Many who should know better have coddled Cage in recent years
Earlier this week I found myself in a debate with a volunteer from Amnesty International over the charity’s promotion of Cage and specifically the former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg. The discussion revolved around the suitability of Cage – a shady Salafi PR outfit – as a partner for Amnesty in the latter’s campaign for the right to a fair trial.
The argument was put to me that, whilst Amnesty might not agree with all of the views espoused by Cage, they do share common ground on the right to justice and against the disgrace that is Guantanamo Bay.
My own argument was simply to ask whether it would be acceptable to partner with an organisation of the British far-right in a similar fashion. Would it really be kosher to share a platform with Nick Griffin simply because of ‘common ground’ over his and our opposition to, say, the war in Iraq?
Of course not, and I suspect my interlocutor now realises this – ever since Cage’s unsavoury nature became undeniable yesterday afternoon, his tweets defending the group have mysteriously disappeared. Or not so mysteriously; for who really wants to be on the record publicly defending a group which referred to Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) as a ‘beautiful man’?
Nor can yesterday’s Cage press conference be defended on the basis of putting Mohammed Emwazi’s actions in their proper ‘context’. Contemplate for a second how silly (and how sinister) it would have been to talk about the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik in a similar fashion – not as a ruthless killer but as a misunderstood victim of the system. As a friend put it this morning, the ‘MI5 made me do it’ narrative is also an insult to all of those who fall foul of the immigration system yet do not resort to beheading people.
Many who ought to have known better have coddled Cage in recent years and will no doubt feign surprise at news that the group isn’t so much a human rights group as an Islamist activist outfit. Well I’m sorry to say this but: we told you so. As Noor Elahi wrote on these pages back in October 2014:
“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.”
One hopes that after yesterday’s grim spectacle Amnesty will distance itself from Cage, just as it would any other group that was so closely aligned with (and so ready to make excuses for) dangerous extremists.
Similarly, the left should draw a clear line of separation between itself and groups like Cage when campaigning for human rights. As Noor put it in her piece:
“[While] It is entirely correct that the ethical abomination of Guantanamo Bay be campaigned against…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.”
After yesterday, that seems a fairly uncontroversial point. But what a shame it’s taken so long to get here; some of us have been cautioning against Cage for years.
James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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