Review of the Year July 2015: Babar Ahmad returns home

Babar Ahmad reuinted with his father Ashfaq after being released last year

There was good news and bad news for British Muslims in July 2015. Long-time detainee Babar Ahmad returned home after finally being released but FOSIS president Bashir Osman tragically died in a drowning accident. And in the international arena, Iran signed a landmark nuclear deal with the West and the Taliban announced the death of Mullah Omar.

Babar Ahmad, who spent almost 10 years incarcerated in the UK without charge or trial, returned home to his family from a US prison after being released.

Ahmad was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison by a US court last year but was set free because of time already served. The British computer expert had admitted supporting terrorism through the internet in an apparent plea bargain. He also admitted conspiracy and providing material to support the Taliban.

Upon his return in a statement his family said: “We, the family of Babar Ahmad, are delighted to announce that by the grace of God, Babar has returned home to us after 11 years in prison. Our lives will be enriched by his return.

“Although the past 11 years have been indescribably difficult for us all, we were heartened by Judge Janet Hall’s comments at Babar’s sentencing this time last year. She said: ‘There was never any aid given by these defendants to effectuate a plot. By plot, I mean a terrorist plot … Neither of these two defendants were interested in what is commonly known as terrorism … It appears to me that he [Babar] is a generous, thoughtful person who is funny and honest. He is well liked and humane and empathetic…This is a good person who does not and will not seek in the future to harm other people.’

“Today, we remember and thank all those who have supported us throughout. But for now, we kindly ask everyone to give us some privacy and space and not to contact us for the time being.”

Meanwhile, Babar Ahmad himself commented: “11 years of solitary confinement and isolation in ten different prisons has been an experience too profound to sum up in a few words here and now. In October 2012, I was blindfolded, shackled and forcibly stripped naked when I was extradited to the US. Last week, US and UK government officials treated me with courtesy and respect during my journey home.

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“Today, I have absolutely nothing. Yet I am rich. All praise be to God. In time, I look forward to sharing reflections on my experience to help inform others. I recognise that the world has moved on since 2004, yet in some ways, sadly it has failed to progress.

“For now, I intend to reconnect privately with my incredible family, to whom I owe so much. It was a great joy to celebrate Eid with them for the first time in 11 years and to hug three of my nieces and nephews whom I had never met before. It has been a long time.”

Cameron “extremism” speech

Meanwhile, two of the Muslim organisations targeted by David Cameron in an extremism speech condemned the Prime Minister’s counter-terrorism plans.

CAGE, which was name-checked by Cameron, hinted at legal action against the Prime Minister for defamation. And Hizb ut Tahrir (which wasn’t mentioned by name but is thought to be the group that he was referring to) called the Prime Minister a man with “a big mouth and little mind.”

david-cameron-433941Cameron gave a speech in Birmingham during which he said that:

– Non violent extremists should be confronted because their ideas lead to violent extremism.

– Conspiracy theories that extremists peddle must be debunked.

– The failures of integration had led to hundreds of Britons joining ISIS.

– Parents would be allowed to have their children’s passports cancelled if they feared they were at risk.

But in a statement CAGE said Cameron’s counter-terrorism agenda will create more distrust and alienation among British Muslims and an atmosphere in which political dissent is criminalised.

And Hizb ut Tahrir said Cameron conflated legitimate religious and political views that Muslims hold with the chaos that has been created in Iraq and Syria.

Toddler referred to PREVENT

In related news, a three-year-old child from London was one of hundreds of young people in the capital who had been referred to the UK Government’s de-radicalisation “Channel” programme.

According to the London Evening Standard, 1,069 people had been put in the government’s Channel programme, which is at the heart of the Government’s “Prevent” strategy.

The three-year-old in the programme is from the borough of Tower Hamlets, and was a member of a family group that had been showing “suspicion” behaviour.

Many of the government’s counter-extremism measures usually relate to older children and adults – but very young children have been referred when authorities are “concerned” about the effect of their families on them.

In the past, police have gone through the family courts to bring care proceedings in cases involving these children, and measures have included taking away the children’s passports, to make it harder for them to be taken overseas.

With figures obtained from the London Assembly, the Standard found out that London accounted for around a quarter of all ‘Channel’ referrals nationwide since the start of 2012.

FOSIS President dies

Tragically, Bashir Osman, 25, died in a drowning accident in Switzerland.

Osman was originally from the Netherlands but was based in Birmingham. He studied engineering at the University of Warwick before becoming FOSIS president in June 2014. He also worked as a business consultant.

It’s thought that he was going down a river in the Landquart district when his boat capsized, after which he ended up in a whirlpool which sucked him down. His friend, who was traveling in a separate boat, alerted the authorities but when they arrived attempts to resuscitate him failed.

Bashir Osman
Bashir Osman

Eulogies have been pouring in on social media and a tribute page has been set up on Facebook.

The ex-president of FOSIS, Omar Ali, said: “He was a man who made everyone smile and laugh. He was a brother who cared for those around him. He was a Muslim who worked tirelessly to help humanity. He was an inspiration to the young and old all around the UK and Ireland. He had a unique ability to make so many feel special and hold a place in their heart for him.

“He has returned to his Lord in the blessed month of Ramadan. Not only that, but those who die by drowning are considered to be shaheed. One of his last Facebook posts was a reminder of making the most of the last 15 days of Ramadan. What a reminder for us all.”

And Malia Bouattia, a colleague and National Union of Students officer, said: Today we lost one of the most affectionate and loyal of friends…. From the early days of the Students for Justice in Palestine society, through to his ISOC and FOSIS presidency… his support was immeasurable. He’d always call me randomly to ask what he can do to help and spread the word despite his endless list of commitments to family, the community and FOSIS. He was loved and trusted by all. Allah Yarahm my dear brother. May Allah give all his family and loved ones sabr through this difficult time.”

Jeremy Corbyn

In the 5Pillars comment pages in July, Khalil Charles asked whether Jeremy Corbyn was the only hope for British Muslims in the political system.

He wrote: “There is an extraordinary level of excitement about the Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership challenge. Amazingly, it is as though a new king has been born, as though the trumpets are sounding and angels are singing and mankind has been given the hope of new life and a promise of the Kingdom of Joy to come — a life of everlasting happiness — embodied in this historic Labour leadership contest — Amen!

“Surprisingly, it is also as though those with paralysis from the neck-down, (or even the neck up) when it comes to politics, have be given ‘shock’ treatment therapy and are now waking up to the amazingly incredible possibility of a real ‘conviction’ politician emerging on the political landscape and becoming the people’s champion.

Hilary Benn severely embarrassed Jeremy Corbyn with his speech
Hilary Benn severely embarrassed Jeremy Corbyn with his speech

“Question  — is that a ‘real’ possibility? Somebody wake me! Is Corbyn a real alternative to the centre samey — samey policies of the Tories and the New Labour Mafia? Is he the Superhero emboldened enough to bring down the fragile and vulnerable Tory leadership? Are Britain’s cities about to be saved from the clutches of the Benefits Joker Osborne and Austere Penguin Cameron? Quick — to the Batmobile Robin (or should I say Corbyn)!

“But seriously — whatever the end game Corbyn is most definitely an alternative to the centre-right Mafiosi that infiltrated the labour movement when Blair connived to produce ‘New Labour’. Corbyn’s lack of career politics, special adviser status is in fact in his favour. Without a shadow of a doubt, he is capturing the hearts of men and women up and down the country. With 50,000 new members signed up to the Labour party in the last few weeks, take away the non-Corbyn vote and you’re left with — 50,000, Okay that’s an exaggeration but it includes Tories joining to support the ‘Man of the Moment.’ Undoubtedly, Labour’s new one-man, one-woman vote system could sweep Corbyn into power!”

Taliban appoint new leader

In the international arena, the Taliban appointed a new leader after they confirmed the death of Mullah Omar.

His deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, replaced him, sources close to the Taliban leadership said. A Taliban statement did not say where, when or how Mullah Omar died, only that it was from an illness and that he had remained in Afghanistan since the 2001 US invasion.

This conflicts with the account given by the Afghan government, which claimed Mullah Omar died in hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi two years ago. Pakistan has always denied that he was in the country.

The death has disrupted peace talks between Afghanistan and the insurgents, with a second round of negotiations due today postponed. Pakistan, which had been set to play host, said they were put back at the request of the Taliban’s leadership amid uncertainty over Mullah Omar’s death.

The naming of Mullah Mansour as Taliban leader was far from unanimous and followed days of intense debate.

Sources close to the movement’s shura council say many senior commanders and other Taliban seniors were unhappy with the decision.

Iran nuclear deal

And finally, veteran Arab journalist Abdel Bari Atwan argued that Iran and the US will gain much from the historic nuclear deal signed in July, while Israel and the Gulf monarchies stand to lose.

In Vienna, Iran and the 5+1 world powers reached agreement on a historic deal which will see Iran guarantee to limit its nuclear capabilities in exchange for crippling sanctions against it being lifted.

Atwan wrote: “Iran’s resurgence as an international power will completely change the political map of the Middle East and present a real challenge to the only other, existing nuclear power, Israel. We will see an end to Israeli dominance and arrogance, both regionally and on the world stage.

“Iran’s steadfastness, the ability of its negotiators to stand firm with patience and courage, is a master-class in diplomacy and political acumen both for us, as Arabs, and the entire world.”

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