With the celebrated release of Moazzam Begg, we are left once again with a clear demonstration of the government’s animosity towards Muslims who threaten their self-serving interests. The intelligence services knew that Begg was innocent when ordering his arrest and detention that lasted over half a year; when they had no need to have him under lock and key anymore, they brazenly provided the Midlands police with evidence needed to let him go.
Given the discrimination towards law abiding British Muslims, one would assume the public would gather in the streets to protest, yet they are pacified with misinformation about their Muslim neighbours. Those eager for leadership amongst Muslims remained silent on Begg instead of challenging government-led demonisation. But this was not the first time; Victoria Brittain, a former associate foreign editor of the Guardian, previously argued that Abu Qatadah, a man incessantly described as a radical preacher, violent extremist, and spiritual advisor to al-Qaeda, was no terrorist, but in fact a person whose moral standards, in her own words, ‘could have been useful in engaging Muslim youth and healing the wounds in our divided society.’ Had the statement come from anybody else it would have been an indictment of sympathising with an extremist.
Interestingly, the depiction of Abu Qatadah painted by Ms Brittain was one we weren’t privy to: ‘that the man behind the myth is a scholar with wide intellectual and cultural interests. He wrote books while he was in prison. His home is filled with books. His children have excelled at school, with help and encouragement from his daily phone calls from prison.’ Instead the government and those within the Muslim community scrambling for political brownie points were quick to paint a man about whom they knew very little as the jihadist kingpin. It’s no secret that Abu Qatadah supported armed resistance against tyrannical regimes – most of which have been removed by the revolutionaries that we as Brits have supported; in fact Ms Brittain sympathetically alluded to it herself. Yet in line with government policy that demonises Muslims who refuse to maintain military pacifism on political issues on the unfounded assumption that it will bolster terror attacks in the UK, successive governments have not only built a myth around Abu Qatadah to augment their so-called anti-terrorism campaign, but to justify aspersive endeavours they depend on fatuous proof such as the statements of foreign judges concerning Abu Qatadah without his ever having sat before them. With images of his long flowing beard and inability to speak English, the endeavour to incite public xenophobia was a great success. His alleged associations with al-Qaeda were extremely spurious, a number of armed jihadist groups called for his release, mostly due to the British government’s positioning of Abu Qatadah as a scholastic jihadist mastermind and not out of having a personal relationship with him.
Are we not seeing the same now with Begg and others? The generational struggle to which Cameron fondly refers doesn’t describe waves of foreigners wanting to attack us but a future where the government has determined to demonise generations of Muslims who will be excluded to the sidelines because of their political activism.
The silence of Muslim spokespersons in wanting to sit this one out just as they did with Abu Qatadah confirms a group of leaders who shrunk at the thought of losing a photo opportunity. Just like Moazzem Begg, Abu Qatadah was also released, although it was through acquittal by a Jordanian state security court of the charges Theresa May was sure he was guilty of. The lame idea that simply deporting those who have become political liabilities will somehow help us against terrorist attacks is absurd; the government would have been far better placed, as Ms Brittain implied, keeping Abu Qatadah in the UK with security services working with him to thwart extremist groomers and extremist ideology such as that of ISIS. Instead, politicians looking for votes got rid of a main player in the country’s armory that could have helped in robustly dealing with the new threat. Now, instead of exhibiting the democratic ideals they claim to espouse they lock up people well known for exposing the government’s complicity in rendering innocent people to prisons administrated by barbaric regimes. Far beyond dealing with violent extremism, the government seems to be playing up to the picture painted by radicals.