Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Labour's Impoverished Expectations

Or, Why I Cannot Join the Centre-Left in Voting for Sadiq Khan


During the course of a bitter and often tawdry mayoral campaign in which neither side has particularly distinguished itself, the British Labour Party has once again had to explain and defend a candidate's past links to Islamic extremism. In his defence, Sadiq Khan and his supporters have tended to rely on one or more of the following claims:
  • That Khan’s progressive record on social issues, particularly gay rights, precludes him – as a matter of logical consistency – from having any sympathy with extremist views. 
  • That any connection Khan has ever had with extremists is a wilful misreading of his laudable concern for human rights. 
  • Ergo, any remotely progressively-minded opponent of Khan is motivated by bad faith and probably anti-Muslim prejudice.
Not one of these responses is convincing.

I

It is true that since his election as a Labour Member of Parliament for Tooting, Khan's voting record has reflected a consistent support for gay rights (Conservative Party candidate Zac Goldsmith’s record is identical). It is also true that Khan’s support for gay marriage earned him death threats and even a fatwa issued by a Bradford cleric declaring him to be an apostate. People have been assassinated for less, so this is no trivial matter.

Even so, before becoming an MP, Khan repeatedly shared political and campaigning platforms with religious fanatics whose murderous hatreds are by no means limited to gays. So whatever their differences on gay marriage, these self-evidently did not prevent collaboration in other shared areas of interest. A single example of this proclivity should be sufficient to illustrate the problem here.

In 2004, in his capacity as chair of respected human rights NGO Liberty, Khan appeared at a 'conference' organised by a Palestinian advocacy group called Friends of al-Aqsa (FOA). FOA’s founder Ismail Patel is an open and enthusiastic supporter of the Palestinian terrorist organisation Hamas, and a spokesman for the UK Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, the British Muslim Initiative. FOA, meanwhile, has close ties to Interpal, a Hamas front organisation proscribed by the US Treasury in 2003 as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” on the grounds that it had been “a principal charity utilised to hide the flow of money to Hamas.”

This is almost certainly why the Co-Operative Bank closed FOA’s account last year, stating that the bank is obliged to ensure that customers’ funds are not used for “illegal or other proscribed activities . . . Unfortunately, after quite extensive research, the charities involved did not meet our requirements or, in our view, allow us to fulfil our obligations.” Furthermore, the counter-extremist website Stand for Peace states that FOA…
…has published writers such as Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh, whose post claimed that Jews control America, and that the Iraq war “was conceived in and planned by Israel through the mostly Jewish neocons in Washington”; Paul Eisen, a notorious Holocaust denier; Gilad Atzmon, who claims “Hitler might have been right after all”; and Israel Shamir, who has said, “In the Middle East we have just one reason for wars, terror and trouble — and that is Jewish supremacy drive.”
The FOA event in Khan's future constituency was entitled ‘Palestine – The Suffering Still Goes On’. Billed as a conference, it was actually just a three-hour outpouring of hatred and self-pity from a panel of conspiracy theorists and religious fanatics. And as is routine at events organised by Islamic fundamentalists, the meeting was segregated by gender, with female attendees instructed to enter via a separate entrance "on Lessingham avenue, next to the snooker club". Advertised to appear alongside Khan were FOA chair Patel; conspiratorial antisemites Eisen and Reverend Stephen Sizer; Interpal chair and trustee Ibrahim Hewitt; radical Islamist Azzam Tamimi, an open supporter of suicide terror; Daud Abdullah, former deputy secretary general to the Muslim Council of Britain and a signatory to the jihadist 2009 Istanbul Declaration; and fanatical cleric Suliman Gani, who subsequently agitated for a boycott of Ahmadi businesses in Tooting, and with whom Khan has shared a platform with on at least eight other occasions.

Link-laden articles like this one itemising extremist connections and networks can be tiresome to read, particularly for those unfamiliar with the dramatis personae. It is tempting to surrender to the suggestion that this is all just so much defamatory smoke. As the Guardian's Mehdi Hasan protested in March, “This is not merely guilt by association; this is the rightwing media’s favourite game of ‘six degrees of Islamist separation’.”

So consider this analogy: a candidate for public office is revealed to have participated in a panel discussion about Palestine peopled by neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers and sponsored by a white supremacist charity strongly suspected of handling funds for internationally proscribed militias and their allies. I do not expect that anyone on the Left - least of all Hasan - would be answering objections by re-directing attention to the candidate’s voting record on gay rights, abortion, or the environment, still less returning accusations of bigotry.

Khan’s support for gay marriage elsewhere is simply irrelevant. In a 2012 article for the Independent that has dated particularly poorly, Owen Jones enthused that disgraced former mayor Ken Livingstone is “the British equivalent of Harvey Milk.” But as Jones was already aware, that had not prevented Livingstone from embracing the Muslim Brotherhood’s foremost cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi when the latter visited Britain in 2004. “I don't agree with the position of Dr Qaradawi on lesbian and gay rights,” Livingstone cheerfully explained. "We won't be seeing him on the next Pride march. But here is the force that we need to engage with if we are to actually get a dialogue between the West and the Muslim world."

Qaradawi’s condemnation of 9/11 was evidently a bar low enough to reassure Livingstone that the he was in fact some kind of progressive. Unsurprisingly, so was Qaradawi’s profound hatred of Israel and American foreign policy. Khan vehemently objects whenever his politics are described as 'radical' on the grounds that this is an attempt to taint him with a reputation for religious fanaticism. But Khan's own stated views on Islamist terrorism and the West have perfectly reflected those of Livingstone, who is an atheist. Here’s Livingstone on Question Time last year:
I remember when Tony Blair was told if you go into Iraq, we will be a target for terrorism. He ignored that advice, and it killed 52 Londoners.
And here’s part of an open letter to which Khan was a signatory, published in 2006, a little over a year after he was elected as an MP and a mere three days after British security services foiled a jihadist plot to bring down multiple passenger jets over the Atlantic:
The debacle of Iraq and now the failure to do more to secure an immediate end to the attacks on civilians in the Middle East not only increases the risk to ordinary people in that region, it is also ammunition to extremists who threaten us all. 
Attacking civilians is never justified. This message is a global one. We urge the Prime Minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism and change our foreign policy to show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion.
Livingstone’s language is a good deal more blunt, but the Corbynite message is the same in both cases: that Western democracies bear primary responsibility for Islamist violence and that elected governments must therefore hand terrorist cells a veto over foreign policy decisions. The letter’s demands for appeasement are not only morally craven but suicidal, so it should not come as a surprise to discover that Khan’s co-signatories were a gruesome salad of Islamist activists, affiliates, and supporters. On matters as consequential as these, the company one chooses to keep and the arguments one makes are at least as important as the side one chooses to take.

II

Given the above, it should hardly come as a shock to discover that, like Livingstone before him, Sadiq Khan has found himself called upon to explain his indulgent attitude towards Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Khan’s remarks about the Muslim Brotherhood cleric were made in November 2004 when Khan appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Home Affairs in his capacity as chair of the Muslim Council of Britain’s legal affairs committee. Also giving evidence were two representatives from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Khan’s MCB vice-chair Khalid Sofi, previously a director of Muslim Aid, an Islamist charity established by activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Under discussion was the impact of Islamist terrorism on community relations and Qaradawi’s controversial visit to the UK earlier that year cropped up. Given the MCB’s professed abhorrence of terrorism, select committee member and Labour MP David Winnick inquired, why does the organisation insist on defending such a man? Qaradawi – as Khan will have been fully aware – had previously declared the genital mutilation of young girls to be desirable (a fatwa he reversed in 2009); had sanctioned the physical chastisement of disobedient wives; had recommended that homosexuals should be lashed; had encouraged the use of suicide terror against Israeli civilians; and, with respect to Jews more generally, has since said this:
Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the Jews people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.
But in written evidence to the select committee, the MCB had reverentially described Qaradawi as “one of the world’s most influential Islamic scholars” and “the leading Muslim figure for peace”; a noble and wise man who was being defamed by the 'Islamophobic' media and an unspecified “pro-Israeli” source. Winnick was unimpressed. He pointed out that Qaradawi had beseeched Allah to “deal with the enemies of Islam…the tyrannical Jews…[and] the rancorous crusaders”. He then asked if Khan would support the invitation of an Israeli fanatic who spoke that way about Muslims. 

Khan might have offered a qualified defence of the need to protect even the most reprehensible opinions in a free society. Instead, he rambled vaguely about an ongoing “dialogue” in the Letters pages of the Guardian. He made a perfunctory reference to “rights and responsibilities”. He made a diversionary appeal to the moral authority of the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London, both of whom had approved the visit. He reminded the committee that Qaradawi had visited the UK on many previous occasions. But most of all, he was keen to stress that Qaradawi was misunderstood.

“What I do know,” Khan concluded, “is in a very long interview he gave to the BBC a few months ago a 15 second snippet was used to try and demonise him.” [As the investigative counter-extremism blogger habibi has noted, in the Newsnight clip in question Qaradawi proclaims: “Allah Almighty is just; through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak a weapon the strong do not have and that is their ability to turn their bodies into bombs as Palestinians do.”]

“My question,” Winnick persisted, “is if someone, an Israeli cleric, rabbi or whatever, a scholar as he may be, had made those remarks about the Islam religion and about Muslims, would we not be right in trying to prevent such a person from coming into our country, whatever the Home Secretary of the day may or may not wish to do?”

Khan replied that in this hypothetical example of course such a person ought to be banned. But on the occasion of this actual example, the Home Secretary had said it was okay. And in any case, “I think it is unfair,” he complained, “for the MCB to be held to account for actions taken by the Home Secretary and the mayor of London. There is a consensus amongst Islamic scholars that this man is not the extremist he is painted to be by certain quarters.”

Khan’s campaign spokesman now claims that Khan was “not speaking as Sadiq Khan, he was acting as a lawyer for MCB reflecting his clients’ views in a quasi-legal setting.” Which only leaves us to wonder why a solicitor with a professed commitment to human rights would want to work for an organisation that champions and sanitises Qaradawi’s Hitlerian views in the first place.

The words “human rights lawyer” have been asked to excuse a great deal during the course of Khan’s campaign. There exists a widespread perception that such work is synonymous with the disinterested pursuit of welfare and justice, and that to engage in it is to place oneself above reproach or scrutiny. But it ought to be acknowledged that the vast majority of human rights advocates come from the activist Left, and bring all sorts of axioms and baggage with them. Positions taken by NGOs and advocates – particularly those relating to bitterly contested matters such as the Palestinian conflict and the American-led war on terror – are therefore often heavily ideological. This is not to gainsay the value of human rights work, but to caution that the political biases of those involved sometimes disfigure judgement.

At a time when controversial Western anti-terror laws and security measures are disproportionately affecting Muslims, links between human rights activism and religious or political radicals are not particularly unusual. But nor are they necessarily a mark of ethical hygiene. It is one thing to defend a person’s narrow right to due process or free speech, but quite another to lend political cover to their politics. For instance, between 2001 and 2002, Khan was engaged by the radical American separatist organisation the Nation of Islam and its leader Louis Farrakhan to help overturn a Home Office ban preventing Farrakhan from setting foot in Britain.

Khan might defensibly have argued that the ban was a violation of Farrakhan’s right to free expression and movement. But, just as he would later argue in defence of Qaradawi’s reputation, Khan further claimed that his client was being traduced. “[Farrakhan] is preaching a message of self-discipline, self-reliance, atonement and responsibility,” Khan announced to bemused reporters. “He's trying to address the issues and problems we have in the UK, black on black crime and problems in the black community. It's outrageous and astonishing that the British Government is trying to exclude this man.” It’s not really that astonishing when one stops to consider that Farrakhan has been praising Hitler since at least 1984.

This kind of indignant spin belongs in the mouth of an unscrupulous consiglieri not a principled defender of universal human rights. In the wake of an initial ruling (later reversed) overturning the ban, Khan had explained that “a lot of quotations used to exclude Louis Farrakhan are misquotes, misrepresentations, or words not said by him.” Farrakhan, he added, “is not anti-Semitic and does not preach a message of racial hatred and antagonism.” This frankly contemptible assertion doesn’t even qualify as spin. It’s just a squalid and easily-disprovable lie.

It is important to bear in mind that, as a solicitor, Khan was free to represent whomever he chose. But when asked to defend those choices today, he prefers to give the impression of a surgeon asked to defend the politics of those he treats. “I have never hidden the fact that I was a human rights lawyer,” he has said, as if that were what he is being asked to do. “Unfortunately, that means that I had to speak on behalf of some unsavoury individuals. Some of their views made me feel deeply uncomfortable, but it was my job.”

So why on earth did he elect to represent extremists with such regularity if doing so caused him so much discomfort? This curious interest in people he now professes to find politically repellent continued after Khan became an MP and his job description required nothing of the kind. It is true that many people, including the Conservative mayoral candidate, campaigned to prevent the extradition of Babar Ahmad to the United States citing various objections to the terms of the extradition treaty Britain had signed.

However, it was Khan who distinguished himself in 2006 by advising the House of Commons that Ahmad’s case was being neglected because he was “not photogenic, middle class, or white” and who described him as “a caring and helpful member of our community [who] worked with people of all ages” and for whom he could personally vouch as a Tooting constituent whom he had known for “the past 12 or 13 years”. Ahmad, he went on, “should be presumed innocent until he is found guilty. Moreover, he is in fact innocent”. Inconveniently, however, Ahmad eventually pled guilty to “conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism” as part of a plea deal, in which he further admitted that "he [had] solicited and conspired to provide funds [and] personnel for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan" and "recruited men to travel to Afghanistan for mujahedeen training and sought out gas masks to send abroad."

In short, Sadiq Khan’s extravagant recent claim that “I have spent my whole life fighting extremism” is entirely false. On the contrary, he has supported extremists, he has aligned with extremists, he has shared their platforms, he has circulated petitions advancing their arguments and interests, he has euphemised their blood-curdling incitement as mere “flowery words”, and he has repeatedly used his position as a human rights advocate and an MP to lend extremists’ arguments a spurious legitimacy. And while he has energetically defended the rights of Al Qaeda sympathisers and operatives like Babar Ahmad and Shaker Aamer, Khan has had precious little to say about a campaign of incitement - exposed in the Wimbledon Guardian as far back as 2010 - by the sectarian organisation Khatme Nabuwwat to boycott and ostracise peaceful Ahmadi Muslims, conducted for years on his own south London doorstep, and supported by the imam of the mosque he attends.

It is astonishing that Khan’s chairmanship of Liberty and work as a solicitor is being offered in mitigation of his behaviour. In fact, it only brings discredit on Khan and on the organisations and causes he was ostensibly representing. If anyone who has been paying attention cannot see any of this, it is because they don’t want to.

III

But there are plenty of people who don’t want to see it. An entirely foreseeable consequence of the Corbyn leadership has been a dramatic collapse in expectations on the social democratic Left. Many writers, bloggers, activists, and MPs on the centre-Left who were among Jeremy Corbyn’s most strident critics a few months ago are now devoting considerable time and effort to making excuses on behalf of Sadiq Khan. And they are employing the same language of “dogwhistles” and “smears” to deflect the same concerns about the political Left’s tolerance and worse of radical Islam and the justifications it offers for political terror.

This might have been understandable were Khan’s principal opponent in the mayoral race a foaming Powellite demagogue. But, notwithstanding some cynical and reprehensible campaigning gambits, Goldsmith is a political centrist. The misuse of accusations of anti-Muslim bigotry and even racism to dismiss his perfectly legitimate questions about Sadiq Khan’s sketchy record on religious extremism have been both intellectually dishonest and wildly irresponsible.

In a rather histrionic article for the Times, Labour MP Yvette Cooper described Conservative attacks on Khan’s past associations as “disgraceful, divisive” and “shrill . . . a full-blown racist scream”, before blithely repeating the lie that Khan has spent a lifetime battling extremism. Her centrist colleague Chuka Umunna has likewise accused Khan’s critics of “Islamophobia” and of attacking Khan for “the crime of being a Muslim”. Both Umunna and Khan have compared Goldsmith to the American populist Donald Trump.

“If not Sadiq Khan, then tell me,” demanded civil liberties campaigner Mike Harris in Little Atoms, “when will you vote for a Muslim candidate?” This challenge says more about Harris’s own impoverished expectations than it says about Khan’s critics. After all, Harris is implying that it is unrealistic to hope for a Muslim candidate who is not burdened by the wretched record on extremism described above. It is also a straw man, since at issue is not Khan’s faith but his political judgement, the convictions – if, indeed, he has any – that have informed it, and the choices he has made, for which no remotely satisfactory explanation has yet been provided.

And it was Khan, not his opponents, who introduced religion as a matter of electoral concern to begin with, when he argued during an interview with the Guardian last July, that the very fact of his being Muslim would strike some kind of devastating public relations blow against Islamic State. (I find this prediction to be extremely dubious, but that has not prevented it being thoughtlessly repeated by his supporters.)

That interview, as it happens, also included a petty but nevertheless telling example of Khan’s capacity for casual cynicism and duplicity. Khan revealed that in a private meeting with the Prime Minister in the aftermath of 7/7, he had faced down an improbable attempt by Tony Blair to place collective blame for the atrocity on the Muslim community. Such was Khan’s furious indignation that he refused to participate in a subsequent press conference. Only it turned out that the three other Muslim MPs who attended the same meeting did not share what they described as “Khan’s self-serving revisionism”. In a letter to the Guardian, they wrote:
To misrepresent the words of a British prime minister and to mischaracterise a significant meeting in the wake of the tragic loss of 52 lives a week earlier is frankly beyond the pale, and we write today not to defend Blair but to defend the truth.

Khan’s depiction of his bravado is almost comical, and if the events of 7/7 were not so grave, it would be unworthy of response. But this was a profoundly grave episode in our history, which necessitates challenging those who would seek to exploit it for personal gain. 
While we agree with Khan that it would be great to see a Muslim mayor for London – as indeed it would to see a black mayor or woman mayor – above all it would be good to see a mayor who could truly command the trust of Londoners irrespective of their colour, creed, race, or gender.
Exactly so.

At the time of writing, opinion polling suggests that Khan’s election win is now a foregone conclusion, and that Labour will be able to take some short-term comfort in rescuing the mayoralty from what looks to be a day of otherwise dismal results on May 5.

But the centre-Left may yet repent the long-term costs at their leisure. A number of hostages to fortune have been carelessly surrendered during the course of this campaign, and both the Labour Party and British Muslims risk paying a price for the diminished expectations offered in defence of Khan's candidacy. His past associations and statements - not to mention his slippery idea of what constitutes personal integrity - have the capacity to bring further embarrassment upon Labour. And his billing as the most progressive politician the Muslim population of Britain are capable of producing will do Khan's co-religionists no favours in the long run, especially those Muslims who have never felt inclined to launder the reputations of dangerous fanatics or to endorse their ghastly politics.

These days, of course, Khan makes much of his determination to confront Islamic extremism. "On day one I am going to put us on a war footing with these terrorists,” he has vowed. But his failure to provide a transparent account of his former views and sympathies, or an intelligible explanation of their evolution from appeasement to bellicosity, make it impossible to know for sure whether this represents a sincere transformation of worldview, an unprincipled opportunism, or just a collection of empty words. We shall now have to wait and see. But so long as the Labour Party continues to field candidates - irrespective of faith or ethnicity - who share Khan's history of deplorable alliances and statements, it should get used to the entirely justifiable scrutiny and criticism that follows.

In the meantime, the Khan campaign has provided a painful reminder of two things. The first is the utterly dismal state of contemporary Labour Party politics. And the second is the Left’s refusal to be honest about its unfortunate recent history of fellow-travelling with radical Islam.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Tomorrow Belongs To Us

Thoughts On Totalitarian Violence and Ideology

(L-R) Abdul Wahid (Chairman of the UK Executive Committee), Jamal Harwood (UK Executive Committee), and Taji Mustafa (Media Representative) at a Hizb ut-Tahrir event in Whitechapel in 2013. (The misplaced hyphen on the event backdrop adds an unintentionally comical touch.)
In a post published in the wake of British Prime Minister David Cameron's July 20 speech on counter-extremism in Birmingham, the anonymous mugwump attacks 'Eustonites', the counter-extremist think-tank Quilliam, and of course Cameron himself in an effort to demonstrate that "there is no causality between Islamism and terrorism". 

Mugwump links to a number of studies and reports which I have not addressed here, since they are used to support an argument I believe has been built on faulty premises. Instead, most of this post is devoted to an alternative reading of the Prime Minister's speech which reflects my understanding of the government's view, as well as some wider thoughts about the nature of Islamist ideology.

Incidentally, while I am happy to accept the 'Eustonite' label, the 2006 Euston Manifesto (the only document 'Eustonites' have in common) takes no line on the relationship between Islamism and jihadism. So, in what follows, I speak for no-one but myself.


The 'Conveyor Belt Theory'

Mugwump's post accuses Cameron of blithely accepting a fatuous 'conveyor belt theory' of radicalisation, which he alleges has been foisted on the credulous Prime Minister by uninformed advisors at Quilliam.

To describe the 'conveyor belt' idea as a 'theory' is to over-promote it. A more accurate description would be a rather poor analogy, which seems to have its origins in a 2004 report on Hizb ut-Tahrir published by the Nixon Center, and authored by its then director of International Security and Energy Programmes, Zeyno Baran.

The limitations of the analogy's explanatory value are readily apparent. Items on a conveyor belt have no individual agency or psychology; they are passively processed by a machine before being churned out, fully reconstituted, at their final destination. But Baran's use of the term was never intended to suggest this kind of direct causality or mechanical and unidirectional progression.

She was speaking more generally about what she called "ideological preparation" as part of a "division of labour", and the recurrent formation of more radical splinter groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (1958), Al-Muhajiroun (1996), Akramiye (1996), and Hizb un-Nusrat (1999), by HT activists who had lost patience with the organisation's gradualist revolutionary strategy. Like every serious analyst dealing with counter-extremism, Baran was perfectly well aware that not every HT activist goes on to become a jihadist.

Nonetheless, Islamists were not slow to seize on the manifest failings of their own literalist interpretation of the term and to use them - absurdly - to claim that Islamist ideology therefore makes no contribution to Islamist terror at all. But pointing out that not everything with four legs is a dog does not alter the fact that dogs are quadrupedal. Unless and until someone produces a jihadist who is not also an Islamist, it ought to be possible for reasonable people to agree that Islamist ideology is a necessary but not sufficient precondition for Islamist terrorism.


The Quilliam View and the Cameron Speech

In his blog post, mugwump extracts and emphasises the following lines from Cameron's speech:
[Y]ou don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish . . . [We must confront] groups and organisations that may not advocate violence – but which do promote other parts of the extremist narrative.
Mugwump then remarks:
The basic idea is that non-violent Islamist ideology -> violent Islamist terrorism. It’s an idea referred to as the “conveyer-belt theory of terrorism” propounded by (mostly non-academic) bodies like the Quilliam Foundation. 
No evidence is provided of Quilliam's advocacy of the conveyor belt idea, and if it is as central to the organisation's thinking on radicalisation as mugwump claims, it is reasonable to suppose there would be a substantial amount of Quilliam literature devoted to explaining and defending it. When I contacted the founding chairman Maajid Nawaz by email for comment, he was adamant: "Neither Quilliam nor I have ever advocated the ‘conveyor belt theory’ as understood by its straw-man building critics."

In their FAQs, the organisation argues that Islamist ideology pushes a grievance narrative which provides "the mood music to which suicide bombers dance" - a metaphor first used in Quilliam's 2008 launch publication - which reflects the more complex relationship indicated by Cameron's reference to "a climate in which extremists can flourish".

So while Cameron and Quilliam are indeed making a link between Islamist ideology and Islamist violence, the language they are using falls significantly short of describing the direct, causal link mugwump spends the rest of his post energetically attacking. Causality implied by the formulation "X -> Y" demands that effect Y necessarily follows from cause X, a relationship Cameron does not come close to asserting and which Quilliam's freely-available information explicitly refuses to endorse.

As Quilliam's FAQ page elaborates:
IS THERE ANY PROOF THAT EXTREMISM LEADS TO TERRORIST VIOLENCE? Certain factors, whether they lead to terrorism or not, are highly problematic in themselves in terms of social and national cohesion. It is our contention that ultimately, seeking or demanding empirical proof for complex human behaviour patterns is unhelpful. Just as there is no direct proof that the spread of neo-Nazi or Fascist ideas in society leads directly to violence against Jews or other minorities, we would nevertheless find it extremely problematic if such views were to spread, and would be concerned from a common sense approach about the danger of this rhetoric provoking violence. It goes without saying that all violent neo-Nazis were at some stage non-violent neo-Nazis before they commenced to attack their victims. The same is true of Islamism.

The Totalitarian Analysis Part 1: 
Identity and Victimhood

There are, I believe, two ways of analysing and understanding Islamism. The first approach seeks to understand it as a religious phenomenon. That is to say, to examine Islamism through the prism of Islamic theology and religious history. The second is to consider Islamism as a totalitarian political ideology.

These analyses overlap and both are valuable to a deeper understanding of what Islamism is and how it developed. But it is the latter which, to my mind, offers a clearer insight into Islamism's otherwise mysterious allure and the dangers it presents to liberal democracy. Not least because Western totalitarian ideas exerted a profound influence on Islamist thought, which first emerged in the writings of a handful of Egyptian theorists following the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924.

In the section of his speech immediately following his mention of "certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish", Cameron elaborated on what those ideas are.
Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality.
Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation.
Ideas – like those of the despicable far right – which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others.
And ideas also based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power; or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam. In this warped worldview, such conclusions are reached – that 9/11 was actually inspired by Mossad to provoke the invasion of Afghanistan; that British security services knew about 7/7, but didn’t do anything about it because they wanted to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.
And like so many ideologies that have existed before – whether Fascist or Communist – many people, especially young people, are being drawn to it. We need to understand why it is proving so attractive.
Cameron sketches an ideological framework which is anti-democratic, sectarian, supremacist, conspiracist, and anti-Semitic. His concluding lines, which directly compare Islamist ideology to the totalitarian ideologies of Communism and Fascism, invite us to consider Islamism, not as a primarily religious phenomenon, but as the inheritor and most recent incarnation of one of the twentieth century's most destructive and potent political myths.

This myth rests on a cosmic and paranoid but powerfully seductive view of world history, in which the righteous and the chosen have been dispossessed and persecuted by corrupt and powerful elites from without, and beset by treacherous forces from within. (Cameron returned to the theme of conspiracism repeatedly in his speech, mentioning it no less than nine times, in reference to both Islamist conspiracy theories and to those circulated about Muslims by the nativist far-right.)

This is not to suggest that Islamist ideology can be disentangled and neatly separated from Islam. On the contrary, Islamism is explicitly and fanatically Islamic, and Cameron was clear about his refusal to further indulge those who seek to decouple one from the other. But he was also careful to point out that, in the first instance, Islamism appeals to Muslims as members of an embattled community which uses Islam as a marker of identity. In this respect, its narrative closely shadows that of previous totalitarian mass movements.

For the Nazis, the victimised chosen few were the Aryan race. For revolutionary Communists, they were the Proletariat. For Islamists, they are Muslims, all members of a pan-national community of believers known as the Umma. In each case, grievance, resentment, alienation, and a paranoid siege mentality are encouraged and exploited where they already exist. Where they do not, they are sown and then carefully cultivated where the soil is found to be fertile.

Victimology is central to all Islamist propaganda, and as David Paxton's recent essay reminds us, it was a point of repeated emphasis in Osama bin Laden's 1996 Declaration of War, which Paxton describes as "wallow[ing] in the tropes of Muslim victimhood and conspiracism". In keeping with this narrative, anti-Semitism - the world's oldest conspiracist hatred, enjoining the inflammatory scapegoating of Jews (latterly referred to as 'Zionists') - turns out to be salient to all three ideologies.

Palestine. Kashmir. Chechnya. Iraq. Afghanistan. Bosnia. Burma. Sykes-Picot. European colonialism. American bases on sacred soil. Domestic counter-terrorism measures perceived as a mere pretext for the subjugation of Muslims. In the mouths of Islamist propagandists, real instances of persecution become indistinguishable from the complexities of ongoing conflicts and historical grievances stretching back decades, even centuries. Western intervention undertaken in defence of Muslim populations is disregarded, and the persecution and oppression of Muslim populations by other Muslims is either downplayed or somehow blamed on the West (and/or Israel) by proxy.

All of this stuff is simply grist to the anti-Western, anti-Zionist conspiracist mill, identified by Cameron in his speech, which contrives a version of reality in which the world of unbelief is at war with history's eternal victims.


The Totalitarian Analysis Part 2: The Utopian Promise

Totalitarian ideologies offer a millenarian, triumphalist answer to this selective and confected narrative of victimisation and despair - the marshalling of a revolutionary vanguard which will establish a peaceful, orderly, earthbound paradise in which the wretched will be redeemed, their tormentors will suffer, and justice will at last be served. The message may be summarised as: "We are the world's forsaken. But tomorrow belongs to us".

The establishment of a neo-Caliphate in defiance of Western power, international law, and even state borders has given this narrative its biggest shot in the arm since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, and, as Cameron pointed out, it has helped to persuade many of its adherents that their redemptive hour is finally at hand:
[L]ike any extreme doctrine, it can seem energising, especially to young people. They are watching videos that eulogise ISIS as a pioneering state taking on the world, that makes celebrities of violent murderers. So people today don’t just have a cause in Islamist extremism; in ISIS, they now have its living and breathing expression.
For an anecdotal example of the pull this kind of utopian promise can exert on Western Muslims already persuaded that they live in a dystopian nightmare, consider the statement released by the Mannan family (unverified but generally thought to be genuine) which describes British democracy as "totalitarian" and the Islamic State as a "land that is free from the corruption and oppression of man made law and is governed by the Shariah, the perfect and just laws of Allah":
Yes, all 12 of us and why should this number be shocking, when there are thousands and thousands of Muslims from all corners of the world that are crossing over land and sea everyday to come to the Islamic State? That are willingly leaving the so called freedom and democracy that was forced down our throat in the attempt to brainwash Muslims to forget about their powerful and glorious past and now present.  
The simplicity and flexibility of the victimhood-and-utopia message on which mass movements are built is what has made it such an adaptable and resilient meme; one with an appeal so broad, it offers almost unlimited routes to identification and embrace. It knows no boundaries of class or gender and may seduce the educated and the unlettered, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural.

For those in search of meaning, mass movements provide an instantly comprehensible view of the world. For those estranged from the self, they provide identity. For the alienated, they provide belonging. For the frustrated, they provide purpose. For the lost, they provide order. They remove the need for independent thought, critical reflection, an appreciation of complexity, and personal responsibility, and they provide a convenient receptacle for every kind of personal, political, and psychological grievance, with the comfort of a shared redemptive struggle against injustice in the name of virtue.

And, perhaps most important of all, ignorance is no barrier to acceptance. Albert Camus once remarked that no-one was persuaded to become a Communist by the writings of Marx. "First they convert," he observed. "Then they read the scriptures". An unexamined belief in the manifest corruption of the West, 'Zionist' moral turpitude, and the hypocrisy of democratic ideas comes first; the prescriptive detail - whether found in Mao's Little Red Book or in 7th Century religious texts and the writings of the Islamist theorist du jour - follows.

But follow it must. Mass movements depend for their effectiveness on ideological discipline, which is why Islamist groups - from Raqqa to London's East End - devote so much time and attention to the indoctrination of hitherto uninformed recruits in 'study circles'.

When Cameron referred in his speech to the threat posed by Islamist ideology, he was not talking about the nuts-and-bolts of this-or-that recommended Hudud punishment for apostasy, homosexuality, or theft, but about a conspiracist worldview which insists that reality as we experience it is an illusory fraud. Muslims are the 'new Jews'. Zionists are the new Nazis. Democracy is despotism. Freedom is slavery. Truth is falsehood. Totalitarianism is emancipation.

In this light, Islamism is best understood, not simply as a religiously conservative strain of Islam presenting a threat to social cohesion and tolerant pluralism (although it is indubitably that too); it is foremost a supremacist revolutionary ideology, aggressively irredentist and imperialist in aim and politically fascist in character, which presents an existential threat to liberty and democracy.

Listening to Cameron's speech, I was reminded of something Michael Weiss said during a discussion at the International Peace Institute about ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, the book he co-authored with Hassan Hassan:
At one point we were interviewing an ISIS fighter who was giving us this sense of having been completely brainwashed and having seen the true cause of the revolution through the eyes of ISIS clerics. And it reminded me of the end of [Koestler's] Darkness at Noon. Rubashov is going to his death, and he misremembers a passage in his own memoir [which] says something like: "We are past the ethical ballast of the 19th Century". In other words, all the morality - your false consciousness - is taken away from you, and you are seeing the world anew. 
And that's not just something resonant with Soviet Communism. If you read Orwell's review of Mein Kampf in 1940, he says "I don't understand. How is it that the most industrialised, civilised nation in Western Europe bows down before somebody who says 'I offer you death?'" Well, what happens when the late failure of radical hopes and liberal democracy turns to ash? Strong men come along with a very tidy understanding of the way the world works; they promise you absolution; they promise you heaven - either on earth or afterward - and you bow down. 
I keep saying that one of the problems US foreign policy has today is that we are thinking in a 'post-Cold War mentality' a little too much for our own good. Students of totalitarianism would have a better go at understanding ISIS - the appeal and how to fight it - than people who only know counter-terrorism.

'Non-Violent' Extremism and the Inevitability of Totalitarian Violence

Early in his post, mugwump offers the following distinction:
[A]n Islamist believes in the political application of Islam. A violent Islamist believes in the violent application of Islam. This is the dividing line between non-violent and violent extremism. Both are problems that should be tackled but the Quilliam view treats them as part of the same problem. Both are ideologies - which is why the idea that this isn’t an “ideological” problem is wrong, what matters is which ideology we’re talking about.
This strikes me as a very poor piece of analysis indeed.

First of all, Islamists all believe in both the political and the violent application of Islam given that, once established, an Islamist theocracy will reserve for itself a monopoly on violence with which to enforce Islamic law. Islamists diverge, not over the application of Islam, but over how to go about establishing the totalitarian society in which Islam is to be applied.

Secondly, an ideological commitment to jihad and the veneration of martyrdom are central to all Islamist doctrine. What separates 'jihadists' from those Islamist groups euphemistically termed 'non-violent' is a separate distinction between 'offensive' and 'defensive' jihad, and an understanding of the conditions under which each is permissible.

'Defensive jihad' refers to the use of violence (including terrorism) to overthrow illegitimate 'apostate' regimes on occupied Muslim land. This includes every country which has - at one time or another - fallen under Islamic rule, including the Balkans, Spain, and Southern Italy. 'Offensive jihad' refers to an expansionist holy war of conquest waged on the wider world of unbelief. 'Non-violent' Islamists and 'jihadists' agree that both of these are religious obligations, but the former hold that 'offensive' jihad may only be waged once the Caliphate has been successfully established. In the meantime, if 'non-violent' groups appear to renounce a commitment to 'defensive' jihad in certain theatres of operation, it is not a matter of ideology, but a tactical consideration, contingent upon what is conducive to the attainment of their strategic goals.

In most of the countries in which it operates, the Muslim Brotherhood professes to have foresworn terror for democratic activism and politics. The group's Palestinian chapter, however, is an avowedly jihadist organisation, and its commitment to the violent destruction of Israel is "an individual duty" repeatedly mandated in its foundational charter. As an organisation, it retains its foundational slogan which avers: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our path. Martyrdom in the way of Allah is our dearest aspiration." As recently as 2012, the Brotherhood's Egyptian President-to-be Mohammad Morsi could be heard defiantly bellowing these words into a rapturous Cairo rally.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, another Islamist group habitually referred to as 'non-violent', currently has activists in over 40 countries working to create the conditions for a seizure of power by violent coup within the Islamic world, and for the overthrow of non-Muslim nations once the Caliphate's subsequent war of conquest finally gets under way. At an HT rally in London in 2006, Asim Qureshi - research director at CAGE, another putatively non-violent Islamist organisation - said: "it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in [Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, and Afghanistan]" and, in 1988, HT's magazine al-Fajr issued an official edict sanctioning the hijacking of Israeli airliners and the murder of Jewish hostages. (I know of no Islamist organisation - Sunni or Shi'ite - which does not sanction and defend 'martyrdom operations' in Israel.)

In one of a series of 'Letters to the Youth', Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, justified the organisation's imperial ambitions with explicit reference to its fascist antecedents (this extract, previously unavailable in English, has just been translated from the original Arabic by Valentina Colombo, a senior fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy):
Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Hijaz, Yemen, Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, Marrakech, and every inch of earth upon which there is a Muslim who says "there is no God but Allah", all this is our great nation that we shall liberate, save, free and whose parts we shall bring together one after the other. If the German Reich imposed itself as a protector of all people who had German blood in their veins, then [the] Islamic faith compels every strong Muslim to consider himself a protector of all who have been impregnated by the teachings of Qur'an [. . .] Andalusia, Sicily, the Balkans, Southern Italy, and the islands of the Mediterranean were all Islamic colonies and must return to Islam. The Mediterranean and the Red Sea have to become again two Islamic seas as it used to be. If Mr. Mussolini considered as his right to recreate the Roman Empire, whose so-called ancient empire was built on nothing but avarice and pleasure, then it is our right to restore the glory of the Islamic Empire which was founded on justice, fairness, and spread light and guidance among the people.
Even if an Islamist revolution were somehow to be achieved without a shot being fired or a neck being severed, consolidating and expanding power and control will unavoidably demand the purging - with extreme prejudice - of the ideologically impure, and the forcible imposition of ideology upon those recalcitrant free-thinkers unwilling and unable to submit to its conspiracist message.

In his short 1951 book about mass movements, The True Believer, the American writer Eric Hoffer made the following observation about the limits of propaganda and the inevitability of totalitarian violence:
Were propaganda by itself one-tenth as potent as it is made out to be, the totalitarian regimes of Russia, Germany, Italy, and Spain would have been mild affairs. They would have been blatant and brazen but without the ghastly brutality of secret police, concentration camps and mass extermination.
The truth seems to be that propaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something entirely new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe . . .
Propaganda by itself succeeds mainly with the frustrated. Their throbbing fears, hopes and passions crowd at the portals of their senses and get between them and the outside world . . . Indeed, it is easier for the frustrated to detect their own imaginings and hear the echo of their own musings in impassioned double-talk and sonorous refrains than in precise words joined together by faultless logic. . . [But] to maintain itself, a mass movement has to order things so that when the people no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force. 
Words are an essential instrument in preparing the ground for a mass movement. But once the movement is realised, words, though still useful, cease to play a decisive role. So acknowledged a master of propaganda as Dr. Goebbels admits in an unguarded moment that "a sharp sword must always stand behind propaganda if it is to be truly effective".
In 2000 Abdul Qadeem Zallum, Hizb ut-Tahrir's global leader between 1977 and 2003, published How the Khilafah was Destroyed in which he described what would be required once the Caliphate had been successfully established: "To spread Islam and to carry its message even if the disbeliever did not attack us.” The killing of civilians in pursuit of this aim would be permissible, he explained, and the massacre of 'apostates' - "even if they number millions" - would be compulsory.

To describe this ideology as 'non-violent' is to empty the term of meaning. No strain of Islamist doctrine is untainted by the cult of suicide and death because, whether or not an individual Islamist decides to engage in violent activity, violence is inextricably bound up in the logic of the ideology to which all Islamists adhere, just as it is inextricably bound up in the logic of all totalitarian ideologies. Quilliam's 2008 launch publication put it like this:
There remains a core of Wahhabite-Islamist activists and groups who continue to advocate separatist, confrontational ideas that, followed to their logical conclusion, lead to violence.
On twitter, mugwump pulled these 25 words from a 4000 word document and proffered them as conclusive proof of Quilliam's supposed commitment to the 'conveyor belt' idea. But, in so doing, he simply confirmed that he is at cross-purposes with those he attacks.

Belief in a 'conveyor belt' transporting radicals from non-violent Islamism into a violent variant presupposes that these categories can be neatly separated into two discrete and mutually exclusive groups in the first place. But this is mugwump's presupposition, not Quilliam's. If, on the other hand, violence is hardwired into Islamist ideology, then the problem becomes the ideology itself, as Quilliam contend. This requires a substantially more subtle and sophisticated reading of the relationship between ideology and violence than mugwump's myopic focus on notions of linear causality will allow.

As Quilliam's website makes clear, the "complex human behaviour patterns" which move an individual to decide that he or she will kill and die in the name of 'resistance' or to further their revolutionary goals are opaque, and likely to remain so: a murky mix of circumstance, strategy/expedience, and individual psychology.

But that some will be so moved should be neither controversial nor surprising, any more than the self-evident fact that Maoist ideology formerly inspired a plethora of revolutionary Marxist groups to radical action in pursuit of their aims. Is it precisely what revolutionary propaganda is purpose-built to achieve among those predisposed to accept it: the steady background drone of humiliation and despair, and the patient stoking of disaffection, hatred, rage, and paranoid despair - the mood music in Quilliam's eerie metaphor.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Lonely Nobility of Brendan O'Neill

FGM & The Case Against The Case Against Intervention.


In an angry article for the Spectator, Brendan O’Neill inveighs against provisions in the Serious Crime Act (2015), which authorise the confiscation of passports, and mandatory vaginal examinations of young girls thought to be at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

O’Neill’s writing is often described as a merely contrarian. But, while his irritation with consensus and received wisdom is dependably palpable, his objections are more-often-than-not libertarian in impulse. And since libertarianism is primarily concerned with the defence of personal autonomy, he tends to be reflexively hostile to any intervention by the state in the lives of its citizens.

But the state does not present the only threat to liberty. Young girls undergoing FGM at the hands of their own families are forcibly restrained and may be subjected to a combination of one or more of the following: clitoridectomy, labial excision, infibulation, and – in the most extreme variant of the practice – cauterisation of the vagina’s interior. The harrowing procedure is usually suffered without anaesthetic.

20,000 British girls are estimated to be at risk of FGM of one kind or another every year. This is also, I submit, an intolerable assault on personal autonomy, and one which state-sponsored FGM prevention is specifically intended to eradicate.

The monitoring of young girls most vulnerable to this kind of abuse, the restriction of their freedom to travel, invasive medical exams and so forth, indeed constitute state infringement of personal liberty. But a thoughtful and intellectually honest libertarian analysis must acknowledge the corresponding costs of inaction. If it does not, it risks sacrificing the defence of personal autonomy to a perverse opposition to state intervention, irrespective of intention and consequence.

O’Neill expresses his alarm that excessively broad guidelines alerting school and law enforcement authorities to indications of abuse may well result in false positives. This is a legitimate problem, but it is one without an obvious solution.

In the UK, FGM is a covert cultural practice conducted within closed communities behind closed doors. Until comparatively recently, the West preferred to turn a blind eye. However, awareness-raising campaigns (often led by victims of FGM) and gathering public anxiety about cultural relativism have resulted in widespread revulsion and official condemnation, which only encourages greater secrecy among those convinced of FGM’s necessity.

How many false positives is O’Neill prepared to tolerate to prevent the mutilation of a single child’s genitals? Ten? Three? Zero? He does not say. Instead, he condemns state prevention efforts that profile young British girls of African heritage while neglecting to acknowledge the perfectly obvious reason for this. “Guess whose vaginas would be interrogated?” O’Neill wonders scornfully of proposals to subject young girls at risk to gynaecological examinations. “Not little Chloe’s – just little Abebi’s.” To which one can simply return the question: guess whose vagina will be mutilated in the absence of action?

O’Neill is at pains to insist that he is no cultural relativist. “I’m happy to say FGM is a backward, barbaric act,” he announces. “Those who say it’s just another cultural practice, and we should respect it, are moral cowards, incapable of making judgements.” Well, good. But his implacable opposition to state intervention on ostensibly libertarian grounds desires the same state paralysis, nonetheless.

Like a self-flattering pacifist who prefaces every anti-intervention argument with a mumbled acknowledgement of the cruelty of the totalitarian regime at issue, O’Neill’s condemnation of FGM feels suspiciously pro-forma. He offers nary a constructive proposal to counter those he denounces, and which might better serve the interests of the young girls in whose defence he professes to write.

Instead he closes on a solipsistic note, with a defiant declaration of conscientious objection to an illusory state-enforced racism. At which point, his article’s true subject swims into focus, and it is neither FGM nor its victims. It is the lonely nobility of Brendan O’Neill.

This article was first published by Left Foot Forward on July 21.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

On Motes and Beams

"Islamic State Is An Enemy Of Freedom But...."


Last week, the Guardian reported on an intriguing new counter-extremism initiative. Organised in partnership with a Muslim charity called Upstanding Neighbourhoods, it has been launched in response to alarming instances of young Muslims absconding to live in the Islamic State. Schools such as Saltley Academy in Birmingham - which only last year was embroiled in the Islamist 'Trojan Horse scandal - have been inviting young Yazidi refugees from Iraq to address pupils with unsparing accounts of what life in the Islamic State is actually like.

The Guardian's report, however, prompted an indignant response from Ella Whelan over at Sp!ked Online. Whelan offered two objections, the first of which is strategic, the second of which is philosophical.

On the subject of strategy, she had this to say:
[I]n the absence of being able to say what British society stands for, what its values are, and why, therefore, it is superior to IS, the state instead uses a group like Upstanding Neighbourhoods to scare pupils into staying in Britain. 
The language is tendentious and shrill, but this sentence carries the seed of a legitimate criticism: that any approach to counter-extremism, which focuses on the brutality of the Islamic State at the expense of a thoroughgoing advocacy of the benefits of life in the West, is of limited use. In this much, I concur. But why should one preclude the other? Whelan elaborates:
[I]t is also odd that some think this is educational. Trying to scare children into line with tales of the bogeyman works with five-year-olds. But when it comes to older children, or young adults, and the problem of terrorist organisations, society and schools should be engaging all pupils in a real conversation about freedom, not selecting Muslim students and scaring them rigid with gory details and nightmarish scenes.
In other words, Whelan objects to the initiative per se. She seems to believe that these young Yazidi women are merely instruments of propaganda in the hands of a cynical state, used to terrify credulous children into conformity. The "bogeyman", bear in mind, is a fiction.

But Iraqi refugees are not being asked to lie to children. On the contrary, they are being asked to testify to the punishing reality of life in the Islamic State, a reality totally at odds with the utopian propaganda used to seduce young recruits, and a reality from which Whelan - perversely - seems to want children protected, even as she protests their infantilisation.

When I was at school in the late 1980s, Britain was coming to terms with the threat posed to public health by the spread of AIDS, at a time when treatment was not nearly as sophisticated as it is today. I recall a class in which we were taught about the need to practice safe sex, and informed about how the disease was (and was not) transmitted and so on. But we were also shown a particularly harrowing video in which afflicted men and women spoke about living with the disease. The documentary's closing titles informed us that one of the interviewees did not survive the film's completion.

Education involves the provision of information to allow for informed choice, a necessary part of which is a frank discussion of risk and consequence. Those disinclined to believe the claims of politicians (whom Whelan casually depicts as incompetent and mendacious) or the media (which she accuses of over-hyping the terrorist threat) may therefore benefit from the hair-raising testimony of those who have actually experienced life in Raqqa firsthand, and whose warnings are not so easily dismissed. That is, of course, unless they are persuaded by articles like Whelan's that such voices are merely circulating falsehoods on behalf of sinister state power.

And what of the philosophical objection - the "real conversation about freedom" Whelan demands? On this score, she is determined to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

When the state of Oklahoma badly botched the execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett in April 2014, my twitter feed was suddenly awash with histrionic claims that the United States had now conclusively forfeited its right to criticise, say, the Islamic Republic of Iran for its use of the death penalty. Self-examination and sober reflection metastasised into a deranged moral equivalence which held that a democracy allowing for the use of lethal injection in a narrow set of circumstances is morally no better than a theocracy mandating the public stoning of adulterers and the hanging of gays from cranes.

By the same token,  Ella Whelan is not convinced that Britain is qualified to sit in moral judgement on the genocidal Islamic State. She concludes her article with the following:
The British government is keen to posit IS as an enemy of freedom, and rightly so. But Britain is compromised, too. It is a society in which the freedoms of its citizens are increasingly restricted by assorted speech laws; in which the therapeutic state all too readily seeks to nudge and nanny its citizens through their daily lives. The West can criticise the elimination of freedom abroad, and endlessly pretend that our own liberty is intact, but until we protect and celebrate freedom at home, the argument against IS will never be that convincing.
Undergirding this paragraph's various problems is a peculiarly absolutist view of freedom. That is to say, either you have it or you don't. And, as Whelan would have it, until such time as the West (childishly denigrated in her preceding paragraph as "supposedly civilised") has succeeded in constructing a perfectly free society, it has no moral authority on the subject of individual liberty. So an article which began by demanding that we defend Western values instead of terrifying children, concludes by claiming that any such defence is invalidated by the West's less-than-perfect adherence to what it preaches. This is, I'm afraid, cynicism without even the benefit of coherence.

Whelan appears to believe that she is unmasking a fraud. But the arrogant pretence of Western perfection is characteristically asserted, not by the West's defenders, but by its enemies who then proffer every flaw as a self-discrediting hypocrisy. It is news to no-one that Western democracies are riddled with inconsistencies, absurdities, and contradictions. Some result from explicitly pernicious ideas, others from the unintended consequences of well-meaning ones.

But defending the West and harshly judging theocracies does not require a stipulation that Western nations are themselves perfect, still less that their governments and/or populations are so. It requires an understanding that liberal democracy provides a framework within which all people can best win and defend their own emancipation. Democratically-accountable governance. Wide parameters of freedom of speech and inquiry. The separation of revelation from reason. An independent judiciary. An acknowledgement of the universal rights of individuals. Developments midwifed by Enlightenment thought, and essential to the subsequent pursuit of incremental Western progress.

The perfectly liberal and free society Ella Whelan apparently demands before she will seriously entertain Western criticisms of Islamic State will never materialise, and for the same reason that utopians favour totalitarianism as a means of achieving their ends: that liberal democracy renounces the pursuit of the perfect for the pursuit of the good. And, in so doing, it is able to offer something more valuable than a utopian mirage: a stuttering process of self-correction which has eventually led the West, stumbling through trial and error, to reverse the historic errors of slavery, empire, and discrimination and to enshrine rights and freedoms in law still denied to much of the world's population by despotism.

Western self-criticism - of which Whelan's article is a particularly crude example - has, of course, been instrumental in achieving such gains. But there is a tendency amongst those who take them for granted to surrender to a self-lacerating masochism as a means of advertising their own moral virtue. The democracies of secularised Christendom, with their internalised narratives of sin and redemption, are more vulnerable to this tendency than honour/shame cultures. It was Christ, after all, who is said to have cried:
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
Human fallibility being what it is, no eye will ever be completely free of blemish. And the world being what it is, the complete suspension of all moral judgement is neither possible, nor desirable. And so, instead, when evaluating imperfection, it is important - in the name of perspective, moral clarity, and sanity - to make unapologetic distinctions between motes and beams, and to remember which is which.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Reactionary Radicals

Owen Jones and the Rainbow Qur'an


In a 2012 article for the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland had defended his friend Mehdi Hasan by convicting Hasan’s critics of a strange form of racism:
[Subtle examples] can be confusing, because they often dress up in progressive, Guardian-friendly garb – slamming Islam as oppressive of gay and women's rights, for example – but the thick layer of bigotry is visible all the same. Call it progressives' prejudice.
An example of the pitfalls into which this kind of thinking can lead the Left was recently provided by a fractious twitter exchange on the subject of gay rights and Islam involving Freedland’s Guardian colleague Owen Jones [storified here].

The US Supreme Court ruling legalising gay marriage had been handed down a few days earlier and the summer’s Pride festivities had just begun. Profile avatars superimposed with solidarity rainbows swept social media in celebration of both; a touching display of the breadth and depth of support the once-lonely campaign for marriage equality has come to enjoy.

A mischievous variation on this theme was an image of the Qur'an, tweeted by the ex-Muslim writer and activist Saif Rahman, which a twitter user calling himself ‘Colt’ then gave a speculative punt in the direction of Owen Jones:


When Rahman asked why this had not been dignified with a response, Jones answered: "Because I think this is self evidently trying to provoke [rather] than win people over to LGBT rights? Are you LGBT (genuine question)?"

Owen Jones is a notoriously thin-skinned and bad-tempered tweeter, so the petulant tone was hardly a surprise. But I would imagine Jones is also understandably anxious to avoid accusations of bigotry from people like Jonathan Freedland.

The difficulty here is that Islamic homophobia is not a mere calumny or figment of ‘progressive prejudice’. Muslims are not simply the hapless victims of Western prejudice, as Jones and Freedland apparently prefer to believe; they are individuals perfectly capable of holding bigoted views of their own, which it is surely every progressive’s responsibility to oppose.

A 2006 Populus poll conducted for Policy Exchange found that 61% of UK Muslims thought "homosexuality is wrong and should be illegal", a figure consistent across genders and social class. This figure is admittedly nearly 10 years old, but the Populus also reported that younger generations were less tolerant on this issue than their elders, which does nothing to inspire optimism that things have been moving in the right direction.

Nevertheless, their survey did provide a reminder that UK Muslims’ views on homosexuality – whilst profoundly dispiriting – are not uniform. A majority appear to be deplorable and reactionary, but a minority – evidenced by projects like the Inclusive Mosque Initiative – are enlightened and progressive. The aim of gay rights activism, surely, is to stigmatise the former and empower the latter. And on this point, Colt's tweet to Jones was specific.

If Rahman's original image of the Qur'an was intended to mock the incompatibility of modernity and the Qur’an's 7th Century ideas, Colt's additional reference to LGBT Muslims and solidarity invites another interpretation: that LGBT Muslims living in communities and families hostile to the open expression of their sexuality deserve support in their struggle for acceptance under a modernised, gay-friendly Islam.

But, sensing a trap, Jones reflexively counterattacked with a spurious distinction between 'provocation' (bad) and advancing LGBT rights (noble), before accusing Colt and Rahman of the former.

To see a self-professed radical advance an argument of such painful conservatism makes me cringe for Jones. Had his activist forebears afforded reactionary attitudes the respect he demands from contemporary critics of Islam, he would not enjoy the freedoms he takes for granted today.

The overthrow of religious authority in the West – a necessary precondition of sexual liberty – was not achieved simply by the polite suggestion of a rationalist alternative. It also required the unrelenting mockery of its Enlightenment enemies who took great pleasure in making its ideas look ridiculous.

Nor was the later movement for gay liberation and acceptance bashful about provoking its opponents, for whom its mere existence was an affront. Provocation and offence were understood by activists to be engines of change, not its regrettable by-products.

In 1971, for instance, radical Gay Liberation Front activists in drag invaded a meeting of Mary Whitehouse's Christian pressure group, the Nationwide Festival of Light, held at Westminster's Methodist Central Hall, and began kissing one another and unfurling sloganeering banners before shutting off the power. The queer art, literature, music, theatre, and cinema that proliferated with the rise of gay activism likewise revelled in its capacity to generate traditionalist outrage.

Had he been alive, would Owen Jones have pursed his lips in disapproval and defended the sensibilities of offended conservative Christians?

But times have changed, and in the process radical opposition to reactionary inter-cultural ideas seems to have mutated into a perverse solidarity. Multiculturalism's emphasis on the need to show deference to cultural and religious difference, and the concomitant empowerment of all kinds of identity politics, has meant that a declaration of offence taken is no longer presumed to be the start of a discussion but its final word.

"Are you LGBT?" Jones had demanded of Rahman in his first tweet. An irrelevance to the matter at hand, but a question of pressing importance to Jones who - as an openly gay man - reserves for himself the right to decide who may and may not advocate for gay acceptance and under what circumstances.

"If you want to be a straight ally, welcome," Jones instructed Rahman. "But I'm done with people only mentioning LGBT rights when Islam is involved." When an Indian ex-Muslim calling himself ‘Desi Liberal’ pointed out that it was Jones who was proving himself to be a feckless ally by downplaying Islamic homophobia so as to comport with politically correct niceties, Jones retorted: "I'm not going to be lectured on LGBT rights by a straight man. Incredible."

It is undercover of this politics of identity and broad-minded respect for other cultures that, as a non-Muslim, Jones excuses himself from criticising even the most regressive elements of another minority group. In his own mind, it is not his business to do so. 

So, instead, he declares his unconditional and indiscriminate solidarity with all Muslims, irrespective of how hostile a given individual's views and values may be to his own. And, consequently, he finds himself objectively defending the Islamic religious right from the pressures of progress at the expense of those they victimise.

The message for LGBT Muslims may be the unintended consequence of a well-meaning impulse, but it is clear, just the same: gay liberation for me, but not for thee.

Friday, 6 March 2015

The Ballad of Jihadi John

Terror, Apologists, and the Vindication of Gita Sahgal

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL: Mohammed Emwazi (Left) and Asim Qureshi of CAGE (Right)
You might be surprised to know, but the Mohammed that I knew was extremely kind. Extremely gentle. Extremely soft-spoken. [He] was the most humble young person that I knew. We're gonna release all the emails . . . and what you'll see when you read those emails is somebody who, despite going through great difficulties in his personal life, he belittled that difficulty.
These were the now-notorious words Asim Qureshi, research director for the Islamist pressure group CAGE, used to describe Mohammed Emwazi, a British Islamic State fighter wanted for his part in the beheading of at least 5 hostages. They were offered at a catastrophic press conference called by CAGE in the wake of the Washington Post's unmasking of Emwazi as the IS executioner hitherto known as 'Jihadi John'. CAGE, the Post revealed, had been in contact with Emwazi before he left for Syria.

Listening to Qureshi's lachrymose little eulogy, I was reminded of a Guardian profile of Mohammad Sidique Khan, published just one week after the 7/7 terror atrocity, which had claimed the lives of 52 people and maimed a further 700. It was headlined Mentor to the Young and Vulnerable, and it began like this:
Born in Leeds, suicide bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan spent his working life with young, vulnerable children. The 30-year-old, father to a 14-month-old daughter, Maryam, was a mentor in primary schools for children with learning difficulties. He is known to have taught hundreds of children [. . .] One child who was taught by him at Hillside said: "He seemed a really kind man, he taught the really bad kids and everyone seemed to like him. He was there about three years and then he went on holiday and never came back. We just knew him as Mr Khan."
The narrative being advanced in both instances is of a harmless individual, naturally inclined to selflessness and compassion for the disadvantaged, transformed into a pitiless foot-soldier for the Islamist slaughterhouse by the actions and policies of the West.

The Guardian's profile of Khan had appeared under the joint byline of its then-crime correspondent Sandra Laville and a 27 year old trainee named Dilpazia Aslam. The day before, the Guardian had published an opinion piece by Aslam entitled We Rock The Boat: Today's Muslims Aren't Prepared to Ignore Injustice. "I think", Aslam had written...
...what happened in London [on 7/7] was a sad day and not the way to express your political anger. Then there's the "but". If, as police announced yesterday, four men (at least three from Yorkshire) blew themselves up in the name of Islam, then please let us do ourselves a favour and not act shocked.
"Shocked," he went on, "would be to suggest that the bombings happened through no responsibility of our own." This responsibility, he explained, lay with British support for the US-led war in Iraq in general, and the counter-insurgency operation in Fallujah in particular. Aslam noted that the Iraq war had resulted in "22,787 civilian Iraqi casualties to date", but neglected to mention that the vast majority of these were victims of the same jihadist terrorism that had just been visited upon his fellow citizens in London. Apparently, the injustice of Muslims - both Sunni and Shia - being blown to pieces in the marketplaces and mosques of Iraq by their co-religionists was not sufficient to stir his sense of moral outrage.

Nor did the language Aslam used to describe the crime suggest that he was exactly overburdened with disgust at the use of suicide terror as an instrument of protest. On the contrary, his article sought to valourise a new generation of Muslim activists who refused to fall into line behind the British establishment. "The don't-rock-the-boat attitude of elders," he concluded ominously, "doesn't mean the agitation wanes; it means it builds till it can be contained no more."

Last week, Mohammad Emwazi's behaviour was likewise explained as a consequence of Western actions, only this time his treatment at the hands of British intelligence was to blame. As CAGE's research director would have it, this mild-mannered and thoughtful bearer of "posh baklava" had been subject to a campaign of surveillance and harassment which had left him with no option but to behead aid workers and journalists.

Invited to condemn Emwazi's actions on Channel 4 news, Qureshi found himself conspicuously reluctant to do so. He preferred to emphasise the extravagant efforts CAGE had made to secure the release of Alan Henning, and accused Jon Snow of anti-Muslim prejudice for having the temerity to even ask him such a question. Undeterred, Snow pressed Qureshi for an answer and was finally rewarded with this:
Absolutely. If it's somebody, whether it's Tony Blair, George Bush, Dick Cheney - when somebody's involved in war crimes, they should be condemned for those war crimes and they should be held accountable for those war crimes.
"I am asking," Snow persisted impatiently, "about Mohammed Emwazi. Do you condemn what he's doing?" Qureshi:
Of course I condemn...erm...the...the...act of killing people or assassinating them or executing them. That is not really the way in which I think they should be going about doing things . . . But coming back to what CAGE thinks is important: when you have a cycle of violence; when you see things like Guantanamo Bay taking place; when we see the images of torture coming out of Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo and everywhere else, then what that does - that sends a message to other parts of the world that you can treat human beings like animals, and what we are seeing in Iraq right now is a manifestation of what we have seen elsewhere. 
The similarities between the sentimental narrative of self-pity offered on behalf of Mohammed Sidique Khan by Dilpazia Aslam and that offered on behalf of Mohammed Emwazi by Asim Qureshi are striking, right down to the last trope. Bombing tubes and buses is "not the way to express political anger" and beheading bound and helpless hostages in front of a video camera is "not really the way to go about doing things." This is not a coincidence.

Aslam, it turned out, was then a member of the Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, an openly imperialist, totalitarian, racist, and homophobic political organisation, with extremely regressive views regarding women's rights and emancipation. And while Hizb ut-Tahrir may not openly endorse violent jihad to establish the theocratic caliphate for which it yearns, it is extremely reluctant to criticise those who do, and happy to voice its support for the doctrine of 'defensive jihad'.

While Asim Qureshi denies any current affiliation with Hizb ut-Tahrir, his views are indistinguishable from theirs. At a Hizb rally outside the US embassy in London in the summer of 2006, he boldly declared:
When we see the example of our brothers and sisters fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel, we know what the solution is and where the victory lies. We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West. [video link here]
Notice the use of the word "incumbent" here. Holy war under such circumstances is not held to be a preference or a negotiable tactic, but a religious obligation.

When Dilpazia Aslam's Hizb ut-Tahrir connections were exposed in the week after his 7/7 articles appeared, the Guardian acknowledged that "several colleagues and some senior editors" were already aware of Aslam's involvement with the group, and conceded that his political affiliations ought to have been clearly disclosed. This oversight had apparently been an unfortunate error, not a deliberate attempt to mislead.

Be that as it may, a more pressing question remained. What was the Guardian doing with an Islamist propagandist on its payroll at all? It is inconceivable that it would employ a trainee it knew to be a committed BNP activist to speak on behalf of the white working class, still less to provide informed commentary in the wake of a white nationalist terror outrage.

But the Guardian was indignant and, in an article credited to an unidentified 'staff reporter', it accused "rightwing bloggers from the US" of engaging in a politically-motivated and "obsessively personalised" witch-hunt:
[This] episode was a striking illustration of the way that blogs and bloggers can heat up the temperature and seek to settle scores - as well as raise legitimate concerns about journalism and transparency - when something awful happens in the streets of London.
Nevertheless, in the face of gathering press criticism, the paper asked Aslam if he would resign his membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir. When he refused, they asked him to resign. When he refused to do that either, the paper "regretfully concluded that it had no option but to terminate Mr Aslam's contract with the company."

Aslam may have been left without a job, but he could reasonably say that his personal integrity was intact. The Guardian, on the other hand, had willingly compromised its values to accommodate a member of a fascist organisation. Aslam's Islamist apologetics were, after all, indistinguishable from much of the opinion on jihadist terror offered by its own columnists. He shared their hatred of Bush, Blair, Israel, and the West and this, apparently, was enough to set his eccentric views about democracy, the place of women, and the impermissibility of homosexuality to one side.

CAGE - formerly known as Cageprisoners - meanwhile, has sought to position itself as a legitimate member of the human rights establishment. On its website the organisation describes itself as:
An independent advocacy organisation working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror. The organisation highlights and campaigns against state policies, striving for a world free from oppression and injustice.
What it actually does is to agitate for the unconditional release of any and all Islamists held on terrorism charges, irrespective of whether they languish in extra-judicial detention or they have been lawfully convicted by a properly constituted court under due process.

On 20 February 2010, for instance, Cageprisoners carried a post on its website [cached here] announcing a demo organised by 'The Women of Hizb ut-Tahrir' to protest the imprisonment of Aafia Siddiqui (also known as 'Lady al-Qaeda'). Siddiqui had been tried before a New York jury and, on 3 February 2010, duly convicted on all seven counts, including two of attempted murder. For this, she naturally blamed Israel.

In 2011, the counter-extremism blog Harry's Place reported that Asim Qureshi had given a lecture at Queen Mary University in East London at which he had denigrated secular Palestinians, praised Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, endorsed the use of suicide terrorism (euphemised as "martyrdom operations") against Israeli civilians, and advised students of the legal and religious legitimacy of volunteering for jihad in Palestine, Chechnya, and Iraq. CAGE also maintained links with notorious extremists like Abu Qatada and al Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki (at least until the latter found himself on the receiving end of an American drone.)

But none of this prevented CAGE from cultivating relationships with ostensibly respectable NGOs, journalists, activists, MPs, and celebrities who were all mesmerised by the organisation's groovy rhetoric about oppression and injustice and its opposition to rendition, extra-judicial detention, control orders, and Guantanamo Bay. Human rights organisations like Liberty, Amnesty International, and Reprieve have all forged links of various kinds with the group, co-sponsoring campaigns and co-signing letters; Peter Oborne, Clive Stafford-Smith, the Labour MP Sadiq Khan, and Vanessa Redgrave (of course) have spoken at the group's conferences and shared platforms with their activists; and CAGE has been pleased to accept six-figure donations from the Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. All of this has damaged the reputation of the organisations and individuals concerned in the eyes of those who have been paying attention, whilst - disgracefully - helping to launder the reputation of CAGE in the wider public perception.

In 2010, the head of Amnesty International's gender unit Gita Sahgal attempted to warn her organisation of the dangers posed by its links with former Guantanamo detainee and Cageprisoners director Moazzam Begg. She maintained that while it was right that Amnesty should campaign for the release or trial of Begg and others likewise held in extra-judicial detention, they should not be decorating such people with their own moral legitimacy, nor forging links with Islamist organisations of any kind, irrespective of overlapping concerns. In an internal email, Sahgal protested:
I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International's integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights. To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgement. 
When her objections were brushed aside, Sahgal went public in a Sunday Times interview, an act of principle and moral courage for which she was rewarded with a P45 and a tsunami of abuse, perhaps the most egregious example of which came from blogger-turned-Guardian columnist Sunny Hundal:
Listen Gita, we get it: you’re angry. No one rallied to your support other than a bunch of discredited neocons who are best known for their mealy-mouthed apologies for torture.
Oh and Salman Rushdie, the man offering moral guidance after signing a letter supporting child-rapist Roman Polanski. I suppose not many sane people would be heartened with that kind of support. But Gita bravely kept giving more interviews to Christopher Hitchens so they could together take down Amnesty. Brave stuff.
Five years on, Sahgal has every reason to feel vindicated. As CAGE's credibility implodes in the wake of Qureshi's ill-advised paean to Mohammed Emwazi, those previously proud to stand beside its activists are suddenly scrambling to find a way to distance themselves without admitting that they had ever been wrong.

In 2013, the Community Security Trust warned the JRCT that CAGE were an extremist-linked and anti-Semitic organisation, but their concerns, like Gita Sahgal's, were waved away. However, on 2 March, in the wake of the disastrous Emwazi press conference, the Charity Commission announced that it was launching an investigation into the Roddick Foundation and the JRCT, and on 6 March, the Commission announced that "both the Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust have ceased funding CAGE and will not be doing so in future."

CAGE have every reason to feel betrayed by this unseemly flight. Like Dilpazia Aslam, they have never been ashamed about who and what they are, and their narrative of victimhood and innocence has been remarkably consistent. Interviewed by Andrew Neil on the BBC's This Week programme, Qureshi was unembarrassed by questions about his associations with Hizb ut-Tahrir ("a non-violent organisation") and his support for jihad ("the right to self-defence"). It is not CAGE that has changed but the political environment.

In 2001, the belief that America was somehow to blame for the attacks of September 11 was fairly widespread on the political Left. A generous interpretation of this phenomenon might be that it was - at least in part - an attempt to rationalise an event that was otherwise incomprehensible, and that this appearance of an explanation was nourished by a pre-existing reservoir of hostility to American hegemony and power. Likewise, there was a certain amount of misplaced sympathy for the idea that the Madrid and London atrocities were an inevitable consequence of misguided wars that the Left despised. If anything, this retrospectively reinforced the idea that 9/11 was an understandable - if excessive - blowback caused by American foreign policy (although exactly which aspect of American foreign policy was seldom specified).

But as time has worn on, the appetite for this kind of sickly, reprehensible masochism has been diminishing. Bush and Blair are both long gone. The righteous protests against the Iraq war are a receding memory. Yet still the attacks continue. And with every new Islamist atrocity committed on Western soil, fewer people are prepared to accept that this is somehow the fault of the victims.

Gazing at the moving scenes of crowds pouring onto the streets in the wake of the Paris attacks, I wondered if we were finally witnessing a perception shift. Since the controversy over the Danish cartoons in 2005/6, a lot more people seem to have concluded that what is being demanded of open societies is unacceptable, and that the punishment being meted out to those who disobey has become intolerable.

At the Guardian, a chasm opened up between columnists above the line, who were perversely committed to the idea that fanatical sensibilities were to be respected, and commenters below the line who had wearied of this craven tune. After all, even if cartoonists agreed to desist from depicting Islam's purported prophet, what on earth were Jews supposed to do?

And in the background, across the Muslim world, Islamist violence has run totally out of control. When people open their browsers now or watch the news, they see scores of defenceless children being massacred in Pakistani schools. They see the wholesale slaughter of villages by Boko Haram and the summary execution of mall shoppers by al-Shabaab. And they see the pornographic cruelty of the Islamic State: beheadings, crucifixions, mass graves, immolation, slavery, ethnic cleansing. None of this is intelligible as a resistance to American or Zionist imperialism anymore. The sheer arbitrariness of the spiralling carnage - in which cruelty is an end, not a means - inspires only revulsion and horror.

CAGE do not seem to have realised that with all this harrowing mood music, Muhammad Emwazi was always going to be a tough sell as a sweet-natured naif, no matter how florid the language marshalled in his defence. Nor is he simply some nameless beard rotting in a cell for something or other he may or may not have done somewhere miles away in the midst of some hated war. Long before Asim Qureshi delivered his pitiful defence, Emwazi's reputation as a ruthlessly malevolent sadist who barks demands and then slaughters his victims like livestock was already firmly-established.

Apologetics for terrorism depend upon a reversal of cause and effect. But in seeking to persuade people that Emwazi became a fanatic following interest from the security services rather than vice-versa, CAGE wildly over-reached. Given the available evidence, many understandably concluded that the problem here wasn't a surfeit of MI5 interest but the exact opposite.

For too long, much of the liberal commentariat and the widely-respected NGO establishment have allowed a combination of credulity and ideology to blind them to the toxicity of Islamism and those who espouse it, even as the corpses have stacked up before their eyes. And while CAGE looks to be finished, liberal apologia for others like them will not disappear overnight. Just as the controversy over Dilpazia Aslam's employment changed nothing at the Guardian, I suspect that the errors which led Amnesty and others into the arms of CAGE will remain uncorrected once this row blows over.

Nonetheless, Gita Sahgal and her supporters can take satisfaction in Sahgal's vindication. The humiliation of CAGE, and the collateral damage inflicted on its enablers, have been worth the wait for their own sake.

My previous essay about CAGE, Moazzam Begg, and philo-Salafism can be found here.