BY ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS
Today’s Daily Telegraph has featured research from a recent paper I co-authored with my former colleague, Jacob Amis, which covers, among other things, Anwar al-Awlaki’s time in the UK.
The full article can be accessed here.
Among Awlaki’s biggest backers in recent years have been CagePrisoners, and yesterday they released a statement attempting to explain their stance on the al-Qaeda preacher. Among their excuses is that Awlaki was not, at the time of their promotion of him in 2009, charged with any crime. This is indeed true, but also a very weak defence, which CagePrisoners should know better than to use. He had, by this time, professed clear and open support for al-Qaeda’s violent jihad, both on his blog, and in his various works, including his translation of Youssef al-Uyayree’s Constants in the Path of Jihad. CagePrisoners claim that there was “nothing criminally wrong” with what Awlaki had said or done up to this point. Something that is not “criminally wrong” can still be harmful and inflammatory, and this shows the weakness of CagePrisoners’ position; the best they can say to defend themselves is essentially “hey, we weren’t promoting a convicted criminal, so leave us alone already!” That sets the bar quite low, doesn’t it? I thought CagePrisoners were a progressive and moderate group that fights for human rights, and yet when they defend their, until now, uncritical support for a jihadist, they can’t come up with a better excuse than that?
It is also worth going back to Awlaki’s blog again briefly: a report I published last year showed that, as well as posting a banned video of Awlaki on their site (which remains on their Youtube page and on their old website), CagePrisoners also reproduced materials from his blog on their website, including his laudatory book review of Sayyid Qutb’s In the Shade of the Koran. This is the same blog which included statements like
as Muslims we should not subject Islam to the whims of the people, if they chose it we implement it, if they don’t we accept the choice of the masses. Our position is that we will implement the rule of Allah on earth by the tip of the sword whether the masses like it or not. We will not subject sharia rule to popularity contests.
This was written in August 2008, and was not the exception to an otherwise moderate rule, but rather the tone of everything he was writing at the time.
Yet, in their statement yesterday, CagePrisoners claim that Awlaki’s extremism only became apparent to them ”in the interviews he conducted with Al Jazeera in November 2009 and February 2010 – the latter specifically mentioning his view that it is permissible to target civilians.” This just doesn’t add up, they were monitoring his blog two years prior to this, and must have seen statements like those quoted above.
Finally, a quick perusal of CagePrisoners’ old website, which they continue to maintain, shows they have not yet decided to completely disassociate from al-Qaeda’s newest star. They continue to carry an article by CagePrisoners member Fahad Ansari, bemoaning the decision to ban Awlaki’s appearance at their August 2009 ‘Beyond Guantanamo’ event, which also praises him as an ‘inspirational imam’. Of course, as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Roshonara Choudhry have demonstrated, Ansari’s words here hold more resonance than he likely meant them to. Another Awlaki speech also remains on their old site.
For anyone who can bear to listen to any more of this, tune in to BBC Radio Five Live around 9pm this Sunday where I will be discussing Awlaki, CagePrisoners and his time in the UK in 2003.