With Gerrie and Mouloud Tahari currently in custody and due to appear at the Old Bailey on 14 March, we must find drastic solutions to our troubled judicial system
Moazzam Begg was arrested last week on suspicion of terrorist activities in Syria and was later charged. The charges were that he provided fitness training to an unknown source and supplied money to buy a generator, for the purposes of terrorism. The ambiguity of the language used to charge him is concerning, as fitness training could constitute anything, from doing push-ups to running a lap, and the use of the generator still remains unknown. These allegations have led to demonstrations and outrage by a number of people and organisations who are calling for Moazzam’s release and are raising awareness of his case.
For some time now, the UK government has been alarmed by the number of Britons choosing to go to war-torn Syria, which has been the bloodiest and most devastating consequence of the Arab Spring. The position of the UK with regards to Syria has been incredibly confusing and conflicting, as there seems to be an assumption that the Syrian people should be able to defend themselves against a brutal, authoritarian dictator. But during the Libyan revolution, there was support for those wanting to oust Colonel Gaddafi, so what is different about Syria? According to a number of critics, the rise of “Islamism” in Syria has been a great concern for western governments and the better option would be to maintain and pursue a secular state. These concerns have drifted into UK counter-terrorism policies, as demonstrated by the arrest of what campaigners have called the #Syria3: Moazzam Begg, Gerrie Tahari and Mouloud Tahari.
There has been a general concern for Syria among the Muslim community who are desperate to assist those afflicted by the humanitarian disaster. While Islam encourages Muslims to give charity on a regular basis and not to fall short on providing for those in need, in the case of Syria, this help has come under severe scrutiny. The current situation in Syria is dire, as many are well aware, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced and separated from their families. In the UK, there has been a huge drive to collect aid for those afflicted by the tragedy, and this aid has ranged from clothes and food to medical supplies. Now with the arrest of the Syria three the worry is that aid, humanitarian efforts, and even political activism, will be criminalised because of the contradictory position the UK has taken. Furthermore, it seems that individuals who are attempting to assist Syrians are coming under fire. As such, with a track record like Moazzam Begg’s, who has fought so hard towards this cause, it is no wonder that many believe his arrest was aimed at silencing him.
Moazzam Begg has had an undoubtedly dramatic journey. Born and raised in Birmingham, UK, Moazzam was one of the hundreds of men who were kidnapped and wrongly arrested as part of a clampdown in the early days of the War on Terror. He and his family moved to Afghanistan in an effort to lead a more Islamic lifestyle and to open a school for girls. However, following the 9/11 attacks, Moazzam moved his family to Pakistan, where he was kidnapped and sold to the US forces simply because his nationality meant he was worth more. Following this, he was transferred to Bagram where he witnessed the unimaginable: torture, abuse and murder.
Moazzam was very vocal about his time in prison in both Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, and one of the most painful stories he relays was the mental torture he had to endure where he was made to believe that his wife was in an adjacent jail cell being tortured. If anyone has read his memoir of detention, Enemy Combatant, the absolute love and adoration for his wife seeps from its pages.
Yet upon his release in 2005, in which he received no explanation or apology for his arrest, Moazzam took to the stage and fought for those who were deprived of rights like he once was. As Glen Greenwald states, it is clear to many now that Moazzam is “one of the West’s most prominent Muslim War on Terror critics”. It is quite terrifying that around the world we are seeing journalists and activists arrested for simply trying to expose truths and defend those who are helpless, and Moazzam’s arrest certainly fits into this narrative.
Moazzam, who was the acting director of CAGE (formerly CagePrisoners), is incredibly dear to the organisation, who have just released a new campaign called #Syria3. What is important to highlight when reading about Moazzam’s arrest is that there are others implicated in this ordeal and it could affect many people. These three cases are the first in the UK in connection to Syria and what happens to the suspects is immensely important. We must stand as one community and show support for those in need in such challenging times. These individuals are not just Muslims; they are a mother, a father, a son, a husband, a wife, a brother and a sister. In these testing times, stand firmly for justice and for the #Syria3.
Image from: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/01/moazzam-begg-charged-syria-terrorism-offences-guantanamo-bay
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