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. Barber O'Riley

    Sorry, but this article is marred by a striking lack of definition. There are constant references to ‘parts of the liberal left’, ‘sections of the left’, ‘parts of the left’ in italics. There are constant references to ‘alliances’, to these unnamed forces being ‘accomplices’ and ‘useful idiots’. This is unsatisfactory for readers who might wish to make a considered judgement on these charges. Tell us, Noor; who are you accusing of doing what?

  2. Alisdair

    How about Amnesty International, which campaigned jointly with Cage and used Begg as their ‘partner’ – not just as a cause to be campaigned for?

    How about people like Jeremy Corbyn MP who has never met an Islamist he didn’t like, or alongside whom he wouldn’t campaign?

    How about The Guardian, which gave Begg op ed after op ed, and ruthlessly deleted any critical comments about his activities and beliefs from their website?

  3. Dave Roberts

    Well he could be talking about the remains of the Marxist left around the SWP and various other Trotskyist groups. Also included could be what’s left of Stalinism around the Morning Star and sections of the trades union movement. Journalists, I use the word loosely in this case, like Seamus Milne would definitely go in as would any signers of petitions not to arm the Kurds or to prevent most of Africa, Asian and the Middle East arriving on the shores of Europe.

    Parliamentarians like Jeremy Corbin and Dianne Abbott for sure, the usual suspects on CiF who regularly get taken to bits by, I assume, Guardian readers. asbeens like Tariq Ali and George Galloway and wannabbees like Owen Jones and Penny Laurie. I could go on but I hope I have jogged a few memories and we will ave a good discussion on this.

    As a supporter for many years of Amnesty I cancelled my standing order over the Gita Saghal issue as did many people I know. I suspect you know exactly who the writer is talking about but are just a little shy.

  4. Barber O'Riley

    What *specifically* did AI do that overstepped the legitimate defence of his civil liberties? What *specifically* as Corbyn done that is unacceptable? What is the range of opinions that the Guardian should be permitted to print, and who decides the parameters? All genuine questions.

    I’m not saying that the argument in the post is incorrect, I am merely seeking concrete examples, for the sake of clarification.

  5. Srimanthan Pramodan

    If we can get more people on the Left for this, gives me hope we can save liberalism and democracy!

  6. Dave Roberts

    Alisdair. I’m afraid with Barber you are up against the Holocaust denier syndrome which requires “evidence” that a single Jew was exterminated. Same mind set.

  7. Dave Roberts

    No one can stop Corbyn campaigning with Islamists, we live in a society that permits that even though they have exterminated those freedoms wherever they have gained power.

    The Guardian slogan that ” Comment is Free but facts are sacred” as become a joke. They commission a range of, usually, nonentities to write articles which are then taken apart by the readership. If you want an example look at the Hugh Muir piece today. Muir, like Gary Younge, are professional black serial complainers who couldn’t get a real journalism job anywhere else except The Guardian.

  8. Dave Roberts

    I’ve listed a few for you.

  9. Rob Lewis

    I too would like to see actual answers to these questions. In fact they are essential if this article is to be raised above the level of amorphous assertion. One may criticise the entire “human rights movement” as a distinct entity if one wishes, and one may attack it for insufficient “objective distance” by all means, but unless “objective distance” can be adaquately explained it is (ironically) an entirely subjective label. Without it, this article serves only to take further swipes at Begg and CAGE while castigating “the human rights movement”, which makes it (on the whole) a suspiciously topical, pro-establishment piece. Dave (if I may), you have listed nothing.

  10. Matthew Blott

    Excellent article – 100 per cent in agreement here. Sadly, there’s a lot of work to do if some of the comments here are anything to go by.

  11. Keith Thomas

    Have you seen the chapel at Salisbury Cathedral dedicated to prisoners of conscience? And typical of English Christianity it has ‘outsourced’ the definition of prisoners of conscience to a non-church body, Amnesty international.
    When Islam can make gestures of similar magnitude, humanity and generosity as expressions of Islam – and without doing so to make a point vis-a-vis another faith, but out of their faith – then I’ll consider taking Islam seriously as a faith rather than as a political ideology that gives us nothing to fear.

  12. Barber O'Riley

    That is cheap, cheap, cheap beyond words. I have never questioned the Holocaust and indeed, under my real name, I am in print attacking Holocaust denial.

    Nor am I necessarily contending that Noor’s assertions are incorrect. All I am saying is, if we are to have a meaningful discussion on this topic, we need to move behind ‘some on the left’ evasion and spell out the charges.

    That is, surely, a reasonable request? And if it can be shown that named individuals or organisations on the British left are in ‘alliance’ with ‘salafism’ – as opposed to common or garden political Islamism – than I will happily accept that. So c’mon, make the case.

  13. bluepicasso

    The article refers to Meredith Tax’s book on this subject. Its important that jihadi extremism should not be platformed by the Left. Left wingers who do promote CAGE are kind of creepy, as some of the comments here demonstrate.

  14. Barber O'Riley

    What you haven’t spelled out is examples where the threshold of acceptability has been crossed. Do you accept that Islamist political views may properly be organised around in a liberal democracy, just as the Christian People’s Alliance is entitled to run candidates? I’m assuming you do. So if politicians choose to align themselves with Islamists, that is not inadmissible per se. I repeat, what has Jeremy done that was an ‘abomination’ rather than something you would not have done yourself?

  15. Dave Roberts

    I don’t think you should lump all Muslims together as the left do. Most Muslims I know are appalled by what is being done and claimed in their names. There are many strains of Islam not represented by the self appointed leaders always trotted out by the left as representative of the faith.

    What should be remembered also is that in its development Islam is at the historical stage Christianity was at the time of the Reformation so in comparison it’s a work in progress with a Renaissance and an Enlightenment yet to come. I hope they happen sooner rather than later.

  16. Dave Roberts

    I agree. I was present at Toynbee Hall in Spitalfields for the first meeting of Centre for Secular Space. I’ll get the pamphlet. The far left is creepy though, no disagreement there.

  17. Guest

    So they’re angels, you admit, compared to you.

    And I see, you were there to desecrate it with your views. Lovely.

  18. Guest

    Your knowledge of Islam, in this case, lets you down. Try the 6th century CE.

  19. Guest

    You attack them for their leaders, the people who the left talk to – evidently you prefer the radicals.

  20. Leon Wolfeson

    Not really. It’s always the same few names, who are allowed to turn everything into a hatefest here.

  21. Guest

    And nobody’s stopping you, who would do the same.

    Keep lashing out at articles which you would prevent being written, because they are not acceptable for you, as you try and censor who is acceptable as a journalist not..

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    “That is cheap, cheap, cheap beyond words.”

    it’s Dave, it’s what he does. Unfortunately.

    I agree with you here. It’s better to ask reasonable questions, rather than his tack of trying to make sure only “acceptable” articles are written as he has been lately.

  23. Guest

    Ah yes, defining who is and isn’t press by your view of them.

  24. Leon Wolfeson

    “Does the left stand for secularism”

    Why should it? Why not, oh, tolerance? This country is small-c christian, and that generally works quite well, thank you. The sort of bleating about Christmas we get periodically from some on the left is painful.

    And no, I am no sort of (c)hristian or (C)hristian whatsoever – in fact, I’m Jewish.

    I’d also say an equal problem are those among the left lining up to support Hamas, against all sense and decency. I freely admit I see the issue as important to me because of my bias.

  25. Dave Roberts

    Leon, you really must get treatment. You are past a joke. When are you going to read what people actually write as opposed to what people actually write as opposed to what you want them to?

  26. Guest

    LB/Dave – Right right, the one of us who has not called for genocide is the one who must be “treated”, by your thugs.

    I am reading what you type, sadly for you. *Angels*, far better than your actively genocidal views.

  27. James Lovelace

    “Most Muslims I know are appalled by what is being done and claimed in their names. ”

    60% to 70% of British muslims want to see gay people criminalised and punished (incarcerated? stoned to death? hanged?)

    If 60% of the Demos were saying “ban islam and put all muslims in prison” the Left would be saying that we were dealing with fascists. But the Left is always prepared to align itself with brown-skinned fascists.

  28. James Lovelace

    No doubt you remember the leftwing Bengali secularist, who addressed the audience, telling them that the police were in cahoots with the mosques; that the police delegated social control to the mosques, and in return the police protected islam from criticism.

    That meeting was a joke. The Southall Black Sisters claiming they’d been opposing islamic fascism in Britain for decades. I chortled to myself: “not very effectively, then”.

    Most of the largest muslim organisations in Britain support the Caliphate i.e. share the goals of ISIS. I was at a meeting of the gay muslim group IMAAN, where their speaker also said “I support the return of the Caliphate”.

  29. Guest

    So you say they support your cause. I’m dubious.

  30. meredithtax

    Thank you for publishing this!

  31. Dave Roberts

    I didn’t say that you did. You must read what is written.

  32. Dave Roberts

    In English please Leon.

  33. Dave Roberts

    In English Leon.

  34. Dave Roberts

    Was the secularist wrong? After Rotherham and everybody admitting they had delegated powers to “community leaders” he was most definitely correct.

    As for Southall Black Sisters they have been opposing all sorts of extremism since 1979 including the Islamic variety. The fact that you seem to think they haven’t been very effective is neither here nor there and as for IMAAN calling for the Caliphate,well enough said. You are starting to look a bit silly.

  35. Dave Roberts

    In English Leon.

  36. SOMARA556

    Great article, Begg’s case is a strange one, but one thing that is apparent is that neither he nor his organisation should be supported by anyone who believes in human rights and the secular rule of law.

  37. tom_billesley

    The Left Foot Forward writer is garbling the metaphor. You don’t use soap powder in whitewash. It’s not laundry as in cleansing, but painting as in cover-up.

  38. Guest


  39. Guest


  40. Guest


  41. Guest

    Except you did. As usual, you’re running away from what you said, as you make spam posts (which I’m interpreting for the crowd) when people dare challenge your UKIP narrative.

  42. Guest

    Where have they said they’re aligned with you?

  43. Dave Roberts

    Yes, but they have to accept liberal democracy.

  44. SarahAB

    No one is saying JC shouldn’t be allowed to campaign alongside Islamists – but people should respond to that as they would do if he campaigned alongside the (traditional) far right.

  45. James Lovelace

    “The fact that you seem to think they haven’t been very effective is neither here nor there”

    Yeah. Let’s applaud failure.

  46. Marshalldoc

    What y’all seem not to understand is that principles are unvarying. You either support due process, free speech, and all the other ‘liberal’ values’ or you don’t. Evidently, your liberalism is contingent upon everyone behaving as you’d have them do, not upon principles. It’s a funny pretzeling of logic you indulge in by accusing the ‘left’ of moral relativism while criticizing the left for adhering to principle even if it puts them ‘in bed’ with those you’d rather not be there with. If this site and its commenters represents the future of liberalism… I’m out.

  47. bluepicasso

    the article states that just as Nazis, fascists and racists should be given due process so should Jihadi activists. Allying with them and being useful idiots for their propaganda purposes is not essential for supporting the rights of extremists to have due process.

  48. Henry Page

    It’s the same as the frequent support that comes from feminists for Hezbollah: it’s illogical and absurd. Well said Noor.

  49. Sean

    Superb article

  50. Lamia

    You can speak up for the rights of Nick Griffin without telling people he’s a great guy who supports human rights for all.

    That’s a distinction that Clive Stafford Smith and Shami Chakrabarti have been unable to make with regard to Moazzam Begg, who moved his family to Afghanistan because he admired the Taliban (i.e. he most definitely did not support human rights for all, but rather the oppression of everyone else by heterosexual hard-line Muslim men).

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