Many analysts and scholars have pointed out the strange bedfellows that some self-described progressive organizations make with radical terrorist groups or autocratic regimes. The American Friends Service Committee, for example, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, subsequently aligned itself with and defended the Khmer Rouge until the full horror of that communist organization’s genocidal campaigns became clear. Lynne Stewart, a prominent lawyer famous for defending left-of-center clients, once told the New York Times that she supported violence “directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism and sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions, and accompanied by popular support.”
That may have been morally obtuse enough, but she eventually found herself in prison for supporting terrorists who promoted the most extreme forms of racism and sexism. This past January, I highlighted an incident in which Human Rights Watch (HRW) partnered with an organization run by a man subsequently designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as an Al Qaeda financier; HRW never bothered to review its reports and the information which it apparently accepted blindly from al-Karama, the partner in question.
Now, information is surfacing about the United Kingdom-based CAGE (sometimes called CAGEPrisoners) which has led a campaign on behalf of Mahmoud al-Jaidah, a Qatari national arrested and sentenced in the United Arab Emirates for helping al-Islah, the UAE’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood which last year sought to overthrow the government violently.
Here’s the problem: Last February, British police arrested CAGE Outreach Director Moazzam Begg on suspicion of “facilitating terrorism overseas,” and subsequently charged him with “providing terrorist training and funding terrorism overseas” in relation to Syria. This should not have been a surprise. Begg was a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who had confessed to training in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Despite Begg’s arrest, CAGE continues to promote extremists in the name of human rights. For example, on July 17, 2014, it held a fundraiser to discuss “the ethnical, political, and legal consequences of caring for the oppressed.” Nothing wrong with that, but the event listed Israfil Yilmaz as one of the guest speakers. Yilmaz is a Dutch citizen identified by security officials as a jihadist training Islamist extremists inside Syria. We’re not talking about the so-called moderate opposition. By Yilmaz’s own admission, he said he was with Katiba Muhajireen, a group that in 2013 merged with Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate. Not surprisingly, British authorities intervened. Begg defended Yilmaz, however, as someone he “knew well in Syria.”
Alas, for CAGE, such an embrace of radicals seems more the rule than the exception. In 2009, for example, the group held a fundraising dinner at Kensington Town Hall in London. CAGE announced that the event was to include an “exclusive video message” from Anwar al-Awlaki, the senior Al Qaeda cleric who encouraged the Fort Hood shooting. British authorities ultimately prevented CAGE from playing the message. It’s the intent that counts, though.
The United Arab Emirates is by no means a human rights Utopia and it does not pretend to be a democracy, but it is a moderate country progressing in the right direction. Sometimes, however, a country’s enemies reveal a lot about a country. When Al Qaeda, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood are lining up against the United Arab Emirates, it’s probably not because the Emirates are tolerating or promoting radical Islam. Nor do Al Qaeda affiliates and their defenders in the self-described human rights advocacy community, whether Human Rights Watch itself, al-Karama, or CAGE, seem to have the embrace of human rights at heart when they attack the United Arab Emirates or defend those who appear to support the most extreme forms of terrorism.
Until human rights groups stop interpreting human rights through a subjective political lens, and until they cease allowing themselves to be used knowingly or through their own naivety by hardcore Islamist groups, they will both advance an agenda anathema to freedom, liberty, and individual and they will also make a mockery of their declared and important mission to promote human rights.