The left should be honest about CAGE and Moazzam Begg

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 activist

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65 Responses to “The left should be honest about CAGE and Moazzam Begg”

  1. Lamia

    What is the range of opinions that the Guardian should be permitted to print, and who decides the parameters? Isn’t it entitled to give op-ed space to whichever views it chooses?

    It is indeed entitled to give op-ed space to whichever views it chooses. And it will be judged accordingly. It does not give op-ed space to the white far right but it has on numerous occasions given op-ed space to the Islamic far-right, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut Tahrir and Hamas. That is leaving aside its whitewashes on the likes of anti-semitic nutters like Qaradawi and Raed Salah. Google the contributions of Faisal Bodi, Inayat Bunglawala, Azzam Tamimi, for starters. This has been going on at the Guardian for at least fifteen years – the uncritical platforming of views that would be rejected with horror if they came from the white far right.

    Here’s Bodi on women’s refuges – the kind of thing that most liberals think a necessary thing, right?

    Take women’s refuges. Not without cause do we view them with
    suspicion and mistrust. Refuges tear apart our families. Once a girl haswalked in through their door, they do their best to stop her ever
    returning home. That is at odds with the Islamic impulse to maintain theintegrity of the family. Instead of being a kneejerk response, we
    want refuges to be last resorts, where victims can turn after all
    efforts to resolve the dispute have been exhausted.

    Because theyare founded on the assumption that religion is responsible for women’s misery, some refuges are inherently Islamophobic. One refuge in the Midlands is currently the subject of an industrial tribunal because it sacked a Muslim worker who had distributed religious literature. Muslim refuge workers report the preponderance of homosexuality among residents and staff.,,279722,00.html

    Here’s a piece on why Saudi women don’t actually want the right to drive cars and other silly feminist ‘rights’ – as explained on their behalf by a Muslim man, naturally:

    I am not going to sit here googling for you all night but if you have read the Guardian’s CiF over the years, you will have seen numerous similar examples. You will have seen few or possibly not even one instance of a BNP or other far right activist being given a platform for their own intolerant crap.

    It’s reasonable to infer from that imbalance that the Guardian is not merely providing a platform for all sorts views it disagrees with, but rather that they are some kinds of fascists that it actually quite likes.

  2. Lamia

    No on is disputing that legally we can all align with all sorts of ideologues. But we would expect to be judged accordingly.

    If someone chose to align themselves with the Christian People’s
    Alliance, we would tend to think they have reactionary sympathies. So why should a socialist align with an even more socially reactionary (and provenly more violent) group of ideologues – and not be worthy of criticism for doing so?

  3. George White

    The Guardian is shameless in its defence of the Islamist far right. Any critical BTL comments are deleted.

    In fact it’s very cozy with any kind of organized religion. Not a good thing.

  4. Adam

    Maybe I’m being too simplistic here but why can’t we just condemn any form of extremism?

  5. Tehmina Kazi

    A fantastic article… Thank you for telling the truth!

  6. Jeffrey Imm

    Our universal human rights are not intended to be relative, but intended to be a standard for all people, everywhere. When I have taken that stance, I have had members of the UK RICU (this message is for you) challenge me even here in the United States. If we want to counter extremist views, we need to be consistent, even when it is unpopular, RICU. Our universal human rights cannot be adapted to support extremist views; “cultural relativism” on our universal human rights is nothing other than cowardice to stand up for such universal human rights.

  7. meredithtax

    Some of the comments below seem to come from people who are not acquainted with the history of the discussion, here are a few older links. All these and others can be found in the Publications section on the Centre for Secular Space website.

    American Society of International Law, April, 2006 Gita Sahgal:

    InfochangeIndia July 2011 Gita Saghal:

    Dissent June 2012 Meredith Tax

    openDemocracy 5050 Feb. 2013 Meredith Tax

    Dissent 2013 Feb. 2013 Meredith Tax

  8. WetWork

    Gee, people at LFF have noticed that they have been supporting racist, misogynistic, homophobic, religiously motivated fascists with the goal of global domination.
    How damned impressive. Was it the genocidal antisemitism, the genital mutilation, the sexual slavery, queer-bashing in Britain, the throwing of gays off tall building in Syria, or the fact that they state up front that they are fascists with dreams of global domination, that gave the game away?

    You are too late, the ‘liberal’ left in Britain is entwined with Islamofascism and you will not let go.

  9. davidbfpo

    It is worth listening to and reading recent comments by Mr Begg. Do they signify a change of heart? You judge.

    A general comment pre-Paris, after the Peshawar Army School attack:

    ‘It is time to stop this cycle of uncontrolled rage and
    internecine violence that will only drive us to the pits of hell.
    Incessant calls for revenge each time need to be tempered with
    reflections on the consequences of what that means. There are no winners in this’.

    He made this comment on his Facebook account and it was picked up pre-Xmas in the local paper:

    He again made comments of note @ The Frontline Club at a
    foreign fighters event, with Shiraz Maher and Richard Barrett:

  10. Tim Collard

    “It is entirely correct that the rule of law should be upheld for Moazzam Begg. It is entirely correct that the ethical abomin ation of Guantanamo Bay be campaigned against. ” Yes, I agree with this in principle, but in practice I’m not going to bust a gut. I’d rather there wasn’t Guantanamo Bay, but I’ve got more important things to campaign against. And, when one mentions Sir Thomas More, let us not forget that More’s upholding of the law consisting in his being Henry VIII’s chief torturer, before falling out with the King over More’s belief that the Pope was the only legitimate torturer.

  11. Lesley Ann Sharrock

    CAGE is the textbook definition of a 5th column.

  12. Disqus is an NSA shill

    Why should we? The suffragette movement as well as abolitionists of slavery were considered “extremists” back in the day.
    Not all extremism is made equal. It all depends on what cause is being “extremed”… and Islam, as precisely defined by its sole authority, the Koran, is getting distinctly morally and culturally iffy as the cause worth going extreme for in today’s age.

  13. Adam

    The Suffragettes weren’t killing people – there is a slight difference!

  14. JSC

    So true, the damage has already been done.

  15. jools1986

    if this government grew a pair, we would deport the fat and useless mrs begg back to palestine(wherever that is) and hopefully her vile husband and her brood would soon follow.

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