Review of the Year Feb 2014: Moazzam Begg arrest & Daily Mail Islamophobia

Moazzam Begg

Over the course of this month 5Pillarz will be recapping the biggest Muslim news stories at home and abroad as well as providing comment and analysis on them. Today we look at the stories that made the headlines in February 2014.

On February 25 Moazzam Begg, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee and outreach director of advocacy group CAGE, was one of four people arrested on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences.

Begg was held on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas.

In a statement CAGE said it was “outraged by the arrest of our Outreach Director, Moazzam Begg. A former Guantanamo Bay detainee, he has been campaigning for due process and the human rights of victims, despite suffering over three years of torture and abuse by the US government with the complicity of the British.

“This arrest forms a part of the general approach by the UK security agencies which considers any travel to Syria as suspicious. There has been a concerted campaign of harassment against Muslim individuals and charities who get involved in supporting the victims of the Syrian crisis. We do not accept involvement by Moazzam Begg in any form of terrorism.”

Meanwhile, leading British Muslim and interfaith organisations wrote to Paul Dacre, the Editor of the Daily Mail, condemning an article by columnist Richard Littlejohn that deployed “hateful Muslim stereotypes.”

Richard Littlejohn
Richard Littlejohn

The letter was signed by a cross-section of British Muslims and interfaith groups. It read:

Dear Mr Dacre,

We write to express our condemnation of a recent article published by Richard Littlejohn in your newspaper. Entitled “Jolly Jihadi’s Outing to Legoland”, Mr Littlejohn deploys the most hateful stereotypes of Muslims to attack an individual.

 

Our condemnation is not about the attacks on Mr Haitham al-Haddad: he is perfectly capable of responding to the accusations put to him if minded to do so. Many of us may well disagree with the views attributed to him. Rather, we are speaking out at the insidious and hateful tropes Mr Littlejohn uses for his argument.

Mr Littlejohn may think he is humorous, satirical in fact. But there is nothing funny about inciting hatred. The language he deploys is exactly the same as those used by racists and the far-right. One needs only to peruse the comments below his article online to see the hatred against Muslims Mr Littlejohn has generated…”

Also in February, West Bromwich Albion suspended striker Nicolas Anelka was banned for five matches and fined £80,000 for his “quenelle” gesture. Anelka was also ordered to complete a compulsory education course following a two-day Football Association hearing.

Anelka, 34, denied his use of the sign during a draw with West Ham on 28 December was anti-Semitic. The quenelle is a hand gesture devised by Dieudonne M’bala M’bala who says it is an anti-establishment symbol.

World news

On the international scene, human rights groups stated that UN peacekeepers had failed to stop the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic.

A report by Amnesty International described how Christian militia attacks had led to a “Muslim exodus of historic propostions”.

Aid groups warned of a food crisis because many of the shops and wholesalers were run by Muslims. According to the UN, 90% of the population were eating just one meal a day and the price of food had shot up after many Muslim traders fled the capital Bangui.

Tens of thousands of Muslims fled to neighbouring Chad to escape attacks by Christian militias. The militias claimed to be taking revenge for atrocities committed by Muslim rebels last year.

Masjid al Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam
Masjid al Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam

And in occupied Palestine, Palestinians protested to the United Nations after Israeli police stormed Masjid Al Aqsa to disperse a protest, hours before parliament debated a nationalist MP’s motion to extend control over it.

The Palestinian Observer Mission at the UN protested to the Security Council, accusing Israel of escalating “aggression, provocation and incitement” at the holy site in an illegal attempt to forcibly assert control over it.

In a letter to the council Palestinian charge d’affaires Feda Abdelhady-Nasser said Israeli forces violently stormed the compound, “attacking and injuring Palestinian worshippers with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters and arresting several worshippers”.

Masjid al-Aqsa is ground zero in the territorial and religious conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Clashes often erupt after Muslims conclude their jummah prayers.

Jews usually pray below at the Western Wall but tensions have grown lately with an increased number of Jews arriving to pray at the Temple Mount as well.

Revered as Islam’s third holiest spot, the site’s iconic gold-topped Dome of the Rock enshrines the rock where Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad (saw) ascended to heaven. Jews believe the rock may be where the holiest part of the two ancient temples stood about 2,000 years ago – and where religious Jews pray a third temple will one day be built.

Analysis

In an opinion article in February journalist and human rights activist Yvonne Ridley argued that Scottish Muslims could swing the independence vote in September 2014.

Yvonne wrote: “So it is not inconceivable that the battle for independence could be determined from an unlikely source … the small Muslim community which has made the Northern third of the British Isles home. They represent just under two percent of the Scottish population but since the referendum will no doubt go to the wire there are those who believe Scotland’s Muslims could swing the balance of power…

“Many will find the prospect of ramming the final nail in to the coffin of the British Empire irresistable and make no mistake, this is not a pipe dream. You see until now the media has largely ignored the real elephant in the living room which is Trident…

A vote in favour of independence would certainly mean an end to nuclear weapons in Scotland and there are those who are already speculating the cost of moving Britain’s nuclear submarine base south of the border would be so prohibitive, it could signal the end to the UK’s international influence as a nuclear power.”

MI5 headquarters in London
MI5 headquarters in London

Meanwhile, 5Pillarz editor Roshan Muhammed Salih examined the media and political frenzy around British Muslims “doing jihad” in Syria.

Politicians had pledged that anyone found to have fought in Syria will be stripped of his/her citizenship, MI5 had warned that British jihadis would be arrested, and the mainstream media had gone into overdrive about the dangers of “radical Islamists” coming back to target Britain.

But Roshan argued that Britons had been “doing jihad” in Syria for three years so asked why the sudden fuss and what was the agenda behind it?

He wrote: “First of all it is important to understand that the British state has very sophisticated strategies for keeping Muslims weak, divided and the subject of public demonization. Yet the Muslim community is by and large ignorant of these strategies and completely vulnerable to be exploited by them.

“One such strategy, in my opinion, is how the government has “played” British Muslims going to fight in Syria – using them to fulfill UK foreign policy as well as anti-Muslim domestic policy.

“As I said, for the first three years of the uprising against Bashar al Assad the UK had no problem whatsoever with British Muslims going to fight in Syria. Why? Because British policy was to overthrow Assad and anything that facilitated that was okay.

“So between the period 2011-2013 very few Britons were arrested for travelling to Syria although hundreds were thought to have made the journey. Some, in fact, may have even had their journeys facilitated…”But in the last few months Britain seems to have become somewhat concerned that those who have done jihad in Syria will return radicalized and will have the military skills to target the British mainland. From London’s point of view, things may have got somewhat out of control – they are happy to see “jihadis” fight in Libya and Syria but don’t want them to cause havoc in the UK itself…

“Now obviously that threat is being exaggerated to scare the British public and government into giving M15 more resources. Perhaps the security service is looking for a new role for itself and more funding as the threat to the British mainland decreases as Britain has pulled out of Iraq and will pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.”

 

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