Review of the Year March 2014: Moazzam Begg charged & Egypt crackdown

CAGE demonstration outside the Home Office in 2014

British Muslim news in March 2014 was once again dominated by the arrest of former Guantanamo Bay detainee and Outreach Director of advocacy group CAGE, Moazzam Begg.

On March 1 Begg was charged with terror offences related to Syria. West Midlands Police  said Begg was charged under Section 6 and Section 17 of Terrorism Act, providing training and fundraising in relation to Syria.

The charges provoked a furious reaction from many sections of the Muslim community.

CAGE stated on their website: “CAGE is dismayed, but not surprised, to learn that the police have now charged Moazzam Begg with training terrorists and fundraising.

“We believe this is yet another consequence of the ever-expanding reach of the all-encompassing terrorism legislation which is designed to restrict everyone’s freedoms and liberties regardless of their faith or political hue.”

Mayor Luftur Rahman
Mayor Luftur Rahman

A few days later hundreds of people came to show their support for Moazzam Begg outside the Home Office in central London.

People from all walks of life including families with children stood for hours listening to speakers Taji Mustafa from Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, IERA’s Hamza Tzortis, Sheikh Haitham al Haddad and Anas Altikriti to name but a few.

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Speaker Anas Altikriti, president and founder of the Cordoba Foundation, described Moazzam Begg as ”a victim of gross injustice, yet when he emerged from that fate of trail and tribulation he refused to utter words that were unbecoming about his oppressors, he refused to act in a way to seek revenge or avenge the time that he had taken away from his wife, his parents and his children. He was the epitome of peace, he was the epitome of reconciliation, he was the epitome of everything that everyone seems to be talking about.”

In other British news, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, accused BBC Panorama of Islamophobia and racism ahead of a programme about him.

In a statement on his website Rahman said that a “criminal investigation” is now underway after a BBC Panorama whistle-blower revealed racism and Islamophobia behind the programme on Tower Hamlets.

He said: “I believe the programme is being used for political campaigning and electioneering purposes just weeks before local and Mayoral elections in May. A dossier passed to us by a BBC whistle-blower has revealed it to be in total breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines as a public broadcaster. It has clear racist and Islamophobic overtones targeting the Bangladeshi Muslim community in Tower Hamlets.”

The BBC emphatically denied Mayor Rahman’s accusations.

World news

On the international scene, an Egyptian court sentenced at least 528 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death on charges related to violent riots in the southern Egyptian city of Minya, including the murder of a police officer.

The riots took place after a deadly crackdown by security forces on two large sit-ins in Cairo, where demonstrators were supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

While the official MENA news agency reported 528 death sentences, other Egyptian media said 529 people were sentenced to death.

Mohamed Morsi was overthrown via a military coup led by Abdel Fata al-Sisi in 2012
Mohamed Morsi was overthrown via a military coup led by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in 2013

The semi-official Ahram Online news site said it was the largest set of death sentences handed to defendants in the modern history of Egypt.

According to the Guardian, Waleed Sultan, whose father was among those sentenced to death, said: “Nothing can describe this scandal. This is not a judicial sentence, this is thuggery.”

He added: “The session last[ed] for five minutes, [and] during those five minutes none of the lawyers or the defendants were listened to – not even the prosecution. The judge just came in to acquit [the 16] and sentence to death the others.”

Meanwhile, on March 20 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said most Muslims have been driven out of the western half of conflict-torn Central African Republic.

The bleak warning came as the country’s foreign minister pleaded with the UN Security Council to urgently approve a UN peacekeeping force to stop the killing.

Widespread violence in the former French colony claimed thousands of lives since Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim northern rebels, seized power a year ago. Attacks intensified in December when “anti-Balaka” militias drawn from the majority Christian population stepped up reprisals on Muslims.

Opinion and analysis

Journalist Abdel Bari Atwan wrote that Tony Benn, who died in March aged 88, was a vociferous supporter of the Palestinian cause and a most outspoken opponent of western meddling in Arab affairs.

Atwan wrote: “Tony Benn was unusual among politicians (and the general public) in that he moved more to the left than to the right as he got older. The more injustice he observed, he said, the more fiercely he felt the call to fight it. When he was 83 years-old, he hi-jacked BBC radio 4′s flagship morning programme Today in support of the people of Gaza shortly after the 2008/9 Israeli Operation Cast Lead onslaught which killed 1,330 and left a million and a half people without shelter, water or electricity.

The BBC was the only station to refuse to broadcast an aid appeal for the children of Gaza and Tony Benn had been invited to comment. Instead, he challenged an astonished Ed Stourton to throw him out, and delivered the appeal himself, including address and payment details. He repeated his action on BBC television shortly afterwards accusing the BBC of capitulating to Israel…

Tony Benn
Tony Benn

“Tony Benn always saw the wider political picture – he argued against the military intervention in Libya and strongly opposed one in Syria. One of his last interviews contained some piercing analysis of neo-colonialist interference in the Arab Spring.”

Meanwhile, in one of our most popular articles of the year journalist Hafsa Kara-Mustpha argued that footballer Nicolas Anelka is a victim of France’s blind allegiance to Israel.

Hafsa wrote: “Since West Brom player Nicolas Anelka performed a gesture known in France as a ‘quenelle’ after he scored his third goal against West Ham… few, the FA included, can articulate why it would lead to Anelka being banned for five games and fined £80 000.

“The truth is however that France is still reeling from the active role it played in the deportation of Jews during the Second World War and any reference to the Holocaust, Israel or any other Jewish-related topic is off limits. While most people would view France as a healthy and vibrant democracy, the fact is censorship remains rife and a sycophantic media – often derided around the world – ensures the status quo remains unchallenged.

“In 2012 French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad praying naked while a paparazzi was taking pictures of his private parts, and others showed him surrounded by a female harem of children. When Muslims protested, socialist Manuel Valls declared that freedom of expression was sacrosanct in France and that Muslims had to accept that. When it comes to the issue of the holocaust however, that right to offend finds its limits.”

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