CAGE's untenable narrative on radicalization

Eisa Ali
Eisa Ali is a correspondent at RT UK bureau in London. He is also a political analyst with a focus on Iraq, Lebanon & Syria. He studied Law & Marketing at university before becoming a documentary film maker, journalist and writer. His writing has appeared on Antiwar.com, Informed Comment & Digital Resistance and he has appeared on the BBC, Press TV, and Etejah English as an analyst and commentator.
Asim Qureshi.(Reuters / Toby Melville)
The Western public was graphically introduced to the brutality of the so-called Islamic State (IS) last summer when videos emerged of the beheadings of Westerners in Syria.

In each of the videos, the killer was a masked man with a strong London accent. He was given the nickname 'Jihadi John' by the media.

Late last month, he was named as Kuwaiti-born Brit, Mohammed Emwazi, a 26 year-old computing graduate from a well-to-do middle class family.

An article in the Washington Post cited Asim Qureshi from CAGE as one of the sources indicating Emwazi was indeed the IS executioner. CAGE is the most prominent group advocating for terrorism suspects in the UK. It started in response to the US-led ‘War on Terror’ and one of their most prominent leaders, Moazzem Begg, was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2005 after being caught in Afghanistan following the US invasion.

On the day of the revelations, they held a press conference to discuss the revelations. The message from CAGE and from Qureshi in particular, seemed to be that radicalization was solely down to foreign and domestic policy, and that alone created 'Jihadi John' and many like him. "When are we going to finally learn that when we treat people as if they're outsiders, they are going to feel like outsiders and they will look for belonging elsewhere?" asked Qureshi. His comments sparked a furious response and, predictably, were seized upon by Islamophobes to further their own agenda.

READ MORE: Jihadi John apologists? Boris Johnson tells CAGE to ‘target terrorists, not British spies’

UK policy certainly has aided the rise of extremist groups like IS but not in the way Qureshi would have you believe.

On the domestic policy front, the power of his argument was severely diminished by the attendance of the person sitting just next to him, Cerie Kaleem Bullivant. A convert to Islam, Cerie was harassed, interrogated and put under house arrest by the British state. His life was made hell and his mother became seriously unwell in that time. This writer previously interviewed him as part of a report into the government's controversial PREVENT counter-terror program. He's a nice, polite and engaging man. Unlike 'Jihadi John', however, he isn't running around Syria cutting people's heads off for the caliph.

This isn't to say PREVENT, The Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, Section 7 and other pieces of UK legislation aren't egregious violations of basic human rights. The number of innocent Muslims caught up in the consequences of these policies runs into the tens of thousands, if not more. If anything the argument forwarded by Qureshi endangers those who have been caught up in the UK state's cross-hairs, as it frames them as ticking time bombs. It is also ignore multiple other factors and steps between government harassment and a position as the Caliphate’s beheader-in-chief.

As for foreign policy, it certainly has contributed to the rise of IS and other extremist groups but not just in the way Qureshi perhaps meant. It seems Western and, in particular, UK policy isn't an issue for CAGE when it comes to Kosovo, Libya and Syria. Afghanistan in the 80s was also fine & dandy when the CIA was arming the ‘Mujahedeen’ to fight the Soviet occupation. Begg was violently involved in at least two of these conflicts. These Western-led or supported wars all aligned very neatly with the interests of the groups and individuals CAGE supports.

In Libya and Syria, the West and its allies worked hand in hand with extremist groups on the ground in order to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi and attempt the same against Syrian President Bashar Assad. The destruction of those countries has created the perfect conditions for terrorism to grow for decades to come. In stark contrast to the usual (and more credible) argument that Western invasions of Muslim countries like Iraq leads to radicalization, some have even argued that young Muslims are joining IS and al-Qaeda precisely because the West hadn't actually bombed the Syrian government.

Qureshi and the Post article talk about how Emwazi was detained as he went to Tanzania for a safari trip with friends. MI5 feared he might end up in Somalia fighting for Al Shabab and had Tanzania detain him for a night. As he returned to the UK, he was stopped and interviewed in Amsterdam. His personal life was disrupted and it is alleged the British state ruined his prospects of marriage on more than one occasion. Either way nothing can justify his crimes and those of other extremists which have overwhelmingly targeted other Muslims. Thousands of people have been subjected to the same treatment by British intelligence and haven’t responded by destroying countless lives as part of a supremacist group.

Regardless, the initial suspicions about Emwazi’s ties to Al Shabab may not have been so off the mark. UK court documents said that Emwazi was associated with a British group linked to the Al Shabab militant group and, according to the Post, captives held by ‘Jihadi John’ have said he had a fascination with the conflict in Somalia and made them watch Al Shabab propaganda videos.

In a quite nauseating moment during the press conference, Qureshi almost broke down in tears as he described what a wonderful man the Emwazi he knew was. Placing absolutely none of the blame on Emwazi himself, Qureshi ignored several other factors which have contributed to the rise of IS, Boko Haram and other extremist groups in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The foremost of these is the ideology which underpins these groups. They adhere to a form of Salafism which places the re-establishment of the Caliphate at its centre. IS claim to have realized this dream and are attracting thousands of young Salafist men from around the world.

READ MORE: Jihadi John: A profile of the world’s most wanted Islamist

The link between Western and Gulf governments has also helped create the perfect atmosphere for the rise of violent extremism. Despite receiving millions of dollars from within the Saudi and Gulf kingdoms, not to mention the numerous Gulf-funded websites and satellite channels which pump out extreme Salafist views, groups like IS retain the goal of eventually overthrowing the Kings and Sheikhs there in order to expand their Caliphate. The Monarchs’ policy of exporting this terror to Iraq, Syria and anywhere else but home will one day come back to bite them. Yet the invites to tea with the Queen and the British Prime Minister continue to flow, as do the arms deals. This needs to be addressed but won’t be.

Qureshi makes out as if the trend of young men from the West travelling abroad to fight for terrorist groups only arose after the 7/7 bombings led to the British state’s assault on civil liberties. The fact is that this trend precedes the current British security situation. In the early 90s, the intelligence agencies looked the other way as Salafi extremists travelled to fight ‘Jihad’ all over the world what was considered an informal ‘covenant of security’. In return, those men were not to launch attacks on UK soil. Much like the Gulf nations, they hoped to export the terrorism problem elsewhere.

The problem of terrorism is complex and many parties share the blame. Until this is acknowledged then CAGE’s narrative is simply untenable.

Eisa Ali, RT UK’s correspondent in London. (Twitter: @EisaAli_RT)

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.