Moazzam Begg is no friend of the left

From the 1-5 July central London was host to the Marxism festival of 2010, held by the socialist workers party. On the Saturday they held a panel discussion which included Moazzam Begg, Gareth Pierce and Gerry Conlon.

Conlon was one of the Guildford Four, wrongfully accused back in the seventies for the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. Pierce, a human rights solicitor, was instrumental in the case of Moazzam Begg, and he is the director of the organisation Cageprisoners, who campaigns against the existence of Guantanamo Bay.

You can tell from the set up debate what the producers of this discussion had in mind; Conlon being a victim of a miscarriage of justice, Pierce acting, as far as possible, to counter, with human rights, miscarriages of justice. But Moazzam Begg, he was held in Guantanamo Bay, whether it should exist is questionable of course, however, myself, I personally feel he sacrificed the right to join in to serious political discussions and be seen as a serious advocate for human rights, on account of the friends he has made since his release.

Indeed this was recently brought up again by Gita Sahgal, a feminist, who used to work for Amnesty International. She left because she was opposed to Amnesty International using Moazzam Begg as a poster boy for human rights, for the very reason that Begg had some rather unpalatable connections.

I recently read a report by the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSJ), written in December 2009 – meaning it would have been published before the recent resignation of Ms Sahgal – written by Alexander Meleagrou Hitchens. The report focuses on the radical Yemeni Imam Anwar al-Awlaki.

It details the relationship between the Cageprisoners and al-Awlaki, which dates back to 2006, the strengthening of that relationship in 2007, on al-Awlaki’s release. It goes on to say:

The CP [cageprisoners] website includes an extensive and friendly interview between Moazzam Begg and Awlaki. In addition, the website reproduces a number of materials from Awlaki’s official website [which if haven’t seen it, contains some very dubious articles and materials, which the left, I should hope, by and large, would completely disassociate itself from. Disgusting displays and support of jihad terrorist activities], and currently contains at least 4 book reviews by Awlaki that originate from his site. In reproducing his work in such a way, CP present Awlaki as a religious authority.

Which of course is untrue, if you look at the way he defines jihad, he defines it in the way that al Qaeda do, in terms of political Islamism, whereas if you ask any real Islam scholar they will tell you jihad has to do with personal struggle, but also relates back to before when the prophet Mohammed travelled to Medina, the prejudice he received from others in which violence was used to counter that prejudice, which if you read the relevant passages, you will see was not enacted without some doubts about violent conduct for Mohammed, otherwise a peaceful prophet. It certainly bears no reflection to political Islam, whose proponents use this as a cover for their support of hate.

In August 2009, CP were the main organisers of the above mentioned ‘Beyond Guantanamo’ event held in the Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall. This event was to feature a video message from Awlaki.

This didn’t go ahead, the council threatened to pull the plug on the event unless his inclusion, even though it was via video link, was taken down.

Also, on October 2 2009, Cageprisoners republished on their website a defence of Awlaki by Cageprisoner member Fahad Ansari that first appeared in Crescent magazine. The report continues:

In the piece, Ansari was highly critical of the council’s decision and referred to Awlaki as “the inspirational Imam”

[…]

Mr. Ansari is also a researcher and spokesperson for the Islamic Human Right Commission (IHRC) which also supported the CP campaign for Awlaki’s release.

The IHRC is registered as a charity and limited company which Cageprisoners have demonstrable connections with through Fahad Ansari.

There have been a number of instances where Cageprisoners have claimed to be unaware of Awlaki’s extremist background. The CSJ find this questionable as they have republished an article by Andrea Elliott of the New York Times which says “Mr. Hassan and another university student searched the Internet for jihadist videos and chat rooms, the friend said. They listened to “Constants on the Path to Jihad,” lectures by the Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is suspected of inciting Muslims in the West to violence.”

The connections that Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners have is not one of simple diplomatic relations, that you would invite them to your event to liven the debate; they heap praise on Awlaki, this is very real, there is evidence to suggest this much, and the Cageprisoners have been very open about promoting this man. And yet, there are people on the left, unfortunately, and on the blogosphere, that have felt it very difficult to support Gita Sahgal on leaving Amnesty International who were using Moazzam Begg as, in her words, a “poster boy”.

I think for that part of the left (the socialist workers party in particular – who have many more reasons to be scorned at), this is a grave error, and I will continue to debate that there is stain on the name of Moazzam Begg and he is certainly no friend of the left, and he should not be given a soapbox as such.

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