I Refuse to Condemn

9th July 2020

Manchester University Press has commissioned a collection of essays, edited by Asim Qureshi, the Research Director of CAGE. 

The work is entitled “I Refuse to Condemn”. Manchester University Press explains its content as follows:

“The book holds that a refusal to condemn an individual or their actions cannot and should not be interpreted as support for that person or their conduct.”

Calls for collective responsibility in the wake of terrorist attacks are noxious.  Blame for  the violent actions of individuals should never be laid at the feet of a whole community. 

That rule does not apply to individuals and organisations which seek to explain terrorism as the inevitable outcome of a set of political grievances which they share, and go on to argue that, unless those grievances are addressed, our society has itself to blame when it is targeted with further attacks. Such arguments seek to create a “terrorist veto” on policy formation. 

Neither does it apply to organisations which share, to a greater or lesser extent, the ideological goals of terrorist groups. No group whose senior members support the creation of a theocratic Islamist state or those who argue that there is a religious obligation to assist in the formation or defence of such states is in a position to disassociate itself from terrorism carried out in furtherance of that goal. 

It certainly does not apply to those who champion the terrorists themselves, either when they come under the scrutiny of the police and intelligence services before they commit terrorist attacks, or after they have been arrested and convicted.

CAGE plainly falls into all three categories. It regularly argues that terrorism is a natural product of foreign policy. It aligns itself with and champions preachers who call for an Islamic State.  It has also come to the aid of a significant number of suspects who went on to become some of the worst terrorists this country has ever produced. Their support of the Islamic State murderer Mohammed Emwazi is one of the worst, but not the only example of such conduct.

For these reasons, the choice of Manchester University Press to publish a volume edited by Asim Qureshi reflects badly on the publishing house.  CAGE is no righteous opponent of harmful calls for collective responsibility.  It is grossly irresponsible to provide them with an academic platform from which to pose as civil libertarians. 

This briefing sets out six case studies involving terrorists with a connection to Manchester who have been supported by CAGE. 

  • Manchester chemistry teacher Jamshed Javeed was jailed for six years in 2015 for recruiting young men to join the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria.  He tore his family apart. One of the recruits was his own brother, who reportedly became a suicide bomber, despite the bitter opposition of other family members.  CAGE figurehead Moazzam Begg described Javeed one of the “most thoughtful and least dogmatic” prisoners he had met while both men were imprisoned in Belmarsh.  When Javeed was convicted, CAGE was furious, saying it was “astonished” and calling the sentence an “injustice”.
  • Abid Naseer was a Pakistani al-Qaeda operative living in Manchester.  He was extradited to the United States for trial in 2013 and in 2015 he was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years for plotting to attack the Arndale Centre in Manchester, using a car bomb in the first strike and then sending in suicide bombers to kill fleeing survivors.  When Naseer was first arrested in the UK in 2009, Asim Qureshi dismissed all the allegations in a talk at SOAS, saying “there was really no plot” and characterised anti-terrorist intelligence operations in general as stupid and racist endeavours.  When the UK judicial process that led to Naseer’s extradition was underway, a CAGE article railed about the “unfairness” of the extradition and “the politics of fear callously being played by the government”.  When Naseer was found guilty, another CAGE article dismissed the extensive evidence as “weak”, while the extradition was deemed “abhorrent”.  Both articles were written by Fahad Ansari, who is one of the authors of the upcoming Manchester University Press volume. 
  • The Manchester extremist Munir Farooqi was given four life sentences in 2011 for preparing terror acts, soliciting to murder and disseminating terrorist literature.  He had aimed to recruit men for jihad in Afghanistan, where he claimed he had joined the Taliban in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.  CAGE was outraged by his conviction.  In 2015, it staged an event in Manchester for Farooqi titled “Innocent victim of a miscarriage of justice”.  It called him “a celebrated and respected member of the local community in Manchester”, now in prison “for crimes he never committed”.
  • Jamal al-Harith of Manchester carried out a suicide bombing for Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017.  In the previous decade, al-Harith was one of the British detainees in Guantanamo Bay.  He had gone to Pakistan for a “holiday” shortly after the 9/11 attacks and was subsequently apprehended in Afghanistan.  He was released in 2004.  Cageprisoners, as the group was known then, profiled him favourably on its website: “His family say he is a gentle, quiet man who rarely spoke of his faith unless asked.”  The group also published his unsubstantiated and incendiary allegations about desecration of the Qur’an by US personnel.  Years later, CAGE used the Mosul bombing to argue against enhanced security measures, saying: “We cannot allow isolated incidents to become the tool of those who seek to further the security state.”
  • Rangzieb Ahmed was born in Rochdale and moved to Pakistani Kashmir with his family when he was a child.  At 18, he was detained by India in Indian Kashmir.  Suspected of serving a jihadi group fighting India, he was held for seven years to 2001.  In 2006, Ahmed was detained in Pakistan and then deported to the UK in 2007, where he was arrested and charged with directing terrorist activities for al-Qaeda.  He was found guilty in a Manchester trial and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008.  He alleged he was tortured in Pakistan.  CAGE published his allegations without any qualification in a report it said presented analysis of “fabricated accounts of terrorist acts produced through forced or coerced confessions”.  The aim of the report was to discredit judicial proceedings in terrorism cases.  This is absurd in Ahmed’s case – his interrogations in Pakistan had no bearing at all on the UK trial.
  • In 2009, CAGE published a report on the arrest and detention in 2006 of Abd al-Baset Azzouz, a Libyan who had successfully sought asylum in the UK and settled in Manchester in the 1990s.  It makes allegations of police brutality that do not appear to have been substantiated by any other source.  There are further allegations in an interview with Azzouz by Asim Qureshi, conducted in 2008.  Reading the report and the interview, one is left with the impression that the authorities maltreated a family man living a “regular life” on security grounds, but without evidence against him.  It appears that Azzouz was actually an al-Qaeda operative.  He left the UK for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in 2009 and was designated a terrorist by the US in 2014 and then by the EU and the UN in 2016.

The choice of Manchester University Press to publish such a book by those closely connected with CAGE is theirs to make. In doing so, they have shown remarkable lack of judgement, and have seriously tarnished their reputation. This is not a question of academic freedom: CAGE is capable of publishing its own material. Rather, the publication of this work is a clear statement of the values of Manchester University Press. 

As a thought experiment, the commissioning editors at Manchester University Press should ask themselves whether they would publish a work by those who share the ideology of White Supremacism or Neo Nazism, has opposed efforts to prevent such terrorists from committing atrocities, and presented their convictions as examples of injustice. Would they accept that such a group’s failure to condemn the crimes of these individuals should not be interpreted as support? 

The publication of “I Refuse To Condemn” was a test. Manchester University Press have failed it. 

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