Review of the Year Oct 2015: Shaker Aamer released from Guantanamo

In October 2015 Muslim groups welcomed Shaker Aamer’s release from Guantanamo Bay after 13 years without charge or trial, but said that many questions still remain over British complicity in his incarceration.

Aamer – the last British resident to be held in Guantanamo Bay – was held at the US military base in Cuba over unsubstantiated allegations he had led a Taliban unit and had met Osama Bin Laden.

Number 10 said Prime Minister David Cameron “welcomed” the release of Mr Aamer, who has permission to live in the UK indefinitely because his wife is British.

However, concern has been raised over the health of the Saudi national, 48, whose family live in London, and the BBC said it had seen an ambulance arrive at the airport where he landed

Mr Aamer’s father-in-law, Saeed Siddique, said his release was a “miracle”. “It’s a delightful day,” he told BBC News while admitting it was also a “surprise”.

“Justice”

Meanwhile, advocacy group CAGE said justice had finally been done.

CAGE Outreach Director and former detainee of Guantanamo Bay and Bagram prisons, Moazzam Begg said: “The day has finally arrived. Britain’s longest serving Guantanamo prisoner is coming home. Falsely imprisoned and tortured for 14 years without charge, Shaker Aamer has become a household name because he has endured what few others could only imagine. His family, friends, lawyers, campaigners and well-wishers have fought a battle to free an innocent man and finally, that battle has been won.

“Shaker’s greatest tests are yet to come – that is the heartbreaking part – and anyone who has been imprisoned away from their family can attest to this. A stranger becoming a father – not of children, but of young adults – is an unimaginable task that nobody has any expertise in, except perhaps a few Guantanamo prisoners scattered around the globe. However, Shaker is a courageous, resilient, kind and thoughtful person who has faced the worst the world has to offer and survived.

“His qualities have been acknowledged by his tormentors and I’m certain he won’t disappoint when he’s ready to tell his side of the story. Until he does, he deserves our respect, support, prayers, and right to family life and privacy.”

Madrassas demand independence

Also in October, dozens of mosques, madrassas and Muslim activists signed a statement in support of keeping mosques and madrassas independent and free from government interference.

The statement accused Prime Minister David Cameron of “exaggerating and playing to people’s fears of Islam and Muslims.” It also said the British government is “unduly encroaching upon the legitimate right of Muslims to teach their children their faith.”

Cameron had said that religious supplementary schools in England that teach children intolerance would be investigated and closed down. In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference, Mr Cameron promised to open these religious schools to inspection.

He said there was no problem with children learning about their faith in supplementary schools, but minds must be broadened, not “filled with poison”.

Islamophobic attack

Meanwhile, a father who hurled an elderly Turkish migrant’s zimmer frame off London a bus after subjecting him to a torrent of racist abuse apologised for his “monstrous” outburst.

Kashif Samuels, 25, told the Standard: “I am disgusted with myself.”

Islamophobic abuser Kashif Samuels
Islamophobic abuser Kashif Samuels

Samuels, a trained chef who is currently jobless, handed himself in to police hours after footage of his shocking tirade on the 149 service in Tottenham was circulated online. He pleaded guilty to a charge of committing a racially or religiously aggravated public order offence.

Samuels, from Tottenham, was with his two-year-old daughter on the bus last Wednesday. He says he “lost it” when the pensioner refused to move his zimmer frame from the pushchair area after a mother boarded with a pram.

 

He repeatedly told the passenger to “go back to his own country” before shouting: “I’ll put a pig’s c*** in your mouth – what’s Allah going to say about that?”

Samuels said he was shocked by his outburst. He said: “That is not the person I want my daughter to see growing up as her father.

Charity Commission v CAGE

In other news, the Charity Commission was forced to reverse its public position that charities could never again fund CAGE after a hearing in the high court.

In March the regulator, which oversees 170,000 charities, intervened to choke off future funds from the voluntary sector to CAGE. Two charities – the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) and the Roddick Foundation – eventually pledged not to “fund Cage either now or in the future.”

The JRCT had given CAGE £270,000 between 2007 and 2014, and the Roddick Foundation granted the organisation £120,000 between 2009 and 2012.

The JRCT, which at first resisted demands, claimed it had come under “acute regulatory pressure” to accept the regulator’s requirement – and had been threatened with a far-reaching investigation if it refused to comply.

CAGE claimed the commission should not have sought to block its funding and had over-reached its powers.

The row broke out after CAGE described Mohamed Emwazi, aka Jihadi John, as an “extremely kind” and “beautiful young man.”

cageCAGE’s research director Asim Qureshi claimed in February that former London student Emwazi – identified as the man in a number of Islamic State beheading videos – had been driven to extremism after UK security services harassed him.

CAGE later said it had made “mistakes” in its comments about Emwazi, a former client.

Following the hearing Dr Adnan Siddiqui, Director of CAGE, said the Charity Commission had been forced to climb down from its attempt to prohibit charities from funding CAGE.

He said: “This is an important vindication of our position. We know this will come as a relief to the whole charity sector and the attempt to interfere with the lawful activities of civil society has been blocked.

“This case was never about winning or losing. It was always about testing the extent to which the narrative that underpins the ‘War on Terror’ has seeped into public life. Above all we wanted to empower others in civil society to make a stand against unfair treatment of individuals and organisations dressed up as regulatory activity.

“The Charity Commission took a ‘high-handed’ approach as confirmed by the most senior judge in the country, Lord Chief Justice Thomas. CAGE’s position is that the Commission as an important regulator has been hijacked by apologists for the War on Terror who view all who dissent from their narrative with suspicion.

On the other hand, the Charity Commission said it welcomed CAGE’s decision to withdraw their application for judicial review.

“For the Charity Commission this case was always about defending our responsibility for protecting the public trust and confidence in charity. It was on that basis we sought assurances from trustees about the funding of CAGE,” it said in a statement.

“It has always been clear that trustees have the right to exercise their discretion when acting exclusively in the best interests of their charity and within the objects and powers, subject to the appropriate supervision by the commission as the charity regulator.

“We regret that this judicial process has dragged out, consuming charitable and public funds.”

Jihad against Russia

On the international scene, fifty two Saudi academics and scholars called on the public to “hurry” to Syria to fight Russian forces.

The clerics, some of whom are members of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (which is based in Qatar and headed by Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradhawi), called on “all those who are able, and outside of Saudi Arabia, to answer the calls of jihad” and to fight alongside one of the groups facing Russian forces.

According to experts, by issuing this statement they sought to encourage Saudi, Gulf, and Muslim youths to fight against Russian forces, similar to the recruitment of young fighters during the Afghan-Soviet war.

The statement also called for Syrian opposition fighters to “unify their front” and urged those with capabilities to fight, and with expertise to remain in Syria and not leave.

The invitation to join the conflict contradicts a fatwa issued from Saudi scholars in March 2014, which listed ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, among others, as “extremist groups”. The decree also criminalised taking part in combat outside of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya reported that some of the clerics who signed the statement have previously issued fatwas on the events in Syria, and had provided guidance to fighters.

It is thought that Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars in an attempt to bring down the regime of Bashar al Assad, which has included sponsoring some of the groups fighting him, namely “Jaysh al-Islam”.

King of Jordan

Also in October, the king of Jordan was named the most influential Muslim in the world.

The honour was bestowed on King Abdullah II by the “Muslim 500,” an annual publication which ranks the most influential Muslims in the world.

The Muslim 500 is compiled by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan in cooperation with Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in the United States.

The publication said the main reasons for its choice are simple – location, politics and religion.

“Jordan is a relatively small state with a population of only 7+ million, but HM King Abdullah II has become a central figure in the two most consequential conflicts in the Islamic World: the conflict over Palestine and the conflict in Syria and Iraq with Daesh.

Jordan is a key ally of the US
Jordan is a key ally of the US

“The King is thus in the eye of two hurricanes. Jordan controls the southern flank of Syria and the southwestern flank of Iraq. With the Kurds now limiting Daesh’s ambitions to the north; Iran and Shia Iraq limiting
them to the east; and with Daesh coming up against the rebels in the northwest and the Alawite/Hezbollah strongholds in the southwest, the crucial upcoming stage of the conflict will very much depend on King Abdullah II and Jordan.

 

“Jordan stands literally and figuratively between Daesh and Saudi Arabia – especially since Saudi Arabia is currently occupied with another war to its south, in the Yemen. As Jordan goes, so will go Saudi Arabia, and then the rest of the Islamic world.

“Jordan is also the frontline Arab-Islamic state with Israel; the one with the largest border and one of only two states (the other being Egypt) with a finalised peace treaty with Israel. The King is using his inherited peace
treaty with Israel to mediate a solution between Israel and Palestine and to protect the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and Compound of which he is the Official Custodian.

“Finally, Jordan stands at the greatest geographical crossroads in the world – the land crossroad between Asia, Africa and Europe. It is also wedged between Mecca and Medina to the south and Jerusalem to the west, and therefore is part of the blessed land that the Qur’an mentions (Al-Isra, 17:1) as being ‘around’ the Al-Aqsa Mosque…

“Today, it stands at the crossroads between five different and competing larger regional powers: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Turkey to the north and Iran to the east. What Jordan does (and what happens to Jordan)
will tip the balance between these powers one way or another – or will keep the healthy buffer between them.”

Syria conflict

A finally, in the 5Pillars’ comment pages a debate aged over the Syria conflict.

Abdul Latif-Halimi said that Muslims need to stop seeing this conflict in “ill-informed, dramatic and short-term bursts of interest.”

He wrote: “This will be a long conflict with many peaks and troughs, so our anger and passions should generally be complemented by patience, consistent action and awareness. Muslims need to smarten up on the Middle East. It’s incredible, at a time when the region is being baked and re-made from new, just how ill-informed and inconsequential Muslim communities are on these issues. Reading newspaper clippings and remembering sound-bites isn’t the way to make a difference and build a coherent and effective view on the region, let alone sharing false reports, nonsensical and biased news from unknown sources.

“We need a qualitative shift. We need our own Middle East courses, think tanks and media outlets. We need to reach out to policymakers, editors, academics and the general public, as opposed to talking about these conflicts like it was the latest gossip or likely passively watching a video game from thousands of miles away.”

And in a reply to Abdul Latif Halimi’s article on 5Pillars, Zafar Bangash argued that Muslims need to stop deluding themselves and realise that the Syrian conflict is nothing more than an imperial war to take down the Resistance Axis.

He said: “There is no secret about who is supporting the so-called rebels. From day one they have publicly called upon the imperialist powers and their regional proxies to attack Syria (by imposing a no-fly zone) so that they can come to power in a repeat of the Libya regime change operation. And look how well that ended.”

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