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  • Published in Book Reviews

Deport, Deprive, Extradite exposes the systematic racism lurking behind our supposedly liberal system of civil rights, finds Sean Ledwith

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Nisha Kapoor, Deport, Deprive, Extradite: 21st Century State Extremism (Verso 2018), 227pp.

Two turning points of the 2017 general election were the reactions of its two leading figures to the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks that took place in the middle of the campaign. Theresa May, in a cynical bid to exploit public alarm, tried to wrap herself in the Union Jack and called for an intensification of the armed police and military presence on the streets. Jeremy Corbyn, in stark contrast, highlighted the connection between the occurrence of such tragedies with the even greater tragedy inflicted by British and American governments on the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa in the years since 9/11.

To the stunned disappointment of the establishment, Corbyn’s salutary message did not bring him universal opprobrium and, in fact, was received with a considerable degree of sympathy by most people. This heartening episode revealed that the British state’s attempt to use counter-terrorism as a smokescreen to hide its diminution of civil liberties is starting to wear thin with a significant proportion of the population.

Nisha Kapoor’s superb dissection of a process that has been underway in the heart of the British establishment is focused on bringing to light the often well-hidden evidence for this sinister development in the twenty-first century. Commenting on the reaction to May’s crass intervention, she notes with a hint of optimism: the general public reaction to the anti-extremism drive she laid out was ‘all rather familiar and all rather fatigued’ (p.164). Kapoor’s account, however, is not just a powerful description of how this operation has been conducted by the political and military elite, but also a cogent analysis of the conceptual apparatus that underlies it. The book contains incisive analyses of Britain’s colonial legacy and how the threat to our freedoms today from May and her ilk is rooted in the predatory role her predecessors in the ruling class have played around the world. 

State violence and brutality

The centrepiece of the book is an examination of the experience of five men who have been victims of what Kapoor justifiably labels the ‘extremism’ of the British state. Many of the details of these cases are truly horrifying and blow a hole through the liberal façade behind which our ruling class hides. Probably the best known of these individuals is Babar Ahmad, who has been the focus of a high-profile campaign to clear his name. Babar is a British Muslim of Pakistani descent who, in December 2003, was living in Tooting and studying IT at Imperial College. One night he heard his front door being smashed down and then found himself being punched and kicked to the ground by police officers. Kapoor describes the scene in graphic and distressing detail:

‘They took him downstairs to his prayer room, sexually assaulted him by fondling and cupping his genitals, and forced him into a prayer position. One of the officers taunted, “You are in prayer now”, while the others laughed. Another asked rhetorically, “Where is your God now?” And shouted, “Pray to him”. By the time he got to the police station, Babar had sustained seventy-nine injuries’ (p.52).

Babar was released from custody six days later without charge. However, his nightmare was only just beginning. The following year the Crown Prosecution Service informed Babar he had no case to answer. Yet, any hopes he may have had that he could re-build his life were brutally shattered shortly after when he was re-arrested in July and informed by the police that he was being prepared for extradition to the US. Authorities there accused him of soliciting support for Chechen and Afghan rebels via Islamic websites that he was helping to run.

The national-security state

Incredibly, Babar would spend the next eight years in prison without trial in the UK, fighting a desperate legal battle to avoid incarceration in the US. Despite celebrity support and a petition signed by 150 000 people, Babar was extradited to the US in 2012, where he would spend two years in solitary confinement at one of America’s Supermax prisons, colloquially known as ‘Little Guantanamos’. Kapoor chillingly describes accepted practice in these black holes of the national-security state: ‘Use of four-point spread-eagle restraints, forced feedings, cell extractions, mind-control medications and chemical weapons to incapacitate prisoners …’ (p.71).

Babar’s lawyers persuaded him to accept a plea bargain to reduce the length of his sentence. Remarkably, US federal judge Janet Hall at his trial noted that Babar possessed a ‘humane’ personality and that he clearly had no interest in terrorism. She also implicitly condemned the narrow-mindedness of his captors by complementing him on ‘a more complex definition of jihad, noting that in reality jihad is not necessarily reflective of the way it is invoked by counterinsurgent intelligence forces’ (p. 81).

Babar was awarded a surprisingly lenient sentence based on Hall’s comments and eventually returned to the UK in 2015. However, he remains officially a convicted terrorist and continues to battle to clear his name. To rub salt into his wounds, the officers who had sadistically apprehended him in 2003 were exonerated by a jury and returned to full duties. Anomalously, some of the jurors requested to meet the officers after the trial to shake their hands. The truth of the episode is probably better reflected in the £60 000 the Met offered Babar for an out of court settlement to avert the trial (p.56). Kapoor perspicaciously links Babar’s personal nightmare with the dark global forces that overshadow all our lives:

‘There are many ways in which the police assault, arrest and incarceration of Babar Ahmad sits within the broader spectrum of routine racialized policing practices, but his story of extradition to incarceration in solitary confinement is fundamentally part of the imperialist policing of the War on Terror’ (p.56).

Racist double standards

Another of the individuals described by the author is Talha Ahsan who worked on the Azzam.com website with Babar Ahmad, which the Americans absurdly regarded as a conduit for Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups. Talha’s ordeal grimly mirrors that of Babar. Three years after Babar was subjected to a brutal assault in his home, the Met turned up at Talha’s home (also in Tooting) and went through his possessions for an hour and then departed, taking his passport with them.

In 2006, they returned and, without warning, clasped Talha in handcuffs and marched him off to spend the next six years in detention without trial. Talha’s six years in custody without due process counts as one of the longest in British legal history and indicates how tenuous the ruling class’ commitment to its own ideology of liberalism can be when it suits it. Like Babar, he was persuaded to enter a plea bargain and went before the same Judge Hall who, in effect, exonerated both men. Unfortunately, that exoneration has no legal status and so, technically like his colleague on the website, Talha still has ‘convicted terrorist’ on his record.

The other shameful aspect of these two cases (and the three similar ones involving Muslim men described by Kapoor) is the contrast between their handling by British politicians and that of Gary McKinnon, a white British male with Asperger’s, who was sought by the US military for allegedly hacking their IT systems. Theresa May, Home Secretary at the time, made great political capital out of rejecting the US request to extradite McKinnon in 2012, while, at virtually the same time, cynically authorising the removal to Supermax centres of the five Muslim men. The only conclusion one can draw, Kapoor correctly observes, for this appalling act of political expediency is that the upper echelons of the British state are racist to the core. She eloquently articulates how the elite’s lip service to the platitudes of liberalism are always tainted by a squalid strain of prejudice that lies beneath the surface:

‘The debate over extradition as a violation of an individual’s human rights, in this sense, was another exemplification of the interconnections between liberalism, and its rhetoric of inalienable rights, with structures of racial privilege and exclusion’(p.121).

The author usefully frames her account of the mistreatment of the five individuals with a contextual analysis of how this hypocrisy has been hardwired into the thinking of the British ruling class for generations. The ‘securitisation’ being enacted by the state today to protect us from an exaggerated terrorist threat from the Islamic world echoes the moral panic regarding Irish nationalist forces in the nineteenth century. She discusses how the Irish were situated in an ambivalent position in the imagination of the elite at that time because they outwardly resembled their imperial masters, and yet committed acts of sedition designed to subvert the hegemony of those same masters.

The legacy of old imperialism

One of the high priests of Britain’s liberal carapace, John Stuart Mill, was dedicated to lobbying for the political privileges of exiles from European absolutism residing in the UK, but was emphatically opposed to extending any legal protection to Irish citizens associated with the Fenian movement. In the aftermath of the Clerkenwell bombing of 1867, Mill rejected any comparison between those fighting for Irish national freedom with their equivalents in mainland Europe (p.124).

In essence, this is the same type of double standards that saw Theresa May protect Gary McKinnon while throwing five British Muslims to the vultures of the CIA. Kapoor is a sophisticated theorist of the conceptual assumptions that underpin these types of political selective hearing:

‘Given that race has long operated as the dominant ontology for categorising, sorting and hieracherising populations on a global scale, we already understand legal processes that position some as less-than-citizens and cultural discourses which work to legitimate and rationalise such practices as part of the work of racial and racist states’ (p.9).

The racism of Prevent

Apart from the extreme abuses committed by the British state in this form of collusion with the US military, Kapoor also takes aim at more everyday examples of Islamophobia that occur in the UK. The government’s Prevent Agenda has stirred up opposition from many educators and students up and down the country with its crude modelling of counter-terrorism. Established by Blair in 2005, the supposedly community-led programme is designed for ‘tackling violent extremism’ in schools but, in reality, has become a means of racial profiling that predominantly affects the UK’s Muslim population.

Prevent training in public-sector institutions will include token references to far-right extremism but the overall impact has been effectively to curtail political discussions relevant to the Islamic community. Kapoor recounts how students from this background who express support for Palestine can sometimes find themselves being identified as ‘at risk’. She cites Muslim patients being asked for their views on ISIS by GPs. Ridiculous scenarios such as this illustrate the real motive of Prevent that has been apparent to those on the receiving end for some time:

‘Muslims whose mental health was questioned because they appeared to become more religiously devout, Muslim children who were believed to be on the path to radicalisation because they explained to their teachers their late arrival at school as being the result of morning prayer or who expressed a lack of desire to partake in music lessons’ (p.147).

The ever-expanding power of the racist British state on these multiple levels can lead to a sense of powerlessness in the face of its chilling power. Kapoor’s analysis, however, also contains powerful guidance of how this ominous trend can be resisted and even overturned. Apart from the failure of May’s opportunistic use of the 2017 attacks to boost her electoral appeal, the author refers to other causes for optimism that highlight the limits to the excessive securitisation being rolled out by the elite. She applauds the work of CAGE, the pressure group committed to highlighting the types of abuse suffered by Babar, Talha and others (p.145). Ultimately, the alternative response of many working-class Britons to last year’s terrible loss of life points the way to a strategy that does not rely on the alarmism and paranoia preached by May and her ilk:

‘The cultural counterweight of the response after the Manchester bombing in the form of blood donations, food donations, free taxi rides, hit-backs against the incursions of the EDL, vocal support for civil liberties and universal human rights and calls for less austerity and more equality, were all signs of hope’ (p.170).

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History and Politics at York College, where he is also UCU branch secretary. Sean has also written for Marx and Philosophy Review of Books, Historical MaterialismPolitical Studies Review and Reviews in History 

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