Moazzam Begg’s arrest and MI5’s identity crisis

MI5 headquarters in London

Roshan Muhammed Salih argues that Moazzam Begg’s arrest is all about MI5 seeking a new role for itself as the terrorism threat to mainland Britain decreases.

Since Moazaam Begg was arrested two days ago everyone seems to have an opinion on why – the most popular being that the authorities were angry about the work he was doing exposing their repression of Muslims at home and their complicity in torture and rendition abroad.

Very few people seem to believe the official police version that his arrest was connected to Syria-related terrorism offences. While it is true that Begg is a vocal supporter of the Syrian uprising against Bashar al Assad and has campaigned against the criminalization of British Muslims who fight there, the notion that he has personally facilitated terrorism in Syria seems extremely far-fetched.

Outreach Director of CAGE, Moazzam Begg
Outreach Director of CAGE, Moazzam Begg

After all he is probably one of the most scrutinised men in the country given his past as a Guantanamo Bay detainee, and he was very open about his 2012 trip to Syria, going as far as to inform the authorities about it.

Rather, I believe Begg’s arrest must be seen in the context of the huge media campaign these past few months which has filled our heads with scare stories about British Muslims returning from Syria radicalized, with weapons training and a grudge against the West.

This campaign is very unlikely to have been initiated by TV news stations and newspapers in response to genuine fears about Syria-related terrorism. The more likely scenario is that these stories have been planted in the media by the intelligence agencies who know that British journos are willing lapdogs when push comes to shove.

That said, even though the “Syria threat” is being deliberately exaggerated to scare the public and pave the way for more resources to be poured into the “terrorism industry,” I think there is at least some truth to these stories. After all, it makes sense that some British Muslims who’ve fought in Syria may come back radicalized, trained and with the ability to act on a grudge.

But the fact is that the British state has created this “threat” by allowing British Muslims to go and fight in Syria for the last three years because they wanted the country to be destabilized, and also possibly because they wanted to flush out the “radicals” who went there. So the fears the authorities are now expressing about “blowback” are ironic to say the least.

British foreign policy

So my contention is that Moazzam Begg’s arrest is simply a continuation of recent security service policy to criminalize British Muslims who go to fight in Syria.

Now I must stress that I don’t think British Muslims should go to fight in Syria because a) they might end up fighting for al Qaeda. b) They will ultimately be fighting someone else’s war (eg the West and its regional proxies). c) They have no ability to affect the eventual outcome – that will be decided by the big powers as always. And d) There is plenty of evidence that even most anti-Assad Syrian rebel forces do not want foreigners who don’t understand the local conditions coming there.

Abdul Majeed Majid blew himself up in Aleppo
Abdul Majeed Majid blew himself up in Aleppo

Moreover, I think virtually every British Muslim leader has failed in his/her duty to warn Muslims of the futility of travelling to fight to Syria and some have instead focussed on a wholly romanticised and naive comparison with the idea of a “noble jihad.”

But leaving that to one side for the moment, the simple truth and the bigger picture is that MI5 is looking for a new role for itself as the threat to the British mainland diminishes.

Everyone – including the government and the security services – know very well that British foreign policy is the principle reason why a small minority of Muslims seek to attack this nation. But the Brits have pulled out of Iraq and will pull out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. So inevitably British Muslims won’t really have a reason to attack this country anymore and that also means that MI5 won’t have any more work to do harassing the community through its spying, monitoring, infiltrating and disrupting tactics.

So Syria is M15’s new goldmine; its new source of funding, jobs and opportunities; its new raison d’etre. And what better way to send a message to the government, the Muslim community and the wider public than to arrest one of the most prominent Muslims in this country, someone who has been to Syria recently and has links to the Syrian rebels?

All in all a good few days for M15.


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