CAGE Director of Outreach, Moazzam Begg, whitewashed his history of radicalism during a controversial student event at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) earlier this week.
The former Guantanamo Bay detainee claimed that: “before Guantanamo and Bagram I wasn’t politicised”. This is stark contrast to what he told the FBI in 2002, when he stated:
“In the early 1990s I was focused on the global jihad being waged against Bosnia, Russia, and India, and it became clear to me by 1996 that the jihad was also against the United States. I felt that jihad was an appropriate way to deal with those who harmed Muslims”.
Begg has also admitted to fighting in Bosnia, being “responsible for small arms and mountain tactics training” in camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border, and funding camps closely linked to al-Qaeda.
The event, hosted by SOAS ‘Decolonising our Minds Society’, was entitled ‘Preventing Prevent’, and aimed to undermine the Government’s counter-radicalisation strategy on UK campuses.
Bouattia’s appearance was especially controversial as earlier this year the NUS stated that it would “not work with CAGE”.
The statement published by the NUS also said:
“CAGE is a deeply problematic organisation…Its leaders have sympathised with violent extremism, and violence against women, and people associated with the group have sympathised with anti-Semitism”.
This was reaffirmed today by the NUS President, who stated that working with CAGE would not be compatible with the NUS’s policies on “anti-racism, anti-fascism and how we define anti-Semitism”.
However, it is clear that while the NUS publically denounces and distances itself from CAGE, members of its leadership are still prepared to work with CAGE’s senior staff.
As well as encouraging attendees to boycott Prevent, the speakers also perpetuated misinformation about the strategy.
They made sensational claims, calling Prevent a “strategy that fits within the narrative of a racist white supremacist agenda” which seeks to advance a surveillance state.
During the event there was no debate between the speakers, who were all united in their condemnation of Prevent, nor was an environment fostered in which audience members felt able to challenge the views of the panel.
One audience member who attempted to challenge the panel’s positions received a frosty reception and her points were roundly dismissed after which she quickly left the hall.
Another student later told Student Rights that they felt ‘uncomfortable’ throughout the event and went on to say:
“I felt even more uncomfortable asking a question and challenging the baseless accusations that were made by the speakers”
They also suggested that as a result they were “seriously considering never attending any such events at all in future”.
Without balanced platforms on these issues, or the creation of an environment in which students are able to challenge speakers, the false narratives about Prevent will continue to be perpetuated, to the detriment of genuine debate about the impact of the strategy.