Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Activist hoping to oust Boris Johnson backed controversial advocacy group CAGE

Ali Milani defended role of CAGE in nationwide campaign at a time it was criticised for its links to extremists

Ali Milani has become a sensation for the Labour Party. Reuters 
Ali Milani has become a sensation for the Labour Party. Reuters 

A prospective Labour MP looking to unseat Prime Minister Boris Johnson in December’s UK general election had previously given public backing for the controversial advocacy group CAGE as it campaigned against Britain's anti-extremism policy.

Ali Milani signed a statement in 2015 criticising the president of the UK’s National Union of Students for refusing to work with CAGE, which is heavily against the government’s counter-terror strategy and the official Prevent programme.

Mr Milani, who is 25 and a former student activist, has vowed to overturn Mr Johnson's majority in the seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

CAGE was criticised in 2015 when a member said Mohamed Emwazi, the British ISIS member whose gruesome beheadings of journalists and aid workers in Syria shocked the world, was once a “beautiful young man”. Some years before CAGE had been in contact with Emwazi when he was showing signs of radicalisation.

The group came under fire for suggesting that Emwazi had been radicalised by harassment from security services. CAGE has since admitted it failed to sufficiently distance itself from Emwazi’s actions.

Mr Johnson, who was London mayor at the time, said: “If you are a human rights group funded by charity then you should be sticking up for the human rights of those who have been beheaded in Syria and in northern Iraq. That should be the focus of your concern.”

CAGE employs Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo inmate, as its outreach director. Anwar Al Awlaki, who has been accused of being a senior figure in Al Qaeda, addressed CAGE gatherings by video link and was interviewed by Begg before he was killed by a US drone strike in 2011.

In 2015 then Prime Minister David Cameron had condemned the NUS for appearing to ally with Cage. NUS president Megan Dunn responded that the organisation would not work with the advocacy group.

Her comments were criticised by Students Not Suspects, a campaigning body that says it is fighting measures imposed by Prevent. Its statement was signed by Mr Milani and another Labour Party prospective MP Zarah Sultana.

“The campaign against CAGE led by the government is only one high profile example of the sustained attacks Muslim-led organisations across the spectrum have been subjected to under PREVENT and counter-terrorism legislation,” said an excerpt of the statement, which was posted on Medium.

It said “cutting ties” with CAGE “denies NUS a wealth of experience and information in tackling PREVENT”.

The statement added that the NUS was "adopting the narrative and language of the government when dealing with Muslim groups directly reinforces the framework of PREVENT: that politically active Muslim organisations are beyond the pale to engage with, and that Muslims should be left to fight alone”.

Mr Milani has established himself as a Labour Party pin-up and has just under a 5,000 majority to overturn to unseat Mr Johnson.

“For all of my adult life I have lived here, studied here and worked here. Like so many of us in the community I have felt the full impacts of 8 years of Boris Johnson and successive Tory governments,” Mr Milani’s website declares.

“Boris Johnson sees us, his constituents, as a platform to becoming Prime Minister. I have heard on every doorstep and in every community that residents have had enough of MP’s being parachuted in and our residents being used as political tools.”

But he is not without controversy and faced accusations of being anti-Semitic in comments made on social media as a teenager – remarks he has since apologised for and retracted.

Ms Sultana, who is contesting the Labour safe seat of Coventry South, said in 2015 she would celebrate the deaths of certain political leaders in including Tony Blair, writing on Twitter: “The sooner they meet their creator the better.”

She has since apologised, saying the comments were written in frustration at the Iraq War rather than with malice.

Mr Milani and Ms Sultana have both been approached for comment but have not responded.

Prevent imposes a duty on schools, health authorities and local authorities to report those they fear may be becoming radicalised. It has proven to be deeply divisive with critics saying it is racist and restricts freedom of expression. But supporters of the counter-terrorism strategy question what the alternative to Prevent is.

CAGE describes it as a "toxic" policy and is campaigning against an independent review of the policy currently ongoing.

Updated: November 20, 2019 07:03 PM

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