Notes From the Margins…

Solidarity with Cage

  • February 28, 2015
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What do the British media and government do, when presented with the possibility that the transformation of a British Muslim into the latest ‘face of terror’ may have been partly due to his treatment at the hands of the security forces?     Essentially 4 things: a) Completely ignore any evidence that might support such a case b) wilfully distort these arguments made by those making the case c) smear and discredit those who have publicized the evidence and made these arguments and d) give full and uncritical support to the security services.

All these elements have been present in the hysterical and McCarthyite attempts to present the Muslim advocacy group Cage as a fellow-traveler of ISIS, following its role in revealing the identity of ‘Jihadi John’.     Firstly there was Kate Burley on Sky News, asking Cage spokesman Cerie Bullivant ‘ what level of harassment by the security services justifies beheading?’

That was only the opening gambit in an interview that has nothing to do with journalism and reveals Burley to be little more than a smug, gimlet-eyed inquisitor who is either too dense to understand the arguments that Bullivant was making or too concerned with doing what her superiors demanded of her to actually give a damn.

At least twice Bullivant said he was not ‘justifying’ the beheadings.     Burley completely ignored these answers, and asked him if he ‘condemned’ them, not once, but twice.   All in all it was a disgrace, and I really don’t blame Bullivant for walking away from it, leaving the idiotic Burley grinning at her own brilliance as if she had just proved some great point.   The Huffington Post also joined in the chorus, with a piece quoting Boris Johnson, who described Cage’s comments as an’apology for terror’   and declared that:

‘It was incredible that people could stand up and pretend that somehow it was the fault of the security forces for trying to apprehend and impede these guys and that that could somehow cause them to be radicalised.’  

Well the Independent made very similar suggestions back in 2009, when it reported that young Muslim men were being subjected to the same kind of treatment that was directed at Mohammad Emwazi, and no one called them apologists. But it’s clearly a different matter when such allegations come from Cage.       The HuffPost listed seven ways in which ‘ Cage tried to blame British anti-terror police for forcing Emwazi to flee to Syria – and behead aid workers and journalists.’

Note the deliberate conflation of two completely different events.     At no point has Cage ever suggested that the security forces were directly responsible for the beheadings.   Here are two of the quotes from Asim Qureshi’s press conference that the HuffPost   listed as evidence against him:

‘Suffocating domestic policies aimed at turning a person into an informant but which prevent a person from fulfilling their basic life needs would have left a lasting impression on Emwazi.’


‘A narrative of injustice has taken root. A narrative of impunity that there is no accountability for the way in which our security agencies operate. Unless we arrest that narrative, we are just going to see these things happening over and over again.’

Now perhaps you don’t agree with these arguments.   Perhaps you think that Cage is overstating its case and leaving things out.   Fair enough, but don’t accuse its spokesmen of saying things that they never said.     In addition to a failure to understand the difference between words like ‘justify’ and ‘explain’, many of Britain’s scribes are apparently unable to recognize the past tense, such as Qureshi’s much-quoted description of Emwazi as a ‘beautiful young man’.

OK folks, I know that some languages don’t have a past tense, but English does, and Qureshi was using it.   But just to clarify, he was saying that ‘Jihadi John’ WAS a beautiful young man, not that he is one NOW.   Got that?   Alright let’s move on.   Because now Qureshi himself is being depicted as a ‘jihadist’ – a word which always means ‘terrorist’ in British mediaspeak, because a video has surfaced – I wonder from where? – of 2006 Hizb ut-Tahrir rally in which he said:

‘When we see the example of our brothers and sisters fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel, we know where the solution is and where the victory lies. We know that it is incumbent upon all of us, to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West.’

Well that doesn’t make him a ‘terrorist’ I’m afraid, let alone a cheerleader for ‘Jihadi John.’     Lots of Muslims think that it’s a political/religious obligation to support oppressed Muslims in Chechnya or Kashmir, just as they did in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, when Western governments and their allies supported such actions.   NATO also worked alongside ‘jihadists’ in Libya, just as the Western/Gulf State/Turkish axis did in Syria before ISIS reared its ugly head.

So smearing Qureshi as a ‘jhadi baddie’, as the Sun called him might be a useful tool for a witchhunt, but it doesn’t tell us much about Cage, or jihad, or terrorism.   All these differences were ignored in today’s piece in the Daily Mail on Cage’s ‘odious’ press conference yesterday, which railed against the ‘ apologists for terror and the do-gooders who fund them.’

The Mail condemned the Cage spokesmen because   ‘ rather than express an apology or even a smidgen of regret for having failed to turn him away from the path to barbarism, what we witnessed was almost an hour of excuses, accusation and invective against Britain, British society and the British state.’

The Mail didn’t explain how Cage should have turned him away from this ‘path’ given that Emwazi was not even on it when Cage was in contact with him.     Rather than consider whether Cage’s arguments about Emwazi’s mistreatment might have had any truth, the Mail journalist chose not to mention them at all.

Instead it delivered a torrent of bitter invective against Qureshi, Moazzam Begg, and John Rees ( ‘ a good example of how the hard left has allied itself with radical Islam’).     It described Cage as ‘ a sophisticated organisation that knows how to exploit a democratic system which enshrines free speech and human rights in order to support terrorists’ without giving any evidence of how it ‘supports terrorists.’

It also condemned the Anita Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Trust for making charitable donations to Cage, and claimed that ‘British security services fear the rise of an Islamic State terrorist threat in Britain is helped by the sympathetic campaigning of “human rights” groups such as Cage.’   All this was topped off with a quote from an ‘Eminent former counter-terrorist official’ who said ‘The outlook is very, very gloomy far worse than it was after 9/11. And it is not helped by organisations such as Cage being basically apologists for slaughter.’

So criticizing the security services means that you are ‘apologists for slaughter’, according to …oh the security services, the government and their lackeys in the media.   We can expect a lot more of this from these fearless truthseekers in the days and weeks to come, and we need to stand up to it and condemn it.     Because a little nuance and critical thinking is required here.   Whatever views its members may have about British foreign policy, Cage has been a powerful advocate for British Muslims who have suffered   very real victimisation at the hands of the British security services.

The issues that these efforts have raised matter not only from the point of view of human rights and simple justice; it is also entirely counterproductive for British society to ignore them.   Because if the security services are blackmailing, bullying and alienating British Muslims who then turn up sometime later chopping off heads in Woolwich or Syria, then common sense demands that we recognize that contribution and prevent it

Of course there are those who would prefer not to talk or even think about such things; who would rather continue with the divisive and dangerous policies like Prevent, anti-toddler radicalisation programs and Trojan horses; who only want to work with opportunists like the government’s pet Muslim thinktank, the Quilliam Foundation; who would prefer to talk about ‘death cults’ and ‘preachers of hate’ rather than consider that the actions of the British state may have contributed to the mess we’re in.

But the rest of us would be really stupid to follow their example.     And we shouldn’t allow Cage to be shut down and tainted with the terrorist brush.   We need its voice to be heard, even if we don’t like what it says.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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