Britain's Tory-led counter-terror strategy is part of the problem, not the solution
The dropping of terror charges yesterday against celebrated human rights activist and ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, after having been detained for seven months on grounds of facilitating terrorism at a Syrian training camp, speaks volumes about the self-defeating direction of Britain's failed counter-terrorism policies.
The sudden turn of events followed news that home secretary Theresa May would propose unprecedented powers to "disrupt" extremism. Aimed at groups and individuals undertaking activities "for the purpose of overthrowing democracy," the new Tory counter-terror strategy calls for banning "non-violent extremist" organisations and restricting associated individuals from appearing on TV, social media, or other public platforms. But as the incompetent treatment of Begg illustrates, Tory plans represent a worrying Orwellian turn that, if implemented, could effectively criminalise legitimate dissent over failed foreign policies in the Muslim world - while missing the real threat.
Theresa May's proposals gave substance to David Cameron's UN speech a week ago highlighting the need to target people who may not "encourage violence, but whose worldview can be used as a justification for it." As examples, he pointed to 9/11 and 7/7 conspiracy theories, but also flagged up as particularly dangerous: "The idea that Muslims are persecuted all over the world as a deliberate act of Western policy."
Such "non violent extremism," said Cameron, is the "root cause" of terrorism that must be eliminated in our "schools, universities and prisons."
But it is not just extremist conspiracy theorists who believe that Muslims are being deliberately targeted around the world by Western foreign policies. As renowned foreign policy expert and Harvard professor Stephen Walt wrote, "our real problem isn't a fictitious Muslim 'narrative' about America's role in the region; it is mostly the actual things we have been doing in recent years."
Indeed, US and British crimes in the region far outweigh anything the despicable IS or al-Qaeda have pulled off. Walt points out that over the last 30 years, the US and UK have "killed nearly 30 Muslims for every American lost" - a ratio that "is probably much higher" in reality.
In Iraq alone, about half a million civilians were killed under the direct and indirect impacts of Anglo-American war and occupation, according to the most robust survey of deaths from 2003 to 2011 in the journal PLOS Medicine. The findings are "likely a low estimate" according to lead researcher Amy Hogopian, professor of global health at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Add to that the 1.7 million Iraqis who died under the UN sanctions regime imposed by US and UK pressure from 1990 to 2003; and the 200,000 Iraqis - mostly civilians - killed in the first Gulf War due to extensive targeting of civilian infrastructure. This is a total of 2.3 million Iraqis killed by US and UK carpet-bombing, enforced economic strangulation, and the ensuing effects on public health over two decades: all in all, a wonderful recruiting sergeant and catalyst for sociopathic Islamist militants.
It's not just Iraq. Since 2001 at least 21,000 civilians have died violent deaths in Afghanistan due to the invasion and ongoing war. A report last month by Amnesty International squarely blamed a "shocking level of lack of accountability towards civilian casualties" among US-led forces in Afghanistan for the consistently high death toll.
What about at home? The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recently found that counter-terrorism measures contribute to "a wider sense amongst Muslims" that they are being "targeted by authorities simply because of their religion." Some measures "in practice, specifically target Muslim communities and, as the courts have shown, may breach human rights and equality laws," while "undermining trust and confidence in the police and security services."
As Cameron and May would have it, Walt and the EHRC's Commissioners must be viewed as "non violent extremists" for promoting the dangerous belief that western counter-terror measures deliberately and disproportionately target Muslim communities.
In reality, though, rather than rooting out terror, this farcical bastardisation of the concept of "extremism" has been engineered to conceal the presence of a far more insidious network of violent extremists in this country: the Conservative party.
More than any other British entity, the Conservatives have turned "overthrowing democracy" into a veritable art form. As Tory insider Sir Ferdinand Mount catalogues eloquently in his seminal book, The New Few: Or a Very British Oligarchy, Cameron and his predecessors have "wittingly, or unwittingly" managed the "corrosion of capitalism" and the "erosion of democracy" in the name of market fundamentalism - chiefly by helping to concentrate economic power amongst an increasingly tiny oligarchy while neutering the capacity of the state to restrain that power.
The Tory overthrow of democracy has involved, among other things, wining and dining (sorry I mean "innocuously networking with") elites from across the finance, property, retail and PR sectors, who since 2001 have donated about 22 million pounds to the party. (And let's not even mention Lynton Crosby.)
The Tory-led government's penchant for "overthrowing" has been equally evident in the key role played by Britain alongside the US in coordinating the nearly billion dollars provided to Syria's rebels by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait - repressive regimes known largely for their brutal hatred of democracy. Although classified intelligence assessments showed that the bulk of this Gulf state support, unsurprisingly, went to the most virulent Islamist militant groups, the US and Britain continued to encourage it - despite IS commanders gleefully confirming their ranks were being filled with western-trained 'moderate' rebels.
One might thus be forgiven for suspecting that the evidence of terror facilitation in Syria is far more incriminating of Cameron than of Begg, a founding director of the human rights group Cage. Ironically, and sadly, instead of turning himself in, Cameron's grand plan is to police the rest of us to ensure we don't dissent too far from the party line.
The self-defeating consequences of this mindset were on display yesterday when during Begg's five minute pre-trial review hearing, the prosecution submitted "no evidence" after having belatedly "reached the conclusion that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction."
Begg's principal crime, it appears, was his copious human rights work to document "the abuse of due process and the erosion of the rule of law in the context of the War on Terror." No wonder he now accuses the government of "demonising the Muslim community" with "failed" counter-terror policies that are "alienating" the very people we need to enfranchise.
In contrast, a man like Anjem Choudhary who has openly admitted radicalising British jihadists that have gone on to join al-Qaeda linked groups including IS, has never faced a single terrorism charge, let alone the prospect of prosecution - even after his followers were found distributing leaflets in London calling for Muslims to join and support IS.
Such is the abuse of taxpayer's cash that occurs when violent extremist Tories find themselves on the frontline of a 'War on Terror' that, of course, we are not supposed to call a war.
Henceforth, I propose the following: having sacrificed British democracy on the altar of corporate profiteering, having financed the Islamist militants we are now purportedly fighting across Iraq and Syria, members of the Tory cabinet should now lead by example - if indeed they are serious about their new proposals.
They may begin by banning themselves from TV, social media, and of course the giant public platform of government itself.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. His new novel, ZERO POINT, predicted a US-UK re-invasion of Iraq to put down an Islamist insurgency there. He is a regular contributor to The Guardian where he writes about the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises, and a security columnist for Al-Arabiya English. He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, among others. Nafeez has contributed to two major terrorism investigations, the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner's Inquest, and has advised the Royal Military Academy Sandhust, British Foreign Office and US State Department.
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