One of Britain’s most notorious right-wing newspapers – the Daily Mail – has launched a full-frontal attack on advocacy group CAGE.
The attack seems to be because CAGE opposes the PREVENT counter-terrorism agenda (as do many Muslim organisations, as well as many non-Muslim academics and activists).
CAGE has called the attack a sign of success for those who remain deeply concerned with and united against the government’s failing counter-terrorism programme.
The Mail emblazoned its front page this morning with a menacing picture of CAGE’s Moazzam Begg and the headline “Fanatics’ campaign of hate on campus is revealed: Islamic zealots who backed Jihadi John are poisoning the minds of students.”
The story read: “The notorious organisation that backed Jihadi John is now targeting young Muslims at their universities in a sinister campaign, the Mail can reveal.
“CAGE – the group that provoked horror after calling the Islamic State killer a ‘beautiful young man’ – was involved in at least 13 student events last term.
“Its representatives are being given unchallenged platforms at campuses across the country.
“They are using them to tell young Muslims to sabotage the Government’s anti-extremism policy Prevent, claiming it is an attempt by the State to spy on them.
In response CAGE said The Daily Mail has a history of showing little critical understanding of issues around PREVENT and their coverage of the subject has lacked balance in the past.
In a statement on their website CAGE said: “Daily Mail journalists (Paul Bentley and Katherine Faulkner) posed 85 questions to CAGE and gave us only 24 hours notice to respond to them. According to the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s guidelines, this can not be seen as reasonable amount of time in which to respond…
“CAGE would like to reiterate the following:
1. CAGE are not unique in opposing PREVENT. Singling out CAGE and others for investigation shows a clear bias. The government’s counter terrorism strategy has been criticised or condemned for the way in which it criminalises ordinary political dissent and threatens free speech and association by:
- a coalition of over 360 academics and public figures in an open letter published by the Independent
- the National Union of Students
- Keith Vaz MP
- Julie Ward MEP
- Jahan Mahmood, former Home Office terrorism adviser
- Dal Babu, former Chief Superintendent Metropolitan Police
- PREVENT Watch have documented over 100 PREVENT cases.
- Muslim religious and community leaders in Newham
- the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques
- the Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh
- as well as at least 30 other organisations mentioned here.
2. The Daily Mail should itself answer questions regarding how it has gathered its information for the investigation, and the nature of its links to the Home Office, since its line of questioning to CAGE clearly echoes the state-sanctioned agenda, and seeks to cast academics, students, activists and world renowned speakers at these events as ‘extremist’. Like Jo Johnson, the Daily Mail seems to be taking it upon itself to call students and academics to stand in line behind the government’s counter-terrorism policy, regardless of the chilling effect it is having on Muslim communities and which it will have on broader civil society.
3. The Daily Mail has a history of showing little critical understanding of issues around PREVENT. Their coverage of the subject has lacked balance in the past. We question the newspaper’s links with extreme right-wing organisations such as the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), which the paper refers to as ‘a respected Westminster think-tank’ and which reporters often use as the primary source in their stories. Members of the HJS have advocated for a highly securitised society and condoned rendition and torture. The organisation’s agenda, according to a recent report by Spinwatch , is “deeply influenced by Islamophobia and an open embrace of the War on Terror”.
4. Much of the Daily Mail’s coverage of campus life cites Student Rights, a front group for the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), as its primary source of information. A report released in 2014 by the group was labelled a “witch hunt” against Muslims by a former Vice President of the National Union of Students (NUS) at the time. Student Rights has also been condemned by the NUS National Executive Council, the NUS Black Students’ Conference and dozens university student unions. The NUS refuses to work with Student Rights.
5. Seen in this light, the Daily Mail’s coverage of issues relating to the NUS and CAGE must be understood for what it is: a thinly veiled effort, quite possibly influenced by the Home Office and lauded by right wing organisations, to discredit a growing opposition movement. We reiterate our opposition to PREVENT as a politically motivated programme that shuts down debate and has a chilling effect on free speech and thought. It erodes trust and community relations, alienates those it professes to protect, and in so doing is more likely to cause politically motivated violence rather than counter it.
6. Such dedicated investigative coverage by one of the country’s most renowned right-wing dailies is surely a sign of success for those who remain deeply concerned with and united against the government’s failing counter-terrorism programme.