Parts of the liberal left should be honest with the British people about their alliance with CAGE and Moazzam Begg. Now more than ever we must turn to Meredith Tax's book 'Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights' for reference and moral clarity.
Parts of the liberal left should be honest with the British people about their alliance with CAGE and Moazzam Begg. Now more than ever we must turn to Meredith Tax’s book ‘Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights’ for reference and moral clarity
It is entirely correct that the rule of law should be upheld for Moazzam Begg. It is entirely correct that the ethical abomination of Guantanamo Bay be campaigned against. The left should oppose and be sceptical about further misguided laws to combat extremism, as suggested by Theresa May.
But sections of the left must also be honest about their support for groups like CAGE and all other Salafi/Islamist/Jihadi activists. They should tell the British people that support for them is on the same basis as supporting the rights of, for example, nationalist fascists, and on the basis of the principle that our laws apply even to extremists and fundamentalists.
What the left should never do is whitewash the ideas and beliefs of people like CAGE and Moazzam Begg. Their agenda is to be an advocacy group for Islamic fundamentalism in British society, and to use the left as the soap powder for that washing.
Now more than ever the pamphlet written by Meredith Tax in 2013 called ‘Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights’ needs to be read.
It outlines a deeper problem we face, of moral relativism, and of how too many sacrifice secular principles to an unquestioning deference towards Islamists. The left, says Tax, is caught in a ‘double bind’, of speaking out against prejudice towards Muslims, the excesses of the state in the ‘war on terror’, and the need to oppose the ideas, beliefs and actions of religious reactionaries, Islamists and jihadi apologists.
This issue came to the fore in relation to CAGE in 2010 when Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty International’s gender unit, was sacked after speaking out about the organisation’s partnering with Moazzam Begg.
Sahgal pointed out that allying with a jihadi advocacy group and supporter of the Taliban undermined the fight against misogyny, and that pro-actively allying with Begg and CAGE, whose remit is to apologise for and advance the ideology of Salafi Jihad and hate preachers, compromised the left ethically.
Sahgal said the issue was not about Moazzam Begg’s “freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is…the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.”
It is self evident that human rights organisations, and the left in general, should support the rights of members of the BNP, for example, without partnering with them or actively campaigning for them. Even at the heights of the troubles in Northern Ireland, Amnesty International strongly condemned human rights abuses by the British state, without partnering with Sinn Fein or any other paramilitary apologetic organisations. The regression is remarkable.
The result of this is that parts of the left become accomplices to the advancement of reactionary ideology. Their latest opportunistic strategy is to push Begg as a peacemaker and intermediary towards Islamic State jihadis
This is part of a pivoting that the Islamist far-right perform regularly, in which they present themselves as ‘moderate’ in the face of more ‘immoderate’ extremists. The distinction is like that between violent, beheading nationalist fascists and ‘non violent’ nationalist fascists who share the underlying beliefs of the beheaders but see utility in presenting themselves as useful to ‘making peace’ with beheaders.
They wish to be empowered, their ideology to be normalised. Asim Qureshi of CAGE states in an interview with Julian Assange that he agrees with the ‘Islamic concepts’ of stoning women to death, for example. Qureshi has been welcomed and promoted as a human rights activist by some ‘critical’ academics yet actively supports the most inhumane of sharia hudood ordinances.
Even though CAGE say they knew Britons were being held hostage in Syria, at a time the wider public did not, they argued that the UK had nothing to fear from Muslims travelling to Syria to fight. As the crimes of Britons in ISIS and the Al-Nusra front became clear, this analysis was quietly dropped, replaced by the claim that British Muslims were being criminalised collectively, or that particular excesses of the Islamic State’s actions were incompatible with sharia.
CAGE have learned that it is fairly easy to get sections of the relativist left onside through their sophistry, and by suggesting that their reactionary far-right beliefs are contingent on and mitigated by various factors. Attacking the Conservative prime minister helps to make some misguided people on the left rally to their cause too.
But herein is a route to self destruction. A left that becomes a vessel for Salafi apologia and ideology will be consumed by this movement. It will become an accomplice to hateful sectarianism, alienate the wider British public who are full of revulsion for the ethical squalor of this partnering, and become morally compromised to the point of destitution.
Does the left stand for secularism, universal human rights, women’s rights, and against far-right Salafi-Jihadism? Or does it believe in relativism and normalising the Islamist far-right? The road down which certain left-wing apologists for Moazzam Begg and CAGE are travelling is a tragic one, because there is little sign of self awareness of these issues, and it will end in tears. Far-right Salafi Jihadism and Islamism will, like a parasite, consume its carrier and co-travellers.
This subject may look like complex terrain to travel across, but actually it is very straightforward. We should demand that the issues are made plain. Islamists facing prosecution for suspected jihadi activity should be supported on the same basis that Sir Thomas More says even the Devil should be given due process in Robert Bolt’s play ‘A Man For All Seasons’:
“And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
We should support all people when due process is violated because the rule of law is what we stand for. Defending Islamists when their rights are violated ultimately means we are defending our own rights and universal rights.
But becoming allied with purveyors of a theocratic far-right ideology that stands in contradiction to the secular, liberal, progressive, feminist values of the left will lead to a tragic spectacle of a movement ultimately destroying itself.
The left must be honest about the issues here, and guard against the abomination of moral relativism and useful idiocy.
Noor Elahi is a writer and activistLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.