Saturday 8 March 2014

Facts and Context Be Damned

Moazzam Begg & Philo-Salafism

Moazzam Begg - From Terror Suspect to Amnesty International Poster Boy and Back Again...
The arrest of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg has prompted a surly response from Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain over at the Intercept.

Begg was arrested - along with a woman and two other men - on the morning of 25 February on suspicion of attending jihadi training camps in Syria. Begg has since appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court and been formally charged with "providing instruction and training for terrorism and facilitating terrorism in Syria."

In a piece entitled "The Moazzam Begg Arrest: Part of the Effort to Criminalize Muslim Political Dissent" (published after Begg was arrested, but before he was charged), Greenwald and Hussain argue that this is part of a campaign on the part of Western governments and security services to harass, intimidate and silence Muslims engaged in what they describe as "aggressive political dissent".


To understand what this deliberately imprecise term actually means in relation to Begg, one would need to be aware of his views and activities to date, which the authors of the article nonetheless neglect to include.

The Intercept is a site which professes a dedication to disclosure, transparency and truth. In the spirit of which, then, a few redacted facts:

1. In 1993, Moazzam Begg flew to Pakistan where he crossed the border into Afghanistan. There he met Pakistani jihadis from the Islamist group Jamaat-i-Islami and was introduced to and, by his own admission, inspired by the notion of violent religious jihad. He describes this experience as "life-changing". Later that year, Begg travelled to Bosnia and was briefly a member of the Bosnian Army Foreign Volunteer Force. A subsequent attempt to travel to Chechnya in 1999 to take part in jihad there ended in failure.

2. Back in the UK in 1994, Begg was arrested and charged with Social Security Fraud. The charges were later dropped, but a search of his house by anti-terror police turned up a flak jacket, night-goggles and extremist Islamic literature. His friend and alleged co-conspirator, Shahid Akram Butt, did 18 months after pleading guilty to obtaining money by deception. Butt was later jailed in Yemen for his part in a bomb plot, along with Abu Hamza's son, Mustapha Kamil.

3. In 1998, Begg opened the Maktabah al Ansar bookshop in Birmingham, which soon became one of Europe's most notorious purveyors of Islamist and jihadi propaganda. It was raided twice by MI5, in 1999 and 2000, even before 9/11 had caused a spike in security service interest in bearded religious fanatics. An investigative report by Newsweek published in 2004 [and excerpted here] found that:
Anyone who believes the war on terror has shut down terrorist propaganda centers in US-friendly countries should visit the Maktabah al Ansar bookshop in Birmingham, England. Amid shelves of Qur’anic tomes and religious artifacts are bookshelves and CD racks piled with extreme Islamist propaganda: recordings of the last testaments of 9/11 hijackers, messages from Osama bin Laden and jihad pamphlets by Sheik Abdullah Azzam, the late Palestinian activist who was a bin Laden mentor and early apostle of suicide bombing.
4. Two months before 9/11, Begg moved his family from Birmingham to Kabul to live under Taliban rule:
I wanted to live in an Islamic state - one that was free from the corruption and despotism of the rest of the Muslim world . . . The Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past 25 years.
He remained an unapologetic Taliban supporter as recently as the publication of his memoir Enemy Combatant (2006), in which he reaffirmed his support for the pure Islamic society they hoped to build in Afghanistan and expressed his regret that this project was thwarted by the American invasion. This is, needless to say, an eccentric position for a soi-disant human rights activist to take.

(The Intercept article, by the way, refers to Begg as the author of "books", plural. He has to my knowledge only written this one. It's a small, petty exaggeration, but a telling one, nonetheless.)

5. The Beggs' relocation was at the suggestion of Moazzam's friend and associate Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a UK-based Palestinian and bagman for al-Qaeda. Rideh was arrested in 2001, accused of raising £100,000 for al-Qaeda and funnelling the money through two London-based bank accounts. Following a prison sentence Rideh was handed a control order in 2005 and forced to leave the UK in 2009. In 2010, he was finally despatched to the hereafter by an American drone whilst fighting with the insurgency in Afghanistan.

6. Following the terror attacks on New York and Washington, Begg and his family moved to Islamabad in Pakistan. Begg returned to Afghanistan intermittently, and recounts in his memoir how he was taken to see the front line by a group of Pakistani jihadis he had met. The fall of Kabul precipitated a collapse of Taliban positions, and Begg found himself joining the retreat of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters as they fled to Pakistan through the Tora Bora mountains. (Begg claims he only joined jihadi fighters on that route because he got lost.)

None of the above is disputed. I will return to the significance of these omissions later.


Moazzam Begg was arrested in Islamabad on 31 January 2002 and taken to Bagram Airbase for interrogation by the FBI. It is only now that Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain pick up his story. But they pass over what Begg was actually doing in Afghanistan and how his name first came to attention of American authorities there.

Begg claims that he travelled to Afghanistan, at Mahmoud Abu Rideh's suggestion, to help with a school-building project there. He likes to cite this as evidence of his humanitarianism. The details of this project, about which Begg is invariably evasive, belie his innocuous account.

The schools on which he and Rideh were working were exclusively for Arab speakers. And the enrolment of girls (which Begg and Rideh also liked to emphasise) was permitted at a time when the Taliban regime, for which both had professed much admiration, had closed all girls' schools. These facilities were in fact being purpose-built for the indoctrination of the children of foreign fighters stationed at nearby jihadi training camps. In a moment of unguarded candour, Abu Rideh admitted as much when he bragged that among the fathers of their pupils were "some of the world's most wanted men."

When Jalalabad fell on November 13 2001, Jack Kelly, a reporter with USA Today was allowed to inspect the al-Qaeda training camps nearby. He reported:
Plastic explosives, timing devices and sketches of the best places to hide a bomb on an airplane filled the files of Osama bin Laden's terrorist training camps near here. Gas masks, cyanide and recipes for biological agents lined the shelves of his chemical weapons laboratory. Kalashnikov rifles, silhouetted targets and lesson plans teaching children to shoot at their victims' faces lay among the toys and near the swing set at the elementary school bin Laden established. 
Elsewhere he describes:
The evidence shows that recruits at bin Laden's two main camps, at least those visited by USA TODAY, were trained in conventional, biological and even nuclear warfare, according to class manuals. They came from at least 21 countries, including Bosnia, Egypt, France, Great Britain, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other U.S. allies, enrolment records show. Nearly all the students were told to return to their countries after training and "await orders" to carry out attacks against the United States, class notes reveal.
At the Derunta camp, where Begg later confessed to acting as an "instructor", Kelly reports finding a wealth of terrorist training material detailing bomb-making techniques and identifying civilian targets in the West for attack; counterfeit passports, travel documents and...
. . . a photocopy of a money transfer requesting that a London branch of Pakistan's Habib Bank AG Zurich credit the account of an individual identified as Moazzam Begg in Karachi for an unspecified sum of money. U.S. and Pakistani officials say they do not know who Begg is but will try to find him.
Six weeks later, Begg was found and placed under immediate arrest.


While at Bagram, Greenwald and Hussain report that "[Begg] suffered torture". Even this is misleading. More accurate would be to report that Begg claims he suffered torture. These claims were repeatedly subject to detailed official investigation and review and no evidence was found to support them.

Begg's allegations were first made in July 2004 to the United States Forces Administration, and later the same month to the Combatant Status Review Tribunal. In December 2004, Begg was twice interviewed about his allegations by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, and again in May 2006, in the presence of his attorney, by the Office of the Inspector General [OIG] of the US Department of Justice as part of a wide-reaching review of detainee treatment.

The Department of Defence [DOD] conducted no less than three separate investigations into Begg's allegations and, in the absence of any evidence supporting his claims, concluded they were baseless.

The OIG Report entitled A Review of the FBI's Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq, published in May 2008, devoted a section of its findings exclusively to Begg's allegations [pp. 266-76]. It states:
The DOD provided the OIG with a Report of Investigation prepared by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command dated July 23, 2005. According to this report, the Army reviewed correspondence and statements by Begg and interviewed over 30 witnesses who were stationed at the facilities at which Begg claimed the abuse occurred. The report concluded that "the offences of Communicating a Threat, Maltreatment of a Person in US Custody, and Assault did not occur as alleged." Many of the witnesses interviewed by the Army investigators said that Begg co-operated with military investigators by assisting with translations, that Begg received comforts such as reading and writing materials, and that Begg never complained about mistreatment while at he was Bagram.
The Intercept article's additional claim that Begg actually witnessed the torture and subsequent death of innocent Afghan taxi driver Dilawar firsthand, while indubitably serving to make the account of his time at Bagram more harrowing and traumatic, is also unsubstantiated.

On 2 February 2003, Moazzam Begg was transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

Greenwald and Hussain report that Begg calls his time there "torturous". They neglect to mention that while there he signed an 8 page confession, countersigned by his Bagram interrogators FBI agent "Bell" and New York City Police Detective "Harrelson" (both names are pseudonyms) as well as two DOD CID agents. Inter alia, the OIG investigation (linked above) found that:
Begg’s signed statement indicates, among other things, that Begg sympathized with the cause of al-Qaeda, attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and England so that he could assist in waging global jihad against enemies of Islam, including Russia and India; associated with and assisted several prominent terrorists and supporters of terrorists and discussed potential terrorist acts with them; recruited young operatives for the global jihad; and provided financial support for terrorist training camps.
Every paragraph is initialled by Begg at the beginning and end to indicate his assent. Deletions and changes requested by Begg are noted on the document in his handwriting. For example, the OIG report notes that:
. . . [o]n page 3, Begg apparently changed the statement "I am unsure of the exact amount of money sent to terrorist training camps of the many years I helped fund the camps'" by replacing the word "many" with the words "couple of".
Begg now claims this confession was coerced. However, the OIG again found no evidence to support his claim, adding that the additions and deletions provided by Begg "support its voluntariness". Why, after all, request minor changes to a document which is a wholesale fabrication? Furthermore, "Begg even acknowledged that Bell and Harrelson had mentioned the possibility of a plea bargain, witness protection and cooperation with the government" which appeared to support Bell's professed strategy of "building rapport with Begg to obtain his cooperation with other prosecutions".

Greenwald and Hussain will of course dismiss such investigations as self-serving and worthless. But such a dismissal is itself of no value. If, on the other hand, they think they can prove the OIG and DOD investigations were not competent, they must do so.


And what of CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners), the organisation founded by Begg in 2005 upon his release from Camp Delta and return to the UK?

Greenwald and Hussain describe CAGE as a human rights organisation, and produce a handful of pithy quotes from its own website which testify to the nobility of its campaigning.

But CAGE is not a human rights organisation. An investigation by Meredith Tax and Gita Sahgal at the Centre for Secular Space found that...
[J]udging by the cases Cageprisoners highlights, its principle of selection has less to do with universal, indivisible human rights than with the desire to support activists in jihadi networks . . . And it does not distinguish between prisoners held at Guantanamo whose rights to habeas corpus and due process of law have been violated and prisoners who have been tried and found guilty in a normal courtroom setting.
In a post over at Left Foot Forward, Rupert Sutton protests what he describes as the contempt for due process displayed by Begg's supporters, many of whom are demanding his immediate and unconditional release. Sutton points out that:
Given CagePrisoners' repeated demands for due process, it is very revealing that when that process begins against one of their members it is reflexively portrayed as unjust, and as a government conspiracy to criminalise Muslim charitable work and political activism.
Alas, this contempt for due process is a feature not a bug. The Intercept article notes with approval that CAGE's describes itself as "one of the leading resources documenting the abuse of due process and the erosion of the rule of law in the context of the War on Terror."

Following the controversy surrounding Sahgal's dismissal from Amnesty International for publicly criticising their ties to Cageprisoners, the organisation overhauled its site's design and content, deleting controversial and inflammatory articles, statements, campaigns and interview materials. But until comparatively recently, their ostensible commitment to due process was qualified in the "About Us" section of the site with a declaration [cached here] that:
Cageprisoners relies on Islamic doctrines relating to due process. 
Which was, in turn, explained like this:
It is not only the right to a fair trial that Cageprisoners promotes, rather the morality of the law. Thus even though national legislation in various jurisdictions may be given a veneer of legality, in reality they go against the conscience of the law. Thus our understanding of due process goes to the very heart of the counter-terrorism policies that are implemented, whether legally or illegally.
What this awful prose means is that, in the eyes of CAGE and its activists, secular notions of justice are subordinate to their own perceived religious obligations. Given that Salafi-jihadi ideology sees jihad as a religious duty, it follows that anyone incarcerated as a result becomes a prisoner of conscience, irrespective of their criminality in the eyes of secular law.

Meredith Tax's assessment is blunt:
The whole structure of human rights is based on the rule of law . . . A group that explicitly disregards the rule of law cannot be considered a human rights group. 

Greenwald and Hussain's misrepresentation of Begg and CAGE, as a human rights advocate and organisation respectively, is an example of what I have decided to call 'philo-Salafism' - a hatred for the West so vehement, it leads the sufferer to become a partisan of Islamist fanatics; to rehearse, without embarrassment, the justifications and excuses they offer for their depredations, and to recycle their anti-Western propaganda.

Were the Intercept article protesting Begg's incarceration at Guantanamo, its authors could reasonably argue that his views and previous activities are irrelevant. And, although their account would still be one-sided, I'd have to agree. The indefinite detention of terror suspects and the denial of legal counsel and due process is a disgrace, unmitigated by the professed views and alleged actions of the accused.

But the article is not about the injustice of Begg's detention in Guantanamo in 2003. It is about the alleged injustice of Begg's detention in Belmarsh today. By omitting any mention of Begg's jihadi connections, sympathies and experience, its authors are attempting to both exonerate Begg of any taint of suspicion in the reader's perception, and to discredit counter-extremism operations and prosecutions in general by making them seem arbitrary, vindictive and racist.

I take no position on the validity of the new charges Begg is facing. How can I? I have no idea as to the nature or reliability of the evidence against him. The wisdom of this prosecution will stand or fall when he gets his day in court. But there doesn't seem to me to be anything particularly sinister or surprising about the arrest of someone with a long history of self-professed extremist beliefs and connections on charges relating to political and religious extremism.

Greenwald and Hussain, however, are scandalised. And they want us all to feel scandalised with them. So instead of truthfully recording his past associations and views, they reprint (and implicitly endorse) some conspiratorial speculation offered by CAGE's own spokesperson and a "human rights investigator" about the "timing" of the arrest, and they provide some conjecture of their own about attempts to silence critics of government wrongdoing. No actual evidence is provided for any of this because of course there isn't any, and all the rhetorical questions they ask about the basis for the arrest are thus moot until we get to trial.

That doesn't prevent Greenwald and Hussain from supporting Begg's claim to persecution without equivocation. And having established his innocence - at least to their own satisfaction - they then explain that this is all part of an authoritarian campaign of intimidation against what they call:
. . . Muslim political activists who have been arrested and detained for their public criticisms of the conduct of the War on Terror — usually under the guise of highly-tendentious terrorism charges.
The four examples of said 'political activists' then provided are:
  • Tarek Mehanna - Sentenced to 17 years in April 2012 by a Massachusetts court of conspiracy to kill American soldiers, providing material support to al-Qaeda by publishing propaganda online, and lying to the FBI.
  • Fahad Hashmi - Pled guilty to one count of abetting terrorism, for knowing assisting in the provision of supplies to al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. In April 2010 he was sentenced to 15 years by a Manhattan court. 
  • Jubair Ahmad - Sentenced to 12 years in December 2011 for making and publishing a propaganda video for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the foreign terrorist organisation responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 164 people lost their lives and over 300 were wounded.
  • Emerson Winfield Begolly - Pled guilty in August 2011 to soliciting others to carry out acts of jihadi terrorism within the United States. He was sentenced 102 months by a Pittsburg court.
Whether or not the incitement to kill American soldiers or the dissemination of bomb-making materials in jihadist web forums ought to constitute protected speech in post-9/11 America is a perfectly legitimate free expression debate. However, it is one that takes place at the absolutist end of the spectrum. The imprisoning of Muslims - and only Muslims - who happen to disagree with American foreign policy does not.

By misrepresenting the former as the latter, Greenwald and Hussain imply there is no meaningful difference between the two, thereby dissolving the distinction between democratic dissent and the incitement of hatred, terror and violence. Counter-extremism measures designed to protect citizens from the kinds of "Muslim political activists" who fly airliners into skyscrapers and blow men, women and children to bits in marketplaces and pizzerias, are then 'Islamophobic' by their very nature.

The authors confirm this when, in their most brazen profession of philo-Salafi sympathies, they complain:
[America]’s largest Muslim charity was prosecuted on terrorism charges for the crime of sending money to Palestinians deemed terrorists by the U.S. Government.
By this point, one doesn't have to follow the link to realise that the "Palestinians" being referred to here are Hamas.

Philo-Salafis never appear unduly troubled that their refusal to distinguish between Islamist jihadis and dissenting Muslims committed to democratic debate and activism only stokes the anti-Muslim bigotry and paranoia they claim to oppose.

Nor do they seem concerned that the vast majority of Salafi-jihadi victims are not Western at all. In her pamphlet on Cage Prisoners and Moazzam Begg, Meredith Tax cites a study by the Combatting Terrorism Centre which concluded "that between 2006 and 2008, the most recent period the study examined, fully 98% of al-Qaeda's victims were inhabitants of Muslim majority countries."

Tax concludes her pamphlet by expanding upon "5 Wrong Ideas" advanced by Salafis like Begg and those who indulge them:
  • The Muslim Right Is Anti-Imperialist
  • "Defence of Muslim Lands" Is Comparable To National Liberation Struggles
  • The Problem Is "Islamophobia"
  • Terrorism Is Justified By Revolutionary Necessity
  • Any Feminist Who Criticises The Muslim Right Is An Orientalist & Ally Of US Imperialism
What Tax has here summarised as a list of misapprehensions and errors of understanding that lead anti-Imperialist Westerners to support Islamofascism might also form the basis of a philo-Salafist manifesto.

Foreign and domestic terror atrocities, it is held, are caused by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and counter-insurgency drone warfare. Of the Middle East's many barbaric Islamic regimes, the philo-Salafi only ever criticises those with whom the West have formed economic and strategic alliances. They blame Orientalism and cultural imperialism for Muslim oppression. And neoliberalism, neocolonialism, and neoconservatism. They denounce Israel as an illegitimate ethnocratic colonial outpost and an intolerable affront to Muslim dignity, and they excuse even its most vicious, racist enemies in the name of resistance. They denigrate those who embrace and defend so-called 'Western values' as traitors - inauthentic "House" Muslims and "Uncle Toms".

And so on.

Conquest of Muslim Lands abroad; Islamophobia and bigotry at home. Grievance. Victimhood. Resistance. Moral equivalence. Every box on the Salafi's propaganda checklist gets a reassuring tick.

These philo-Salafis are the Imran Khans. The Judith Butlers. The George Galloways and Seumas Milnes. The people who insist that the West's democracies bring terror on themselves, but who have nothing to say about the daily slaughter of Muslims in the name of the same hideous supremacist ideology.

People, in other words, like Glenn Greenwald, who in April last year wrote this in defence of Tarek Mehanna:
He was found guilty of supporting al-Qaeda (by virtue of translating Terrorists’ documents into English and expressing “sympathetic views” to the group) as well as conspiring to “murder” U.S. soldiers in Iraq (i.e., to wage war against an invading army perpetrating an aggressive attack on a Muslim nation).
Greenwald valourises those who would murder him for his homosexuality, his Jewishness, and any number of his libertarian views were he ever to find himself at their mercy. It's all rather squalid and pitiful, really. Philo-Salafism at its most perverse, spiteful and masochistic.

Although Murtaza Hussain exhibits many of the symptoms associated with philo-Salafism, the condition is not, as in Greenwald's case, chronic. In the past, Hussain has at least shown himself capable of recognising the utter moral turpitude of the Taliban and its allies, and he is not in the habit of redescribing their cruelty and barbarism as a noble and defiant reply to American power.

However, the fact remains that, in this instance, he's jointly responsible for a nasty piece of philo-Salafi propaganda. As editor at the Intercept, Greenwald has boasted that he has been promised complete autonomy to indulge his obsessions, unfettered by the hierarchical checks and balances on which good journalism tends to rely. So, in short, we can expect a lot more of this garbage.

I'll close this long piece by quoting Greenwald and Hussain's comically inept grasp of the Syrian conflict, which they offer as evidence yet more Western hypocrisy:
[T]he bizarre spectacle of charging [Moazzam Begg] with “terrorism” offenses for allegedly helping rebels which the U.S. government itself is aiding and for whom intervention was advocated by the U.S. president as recently as last year. Indeed, in 2012, the year Begg made his trip, the widespread view in the West of Syrian rebels was that they were noble freedom-fighters who deserved as much help as possible, not “terrorists” whom the law made it a crime to assist. In the same year another major visiting supporter to the opposition movement was John McCain – an indication of how much mainstream Western support the uprising enjoyed at the time.
I'm afraid that this kind of confusion is inevitable if one refuses to distinguish between different kinds of Muslim "dissent". But hey ho. It's all grist to the West-hating mill, so facts and context be damned.

The pamphlet "Double Bind" by Meredith Tax, which includes a detailed case study on Moazzam Begg and CAGE and expands on much of the above, may be purchased here. It is not only a valuable polemic about the embrace of the Muslim Right, but its text & footnotes provide a useful resource of links and information relating to the Begg controversy for which I was very grateful whilst drafting this post.


  1. Murtaza Hussain8 March 2014 at 13:05

    I'd anticipated most of these criticisms so I'll try to go through them sequentially for you.

    This piece was a discussion of the circumstances of Begg's recent arrest, it wasn't an autobiographical account of his life to establish his character (which I'll return to nonetheless because it is relevant here). The charges you expound upon against him, while sounding very impressive and frightening, were apparently never material enough to ever warrant him facing a single charge for them. You're correct that we don't put much stock in confessions extracted after three years of extrajudicial detention in Guantanamo and Bagram, so I won’t go into great detail deconstructing them. They were obtained under extreme duress in circumstances where anyone is likely to confess to anything. That the government charged with flagrantly violating his rights then magnanimously decided to exonerate itself is “proof” of something only in the most stagnant authoritarian regimes. He has an inherent human right to due process under the law and he has been gratuitously denied this throughout his life, so it’s no wonder people view with skepticism his most recent arrest.

    Having said that it's true that Moazzam was never "guilty" he was also not someone like my friend Maher Arar who was completely innocent of any militancy in his lifetime but nonetheless detained and tortured. He did travel in prior years with the intention of taking part in conflicts and he did disseminate revolutionary propaganda related to Islamism. Some of this by the way (such as volunteering to go to Bosnia or Chechnya) don’t strike me as evidence of any innate monstrousness at all. Although in these conflicts even the West shared some of his positions, I agree on principle that he did not keep his powder dry in his life leading up to his detention.

    In your long digressions you seem to want to add context to Moazzam's life and views which - although almost wholly unrelated to the arrest which was the focus of our piece - nonetheless would make his recent detention more understandable.

    But if you're going to engage in this exercise in vanity and add “Context” then I think it's only fair to start a little earlier than 1992 and look at the circumstances that led up to his interest in Islamism. He grew up in circumstances which are familiar to many first-generation immigrants and their children; namely racist gang violence, criminality, social marginalization. I don't think it’s possible to overstate the effect these things have on ones psyche, and if it turned him into an Islamist I completely understand where he's coming from (even Maajid Nawaz can attest).
    He continued down a path which many people flirt with and abandon, but it didn't happen in a vacuum and it's not a testimony to any innate bigotry, closemindedness or radicalism on his part. Anyone who has been in similar circumstances can sympathize and understand such decisions even if they don't necessarily endorse them. My point in discussing this is that you are bringing up factors which are largely extraneous to our article (what he did in the early 90's has no legal or practical bearing on his arrest today) but are relevant to establishing his character.
    While contemporary comparisons to historical figures always sound facile I hope you’ll bear with me and try to understand why many young people compare him to Malcolm X. His detractors argue that he’s a chauvinist, he’s a bigot etc. but he’s actually a reaction to all of these things, which no one likes to experience when projected back at them. He’s a product of British society (even if he criticizes the fundamentals of that society as he’s experienced them) and he’s worthy of as much protection of the law as anyone else. His past activities are evidence of recklessness and zeal, not of anything illegal, which is why despite enormous scrutiny he was never charged.

    1. "He grew up in circumstances which are familiar to many first-generation immigrants and their children; namely racist gang violence, criminality, social marginalization."

      You make him sound like a deprived kid in the meanest streets.
      He grew up in Moseley, Birmingham (where I was born) - it's not a specially deprived area.
      His father was a former bank manager. He was sent to a good (Jewish) school and then Moseley Secondary, which did not start to suffer the inevitable problems of a changed catchment area (i.e. mostly poor immigrants' kids from Sparkhill) until after he left. I don't doubt he experienced some racism, but it really is pushing it to suggest that he came from a marginal, poverty-stricken despairing sort of community a la Malcom X.
      He was basically a middle-class kid (though not very affluent), who was given a decent education and became attracted by a "romantic" radical antiliberal ideology that he found intoxicating. It's a commonplace enough pattern (lots of other Islamist examples), but don't give us the violins stuff about his background, please!


  2. Murtaza Hussain8 March 2014 at 13:05

    Regarding dissent, regardless of whether one is an Islamist or not such an arrest has a chilling behaviour on the willingness to engage in political activism by Muslim people (not “Muslim activism”, there was nothing inherently “Muslim” in his views IMO). There has been such a campaign of intimidation over the years whether you recognize it or not, and the attempt to smear organizations like CAIR as supporters of terrorism ignores the fact that 1) They were never indicted for this, 2) They were in fact sending aid to “Palestinians” – the simple fact is that almost all social services in Gaza are provided by the Hamas government (just like in Egypt the Ikhwan was the only source of welfare for the poor), and no one not even the Holy Land Foundation (which was indicted) was alleged to have sent money to fund terrorist activity. If given the choice between letting the people of Gaza starve in order to isolate their elected government most people would send them help.

    There was a lot of psychoanalysis of the authors here (Philo-Salafism, really?) and I’m not going to engage with this silly exercise, but I would like to comment on my opposition to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan which you feel differentiates me to some degree from Glenn Greenwald on this matter. Even while I am quite forthright about my hatred for their terrorist violence and radical ideology, I’m not so arrogant to deny that they are largely a creation of Pakistan’s neglect and abuse of the people of the tribal areas. While I argue that they need to be defeated militarily because there is no other feasible option at this point, I also acknowledge that they are a creation of the mistreatment, violence and exploitation which has been long inflicted on them and they have legitimate grievances against us. After they’ve been pacified I’d like that mistreatment to change. People like Imran Khan are not blinded by hatred to America as you allege but by their intimate knowledge and understanding of the people of these regions; the only disagreement is about what is feasible at this point. I appreciate Glenn focuses on the actions of his own government (like we all should), but I also think he actually understands these dynamics.
    Finally if I could add ideology is not a prime-mover to action because in practice people tend to retrofit ideologies which suit their material circumstances at any given moment. As such, Moazzam Begg’s ideology doesn’t stand as some kind of retroactive justification for the bizarre circumstances of his recent arrest nor the denial of his legal rights over the years.

  3. I think it would have been better if Murtaza would have referenced exact quotes from Jacobinism in a separate article rather then try and exonerate her chief here in this article.

    It's quite annoying not to mention it does no justice in defence of this person Mr Begg by commenting on this article in the comments section in such a lengthy way.

    1. He must have learned this lengthy and aggressive droning on and on and on and on style from Greenwald.

  4. I would like to take issue with Murtaza Hussain's comment that we need to look into Moazzam Begg's early years as a first or second generation UK immigrant to understand his radicalism. This is an excuse - a bad one at that - not an explanation.

    My family are Italian. My mother's side of the family walked over to Britain in the 1920's and set up ice cream businesses. In 1940 the men in my family (my grandfather and his brother) were arrested and interned by the British Government simply for being Italian nationals. They spent the duration of the war in prison, while the rest of the family had to fend for itself (not easy in a county which was conscripting its male citizens to fight against Italy). While prisoners, my grandfather and his brother narrowly avoided being drowned at sea in the Andorra Tragedy (now a recognised war crime) in which Italian males, thinking they were being allowed safe passage home, were packed onto boats which the British knew would be torpedoed by the Germans. Amazingly my grandfather's brother got wind of what was happening, and they politely requested to remain in the internment camp. When he was finally were released, my grandfather died of a heart attack within weeks, throwing my family into even greater financial and emotional distress.

    Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of what happened to Italians at the hands of the British Government, it never occurred to my family, or to me, or to any Italian I know of, to fashion a grievance narrative out of it. Nor did anyone think to make excuses for my family members' behaviour, when one of them committed a crime, for example. Nor did any of them decamp to the mountains of Sicily to join a clandestine anti-British Mafia sect. And no one demanded their rights as Italian Catholics be respected.

    Isn't it also the case that most first and second generation immigrant Muslims, and most other immigrants in the UK, have not resorted to radicalism and active support for murderous Jihadis? Isn't the facile assumption that the 'British Immigrant Experience' is a credible as an excuse, simply the racism of low expectations?

    1. Murtaza Hussain10 March 2014 at 15:49

      Just once I'd like read something by one the "Euston Left" people which doesn't throw in this facile "racism of low expectations" phrase; its almost like an incantation or prayer that must be recited at the beginning or end of everything they write

      People have short memories but the fact is that the Italian diaspora (primarily in the United States which is a far more suitable analogy to British-Pakistani migration) was heavily represented in the radical political movements of the early 20th century; including anarchism, fascism, communism and the like. (This is a good book on the subject: Again this was the product of the poverty, violence and discrimination which characterized their arrivals in the new world.

      While (like Muslims as you correct note) most were not radicals, many of them did actually go on to volunteer to fight for Mussolini and Franco and its an absolute falsehood that their reaction to discrimination was absolutely supine (one of the first modern terror attacks in American history was carried out by Italian anarchists

      Does that mean radicalism was good and defensible, or a desirable path for Italian immigrants to follow? No, but its ridiculous to say there is something unique about the Muslim immigrant experience and the inevitable radicalism of some within that community.

      I apologize for your family history and hope that the later years went a bit better but its a fallacy to use personal anecdotes to prove or disprove social trends.

  5. Millions of British people of immigrant background from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities and religions experienced racism. They didn't use it as an excuse to engage in fascist, hateful, bigoted, racist ideologies like Jihadi Islamism. Mutaza Hussain is insulting the millions of British black, Asian, Eastern European, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian second generation immigrants who are able to advance in society without resorting to the kind of fascist extremism that Begg and UK Islamists propagate.

    1. I know people who know Murtaza personally. The reports I get are that he is extremely narcissistic and has an over blown opinion of himself. This is one reason he is such a great fit for Greenwald's camp. He pulls this swoop any squawking and crapping everywhere then fly away while screeching "I'm too good to engage with any responses" shit all the time. Indeed, it is something of his modus operandi.

    2. Murtaza Hussain10 March 2014 at 15:53

      First, I hope you can muster enough brain power to understand the irony of accusing me of being "too good to engage with any responses" while commenting on a lengthy response I've written to something I wrote.

      Secondly, that's very interesting that you're asking around for reports about me and getting such feedback. It's a shame that you're choosing to hide behind anonymity (I'm certainly not) because I'd like to discuss this with you in greater detail - especially because I specifically know who has been asking about me recently.

      In anycase my personal email is, I really implore you to get in touch with me and I'll be more than glad to sort this issue out with you in person.

  6. Moazzam Begg resonates with many Muslims in the UK not because he experienced racism and so did they, but because he follows a racist ideology of hate against non Muslims and so do they, because Islamic extremism has been embedded in the communities via Salafi / Wahaabi / Deobandi institutions. A refusal to face up to this is causing catastrophe. And some parts of the Left have to take responsibility for not standing up to it and confronting it.

  7. The city that Begg comes from, Birmingham, is a hub of far-right Salafi extremism. If you want to understand what he represents, you have to understand the extremist Islamist movement in Britain and in that city, and what he teaches, and the ideas it inculcates in Muslim youth in Britain. It teaches the inferiority of non Muslims, the superiority of Islam, it teaches jihad as an aspiration, it teaches racist anti-Semitism and paranoid conspiracies, it teaches hatred of secularism and democracy, it teaches misogyny and bigotry. It has an agenda to assert itself, to preach victimhood hysteria, to sanctify hatred as righteousness, and it feeds on the rhetoric of multiculturalism, identity politics, anti-racism etc. This is what Moazzam Begg is part of. Birmingham also is influenced by far-right Pakistani Jamat-e-Islami and Deobandi Islamist ideology, Taliban sympathetic and intolerant. So when people say Begg is a 'Malcolm X' figure to some Muslims, then we know we have a serious, serious problem.

    One last thing, I will never forget the day when I knew Cage Prisoners were a menace - it was when I read in an early incarnation an apologia for Shaikh Faisal, who had been imprisoned for inciting violence and hate after he made speeches to young British Muslims saying that Muslims should shoot Jews and Hindus in the head in the street.

    Moazzam X? God help us, God help Britain, and God help the Muslims of Britain from that.

  8. This is the spoilt Pakistani elite and progeny parading around the world with the victim card. It has no identity of any success since Pakistan's independence. UK must kill the two-nation theory it supported in helping divide the subcontinent. Think about it: a country founded on an ideology of intolerance of others will produce people like Begg and Hussian.

    Until UK seculars admit the serious damage in identity from which Pakistani elite suffer, they will never fully grasp the motivation of globe-trotting Pakistani elite being very eager to lead the Muslim cause. Without full grasp, how can you have proper dialogue?

    1. Murtaza Hussain10 March 2014 at 15:55

      I wonder which corpulent conservative talk show host constantly foams at the mouth about the Pakistani elite and the "two-nation theory". Really scratching my head trying to figure it out.

  9. "[Begg] grew up in circumstances which are familiar to many first-generation immigrants and their children; namely racist gang violence, criminality, social marginalization. I don't think it’s possible to overstate the effect these things have on ones psyche, and if it turned him into an Islamist I completely understand where he's coming from (even Maajid Nawaz can attest)."


    "There was a lot of psychoanalysis of the authors here (Philo-Salafism, really?) and I’m not going to engage with this silly exercise..."

    I wonder if Murtaza Hussain would like to square those two comments.

  10. "The charges you expound upon against him, while sounding very impressive and frightening, were apparently never material enough to ever warrant him facing a single charge for them." -Murtaza Hussain

    That's partly because we have a strongly Islamophile legal system, not the "Islamophobic" one you pretend exists. Besides which, you cannot be arrested for being a hardcore Islamist fanatic who may only write and talk about his hatred of the kuffar. In addition, every time a Muslim is so much as touched by the law or by the police, Muslims and their Leftist whores started writing articles in the Guardian, demonstrating, promising riots or bombs.

    "You're correct that we don't put much stock in confessions extracted after three years of extrajudicial detention in Guantanamo and Bagram, so I won’t go into great detail deconstructing them." - Murtaza Hussain

    I'm not going to cry any tears about the detainees of Guantanamo - over 50% or more of whom, when released, have gone straight back into terrorism. Compared to the various Leftist Gulags of the 20th century, and the torture chamber that is Iran, Hamas's Gaza, etc., stop being such a hypocrite.

    Any Leftist or Islamic regime you and Greenwald favour would make what the American regime does seem pacifist in nature.

    Stop dressing up your respective Leftism and defence of Muslims in the language of "right"' and concern for "due legal processes". Your "concern" is political from head to toe. And it has one aim: the destruction of the capitalist West. You and Greenwald will then have to fight each other over what you think should replace it, as you did in Iran circa 1979.

  11. Very incisive. It is depressing indeed - though boringly famailir by now - to see Islamic extremsoists find common cause with 'progressive' journalists and campaigners who seem delighted to have found another anti western beacon to cheer for. They've been lacking a cause celbre since the Berlin wall fell.

    Rather than the term 'philo-Salafist, however,' I much prefer 'useful idiot.' In moral terms, you could not squeeze a cigarette paper between between Greenwald, Ridley, Galloway, Milne et al and John Amery or Lord Haw Haw. They are not anti-war - they are pro-war but support the Islamofascist enemy.

  12. 1)
    First of all, a really interestning idea could be if Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain made a journalistic investigation into Mr. Begg's history and histories. Using their skills and connections. But of course that would be to much the expect. Instead we get a political treatise, where Begg represent muslim dissent. Aggressive. They do forget that 1) Begg doesn't represent muslim in singular, but a relative violent small group. ( Remember he entered Afghanistan after the Taliban murdered thousands of Hazara muslims, but for Begg, Greenwald, and Hussain, they don't count as muslims : But who is real muslims for Greenwald and Hussain ?).

  13. Second
    Regarding Beggs background. Well he has made so many interviews written so much that every data seems confused. But in 2005 he gives the following account of his radicalization process :

    "MOAZZAM BEGG: It was a metamorphosis, a transformation. I grew up in Birmingham. I was born and raised here. I originally went to a Jewish school and then to a secondary school, which including having friends from all different backgrounds. Sikh, Muslim, Hindus, Christians, white, blacks. All different categories and denominations of people. As I got older, I discovered a little bit more about my Islamic identity, although I wasn't too attached to begin with, though I was as a Muslim as any Muslim, mainstream people were. As I got older, I saw things that changed me and my perspective on life, particularly in relation to the Muslim world visa vi the rest of the world. That happened through first with the Gulf War but even more so by the conflict in former Yugoslavia with the attack by the Serbs on Bosnian Srebrenica and that was a crucial catalyst and I think a turning point in my life.

    PRATAP CHATTERJEE: And you actually went to Bosnia yourself. Tell us a little bit about that, about your trip there, and what you saw that made you so anxious to go work in the region and help communities in Afghanistan and a number of other places.

    MOAZZAM BEGG: I saw those graphic pictures of people being slaughtered and maimed and killed because of their ethnicity or rather their religion or religious beliefs. And that was something I recognized or identified with, that they were the same as me. I didn't know what that meant. All I knew was that these people were Muslims; I didn't know that they were Slavs and spoke Serb or Croat. Or they had such a strong or rich history of life under a Communist regime or they were completely different to anything I would have imagined; the one thing I saw as a unifying factor was our faith. So that is what triggered me at least under an initial base to go and try to help in whatever way I could; which I did by joining an aid organization; I went to several cities including Mostar, Travnik City which had been under heavy bombardment, and many people had been displaced, refugees. I helped distribute food, medicine, and blankets, and listen to the more harrowing accounts and details of the individual lives of the people"
    In his own written account while at Guantanamo he gives the same extremely naivistic account of Afghanistan. It's a wonder he found Kabul at all.

  14. 3)
    Regarding the school. Well it can't have been much of a school. He entered Afghanistan sometimes early in august 2001. And after his owns accounts he spent weeks waiting for approval from the Taliban government, he did watermills ( his own account) and learned the language. Sometime late september he left Kabul for a place near the Pakistan border. - The school if at all can't have existed in practice more than a month.

    Nobody knows who Begg is, a somewhat dangerous islamist or a revolutionary naive traveller ( just like the left wings who started in in Portugal, continued to Nicaragua and ended up stranded in Venezuela). But a naive traveller still has some question to answer.

    One thing is sure, Moazzam Begg has always supported the most intolerant and murderous muslims without any reflexion or self doubt. If one could ask anything off Greenwald and Hussain it's a little bit of critical distance and doubt, and asking a few questions.

  15. Hussain is so ludicrous.. First, he exculpates Begg saying "it's not a testimony to any innate bigotry, closemindedness or radicalism on his part." when he was engaging in Islamist propaganda and armed conflicts.

    Then he adds all the 'context' that is apparently needed to understand Begg, that he is a product of British Society etc.. After that, he accuses the author of 'psychoanalysis', which he uses so clearly to add 'context' to Begg.

    And next thing you know, he tells a reader who challenges him on his point of personal context that needs to be taken into account that it is a "fallacy to use personal anecdotes to prove or disprove social trends." Way to make a point!


  17. This article needs an update now.

    On 1 October 2014, it was announced that the seven Syria-related terror charges against him had been dropped, and that he would be released from HMP Belmarsh the same day.



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