Socialist Worker

Exclusive - Moazzam Begg and Shelly Asquith defy smears - fight racist witch hunt

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2486

Moazzam Begg (third from left) with other former Guantanamo prisoners on Monday of this week

Moazzam Begg (third from left) with other former Guantanamo prisoners on Monday of this week (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The Daily Mail newspaper is spearheading a racist witch hunt against the Muslims and students standing up to the government’s Prevent agenda.

Prevent was first introduced by Tony Blair’s New Labour. But the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 now legally forces public sector workers to spy on people for signs of “radicalisation”.

The Daily Mail attacked Moazzam Begg for speaking at a Students Not Suspects tour of universities. He is a former Guantanamo inmate and director of detainee rights organisation Cage.

Moazzam told Socialist Worker, “The Daily Mail has an agenda that goes back decades. It is against Muslims, it’s against trade unions—and it’s antisemitic if you go back far enough.” He added, “The Daily Mail is racist and xenophobic—Cage wasn’t the first to be attacked and it won’t be the last.”

The paper also launched a sexist attack on Shelly Asquith, the NUS vice president for welfare, who’s organising against Prevent on campus.

Shelly said, “This is the same newspaper that labelled Nelson Mandela a terrorist while the NUS was leading a campaign to boycott South African apartheid.”

The Mail alleges that Cage has “deliberately hijacked” the student movement and urged students to “break the law”.

But Shelly said, “This is about the Prevent policy that’s racially profiling and persecuting Muslim students. Yet there’s an absence of students’ voices in this coverage.”

The Tories claim that the policy is about “safeguarding” young people, but it’s whipping up Islamophobia and targeting Muslims.

Moazzam said, “My speciality is issues around torture and detention without trial, not Prevent. But when students invited me to speak they were very clear that people being handled without due process is important to them.


“These students are fearful about this untested law—and they are right to oppose it.”

Campaigners attended a vigil in London on Monday of this week demanding the closure of Guantanamo Bay

Campaigners attended a vigil in London on Monday of this week demanding the closure of Guantanamo Bay (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Muslim students are already feeling the sharp end of Prevent on campus.

Mohammed Umar Farooq, a postgraduate student at Staffordshire University, was questioned under Prevent last March after he was seen reading a Terrorism Studies book. He is studying “counter terrorism”. It took the university three months to apologise.

David Cameron has ramped up rhetoric around “British values” to brand Muslims as the enemy within. Moazzam said, “David Cameron talks about the ‘rule of law’ being a British value, but what about people such as Shaker Aamer and myself?

“He was detained in Guantanamo without charge for 14 years and I was detained for three years without charge or trial. People are falsely imprisoned and kidnapped. Where is the rule of law then?”

Shelly added, “They neglect to mention the incarceration and torture of Moazzam and how he’s never been charged with a single crime.”

David Cameron said that Muslims had to show “loyalty” in his new war in Syria. But Moazzam said, “What is loyalty—and to what? He’s suggesting that you have to agree with his government or you are an extremist.


“If he can call the leader of the opposition a threat to national security and a terrorist sympathiser then us Muslims are screwed.”

The Mail stepped up its witch hunt last weekend with a smear campaign against Azad Ali from Muslim NGO Mend. It is one of the main organisations that has been organising against Prevent.

Azad told Socialist Worker, “It feels like the Daily Mail is an arm of government propaganda—they are going after anyone who is against Prevent.”

He added, “The reports coming in are that it’s not working and is marginalising Muslims. You can see it on the ground—parents are worried about what will happen to their children in school.”

But activists are refusing to be cowed by the Tories and right wing press’s attacks.

Stand up to Racism is launching a statement in solidarity with those under attack by the Daily Mail. There is growing opposition to Prevent. Waltham Forest Council of Mosques in east London called for a boycott.

Shelly said, “We will not stop supporting our Black Students’ Campaign and Islamic Societies as they lead the way in resisting it on campuses—or any academic who refuses to comply.”

Azad said, “It is part of cracking down on dissent and civil liberties and it’s having an acute impact on Muslims

“It’s to create a heightened sense of fear and is causing Islamophobia—we should definitely challenge Prevent.”

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Article information

Tue 12 Jan 2016, 16:46 GMT
Issue No. 2486
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