Journalist and human rights activist Yvonne Ridley delivered a speech in Birmingham on Saturday arguing that Muslims must continue Moazzam Begg’s work in Syria, despite the potential dangers.
In these treacherous times it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the heroes from the villains, the right from the wrong and even the oppressed from the oppressors. Friends have become enemies and old allies are fractured and broken.
Long held trusts have shattered and there have been few constants in a world in turmoil, and it’s not just the Muslim lands where there is chaos, death and misery.
But one voice which has remained true and pure throughout these dark times is that of Moazzam Begg. His focus has always been steadfast and unwavering; never politically motivated or financially driven he has remained with those in need.
Long before he walked in to the Cage offices in London a free man from the gulag that is Guantanamo, his commitment in life was to help those less privileged than himself. Even in his darkest hours, in the darkest dungeons of Bagram his prayers and thoughts were for those around him including the young taxi driver he saw being beaten and kicked to death by mocking US soldiers.
And he also experienced the brutality of that regime but still Moazzam’s thoughts were not for himself, they were for others – especially for the blood curdling screams of a woman we now know to be that of Dr Aafia Siddiqui. Her screams still haunt him today.
After Bagram he spent two of three more years in solitary confinement languishing in Guantanamo.
Even now, in his cell down the road, his thoughts will not be for himself and his own well being. He will be praying that God gives us strength to continue his fight against injustice and his drive to get to the truth.
Are you willing to stand up and be counted? Will you give a voice to the voiceless? Will you all become Moazzam Begg? Are you willing to carry the torch of human rights and justice until he returns?
It’s not an easy path to tread. You will be treated with suspicion. You will be persecuted by the authorities. Expect visits from the police, they usually call in the wee hours of the night. You may even have your passport confiscated, and if you’re a pensioner watch out for your bus pass.
This is the sort of intimidation and persecution endured by Moazzam and anyone would’ve forgiven him if he had walked away. Yet he continued to serve and will remain a powerful voice in our community and beyond.
Many of those who sit in judgment of him today are not worthy to even polish his shoes. Some of the politicians in Westminster with their snouts in the trough should be in prison for fiddling their expenses. They are the real criminals.
Then there are the faceless men and women who stroll through the corridors of power to their offices in MI6 and MI5 thinking and believing they are untouchable. Their complicity in the rendition, kidnap and torture of others has already cost the British taxpayer tens of millions of pounds in hush money.
Yet they continue to sit and judge the likes of Moazzam, and you and me. Are they interested in his good deeds or good behaviour and intentions?
Do they support him in unmasking the atrocities carried out by the Assad regime? Not at all, because they were complicit in crimes against humanity and worked with the beast of Damascus.
Do they want to see Bashar al Assad removed and stand charged with war crimes on the sort of industrial scale not seen since the end of World War II? Do they hell. Why? Because they are also guilty … only this time they don’t want to be found out.
And the best way to protect themselves and the monster that is Assad is to silence those who would expose the hypocrisy. So now they’re trying to silence Moazzam.
And with their clever spin doctors they try and cloud the issue of good and bad by pushing the media to focus on his faith, linking him to extremism and pandering to right-wing fears that the violence we see in Syria will end up on our streets.
They want the media to judge him on his religion which is as bad as judging someone on the colour of their skin. These faceless, powerful people are the ones committing a crime.
And what is the role of the police in all of this? Well every government and intelligence service needs its useful idiots and stooges. Look at them, all standing there, hiding behind their orders.
Not one of them will break rank, not one of them has the guts to step out and say this sort of discrimination leveled at Moazzam is wrong. This is the sort of discrimination which makes us guilty before we are even born.
The police will say “we’re only obeying orders” but when was that excuse last used.
What we are now seeing is a two tier system of justice – one for the Muslims and another for the rest of society.
In the meantime men, women and children are enduring the most horrific form of suffering in Syria. We see the sickening images, we hear the terrible tales of depravity emerging from the region of Shams.
When scholars issue fatwas saying it is OK for families to eat cats, dogs and donkeys in order to survive you begin to understand the sort of suffering endured. What is haram for you and I is halal for them.
And it is for the sake of the imprisoned, the starving, and the tortured that Moazzam felt compelled to go to Syria. We’ve travelled together in many places gathering information, collecting data, interviewing victims of brutality, but I stopped short of going to Syria. Why? Because I lacked the courage to go into Assad’s killing fields.
Well the moment they came for Moazzam was the moment I changed my mind. God has now given me that courage and determination to carry on Moazzam’s work.
Come with me on the next convoy to Syria; we need to organize ourselves and let the government know that if they don’t stop Assad, we’ll stop him ourselves.
I don’t believe in violence — that’s why I want to stop Assad. And you can’t stop this monster with tears or love or being nice and kind and pleading and using the voice of reason. You stop him by gathering evidence of his crimes, and cataloguing them for the day when he can be brought to justice.
Moazzam was doing some valuable investigative work in Syria and now the police are hell bent on stopping him from further investigations. Who are they trying to protect? What crimes are they trying to cover up – do they even care that they are being used to corrupt the law and protect the guilty.
Sir Robert Peel would be turning in his grave now if he could see the thoroughly wretched, miserable state of the Peelers today.
But let me return to the work of our brother Moazzam Begg – he has dedicated his life to helping others. Are we going to let his efforts go to waste?
As I say, I am prepared to go into Syria and continue his work at bringing down a brute of a man who in terms of evil is on a par with Hitler.
Assad is just as capable of building gas ovens for his own people as Hitler’s society was. He’s crossed so many red lines now, don’t be at all surprised by his next crimes while the superpowers dither. Moazzam was not prepared to stand by and remain silent, nor am I. Are you?
The whole point of silencing Moazzam, by removing a man who gave voice to the voiceless, was to instill fear into the Muslim community so we would all remain silent.
The establishment is very good at fanning the flames of fear in Muslims while creating hysteria in the mind of the public by portraying us as religious extremists.
The people in power are cold and calculating and we saw this in Geneva where absolutely nothing was achieved. Not an ounce of hope, not another meeting – nothing. Geneva was all about making the superpowers look great – well the great only seem that way when they keep you on your knees.
Stand up, stand up – today for Moazzam, tomorrow for Syria.
We as Muslims are not inadequate or inferior or helpless. We relied on Moazzam to do all the work on our behalf, well that ends today. Today we are all Moazzam and today we will all give a voice to the voiceless.
Some of us will do it on the social networks, some of us will do it in the streets, on platforms and at rallies. And some of us will go to Syria without fear or favour to expose the tyrant that is Assad.
Moazzam has given us all the confidence to stop feeling helpless. They can’t lock up all of us. In some ways the day they locked up Moazzam was the day the chains of fear fell away from a lot of us.
Just a few months ago the world’s leaders gathered in South Africa for a memorial service to the great statesman Nelson Mandela. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister was high in his praise for the great man his party once renounced as a terrorist.
I want to remind Cameron of one of Mandela’s most famous observations: “I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists.”
Moazzam Begg is not a terrorist, a terrorist apologist or a dangerous, religious fanatic. If he is guilty of anything it is that he cares. He cares about you and me, and our brothers and sisters in Syria, he cares about people of faith and no faith, he cares about those who suffer in silence, he cares about humanity and he has dedicated his life to giving a voice to the voiceless.
Today we cannot remain neutral, because if we remain silent then we have chosen to side with Assad.
As I said at the start, these are treacherous times and we must all hold on tight to the Rope.
Fear no one but Allah.