Writer Francis Beckett has an interesting piece in the Guardian this morning regarding his fathers prominent role in Britain’s fascist movement. He reveals that from 1945 to 1955 his home was under MI5 surveillance, and states that he believes the government played a role in maintaining and even increasing his fathers radical beliefs.
My father came out of prison far more racist – and, in particular, antisemitic – than we went in: a phenomenon familiar to those who have studied wartime detention.
After the war, the constant surveillance, which he knew was there but could never pin down, made him just a little mad. He was noisy and entertaining, he could tell a good anecdote, but there was something strange about him. And sometimes he would say something about a race – about Jews or about black people – so gross and offensive that, even as a child in the 1950s, it made me start and stare.
John was proud of holding himself together in prison when others went to pieces, but this came at the cost of internalising his rage. This, I think, stayed with him during the years after the war, when he knew they were watching him.
Beckett is yet to be hauled over the coals for being an apologist for fascists. Nor should he be. What is interesting is how his reasoned commentary is nearly identical to that made by CAGE when they were interviewed by most of the British media regarding the Jihadi John executions in 2014.
Even the supposedly liberal Huffington Post published “7 times CAGE Representatives Tried to Blame Britain for Jihadi John,” highlighting CAGE representatives alleging that the security services had been too heavy-handed.
CAGE claimed that security services have “systematically engaged in the harassment of young Muslims, rendering their lives impossible and leaving them with no legal avenue to redress their situation.”
It was a point of view – a very troubling and serious one, and one you would hope the self-styled “adversarial” British media would also take seriously. This was an allegation of state bungling of terrorism.
Certainly given no journalist in Britain had themselves managed to track down Jihadi John at the time of the infamous press conference, and CAGE had rare personal insight into what he was like before he was radicalised – you would think at least CAGE would have been labelled “helpful source” rather than “terrorist sympathisers.” But we all know how that turned out…
Yet while Beckett was rightly able to make claims about the British governments role in provoking his fascist father, there is an example even closer to home that highlights a double-standard when it comes to the CAGE episode.
The excellent film-maker Robb Leach (watch “My Brother the Islamist” if you haven’t already) had regularly filmed “Jihadi John 2,” otherwise known as former bouncy castle salesman, Siddhartha Dhar. Here’s how Reuters reported on his comments back in January.
He said Dhar had never struck him as violent, and had always been friendly.
“The last time I saw him it was about two months before he left and joined so-called Islamic State and we were laughing. It was very good natured,” Leech told BBC radio.
“To remember him like that and then see him supposedly in this video, I don’t understand that,” he said, adding that Dhar must have had some very significant experiences in Syria with Islamic State to make him capable of doing what he did.
Why is it that both Beckett is allowed to make provocative but nevertheless interesting statements about how the state can inadvertently radicalise people, but CAGE cannot? Why could Leech describe Dhar as “good natured” and “friendly,” but CAGE director Asim Qureshi was immediately lynched for calling Dhar’s predecessor, Mohammed Emwazi, “kind and gentle?”
The first reason is that the media in Britain isn’t half as adversarial as it likes to make out – particularly when it comes to the security services. There are some exceptions – the Guardian and the SNowden leaks, which most newspapers ran a mile from, is one.
The second is that too many Fleet Street editors lack any sense of honour – for years, CAGE were quietly helping out and briefing reporters at the very same outlets which then trashed their reputation.
The third reason for the double standard is facial hair.
I recall Leech saying he would often joke with Dhar that he couldn’t grow a proper beard, and that Leech could. Of course Leech grew his beard for either fashionable or time saving reasons (me the latter). Asim Qareshi and the CAGE folk grew their beards because of Islam. And Muslims can’t say half the provocative remarks non-Muslims can in this country – without risk of being media lynched.
As a result, the former Prime Minister and self-confessed foreign policy ignoramus, David Cameron, was able to smear CAGE as “terrorist-sympathisers,” without a whimper from the “adversarial” press in return.
I look forward to his similar comments on Mr. Beckett, and a possible retrospective on Mr. Leech – though I suspect (and sincerely hope) they will not be forthcoming.