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Lesson in hypocrisy: Cameron’s speech at my son’s school

The prime minister’s duplicitous approach to tackling extremism will not wash with ordinary Muslims

When it comes to education it seems that Prime Minster David Cameron is supportive at least of some local institutions that I’ve been involved with. I was pleased to hear him mention that the local Jewish King David primary school that I attended as child was a fine example of integration. I completely agree – it’s a wonderful school, although I don’t know what Britain’s most senior Muslim police officer who sought to enforce Cameron’s anti-extremism measures by citing hostility to Christmas as a form of extremism, would make of it. We never celebrated Christmas at King David.

What I’m sure escaped the prime minister was that while he extolled the virtues of adhering to the “rule of law,” a core British value in the fight against extremism, he was speaking from a Birmingham school attended by a child directly impacted by successive British governments’ violation of the rule of law.

In his speech at my son’s school, Cameron again stated the importance of being part of a tolerant and inclusive Britain under a set of values that undermines extremism. The British values debate, of course, isn’t new. A 2006 BBC poll identified the anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta as the best date to celebrate Britishness. 15th June this year marked the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. I took one of my children with me to see an exhibition about it displayed at the British Library last week. I’d contributed to one of the art installations. Only three clauses of the document are still relevant today, the most famous of which is number 39:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

The history was fascinating - the hypocrisy palpable.

My son was born while his father was being abducted, falsely imprisoned without charge and tortured in Bagram and Guantanamo in the presence of British MI5/6 agents. I never met him until my release, when he was three years old.

Whilst it is true that Cameron did order an inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture over five years ago, there has never been any government accountability and nothing has come of the inquiry. In fact, although once again tortures have escaped prosecution, the US has been much more forthcoming in admitting gross human rights violations committed by its spies.

Last year, again, my family was thrown out of our home by scores of anti-terrorism police officers scouring for evidence to imprison me – this time legally – for a long time. I was imprisoned and denied bail; the Home Secretary confiscated my passport and the Treasury froze my assets because I’d supported Syrian rebels with a generator and fitness exercises, long before the emergence of ISIS.

At the time Cameron’s government was openly supporting the same Syrian rebels with non-lethal aid. In 2013, evidence that the Asad regime had used chemical weapons prompted Cameron to seek – and embarrassingly lose - parliamentary consent for airstrikes against the regime. The duplicity of Cameron’s decision to bomb ISIS targets in Syria, revealed this week, without seeking parliamentary approval couldn’t be starker.

After awaiting trial for seven months as a high-risk inmate of a maximum-security prison I was released and declared innocent by police. But it was during this period, especially after prison visits, that my children, who’d been too young to understand concepts like freedom, democracy and the rule of law when I was in Guantanamo, finally saw what it meant to be a Muslim target of a state.

Over the years I have taught my children not to hate those who have harmed them or me, only to seek justice and accountability while holding true to their beliefs. Painful as it may be, I’ve invited US soldiers over to my house to meet the children they prevented me from seeing just so they can understand who we really are.

Belief in the Caliphate, jihad and shariah do not make people extreme. Cameron should know this better than most; he launched shariah-banking bonds a couple of years ago when he stated Britain was “one of the greatest centres for Islamic finance anywhere in the world”.

Cameron would do well to remember that Gandhi supported the caliphate movement every time he passes by his statue at parliament. The historic and very British Charge of the Light Brigade was done in support of the Ottoman Caliphate and to protect British trade routes to India. My grandfather and his father fought in both world wars as part of the British Indian army. Rightly or wrongly they did so believing they were doing jihad. Britain has since supported jihad against the Soviets, Gaddafi and even Assad.

Cameron chided the National Union of Students (NUS) for supporting CAGE, which he claims, apologises for terrorism. This kind of tabloid assessment of an organisation best placed to identify and unpick causes of alienation among Muslims typifies the PM’s inability to engage the community. His failure to allow us to act in the matter of Alan Henning is a sad matter of record.

It is agreed that ISIS has hijacked Islam and poses an existential threat to the Muslim world. But, just as Cameron said that (Muslims) condemning ISIS is not enough, he can’t redefine what Islam is, no matter how many lackeys he conjures up. His disconnection to mainstream Muslim views was evident when he dismissed the moderate Ramadan Foundation’s criticism as self-appointed and extremist.

The fight against extremism cannot be won while Cameron’s government continues to act hypocritically. But based on what we’ve seen so far, hypocrisy is as British as the Magna Carta.

Moazzam Begg is a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and currently the director of outreach for UK-based campaigning organisation CAGE.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: David Cameron speaks at Ninestiles Academy in Birmingham 20 July (AFP)