Muslim Minister Quits British Government to Protest Gaza Policies

August 5, 2014

The fighting in Gaza claimed an unexpected casualty among the British political elite on Tuesday when Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim to serve in the British cabinet, resigned, saying the government’s “approach and language” in the crisis had been “morally indefensible.”

The broadside took aim at Prime Minister David Cameron’s refusal to join a chorus of British critics who have labeled Israel’s bombardment of Gaza disproportionate and an outrage. Her decision widened fissures within the coalition government and between the government and leading British Muslims, reflecting the emotional impact of the Gaza conflict, which has been relayed in graphic images on television and social media.

The resignation “reflects the unease and anxiety in Parliament and in the country about the U.K. government’s present position” on the conflict, said Sir Menzies Campbell, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the governing coalition.

Not only that, there were signs of division within Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party. Nicholas Soames, a Conservative lawmaker and former minister, said on Twitter: “The government needs to note and learn from the resignation of Sayeeda Warsi she was right to leave over a matter of such great importance.”

But George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer who is close to Mr. Cameron, called her action “disappointing and frankly unnecessary.”

Shuja Shafi, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, the biggest Muslim umbrella grouping, said Ms. Warsi had taken a “principled stand” and had “spoken on behalf of humanity.”

Ms. Warsi, 43, a lawyer and the daughter of an immigrant textile worker from Pakistan, had been a member of Mr. Cameron’s cabinet since 2010 and had been seen as a political bridge to the country’s Muslim minority.

In her resignation letter, Ms. Warsi said, “My view has been that our policy in relation to the Middle East peace process generally but more recently our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long-term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.”

She wrote: “I must be able to live with myself for the decisions I took or the decisions I supported. By staying in government at this time I do not feel that I can be sure of that.”

She announced her decision on the same day as a cease-fire came into force in Gaza.

Mr. Cameron, who has been accused by the opposition Labour Party of being too cautious on the Gaza crisis, was on vacation when news of the resignation broke. In a letter to Ms. Warsi released by his office, he said he regretted her departure and realized “that this must not have been an easy decision for you to make.”

“I understand your strength of feeling on the current crisis in the Middle East — the situation in Gaza is intolerable. Our policy has always been consistently clear: We support a negotiated two-state solution as the only way to resolve this conflict once and for all and to allow Israelis and Palestinians to live safely in peace,” Mr. Cameron said.

“Of course, we believe that Israel has the right to defend itself,” the letter said. “But we have consistently made clear our grave concerns about the heavy toll of civilian casualties and have called on Israel to exercise restraint, and to find ways to bring this fighting to an end.”

On Monday, in commenting on the crisis in Gaza, Mr. Cameron pointedly declined to echo the assessment of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, who called an attack on a United Nations school in Gaza a “moral outrage and a criminal act.”

Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour opposition, called on Mr. Cameron to change his approach. “He needs to come out much more clearly and say that Israel’s actions are just wrong and can’t be defended and can’t be justified,” he said. Ms. Warsi, by contrast, acted with “principle and integrity,” Mr. Miliband said.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he had “never been ambiguous” in his condemnation of the bombing of United Nations schools in Gaza as “a complete outrage.”

“Clearly the prime minister and I have taken different views on this,” he said, referring to Israel’s actions in Gaza. “We always have done.”

Some analysts said that the resignation also reflected Ms. Warsi’s unhappiness with a major reorganization of the government ordered by Mr. Cameron last month, in which she was not restored to a higher office.

The resignation stirred passions as people in Britain — political leaders, members of the royalty and citizens — began what are expected to be lengthy commemorations of the centenary of World War I, which the country entered on Aug. 4, 1914. Ceremonies to commeorate the occasion on Monday were characterized by broad consensus among the country’s political adversaries.

Ms. Warsi’s resignation recalled the days in 2003 when two senior figures stepped down to protest Britain’s participation in the United States-led invasion of Iraq.

British government’s silence over attacks on Muslims is worrying, and divisive

Britain's prime minister David CameronLast week, a nail bomb partially exploded at a mosque in the West Midlands – the fourth attack in two months on mosques in Britain during Friday prayers. A suspect in one of those attacks is also being questioned in connection with the killing of Mohammed Saleem, a Muslim pensioner in Birmingham, who was stabbed to death as he returned home from prayers. The police response to these attacks has been heartening, but the silence from government and the establishment in general, has been deeply worrisome.

 

When Lee Rigby was murdered, politicians of every stripe scrambled to condemn and reassure. Cobra, the country’s top emergency response mechanism, was convened under the home secretary, Theresa May. David Cameron reassured Britons that “we will never buckle in the face of terrorism”. Compare this with near-silence that greeted the recent mosque attacks. Muslims have become accustomed, almost resigned, to media double standards – there is no example starker than the wildly different coverage of Rigby and Saleem’s killings. But the failure to mobilise, condemn and reassure on the part of the political class is potentially far more dangerous.

 

It suggests not only that a Muslim life is less sacred than a non-Muslim one, but that Muslims do not have the same rights as others to be reassured. That attacks on them are attacks on a minority, and not on British citizens. Muslims are not members of a minority that should be grateful Cameron magnanimously declares it not a threat. They are British citizens who are increasingly under more urgent and immediate risk of terrorist attack than others.

 

These are not the everyday hate crimes that we have sadly become inured to, and which are faced by all religious minorities. Jews in the UK, for example, have for years experienced anti-Semitic attacks including desecration of holy sites and abuse of religious figures. In this most recent wave of targeting Muslims, however, we are not simply talking severed pig’s heads and swastikas, but violent terrorist crime that aims to maim and claim lives. To some extent the disproportionality of the response can be attributed to the fact that Britain has suffered a scarring terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims, and foiled others in the making. But the government is there to serve its citizens equally. The constant refrain is that Muslims are an insular minority that poses an integration challenge, existing on the fringes of British life. But when they are consistently treated by different standards in terms of their rights as citizens to security and succour, it only confirms that the fringe is where they belong.

 

Abu Qatada will be able to preach while incarcerated at Jordanian prison

Abu Qatada will be able to preach while incarcerated, prison officials said at the Muwaqqar facility where the firebrand preacher is currently being held. Inmates are referred to as guests, “like we’re talking about a hotel where we provide them with services,” say staff at Jordan’s smartest prison, the Muwaqqar Rehabilitation and Correctional Center. “It is better for him here than in Britain” said Abd al Hamid Gamil AlKafawin, one of the prison officials. “Here he is treated just like any other guest, and has no restrictions imposed on him.” He is also allowed visits by his family three times a week; on Tuesday his mother and 8 of his siblings visited Abu Qatada, though they could only communicate by telephone from behind a glass screen.

 

Contrary to initial reports that he would be kept in solitary confinement, Abu Qatada is sharing a cell with 15 inmates. His cell, furnished by 12 bunk beds lining the walls, can accommodate up to 26. Many of the 950 inmates, including his current cellmates, are doing time for the same crime Abu Qatada is charged with; crimes against state security. If sentenced, Abu Qatada would remain here and be able to teach inmates, say prison officials. Although the position of sheikh is currently filled, the Salafist preacher is bound to find a keen following. Such a position would be paid; teaching is but one of several occupations available to inmates. Others include carpentry and agriculture.

 

The Adaleh Center for Human Rights, which the British government has appointed to oversee his wellbeing, visited the facility twice last year.

 

Anti-Ground Zero Mosque campaigners Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer barred from entering Britain to speak at an EDL rally

Two of the people behind a campaign against the building of the “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York have been barred from entering Britain to speak at an English Defence League rally in London this weekend, it has been announced. The Home Secretary Theresa May has told Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, both of the anti-Islamic group Stop Islamization of America, that their presence in the UK would “not be conducive to the public good”. The decision, which they cannot appeal, will stand for between three and five years.

 

Ms Geller said: “In a striking blow against freedom, the British government has banned us from entering the country. In not allowing us into the country solely because of our true and accurate statements about Islam, the British government is behaving like a de facto Islamic state. The nation that gave the world the Magna Carta is dead.”

 

Mr Spencer echoed her comments, and added: “This decision is a victory for the campaign of smears and defamation that has been waged against us in the UK since we announced we were going. In reality, our work is dedicated to the defence of the freedom of speech and equality of rights for all. If that is too hot for the U.K. now, then Britain faces a grim future.”

 

A Home Office spokesman said: “We can confirm that Pamela Geller is subject to an exclusion decision. The Home Secretary will seek to exclude an individual if she considers that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good. We condemn all those whose behaviours and views run counter to our shared values and will not stand for extremism in any form.” EDL co-founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – aka Tommy Robinson – did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Yvette Cooper welcomes Abu Qatada’s pledge to leave UK

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomes the news Abu Qatada could return to Jordan, saying: “We all agree he should stand fair trial there so justice can be done.” The Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada will return to Jordan voluntarily when the Jordanian parliament ratifies a deal with Britain that ensures he will receive a fair trial, the cleric’s lawyer told a London court on Friday. Abu Qatada’s pledge is a victory for the British government after nearly eight years of unsuccessful attempts to deport the cleric, who is accused of spreading radical ideas that once inspired one of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers.

 

Courts have repeatedly blocked deportation on the grounds that a trial in Jordan of Abu Qatada, whose real name is Mohammed Othman, risked being tainted by the use of evidence obtained using torture.

 

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This could be very good news if it means Abu Qatada returns to Jordan as soon as possible – as we all agree he should stand fair trial there so justice can be done. Abu Qatada should have made this decision a long time ago as this legal process has dragged on far too long. We will watch the next steps closely until he departs, but I hope this saga can now be brought to an end.”

Guantánamo Bay: why can’t Shaker Aamer return home to London?

Shaker Aamer was sent to Guantánamo Bay in 2002, and cleared to leave in 2007. Now, weakened by hunger strike, he asks what his fate has to do with justice.

The allegations which Aamer denies and which no one has ever been able to prove, has led to Aamer spending years in detention, a stretch of incarceration that has led him, in despair, to embark on a life-threatening hunger strike. So far detainee US9SA-000239DP has endured 68 days without food, far beyond what is accepted as safe. Clive Stafford Smith, his British lawyer, concedes that for the first time Aamer, widely regarded as a robust and resourceful character, has started to raise the possibility that he might die inside Guantánamo Bay. He recently told Stafford Smith, who is director of the legal charity Reprieve, to brief his wife that he might not make it out alive after all. The hunger strike began because the guards disrespected the Koran again, but it’s about much more than that now. It’s about the fact that they told Aamer six years ago that I was cleared to leave, and return to my wife and four children, but here I am, still in Guantánamo. It’s about the man in the cellblock with him who is in a wheelchair, or would be if they had not taken it from him as a punishment for striking. It’s about the man who got so desperate that he tried to kill himself. Aamer’s continuing incarceration is bizarre given that the Americans ruled almost six years ago that he could be freed from Guantánamo. In June 2007, he was officially cleared for release. A security assessment by the US government acknowledged it had no concrete evidence against him. Two years later, the Obama administration reiterated the lack of a case against him, underlining the fact that he could be released. So why is Aamer the only one among the 16 detainees who possessed British citizenship and residency who is still being held in Guantánamo? Officially, the British government insists it is dedicated to extracting the father of four, a position it has publicly adopted for the past six years. Last Tuesday, the Foreign Office’s human rights report of 2012 reiterated that it was committed to secure Aamer’s release and return. His case, it said, had been raised on multiple occasions, including direct pleas from the foreign secretary, William Hague. The situation is such that Aamer is starting to suspect the regime at Guantánamo Bay is trying to kill him through medical neglect. Simultaneously, the strain on his family is starting to mount.

British Government strips a Muslim man’s nationality

27 October 2012

 

Mahdi Hashi, a Somalia-born British citizen has been deprived of his British nationality and may never return to Britain. He is thought to be held in an African prison. In the recent years the government has been empowered with a controversial law which does not require a court order to deprive an individual of all his rights as a British national.

 

According to the media reports, the majority of the people who have been affected by this law are Muslim Britons. The deprivation of citizenship order that Hashi received says Mr Hashi had lost his rights to live in the UK for the ‘public good’. It also includes that ‘The Security Service assess that you have been involved in Islamicist extremism and present a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom due to your extremist activities.”

 

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, prominent human rights barrister, said: ‘The increase in orders under this Government of depriving British people of their citizenship on non-conducive grounds is a matter of concern because it is always very difficult to challenge fairly. It means people are being deprived of their rights as a British citizen on the say-so of security officials who can’t be challenged in court.”

 

Human rights groups are concerned that Hashi may now be held at Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti where the Americans have built a large base to combat terrorist groups across the continent.

 

UK ‘may have been complicit in rendition’

Successive British governments have always said they were never complicit in illegal rendition and torture but that may not be the case.

The BBC has obtained documents that suggest that MI6 was involved in the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhaj who was believed to be helping recruit British jihadis for Iraq.

The BBC also now understands that the British government authorized MI6’s intervention in tipping off its foreign intelligence partners as to the whereabouts of Mr Belhaj which subsequently led to his rendition, imprisonment and alleged torture in Libya.

Peter Taylor explained that in 2004, Mr Belhaj was then the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and MI5 believed it was close to Al Qaeda and was involved in recruiting young Muslims in Britain to fight Jihad in Iraq.

Wikileaks Cables: US Worry Over UK Home-Grown Extremism

13 December 2010

US concerns that the UK was struggling to cope with home-grown extremism have been revealed in new Wikileaks cables.

One cable said the British government made “little progress” in engaging with the UK’s Muslim community after the 7 July 2005 terror attacks in London.

The communication was delivered to Washington from the American embassy in London in August 2006. The cable said tensions continued, with some British Muslims blaming UK foreign policy for inciting extremism.

Radical “Tottenham Ayatollah” sentenced to death in Lebanon

12 November 2010

Omar Bakri Mohammed, known as the “Tottenham Ayatollah”, was on the run after a court in Beirut found him guilty of funding al-Qaeda and starting a militant group to weaken the Lebanese government.
Bakri, who now lives in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, was one of 54 people convicted in the latest of a series of trials against suspected militants who fought clashes with the Lebanese army in 2007.
The Syrian-born preacher became an irritant to the British government after he hailed the September 11, 2001 terrorists as the “magnificent 19” and told the British public it was responsible for the attacks on tube stations in London four years later.