British Collusion with Death Squads in the Muslim World

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The British state has long been adept at cultivating fascistic forces in oppressed countries, the most infamous examples of this collaboration being the British open support for the misnamed Mujahideen (‘warriors of the faith’) in Afghanistan during the 1980s and also the British state’s role backing Loyalist sectarian death squads in the occupied six countries in the period of the ‘Troubles’. What was perhaps a slow trickle of events a decade ago has in more recent years turned into a tsunami of revelations alluding to Britain’s seemingly deep and extensive role in supporting death squads in the Muslim world. Having learnt lessons from its experiences in collusion in Afghanistan and Ireland, the British state appears to be applying a more complex and sophisticated strategy towards the current death squads in the Muslim world, some of whom are known more popularly as ‘Al Qaeda’, ‘Jabhat Nusra’, and ‘Isis’/’IS’/’Isil’/’Islamic State’.

The British state’s fundamental role in the bringing to prominence a violent sectarian ideology, which perverts and uses and abuses Islam and Muslims, is well known and goes back centuries when Britain’s was the midwife and senior ally to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. British colonialism backed the vicious religious sectarianism of Ibn Wahhab and the Saud family and brought them to power in the Arabian peninsula, a process which saw tens of thousands of people in that country massacred as part of this supremacist project.

In the late 19th century going into the 20th century, Britain instituted a number of reactionary forces in the Middle East that used and abused Islam as a cover for their monarchical and pro-colonial dictatorships, such as that in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the many monarchical mini-states in the Persian Gulf. The development of such political forces and states was at the same time a strategy against the growing pro-independence, nationalist, left nationalist and socialist struggles and countries gripping the region. Britain’s primary allies in the region are the most sectarian and oppressive regimes, and allying with them supports their common fight against any movements for independence of the people and countries of the region. Most recently, this unholy alliance has been leveled against pro-independence countries of the Libyan Jamahirya and Baathist Syria and also against the leading country in the ‘Resistance Axis’, Iran. Relatedly, the UK, USA and France, Britain’s major allies, are also in direct alliance with similar death squad forces. Mark Curtis in his book Secret Affairs (2010) has thoroughly documented and proven that Britain’s so-called global war on terrorism is predicated on allying with the very states in the Muslim world that are widely seen as propping up these same death squads, which makes the ‘war on terrorism’ more like a neo-colonial war of terrorism against people of Africa and Asia.

The apparent British role in directly fostering sectarianism and terrorism sometimes comes to light, such as during the SAS debacle in Basra in September, 2005. This was when the British undercover SAS dressed as Arabs with heavy weaponry were arrested by the Iraqi police and then forcibly and illegally taken back by the British army. Unfortunately, there was next to no investigative journalism and deeper probing conducted into this incident.

Then we have the case of the so-called Arab Spring in Libya whereby Britain teamed up openly with death squads, such as the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’. The group’s leader, Hakim Belhaj, was a primary ally for the British and the USA on the ground in Libya during 2011. It was reported recently in the media, and confirmed to me by Libyan journalists, political leaders and analysts that Belhaj’s organization is tied to ‘Isis’ in Libya. The SAS were also caught out in covert operations near Benghazi in Libya during early 2011. None of these issues has seen any serious investigation by British-based analysts and journalists.

Eyebrows were raised when former British Guantanamo and Bagram detainee Moazzam Begg traveled first to Libya and met Hakim Belhaj in 2012, and then went openly and illegally into Aleppo, Syria to openly support a death squad by the name of Katiba Muhijareen, which in its modus operandi and ideology is very similar to other more infamous armed gangs in Syria. Begg’s trial earlier this year collapsed as MI5 convinced the judge to drop the case when it came out that Begg’s visit to Syria was green-lighted in at least one secret meeting with MI5:

“In a subsequent blog [now deleted online – SC] “Begg said […] he had been approached by an MI5 officer “who said they wanted to talk to me about my views on the situation in Syria”.

““I told them that they must be aware that I was investigating several leads regarding British and American complicity in rendition and torture in Syria. They called back after consulting with their lawyers and said they understood that and would still like to meet. I agreed to speak to them and meet at a hotel in East London. Both MI5 and me had our lawyers present.”

“In the meeting Begg said MI5 were concerned about “the possibility of Britons in Syria being radicalised and returning to pose a potential threat to national security. I told them that Britain had nothing to worry about, especially since British foreign policy, at the time, seemed in favour of the rebels.”

“Begg then says he was “assured by MI5” that he could return to Syria and continue his work “unhindered””. (Guardian, 02/10/2014)

This seems to indicate that the British state is more than willing to facilitate even well-known public political figures in Britain to support their common aims in places like Syria. More indirect and circumstantial evidence points to possible British collusion, connected to Begg’s organization ‘Cage’, with one of their former clients, the so-called ‘Jihadi John’ (AKA Mohammed Emwazi), who before disappearing and apparently reappearing as an infamous ‘Isis’ butcher and propagandist complained of many instances of harassment and meetings with MI5. In addition to MI5’s outreach to Emwazi, MI5 has also admitted to trying to recruit the killer of Lee Rigby Michael Adebalajo.

More recently there has been a stunning public admission by Abu Muntasir stating he was a senior, if not the most senior, British-based recruiting sergeant for death squads in Chechnya, Kashmir, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Myanmar for some 20 years with de facto impunity from the British state: “I came back [from war] and opened the door and the trickle turned to a flood. I inspired and recruited, I raised funds and bought weapons, not just a one-off but for 15 to 20 years. Why I have never been arrested I don’t know.”” (Guardian, 13/06/2015)

While there is a growing number of articles recently, including in the British mainstream media, exploring possible USA state and government collusion with these death squads, there is in still little to no work digging into the nature and breadth of British collusion. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps one of the central reasons is that sections of and leading personalities in the British left have been and remain in open alliance with organisations and individuals in Britain who supportthese death squads, in some cases even giving them leadership platforms and positions in anti-war and other progressive organisations.

Three more factors complicate the issue: 1, the same sections of the British left have also themselves supported directly and in some cases indirectly these same death squads as ‘rebel’ or even ‘revolutionary’ forces in the ‘Arab Spring’. This seems to have pushed back on any possibility for certain people to make self criticisms and develop their position in light of the growing and overwhelming evidence that these armed gangs are not pro-people in anyway way but are depraved and profoundly sectarian and are in an overt and covert relationship with Western states in a common project to divide and ruin regions of Africa and the Middle East and Asia.

The final complicating factor is borne out of fear of not falling into anti-Muslim racism and prejudice or Islamophobia when engaging critically with these issues. It is of utmost importance that one exercises cigilance as to not to fall into the Western imperialist trap of internalizing anti-Muslim prejudice in countering collusion. There are a number of forces on what one can say is broadly on the left who have fallen into this trap and have fallen victims to the ruling classes strategy of Islamophobia. However, those who are mistakenly thinking they are supporting Muslims by backing  death squads perhaps fail to appreciate that these death squad forces and British state collusion with them is designed exactly against Muslims who are, in terms of being targeted and in a quantitative sense the overwhelming victims of this joint enterprise between leading Nato countries, reactionary states and sectarian armed gangs. It is an integral part of British racist policy to on the one hand punish all Muslims for a situation of the British state’s making in allying with the very regimes who are espousing basically the same ideology as Al Qaeda and ‘Isis’; ensuring over the decades that Saudi Arabia is in control of most of teaching in mosques in Britain and oppose and overthrow all tolerant forces in Islam that are tied to different levels of independence struggles against imperialism. Having developed this grand neo-colonial entrapment strategy towards Muslims, the British state deceitfully blames Muslims for extremism, when the British state itself is by far the biggest culprit in developing this extremism but white washes this situation and instead hides its own covert and overt strategies in this field and engages in the promotion and inculcation of anti-Muslim racism amongst peoples of all communities but focused especially on white communities. If one looks back to the history of the Loyalist paramilitaries, like with the death squads in the Muslim world, both these forces were on the surface in contention with the British state, however similarly in both these situations having spats here and there with these death squads only hides and befuddles the actual relationship between them.

In the West increasing numbers of people, writers and analysts are uncovering the USA’s role in collusion with death squads in the Muslim world it is only amount of time before the levee breaks as it were on this issue and people who live in Britain will be asking more questions and demanding accountability and justice. However, we are nearly into the fifth year after Britain openly teamed up death squad forces in Libya, the very forces it has been saying it has been opposing in the ‘war on terror’, and for all this time there has been a great amount of resistance and avoidance of this growing scandal. For the few who have been trying to raise these issues, the response has too often been at best avoidance or more often attempts at shutting down any mention of the subject.

As our comrades in the Irish freedom struggle said in relation to the British state’s covert and not so covert operations in supporting the Loyalist gangs: “collusion is no illusion, it is state murder”. The Irish people’s demands and struggles were listened to and acted upon by leading sections of the British left, and the latter supported and continue to support the Irish struggle in their on-going campaigns against collusion. It is high time that the British left similarly listened to the people of Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, Mali and many other places and campaign to end this sordid relationship which is collapsing whole countries and regions into veritable living nightmares borne out of the policies of imperialism in an increasingly desperate and barbaric crisis mode.

Sukant Chandan is a London-based decolonial anti-imperialist activist and analyst. He advocated justice for Libyans in visiting Libya three times during the Nato onslaught in 2011 and reports frequently on English-language news channels based in Russia, Iran, China and Lebanon on which he discusses issues pertaining to the challenges of the struggle to end neo-colonialism. He can be contacted at sukant.chandan@gmail.com.