The Irony in NUS President’s Attack on CAGE

CAGENUSCharityCommissionThere was tragic irony in the recent words of the NUS President Megan Dunn. Allow me to elucidate.

Dunn, capitulating to the pressure mounted by the neoconservative lobby – constituted of William Shawcross, Peter Clarke, George Osborne, and fronted by David Cameron – pleased the gleeful “native Muslim informants” over at Quilliam when she dissociated from CAGE, perhaps trying a little too hard in the process. She stated that the dissociation with CAGE was due to NUS’s policies on “anti-racism, anti-fascism and how we define anti-Semitism”.

Ignoring the fact that a white person is asserting that a group of brown people are effectively falling foul of “anti-racism policies”, the accusations are somewhat libellous and typical of the treatment of CAGE: evidence which demonstrates promulgation of such views by CAGE are noticeable only for their absence. If the claim is based on mere association, as opposed to advocacy (of racist, anti-Semitic, fascist beliefs) then one would logically require the need to boycott all those involved in legally representing fascists, racists, and terror suspects in a court of law, for instance. In fact this point was rendered by prominent human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith in the context of CAGE:

“I myself represent those said to be ‘terrorists’ and since Magna Carta, in 1215, we have presumed people innocent rather than guilty…”

As I have argued before, the call for CAGE has always been consistent: rule of law and due process in the War on Terror context, no matter who it is. Megan perhaps draws her conclusions from the Amnesty international fiasco. In June this year, with the NUS faced with state and press pressure once again to sever ties with the one Muslim organisation deconstructing the supremacist, xenophobic narratives of a fascist neocon cabal, NUS issued a statement in which it referenced Amnesty International’s public distancing from CAGE.

The statements of Amnesty precipitated against a backdrop where both state and press, in a desperate effort to manage the perceptions of deteriorating counter terror policies, attacked CAGE for merely stating facts and raising pointed, awkward questions about the security services’ involvement in the case of Mohammed Emwazi. One would think the NUS would appreciate this context: the NUS has been a target for infiltration for political activism (see here also) whilst student activists have been harassed and intimidated by police to the point that they have left their activism, with other activists being left feeling “violated, isolated, vulnerable and paranoid”. Gita Sahgal’s words were leveraged to join a chorus of irrationality and tabloid-smearing. Relying on the Amnesty charade demonstrates the weakness of NUS’s position for Saghal herself holds bigoted views which discriminate against Muslims, whilst her allegations against CAGE and Moazzam have all been eloquently responded to (see here). It was a disgrace for Amnesty to toe the neocon line as it is now shameful for the NUS to use Amnesty as an excuse to capitulate to demands which reinforce the PREVENT narrative: disruption of dissenting individuals and organisations through the use of media catch-phrases coupled with scant substantive evidence. McCarthyism, in other words.

CAGE’s Defence of the Civil Society

What makes Dunn’s remarks even more morally diaphanous is that CAGE is doing what thus far no organisation has actually had the fortitude to brave: stand for civil society organisations against neocon fascist repression wielded by the neocon Zionist William Shawcross’ Charity Commission and its board member, former head of counter terrorism Peter Clarke. It is worth noting that this clique extends dubious, politically incestuous links: Shawcross’ daughter Eleanor has been an economic advisor to neocon George Osborne since 2008. Osborne has recently pumped £8 million in to the anti-Muslim, discriminatory Commission.

The voluntary sector has been concerned about the Commission. The Third Sector reports, quoting an observer, that,

“He’s [William Shawcross] by far the most ideological of all the people who have been in this role, which is bad for the sector at a time when it is in much more difficulty over fundraising and its general standing. His letting forth to The Times was very revealing – talking about sanctions against charities and taking a sideswipe at Muslims having a victim mentality. It’s clear from his history that he’s a neo-conservative, so I think he can’t look at Muslim charities in a dispassionate way.”

Under Shawcross, the focus has shifted, according to the report, from “not so much increasing public trust in charities as increasing the government’s trust in the commission”. The public trust and confidence is judged, according to “what the Daily Mail thinks”. Indeed, the politicised nature of the Commission came to the fore when it wrapped Oxfam for Tweeting an image criticising what were effectively Tory policies (in the context of poverty). Shawcross incidentally stated in 2010 that “only a vote for the Conservatives offers any hope of drawing back from the abyss”.

It was this demagogic, oligarchic ideology, which came forward to please the state and place pressure on two premier non-Muslim charities: the Roddick Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. During the height of ostracisation of CAGE during the Mohammed Emwazi revelations, the Roddick Foundation and JRCT both were wrist-twisted courtesy of “intense regulatory pressure” into giving assurances to never fund CAGE again. The implications of such actions shook the third sector. The voluntary sector recognised the fraught situation which had been created. Duncan Shrubsole, director of policy, partnerships and communications at the Lloyds Bank Foundation called it a “potential Big Brother in the funding world”. Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, also said,

“It appears to be part of a prevailing anti-charity narrative – an anti-charity infection… The commission has been given a very clear steer by this government about what its role should be and how it should behave… The commission massively overstepped the mark.”

Stephen Bubb, leader of the chief executives body Acevo, added that the actions of the commission were “unprecedented” and that “the independence of the charity sector and the right to fund unpopular causes is at the heart of the charity mission”.

This potential ultra vires act by the Commission became the subject of a legal action by CAGE. The High Court in a rare instance granted leave for a judicial review of the actions of the Commission. The action has brought a potential source of relief for the civil sector where the Commission is policing more than offering advice and support. Third Sector’s Stephen Cook wrote,

Cage is not a charity, but it has done the charity sector an important service by applying for and, earlier this month, obtaining leave for a judicial review of the actions of the Charity Commission… It is dismaying that no-one in the charity sector saw fit to take the initiative in challenging the commission over a matter that raises questions about not only the fundamental question of the discretion of trustees but also the rule of law and the potential abuse of executive power.

Dunn should note that most student unions are registered charities and therefore fall under the remit of the Commission. The compromised, biased Commission has previously acted as muscle for the pro-Israel lobby to pressure student unions when they have democratically adopted a pro-Palestine stance. By mounting such a legal challenge, CAGE has “done the charity sector an important service” – a service which extends to student unions.

Concluding Remarks

Those who have worked with CAGE and/or understand the work they are doing during this critical juncture in British politics have, despite the opposing hyperbolic tidal wave, supported CAGE. Over 300 academics, professionals and public figures from various walks of life signed a statement slamming PREVENT whilst knowing its association with CAGE. Previously, Clive Stafford Smith has defended their work as “vital”, asserting that “they do important work”. JRCT similarly stated,

“[CAGE] have played an important role in highlighting ongoing abuses at Guantanamo Bay… including many instances of torture… We believe that Cage is asking legitimate questions about security service contact with those who have gone on to commit high-profile and horrific acts of violence…”

Navigating through the various smears against CAGE and finding them distinct for their lack of evidence, noted academics emphatically stated:

“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’.”

Dunn has dissociated from the only organisation judicially defending the voluntary sector. It is not only ironic but sad to see the NUS take the position they have on CAGE, which embraces the state-coerced attempt to filter society of people – mainly Muslims – whose views it does not like. CAGE employees may hold personal religious convictions not shared with the majority, but their concern demonstrated through the prodigious steadfastness against all odds (they have been operationally debilitated thanks to neocon-weaponised government organs) in their calls  for rule of law, due process and accountability suggests they are fulfilling a role greater than the Muslim context.

In a previous blog I wrote that “the Muslim minority of Britain has a guardian,” which triggered the hashtag #IamCAGE. I was not entirely correct. CAGE is not only a voice for the Muslim minority, but for the civil society of Britain. We are CAGE.

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