CAGE, Jihadi John and the demonisation of Muslim activism

Asim Qureshi of CAGE

Political blogger Imran Shah reflects on the high-profile press conference about Muhammad Emwazi that CAGE gave yesterday, as well as the Islamophobic response to it. 

As the story broke, CAGE’s Asim Qureshi and Cerie Bullivant took to the media to give a counter-narrative to the usual “Muslim terrorist radicalised by Islam” story.

They said Mohammad Emwazi came to CAGE seeking help from the persecution of the security services and detailed how their harassment, like in many other cases, must have played a role in his radicalisation.

Asim, in the CAGE press conference, described Mohammed three years ago as a “beautiful, kind young man”. The Daily Mail took the same bold step in describing him as an “angelic schoolboy.

Jihadi John
Jihadi John

Yet the same Daily Mail and the Telegraph attacked Asim for describing Mohammed Emwazi as endearing and affectionate. They even went as far as saying that Mohammed Emwazi was Asim’s friend, an assertion that Asim rebutted on Channel 4 News.

At the same time, there was no media commentary at all of CAGE’s work. Neither was there any coverage of the many case studies of innocent Muslims who have been subjected to harassment, brutality and persecution that CAGE has dealt with.

Some of these names are not too obscure for the public – Shaker Aamer, Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmed are famous examples of a rendition programme that has destroyed so many lives. Cerie himself said on Newsnight that it is a frequent occurrence for people to be persecuted by the British security services.

Maajid Nawaz

The assault on CAGE was no less relenting on social media either. Labels of “Islamists”, “Jihadists” “extremists” and “terrorist sympathisers” came to the fore. Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation was at the forefront of this.

Desperately trying to tar CAGE as extremists by unfounded associations, not once did he address CAGE’s points about radicalisation by denying peaceful avenues for justice. Instead, Maajid just gave the usual ad hominems with all the zeal you would expect from a Tommy Robinson.

But in his article in the Independent Nawaz said: “Disintegration from British society creates a breeding ground for preaching of religious hatred, and fosters a range of religious and political grievances.”

Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation
Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation

Does this mean no matter how peaceful and how pro-democractic a Muslim is, are they still an Islamist that is a threat to the country?

If you are a Muslim who has a domestic problem of discrimination, would you be an Islamist for raising the issue?

The effect of Maajid’s words lumps all kinds political Muslims together and assumes them to be monolithic in view. In addition, critiques of the West are dismissed merely as an “Islamist extremist nuisance” who has failed to integrate into society. In turn, he ignores the very basic point that CAGE is trying to give.

According to the Runnymede’s definition of Islamophobia, Maajid’s words would be a textbook case.

Ironically, Maajid in another article says:

“Islamist ideologues will always seek to manipulate any complaint for the purpose of recruitment.”

Surely then it would be effective to address the complaint before they are recruited, especially if those complaints are genuine as CAGE states?

Despite the on-going quagmire of Maajid’s stances he is still successful in delivering the buzzwords and narratives an already Islamophobic media hungers for. The Sky News interview is the epitome of this.

Security services

But do British security services have a hand in radicalising people?

Ian Cobain’s award winning book, “Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture”, highlights the impacts of British torture though the past century.In chapters 5 and 6 of his book, Cobain illustrates how the soft torture of sensory deprivation and stress positions that we associate with Guantanamo, as well as the brutal degrading we saw in Abu Graib was used in 1970s Northern Ireland.

As a result, it polarised the society and radicalised Irish people against the UK. The torture had fuelled the conflict directly for another 30 years.

The same tactics of suspect communities and kidnap and torture methods that we see in the “War on Terror” and increasingly in the UK itself, were also used in Ireland.

MI5 headquarters in London
MI5 headquarters in London

We also already know MI5 harasses and blackmails Muslims to do their work. In addition, Moazzam Begg in his Hardtalk interview states that 17 of the leaders of IS were all tortured in American torture cells.

For Muslims to even suggest that the Great British security services must be held accountable seems to be a bridge too far.

What is most stark, CAGE never absolved Muhammad Emwazi from his killing as many claimed. They explicitly said in their interviews that he is fully responsible for his crimes. CAGE is only asking for ALL who are responsible to be held accountable.

Despite CAGE being experts in their field and with plenty of cases to evidence their claims, they are simply dismissed and demonised as dirty “Islamists.”

The persistent view that political Muslims are suspect, as CAGE has experienced, will only polarise our society further. It will marginalise Muslims even more from the peaceful democratic change we all seek for a more just foreign and home policy.

It will also fuel the white supremacists that are largely ignored by the media, politicians and the security services themselves. In short, it will re-create in the UK the “clash of civilisations” Western foreign policy has created in the Middle East from the beginning of this century.

At the centre of this are Western elites who will do all they can to sustain their global interests. The exposing of what their foreign policies has done to the world is the last thing they desire.

As a result, Islamophobia must reign. The demonisation of Muslims abroad to justify their killing must remain normalised, as must the demonisation of Muslim activists at home in the UK for daring to compare the barbarity of IS to the greater barbarity of the UK’s foreign policy.

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