A British organization which campaigns on behalf of people wrongly accused under the so-called “war on terror” has come under fierce criticism over the past week, following revelations it had links to Mohammed Emwazi, or Jihadi John, years ago.
“Certain media organizations, right-wing think tanks, don’t like our narrative as it goes against the prevailing national security paradigm,” Cage’s research director Asim Qureshi told Reuters on Wednesday, March 4.
“Even though we aren’t a proselytizing organization, we are a Muslim response to a problem that largely affects Muslims.”
Qureshi was defending his group and its funders who have been under scrutiny since Cage described Emwazi a once “beautiful young man”.
Last week, Cage’s Qureshi said that Emwazi may have been radicalized after interrogation and detention by security services.
His comments have outraged some British politicians, who called for investigating charities that have been funding Cage, which has been in contact with Emwazi since 2009.
“I condemn anybody who attempts to excuse that barbarism away in the way that has been done by Cage,” British interior minister Theresa May told parliament in response to the comment by Cage’s research boss Asim Qureshi to media last week.
Meanwhile, several charities like the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Roddick Foundation confirmed pouring several hundred thousand pounds into Cage every year.
“We believe (Cage) has played an important role in highlighting the ongoing abuses at Guantanamo Bay and at many other sites around the world, including many instances of torture,” Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust said in a statement.
Coming under pressure to probe Cage funders, UK’s Charity Commission started investigations into the purposes of their funds.
The investigations were praised by the British Prime Minister David Cameron whose spokesman said: “The prime minister thinks that it’s absolutely right that the Charity Commission is undertaking the work that it is with regard to the funding of the organization.”
Facing accusations of acting as apologists for radicals, Cage members said that the group’s views on the issue have been “misrepresented”.
“I feel that our opinions on this matter have been somewhat unfairly represented. At the end of the day what this man has done is absolutely horrific,” Qureshi told London mayor Boris Johnson at LBC program.
“There is no way anyone can justify that. As an organization we have made a commitment against arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings and torture, regardless of the perpetrator.”
On his part, Johnson told Qureshi that he should defend the victims of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL), instead of “crying Islamophobia” and “scattering blame around” over actions of Emwazi.
“I really, really think the focus of your indignation and your outrage should be on people who go out to join groups that throw gays off cliffs, that behead people who don’t subscribe to their version of Islam, that glorify in the execution of innocent journalists and aid workers,” Johnson told Qureshi, on his LBC phone-in.
“They should be the object of your wrath not the security services who are trying to keep us safe, Asim.”
As Cage funds by charities are threatened to be stopped after launching the investigations, Qureshi argues that his group mainly depends on funds from individuals who pledge thousands every year.
“Every year in Ramadan we have a big fundraiser and people come, they pledge their support for the organization and we collect the money from that, it helps keep us going,” Cage’s Qureshi said.
“The vast majority (of our money) comes from Muslim communities in the UK.
“They love our work. The community trusts us and believes in what we do.”
Last October, British PM David Cameron awarded extra powers and £8 million to the Charity Commission, the regulatory body for British charities, in an effort to “confront the menace of extremism”.
The draft of the Protection of Charities Bill gives the Commission powers to ban on anyone with convictions of certain offences such as extremism or money laundering from becoming a trustee in a charity.
Moreover, the bill also grants the Commission the power to disqualify any trustee candidate they deem unfit, and to shut down any charities under investigation for mismanagement in order to protect public confidence, or to issue an official warning in less serious cases.
Over the past months, several bank accounts of Muslim leaders and organizations were closed over alleged tied to terror groups.
Cage faced accounts closer by British banks Barclays and the Cooperative last March.
The Cordoba Foundation think-tank, Finsbury Park Mosque in north London and Bolton-based charity the Ummah Welfare Trust were among Muslims NGOs that faced accounts closure last summer by HSBC that claimed they were “too risky”.
More recently, the London-based MCF and Birmingham based ‘Islamic Help’ lost government grants, earlier this month, over a decision issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). ONISLAM