An upcoming Channel 4 documentary entitled ‘Who speaks for British Muslims’ will seek to smear a number of Muslim organisations and personalities. The production company behind the programme used the tactic of ‘secret recordings’ in order to portray otherwise normal behaviour, as something sinister. We’ve put together a detailed written response to their accusations, and we ask whether their methods are ethical and if they are really concerned for Muslims.
We’ve also issued a video response that recounts a vivid encounter with a vulnerable person recruited to carry out such a recording in the CAGE offices:
Below is our full written response
Dear Mr Henshaw,
We’ve received your letter dated 16th March giving us the opportunity to reply to questions raised in your show entitled “Who speaks for British Muslims?” on Channel 4.
Please see our response here in full:
1. CAGE’s relationship with Mend
CAGE works with a number of organisations who oppose or question current thinking on how best to face the challenge of political violence, among them MEND. Our position on counter-terrorism legislation – that it is counter-productive and discriminatory – has been echoed by many organisations and individuals, including Max Hill, the current Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, and it is backed up by a number of academically reviewed, and case study-based reports available on our website.
CAGE prides itself on its independence and the ability to principally highlight abuses of the rule of law that take place within the war on terror. This independence stems from our community who support our work via thousands of individual donations.
As with all donor funded organisations, we are unable to disclose details of our donors under the Data Protection Act 1998. Any assertion by you regarding details of donations, would be conjecture and inference.
2. CAGE and ‘ISIS’ prison bombing
This question is factually incorrect and does not take into account the full context of the conversation. The statement was made in relation to a joint Jabhat al-Nusra Ahrar Al Shaam, and other rebel factions operation to liberate prisoners held without due process in Aleppo prison.
Prison conditions under the Assad regime are known to be amongst the most dire in the world. These prisons are places where thousands are held in arbitrary detention and torture, rape, malnourishment and summary executions are the norm.
To frame support for an operation to liberate such prisoners, where there were no civilian casualties and the target was a military outpost, as support for terrorism is grossly misleading and simply untrue.
It is pertinent to mention here that when it comes to deposing a tyrant, suicide missions targeting military and government installations were even used by the Allied forces in World War 2 against the Nazis. One such suicide raid was described by Lord Mountbatten as “the most courageous and imaginative of all the raids ever carried out by the men of Combined Operations”. During the Battle of Britain, a number of RAF pilots were celebrated for using their own aircraft as weapons when the need arose.
As far as ISIS is concerned, CAGE Outreach Director Moazzam Begg, has warned against the group as far back as 2013 and on numerous occasions after that. Any claim that CAGE supports or defends acts of terrorism is false.
As a point of principle, CAGE opposes and rejects all unlawful violence whether committed by state, organisational or individual actors. We are deeply sympathetic to the victims of violence and their loved ones.
3. CAGE and Mohammed Emwazi
CAGE referred to Emwazi as once having been “a beautiful young man” – it was not made in any way in connection to his character at the time of his alleged actions. This was a comment echoed not only by CAGE but by his teachers and former friends. We have clarified this repeatedly and information related to our handling of this issue is available on our website.
As for being labelled “extremist” by the Home Office, the authorities have gone so far as to designate Green Party peer Jenny Jones as an “extremist”. Anti-war, anti-fracking, pro-Palestinian, anti-austerity, animal rights groups and aid convoys have also been labelled as “extremist” threats under the government’s disastrous flagship counter-extremism programme, PREVENT. The bar for declaring individuals and organisations “extremist” is so ludicrous that Her Majesty’s opposition Jeremy Corbyn has even garnered the label.
The ‘confidential report’ allegedly from the Home Office stating that CAGE is “extremist” is an expected product of a perfidious government that seeks to criminalise all those who question its foreign and domestic policies, and for this we will continue to hold it to account.
It is worth noting that we have revealed that assessments of ‘extremism’ within the Home Office are conducted by the Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), a secretive government unit which takes its cues and “information” from the notoriously anti-Muslim Henry Jackson Society. It may be of interest to you to allay these concerns and quiz your ‘confidential source’ on his links to both these bodies in the spirit of full transparency.
In conclusion and in keeping with the theme of transparency, we would like to raise an issue of concern that has been brought up by countless reports we’ve received concerning a media company we strongly suspect is your own, having a keen interest in ‘uncovering’ information about our Outreach Director, Moazzam Begg.
We were told that this media company did not want to approach him in person but was seeking individuals to ‘give up’ information on him. We would like you to kindly clarify whether your company is the one involved in this, and if so, what your motivation is for using such underhanded and unethical methods in an attempt to smear Mr Begg.
In addition, we would like to note that your and other journalists’ unethical techniques of “secret recordings” ostensibly in the name of “public interest” in fact place immense pressure on vulnerable people who may not be wise to the aims of agencies such as yours, who exploit their financial needs or aspirations, and pit them against their own communities.
We received one such person in our offices who could not cope with the pressure placed upon him by his media handlers. This individual broke down in front of us and removed the wiring that had been placed on him in full view of our staff team.
Instead of employing underhanded methods in an attempt to sensationalise and criminalise what have been proven time and again in the face of intense state scrutiny to be perfectly legal organisations and opinions, we would like to invite you to adopt a more courageous approach. Please do consider meeting us and the other Muslim groups who are truly supported by the community face to face, and present the questions and information you have about us so that we may rectify inaccuracies and misunderstandings in person.
Surely as someone researching the topic of “Who speaks for British Muslims?”, it is expected of you and your team to engage fully and honestly with all the relevant voices in an earnest attempt to understand the real concerns of communities, and reflect whether organisations and individuals are accurately representing them. This would certainly best answer the question posed in the title of your programme.
Attempting to cast our organisation and others with sinister intent suggests your agency has no interest in whether we are accurately representing Muslims. Rather it appears you are harbouring ulterior motives that betray the ethical tenements of objectivity and transparency that is expected of good journalism. This approach is the tactic of tabloid sensationalism, and we are confident that on the airing of your programme, our support in the Muslim community and among right-minded individuals will be further bolstered.
Having said this, our door is always open to honest interactions for the benefit of all.
Dr Adnan Siddiqui
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)