A small socialist irony

In May through to June of 1994 a civil war broke out in Yemen between the Yemeni government in Sana’a and Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) supporters. As Ghaith Abdul-Ahad noted in the first of his Guardian articles yesterday about time spent in Yemen, fighting that war with the government of the time were Islamists who ended up bagging much political achievement in southern provinces of Yemen during the nineties.

When the socialists of the YSP, whose neighbourhoods and market places they created can still be seen, were defeated in the civil war the Islamists were handed authority of Jaar – a town in the province of Abyan, South Yemen.

Abdul-Ahad’s report shows that radical Islamist presence in the town grew from there, enjoying sums of money from Saudi Arabia and now being a hotbed for al-Qaeda.

The report interviews one man who remembers the time well; “Faisal”, a former Socialist party member and head of the Young Artist Association in the Abyan. He remembers that the:

socialists were defeated on 7 July 1994 [and] on July 8 a group of Islamists came and picked me up, blindfolded me and took me to the HQ of political security. I was handcuffed and beaten there. They wanted to know if I was a communist and their commander declared I was one. Then they tied my arms to a tree and hung me there and started beating me up with a stick.

Al-Qaeda has grown significant influence in the area and has claimed responsibility for attacks such as the attempt to assassinate the British ambassador to the capital of Yemen, Sana’a – the site of socialist defeat in the nineties.

It has been told that the Yemeni Socialist Party was key to establishing multi-party democracy when the Soviet Union collapsed and the country had been marred by previous civil conflicts and the tail end of British imperialism.

One of the mentors of this surge in extremism lingering in today’s Yemen is a man called Anwar al-Awlaki. As the Guardian report notes: “In Yemen, recruits can study ideology and take guidance from militant leaders, including the Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been described as “terrorist number one” by the Democrat chairman of the House homeland security sub-committee, Jane Harman.”

Indeed al-Awlaki is infamous among those who follow terror politics. His reported links include the US Army Major Nidal Hassan (“gunman suspected of carrying out the 5 November 2009 attack on Fort Hood, Texas”) who attended the same mosque in Virginia Falls that al-Awlaki formerly preached in; two of the three 9/11 hijackers and Omar Abdul Rehman, “who was convicted for his role in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.”

Awlaki has praised US designated Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab, was the inspiration for the so-called Toronto 18 cell, who were planning civilian attacks, supports armed jihad, where he is explicit that the “hatred of kuffar [non-Muslims] is a central element of our military creed” (see page 12), and talks of “driving the Jews of Palestine to the sea”.

It is a fair assumption to say this man is not the bastion of progressive thinking.

In 2006 the campaign group against Guantanamo Bay and registered charity the Cageprisoners requested that their supporters write to the Yemeni ambassador of the UK to seek the release of al-Awlaki. Here the relationship between the Cageprisoners and al-Awlaki grew strong, and he was invited to broadcast a live message to an event held by the Cageprisoners in 2008.

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. This assertion may be questionable if you consider that the group 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.”

To bring this back to the point, the director of the Cageprisoners, Moazzam Begg, has given plenty of uncritical time to al-Awlaki rendering it extremely dubious to think he has no idea of the kind of character he is. If you heap as much praise as Begg does to al-Awlaki on the interview below, you would check your sources – and a glimpse at some of the sources show al-Awlaki to be an ardent jihadist and supporter of al-Qaeda.

It doesn’t bade well for anyone promoting Moazzam Begg, a former detainee in Guantanamo Bay, as a pillar of human rights and an example of human rights gone awry, when he gives uncritical, and even praiseworthy platforms to somebody like al-Awlaki. But indeed recently that is what Amnesty International did, causing the resignation of Gita Sahgal, a feminist, who used to work for AI, when the human rights group made Begg their poster boy.

Furthermore, 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, and Pierce, a human rights solicitor, was instrumental in the case of Moazzam Begg.

You can tell from the set up of the 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 with Moazzam Begg – surely his feature on issues of human rights should have been put into jeopardy by the connections and suspected connections with some of the worst terrorist, pro al-Qaeda, pro-Taliban and pro-extremist characters this country and others have to offer.

Yemeni Islamists destroyed Yemen and reduced socialism in that country to nothing, where once it was strong and created a sense of stability where that had been absent since the destructive history of the Soviet Union. Islamism continues to be a presence in the country in the form of al-Qaeda. One of the chief ideologues of this presence, al-Awlaki, is held as an “inspirational imam” by a group fronted by a man who receives uncritical praise from the audiences of Socialist Workers Party organised events – now there’s something to think about.

Perhaps that is the reason the SWP won’t mind publishing articles that say this:

Yemen is indeed a country ravaged by war and instability – but this is the result of decades of imperialist interference in the region. And the ratcheting up of Western intervention will only make things worse.

Without even mentioning a single word about the destruction brought about by domestic terrorism, extremism and fascism.

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.

The Left and Moazzam Begg (A Vlog)

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