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Moazzam Begg—’The state targets Muslims’

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Issue 2543
Camp delta in Guantanamo Bay
Camp delta in Guantanamo Bay (Pic: Joint Task Force Guantanamo/Flickr )

The right wing media and politicians have been working overtime trying to show that the alleged actions of Jamal al-Harith reveal a need for more crackdowns on Muslims.

Harith was held in the Guantanamo Bay torture camp for two years in the early 2000s.

Sectarian group Isis last week claimed that he carried out a suicide bombing against soldiers in the Iraqi army in Mosul.

Sections of the press then criticised Harith’s release from Guantanamo and the fact that he received some money as compensation for being imprisoned.

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg spoke to Socialist Worker about how the case has exposed the Islamophobia at the top of society.

“Jamal al-Harith was imprisoned by the Taliban in a prison in Afghanistan,” said Moazzam. “He had no contacts there, he didn’t know anyone. They imprisoned him as a British spy.

“Eventually when the Americans came he was handed over to them. He thought they were rescuing him.

“They sent him to Guantanamo and he saw a side of America that he didn’t know existed.”

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Moazzam said a distinction needs to be made between two points. The first point is the time lapse between al-Harif’s release from Guantanamo and his alleged crime.

Security services and the right have argued that this shows that people, once “radicalised”, are always a threat and should remain under lock and key.

The second point is that Harif deserved redress from the British government for the torture he endured­—which it knew about and allowed to continue.

“They are separate matters,” said Moazzam. “A lot of time passed before he went to Syria and did what he did, if he did what he is alleged to have done. I don’t know.

“What I do know is that what took place is being used. People within the media are saying that he should never have had access to justice, that he should have remained in Guantanamo.

“And the Trump administration wants to use it as evidence to keep Guantanamo open.”

US president Donald Trump has explicitly said he supports the use of torture, in particular waterboarding. Trump recently said, “Do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works.”

That goes further than George W Bush—he limited himself to saying that waterboarding was included in “enhanced interrogation techniques” and was therefore alright.

“During the Second World War Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American GIs were prosecuted for war crimes, convicted and executed by the Allies,” said Moazzam. “It’s a war crime.”

Despite all this, Theresa May has invited Trump on a state visit. Moazzam said, “Two million people signed a petition for Trump not to get an official state visit, but still they’re mulling the idea.

“But you know they’re going to give it to them because of our ‘special relationship’.

“Well, part of that special relationship should be speaking truth to power. We shouldn’t be afraid of our governments.”

Protesting against Guantanamo Bay in London, January 2008
Protesting against Guantanamo Bay in London, January 2008 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Moazzam argued that the state in Britain uses the same logic to scapegoat Muslims. “If something happens in this country, and I pray that it doesn’t, then the same thing will happen,” he said.

“The government and the hacks on the right will go, ‘Look we told you these Muslims are like this.’ That’s what we have to face, constantly. But it isn’t reciprocated when it’s someone from another community.”

When Nazis manufacture pipe bombs, as one did recently, or kill MPs, as Tommy Mair did, they’re written off as “confused young men” or “mentally ill”. Muslims are treated differently.

“We’ve had 15 pieces of ‘anti-terror’ legislation passed in this country since 9/11,” said Moazzam.

“They include people being detained without charge or trial. I’m not talking about Guantanamo, where I was. I’m talking about Belmarsh in London.”

“What was the first criteria for these people to be in prison? They had to be Muslims.

“The same goes for Guantanamo. The first condition was, you must be a Muslim. There are no other faiths or groups held in Guantanamo, only Muslims.”

The “war on terror” has targeted Muslims. Moazzam argued that it has fed the growth of Isis too.

He said Isis supporters “metamorphosised from inside the prisons of Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca where they were tortured and formulated the ideology of Isis.


“The rest is history. As a result of that we are now formulating internal and external policy. It’s a vicious circle.”

The main part of that internal policy in Britain is the Prevent strategy, made law in 2015. It’s the latest in a string of Islamophobic laws passed since the war on terror began.

“Every single time you will notice that the common denominator is that these laws de facto target Muslims,” said Moazzam.

“They won’t write it into legislation, because that would be openly discriminatory, but in practical application only Muslims are subjected to it.

“And this is all happening in Britain, the land of the Magna Carta,” Moazzam laughed.

“Magna Carta is still a part of the US constitution.In it there are those famous three phrases, ‘To no man shall justice be delayed or denied except that they be judged by a court of their peers.’

“There is no judge in Guantanamo. There is no court. There is no legal process there at all.

“Despite all of that, people marched in the streets against the war in Iraq. And when I returned and saw this movement in all its forms it gave me hope.

“And I see that hope rising again. As there is the rise of the far right and hatred, so are there people who want to stand up and challenge it.”

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