Univ. of Chicago prof. Darryl Li's (l) appearance with former Gitmo detainee Mozzam Begg (r) minimizes terrorism's horrors.
Reinvigorated by the Biden administration's catastrophic foreign policy failures, the global Islamist movement is now emboldened to a degree not seen since the Soviet departure from Afghanistan in 1989.
This new triumphalism was on display on October 2 when a London-based NGO called CAGE held an online Zoom conference (also on YouTube) to commemorate twenty years of the War on Terror and make demands of the nations that have been fighting it.
CAGE calls itself an "independent grass roots organization striving for a world free of injustice," but it is clearly an Islamist organization. Its website proclaims that, "CAGE does not use, endorse or recognise the terms 'Islamist' or 'Jihadist'" but acknowledges that, "our ethos is based on Islamic principles of justice."
The conference was one event in CAGE's year-long "International Witness Campaign." It was a gathering of "terrorist rights" advocates, proficient in both apologetics and equivocation, and devoted to rewriting history, demanding "restorative justice" for the accused and "a complete dismantlement of the infrastructure that makes the global War on Terror possible.".
Speakers included the daughter of a convicted terrorist and two former Gitmo prisoners.
Among the scheduled participants were a Daily Beast columnist, an Iraq War veteran, the daughter of a convicted terrorist, two former Guantanamo prisoners, and one American academic.
Asim Qureshi, the Research Director of CAGE, functioned as the event's conductor, introducing speakers, complimenting them on their "excellent talks," and attempting to contextualize everything around the ideas of "white supremacism," "American hegemony," and the suppression of speech. Qureshi has assumed a milder persona these days, more subdued and polished than his earlier career preaching jihad in London, as in this 2006 Hizb ut-Tahrir protest at the U.S. embassy.
Some of the speakers were total duds. Spencer Ackerman, a columnist for the Daily Beast and the Guardian, was live from Brooklyn to claim that 9/11 led to the rise of Donald Trump and the eventual implementation of a "racial caste system in the interest of capital." He began his talk by claiming that "two incidents" would prove his thesis. The first was the Oklahoma City bombing, and he never got to his second because his internet connection froze. When he finally came back to warn about the dangers of "a movement like Trump's," he assured his audience that "through solidarity it can be confronted and stuff." Impressive.
An Iraq war veteran and artist joined to testify about his complicity in the "U.S. occupation of Iraq," but as a truck driver for the army he didn't have much to say. That didn't stop him from choking up with emotion as he confessed his participatory guilt.
Leena Al-Arian, whose father Sami was convicted of aiding Palestinian terrorists, deemed herself a "survivor" of "life under surveillance."
Leena Al-Arian, daughter of convicted (and confessed) Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) Secretary, Sami Al-Arian, was on hand to announce herself "a survivor" and describe her "life under surveillance." But rather than blaming her terrorist father for ruining her teenage years, she faulted Steven Emerson, the founder of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, who as a reporter in the early 1990s researched a story that led to his documentary Terrorists in America: Jihadists Among Us. "Emerson and his lackeys in the local [Florida] papers," she claimed, "stigmatized" her father the way the War on Terror stigmatizes all Muslims. In between her appeals to pity, she offered the one bit of policy advice of the day: "get rid of material support laws." Of course, providing material support for a foreign terrorist organization (in violation of 18 U.S. Code, section 2339B) was her father's specialty.
Former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, who serves as the Outreach Director of CAGE, was the day's most fiery speaker, blaming Israel and Pakistan for his problems. He argued that prior to 9/11, "It was Israel that was pushing for this view of Muslims as terrorists," but neglecting to acknowledge the thousands of Muslim terrorists who have attacked Israel for decades.
In Begg's mind, Israel is the world's master manipulator, controlling the actions of other countries with cunning subterfuge. Perhaps he learned this from a copy of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion at one of the jihad training camps in Afghanistan that he admits to attending. According to Begg, Israel even tricked Pakistan into becoming "the biggest culprit, grabbing Pakistanis off the street" to be sent to the U.S. Again, he overlooked the important fact that Al-Qaeda attacked Pakistanis too, giving even the ISI an interest in deporting characters like Abu Zubaida and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. Begg blamed the U.S. for various "war crimes" including "Abu Zubaida's torture," the "dehumanization" of Muslims, and for the revenge killing of "500 times" the number of people killed on 9/11.
The day's equivocation reached its high point when Begg claimed that "the most respected man on earth was a convicted terrorist named Nelson Mandela."
The headliner of the CAGE event, and the reason I wasted three hours of a beautiful Saturday watching an Islamist pep rally, was Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who held several positions in the Taliban's government including "Ambassador" to Pakistan from 2000 to 2001. Having read his self-righteous, misogynistic 2010 memoir, I wondered if he would issue any new fatwas against "the American beasts" (p. 165) or demand that non-Muslims "respect Islamic values" (p. 221). Maybe he would gloat, as he had about the first time the Taliban assumed control of Kabul, that "women were no longer working in government departments and the men throughout the city had started to grow beards. Life in the city was returning to normal" (84).
When Qureshi introduced Begg as the "last speaker" I went to the Zoom Question and Answer forum and asked "What happened to Mullah Zaeef?" A "private response" came back: "Unfortunately Abdul Salam Zaeef wasn't able to join us as he is currently in an area with very little connectivity."
At CAGE's September 2, 2021, online conference about "The Future of Afghanistan," Zaeef was also a no-show. Perhaps he was busy coordinating the door-to-door effort to round up child brides for his friends or musicians and comedians to execute.
Darryl Li: The U.S. is "a settler colonial state grounded in white supremacism."
Almost as disappointing as Zaeef's absence was the presence of Darryl Li, an assistant professor of anthropology and social sciences at the University of Chicago. Qureshi introduced him as a "wonderful scholar and a very, very close friend of CAGE." Li's lackluster performance was filled with the current academic jargon depicting the U.S. as a "settler colonial state grounded in white supremacism." After defeating the USSR in the Cold War, he explained, the U.S. "needed an enemy," and 9/11 became the excuse to "resume its global hegemony." The anger I felt at an American academic participating in this conference was only alleviated a bit by Li's unimpressive performance.
But Darryl Li's participation in the CAGE show is troubling nevertheless. All of academia is tarnished when any American academic plays along with the Islamists' attempt to minimize and understate the severity of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, or any of the others fawned over by CAGE.
Now that the Taliban controls Afghanistan again and its leaders are pressing the United Nations Credentials Committee to be recognized as the legitimate government, that normalization process has begun a new phase during which we should expect to see some academics play an increasingly active role in making the Taliban and its version of Islamism palatable to the nation and the world. In fact, the CAGE conference concluded with Qureshi promoting an upcoming "new major report" he described as "twenty-five scholars coming together to write about different aspects of the War on Terror in very unique ways." The report has since been released as a joint project with other groups that specialize in condemning "Islamophobia," advocating for the rights of terrorists, and demonizing those who fight them.
Expect more Taliban normalization from academia.
I expect more Taliban normalization from academia, which has always had its share of Taliban enablers. In addition to publishing Mullah Zaeef's biography, academic presses have also published the poetry of Taliban members and books that blame the U.S. for the Taliban's existence.
In the twenty years since 9/11, I was shocked to see Yale University admit Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a Taliban spokesman. I watched aghast as my alma mater, New York University, became the Gaza of Greenwich Village. I was stunned to see a Brown University professor become the president of "Terrorist University" — the Palestinian college called Birzeit. I only hope I don't live long enough to see the day that an Ivy League school announces a Mullah Omar Endowed Chair in Feminist Studies.
A.J. Caschetta is a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a fellow at Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, where he is also a Ginsburg-Milstein fellow.