Britain's Establishment Welcomed Moazzam Begg with Open Arms – Now What?
Today, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg stood in front of Westminster Magistrates Court after being charged with terrorism offences. Whatever the outcome on March 14th, it is clear that the left-wing British establishment have tied themselves to a highly contentious figure, and one that they should all perhaps have steered clear of.
As my former colleague Robin Simcox wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2012:
In Guantanamo, Mr. Begg signed a confession that admitted that he was a jihadist recruiter, that he attended three al Qaeda terrorist-training camps in Afghanistan, and that he was armed and prepared to fight for the Taliban and al Qaeda against the U.S. He has since said this was coerced, which four U.S. government inquiries have rejected.
Begg admits travelling to Bosnia, and losing his bottle, in an interview with The Nation:
Begg also makes no secret of his interest in armed struggle. "In Bosnia," he said, "I did fight for a while. But I saw people horribly damaged, and I thought, This is not for me."
And while his 'human rights organisation' CagePrisoners has rebranded, changed its name, and seemingly wiped a load of old content off its website, both the Student Rights organisation that I founded in 2009, and CagePrisoners' own archives reveal that numerous political figures were happy to line up next to the ex-Gitmo man.
Here you can see left-wing Conservative MP Jane Ellison delivering a letter to 10 Downing Street, side-by-side with Begg. They are joined by various public figures including Victoria Brittan and some Green Party representatives.
Student Rights once noted how CagePrisoners quickly rebranded an event about jihad, making it about 'Islamophobia' instead after I pointed out that Southampton University students were being targeted with an essay written by Begg. Extracts included statements such as:
“According to the consensus of the Islamic schools of thought (mathaahib), jihad (with wealth and in person, in the military sense) becomes an individual obligation, like prayer and fasting... If you do not march forth Allah will chastise you grievously and will replace you with another people... And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the Cause of Allah... In conclusion, jihad is an inseparable component of Islam which embodies the very highest principles of faith...”
Begg has previously, repeatedly written for the left-wing newspaper the Guardian, and was even one of the subjects of an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the British Parliament, signed by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn MP, Mike Hancock MP, former deputy speaker Nigel Evans MP, Chris Huhne, and Peter Bottomley MP. The EDM was started by Sir Bob Russell MP, who has previously been embroiled in stories about his denigration of the Holocaust.
Even the huge human rights outfit Amnesty International jumped on the Begg bandwagon, agreeing to host him and his group in 2010, leading to the resignation of one of its high-profile representatives, Gita Saghal.
Saghal described Begg in a leaked e-mail as "Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban".
And there's so much more, but from this alone we can see that the British establishment was not only interested in Begg, but many of them welcomed him with open arms.
Now he is remanded in custody until March 14th, it will become increasingly clear who is willing to stand by the controversial figure, and who suddenly shuts up like Diane Abbott has on Venezuela.
Whether it was guilt for our role in the War in Afghanistan, or simply a loyalty to an 'anti-establishment' figure, I don't know. What I do know is that this won't be the last controversy surrounding Moazzam Begg, whether he is found guilty or not.