Why we must show solidarity with CAGE

CAGE were criticised by politicians and the press over the Mohammed Emwazi case

Activist and blogger, Muhammad ibn Adam, explains why the Muslim community should support advocacy group, CAGE, after the coordinated media campaign against the organisation after their press conference on Mohammed Emwazi aka “Jihadi John”. 

Last Thursday evening few could have imagined the storm that was about to be unleashed in the media. For six months, western politicians and media had spent countless hours building the ultimate Hollywood monster: ‘Jihadi John’ – the brutal killer that had become a symbol with which they could demonise Islam and the concept of the Islamic state. The struggle between the ‘good’ West and the ‘evil’ Islam was set. The climax of this movie was to be the unmasking of ‘Jihadi John’.

Many Muslims feared that day. We knew that every one of us – and our mosques and organisations – would be blamed for his radicalisation. Britain’s security services, we have been told, had known his identity for months. There is no doubt that this story broke with their complicity.

Why this particular moment in time was chosen is anybody’s guess. Given the newly ratified Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, the upcoming election, or increased military involvement in Syria, this event would add more spin to yet more laws against “non-violent extremism”.

Mohammed Emwazi aka Jihadi John
Mohammed Emwazi aka Jihadi John

When CAGE became aware that this story was about to break, they could have taken a step back and watched from the side lines as the British establishment unleashed all its venom on the Muslim community.

If they did, who would have blamed them? Very few organisations can survive a hit from the British state, and they’d already had two: their Outreach Director Moazzam Begg, had been arrested, imprisoned and released without charge; their back accounts have been frozen; their funders and directors have been targeted.

Now there was this: Mohammed Emwazi – known in the West as ‘Jihadi John’ had been one of their clients.

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But CAGE understood what was about to descend on the Muslim community. They also understood the opportunity this presented to challenge at the highest level, and in the full glare of the mass media, the bogus theory of the so-called ‘conveyor belt’ to terrorism, as well as the British attitude that an individual’s journey to terrorism has got nothing to do with Britain.

It was inevitable that CAGE’s argument would lead to their vilification – both individually and on an organisational level; they were taking on the entire British establishment, exemplified by PREVENT, a securitised and neo-conservative policy that targets Muslims, and which it has become heresy to criticise.

So rather than letting loose the wrath of the media on British Muslims, CAGE called a press conference, deciding rather to bring the media to them. For 52 minutes live in front of the world’s media, CAGE fielded the heat and challenged the conveyor belt theory.

asimQBut when Asim Qureshi declared that Mohammed Emwazi “WAS a very kind, gentle, beautiful young man”, he unwittingly tore the media’s villain script to shreds. Qureshi had humanised ‘Jihadi John’. His genuine and very human anguish at the thought of a fellow Muslim he had known, becoming a brutal killer was plain for anyone without an agenda to see. Qureshi’s emotion did not glorify a life, but mourned a life. Nobody is born a monster.

Instead the establishment and media twisted his words. The script now centred on Qureshi, CAGE – but, at last and more importantly in some media, on the role of the security services and the flawed theory of radicalisation being peddled in British society.

Suddenly the spotlight had turned away from the Muslim community, and questions were being asked about just how complicit the security services had been in the manufacturing of ‘Jihadi John’. In so doing, CAGE blew a hole through the conveyor belt theory.

It is no surprise, then, that for over a week we have seen the British establishment unleash all its venom on CAGE. Their tightly scripted theory has been damaged, especially in the eyes of thinking people and Muslims. When they failed to dent CAGE, they dispatched the “big colonial governor” Boris Johnson, who addressed Qureshi as if was an uppity immigrant who had dared challenge his master.

But it is Qureshi who is being very British. It is very British for the masses not to trust their politicians and to question the security services and the state. It is very British to demand the truth, and to ask the questions that must be asked in order to unearth it. After all, we are talking about the same security services that gave the public the now discredited dossier that lead to the invasion of Iraq and has resulted in nearly a million deaths. Looking at it this way, Britain’s security services and complicit state has more blood on its hands than Mohammed Emwazi.

The idea that the British security services played no role in the evolution of Mohammed Emwazi into the villainous ‘Jihadi John’ can no longer be sustained. Simply put, if Emwazi had been allowed to settle and begin his new life in Kuwait as he’d planned, he would not have ended up in Syria. There would be no ‘Jihadi John’. But instead of allowing him to leave, British security services stopped him, cornered him and – in Emwazi’s own words – caged him in Britain. This “cage” as he called it, made him depressed and even suicidal. It affected his mental state, and this in turn coloured his decisions.

The fact that Britain’s security services did not believe that he wanted to leave Britain to start a normal, settled new life somewhere else, hints at a particular type of imperial arrogance, as well as a more sinister plan to pursue a man through the lens of counter-terrorism regardless of his voiced opposition to extremism, in doing so pushing him deeper into violence.

This highlights the shortcomings and dangers of Britain’s counter terrorism policy: that through its actions and repercussions it is deeply tied to violence.

Alan Henning is a taxi driver from Manchester who went to Syria as a humanitarian aid worker
Alan Henning is a taxi driver from Manchester who went to Syria as a humanitarian aid worker

CAGE’s role in relation to this violence is epitomised by the efforts of their Outreach Director Moazzam Begg, and several CAGE representatives, to intervene to prevent the killing of Alan Henning – which were ignored by the British government. In the absence of a response from both ISIL and the British government, CAGE publicly called for the release of Henning, hoping that it would reach the hostage takers.

If at any stage CAGE could have had any influence on ‘Jihadi John’, he would not have killed Henning (if indeed, he was the executioner).

There is an attempt to demonise CAGE so that other Muslims do not associate with them.

There have also been attacks against and harassment of Qureshi. This is a typical strategy, the message being that any Muslim who criticises foreign and domestic policy is a terrorist.

The Counter Terrorism and Security Act makes it easy for the state to label, arrest and imprison people as “extremists” or “dangerous” or “jihadi”. This must be seen for what it is: an attempt to silence dissent that, if left unchecked, will flow into the broader community and threaten civil society.

Despite this, CAGE continues to call for dialogue and more constructive ways of interacting with the Muslim community that will make extremism rhetoric less appealing, and end the cycle of violence that is the War on Terror. More violence, torture, detention-without-trial, surveillance and alienation will not work.

CAGE has taken the heat off the Muslim community and is paying the price. It continues to call for transparency and due process and an end to violence. All those who hold these values high – especially Muslims – must be brave, step forward and show solidarity with CAGE.

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