordon sanitaire between Cage and themselves. This plainly amounts to a campaign to bully and censor people into dissociating themselves from Cage and has had a significant impact on its ability to undertake its human rights work. The term Orwellian does not begin to cover this and we are saddened that some progressive individuals and organisations appear to be joining in with, or ‘quietly condoning’ to borrow Cameron’s much derided phrase, what amounts to a state-directed attempt to silence its critics.

If we say nothing now when they come for Cage, there will be nobody left to speak for the rest of us. Nor will there be anyone to speak for those future victims of miscarriages of justice, the Birmingham Sixes and Guildford Fours of this ever expanding and apparently never ending ‘war’.

Source


DISCLAIMER: Cross-posting is not an endorsement.  As this article has not been written by CoolnessofHind, the views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the views of coolnessofhind.wordpress.com

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