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London theatre accused of ‘grotesque lapse of judgment’ over 9/11 anniversary event

Sep 10, 2021

 

A theatre in receipt of Arts Council and UK Government Covid funding has been accused of a “grotesque lapse of judgement” for holding an event on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 that calls the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan a “crime of aggression”.

The event features speakers from CAGE, an Islamist group described by Boris Johnson as “apologists for terror”.

Run over three days from September 9-11 at the Camden People’s Theatre, the “People’s Tribunal on Crimes of Aggression: Afghanistan Sessions” sets out to “artistically shift the focus onto the crimes of the UK state”.  

The event has been highlighted by Policy Exchange’s Understanding Islamism project, which documents the activities of Islamists, both violent and non-violent, and their sympathisers. 

The Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange, said: “This event, held 20 years after the murder by Islamist extremists of nearly 3,000 people – including 67 UK citizens – shows a grotesque lapse of judgment on the part of this London theatre. It worries me deeply that official Arts Council and UK Government funding could be going towards something that seems designed to offend the British and American public and – at the most sensitive of moments – invert the reality of 9/11, which was a heinous terrorist attack on innocent civilians.”

CAGE’s Moazzam Begg and Asim Qureshi are two of the speakers scheduled to take part in the event.

Moazzam Begg, who was living in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan at the time of 9/11, has previously questioned whether Osama bin Laden was responsible for the attacks[1], saying “In my mind it’s not been established because he didn’t have due process.”    

Asim Qureshi has previously spoken in favour of jihad, arguing at a 2006 Hizb ut Tahrir rally outside the US embassy:

“So when we see the example of our brothers and sisters fighting in Chechyna, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel we know what the solution is and where the victory lies. We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the west.”[2]

He was also criticised for calling Islamic State’s Jihadi John a “beautiful young man”, partly blaming the security services for his radicalisation.

Boris Johnson, during his London Mayoralty, responded by condemning the group as “plainly apologists for terror”.[3]

Nusrat Ghani MP, Conservative MP and Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange, said:

“It’s absurd that taxpayers’ money has been allocated to events or individuals who have stated that the Islamic State’s violent Jihadi John is a ‘beautiful young man’. As we commemorate the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 and the loss of nearly 3,000 lives, all focus should be on the innocent people killed and what we can learn to challenge and prevent extremism.”

CAGE has also been described as “an organisation with a warped view” by Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of anti-terror legislation.[4]

The Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned in Parliament, during his time as Security Minister: “If there is one group that seeks to undermine Prevent for the wrong reasons…it is Cage…”[5]

 

Notes for editors:

 

Summary

  • Camden People’s Theatre (CPT) is hosting BEZNA Theatre‘s ‘People’s Tribunal on Crimes of Aggression: Afghanistan Sessions’ over 3 days ­– 9-11 September 2021.
  • The speakers and performers will “artistically shift the focus onto the crimes of the UK state and prove that the war in Afghanistan, a war referred to as ‘The Good War’, was a crime of aggression.”
  • CAGE’s Moazzam Begg and Asim Qureshi are two of the speakers.
  • Camden People’s Theatre receives annual unrestricted funding from Arts Council England (ACE), in addition to ’emergency’ ACE funding. ACE also part-funded the ‘People’s Tribunal on Crimes of Aggression: Afghanistan Sessions’.
  • The theatre has also received covid-related funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

 

Camden People’s Theatre hosts a “political theatre collective”

On 10 August 2021, Camden People’s Theatre (CPT) tweeted a link to details about performances of the ‘People’s Tribunal on Crimes of Aggression: Afghanistan Sessions’:

We’re proud to host @BEZNATheatre‘s People’s Tribunal on Crimes of Aggression: Afghanistan Sessions The first artistic and independent People’s Tribunal marking the War on Terror. Sept 9-11 (free durational performance): https://bit.ly/3xBDWPS

BÉZNA Theatre is described on the CPT website as “a British-Romanian political theatre collective who make theatre to investigate societal inequalities & confront institutionalised & normalised violences. Pivotal to our work are close collaborations with activists & academics during field research, inclusion of communities in our creative process & emancipatory wrap-around actions to enact lasting change”.

A BÉZNĂ Theatre tweet dated November 2020 identifies the nationalities of its performers:

Political theatre is essential. Theatre is work. We are Jordanian, Palestinian, Romanian, British, Afghan, working class, Midlands based, an Essex girl and more. In this room we’ve spoken Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Romanian & English. #WipeTheseTears #FreelancersMakeTheatreWork

 

The International Witness Campaign

The 3-day event is being promoted by the International Witness Campaign — a CAGE-initiated international network of over 40  human rights organisations and advocacy groups, which was launched on 31 August 2021. It is intended to be a “5 month long campaign to commemorate twenty years since the launch of the global War on Terror”. The campaign will “remember the millions of people affected across the globe. It explores two decades of the war on Terror, its impact, its failures and its future, while promoting solidarity, justice and dialogue.”

 

‘People’s Tribunal on Crimes of Aggression: Afghanistan Sessions’

The International Witness Campaign website offers a description of the performances, saying: 

“The People’s Tribunal on Crimes of Aggression: Afghanistan Sessions is a durational artistic tribunal built and run by impacted communities. First-person testimonies, expert witnesses, and physical evidence will be presented through performance in an effort to artistically shift the focus onto the crimes of the UK state and prove that the war in Afghanistan, a war referred to as ‘The Good War’, was a crime of aggression.”

The sessions can be watched in person or online — “as they will be streamed from London to HowlRound Theatre Commons”. 

There are frequent warnings on the CPT website that the sessions, held over three days, may be (emotionally) “triggering“, for various reasons. Speakers are said to include:

  • Peter Falk and Dr Thomas MacManus (Senior Lecturer in State Crime at School of Law, Queen Mary University of London) will outline the purpose for the People’s Tribunal, and discuss International Law.
  • Testimony from Anonymous British Ambassador on “political reasonings”.
  • Testimony from Asim Qureshi and Anonymous women on domestic legislation.
  • Testimony from Moazzam Begg about torture.
  • Malia Bouattia is named on Eventbrite as an unspecified ‘panel‘ member.

 

Arts Council England (ACE) funding

The CPT webpage on ‘The People’s Tribunal on Crimes of Aggression: Afghanistan Sessions’ says: “Seed commissioned by Camden People’s Theatre, supported by Arts Council England, Shadow World Investigations and International State Crime Initiative.”

Aside from trusts and foundations, CPT says it is funded by partners; and Arts Council England (ACE) is one of them. City of London; Mayor of London; UCL; and Birkbeck are also partners, amongst others.

In 2015, Camden People’s Theatre (CPT) became a ‘National Portfolio Organisation’ (NPO), when it joined the Arts Council’s National Portfolio. Becoming an NPO means that CPT would receive unrestricted core funding. The data file shows that CPT has received £70,000 in NPO funding from ACE for every financial year since 2015-16.

In 2019, CPT secured funding from ACE to redevelop its performance space, rehearsal space and transform the foyer for the first time after 25 years in situ. This funding stream comes from “ACE’s small grants programme to help build resilience by improving equipment and buildings, and make them more accessible”. Page 4 of the CPT charity accounts (March 2020) indicates that the sum amounted to £250,000.

 

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) funding

Page 9 of the March 2020 CPT charity accounts indicates that CPT also received recent emergency funding from: “Arts Council England via the NPO emergency funding and DCMS’s Cultural Recovery Fund, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and London Borough of Camden Council”.

In April 2021, CPT was given a grant of £33,671 — as part of the DCMS ‘Culture Recovery Fund 2 Recovery Grants – Arts Council England’.

 

Written evidence submitted by Camden People’s Theatre

In June 2020, written evidence was submitted by CPT artistic director Brian Logan — on the ‘Impact of Covid-10 on DCMS sectors’. Parts of Logan’s replies to two questions provide an insight into his politics:

 

What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?

“There are lessons to be learned about how quickly the sector can default to conservatism in a crisis, when lots of Shakespeare on NT Live comes to stand in for a whole industry, when the strides the sector has taken towards diversity are jeopardised. (E.g. the un-diverse composition of the DCMS-convened working group for cultural renewal). Theatre industry diversity needs to be protected in any decisions about the sector’s future. So too the right to make bold creative decisions. The need for subsidised organisations to operate more and more as commercial venues makes this nearly impossible.”

 

How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

“This is the time to look at how we can better reach wider audiences, how cultural engagement and attending live performance can be made wholly accessible to everyone and a familiar part of their lives. To achieve that will need new financial models, imaginative thinking and a conviction that everyone has a fundamental right to make and experience art – which will need DCMS buy-in.”

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl_zkhR9s60&t=3s

[2] https://order-order.com/2015/02/26/cage-spokesman-at-extremist-rally-support-the-jihad-of-our-brothers/

[3] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/charities-investigated-for-funding-terror-apologists-pqnd3t8l3vx

[4]https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2972757/Fury-charities-fund-ISIS-Jihadi-John-apologists.html

[5] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-07-03/debates/3c690e8c-f1c6-4183-bd35-875d9882f1d9/Counter-TerrorismAndBorderSecurityBill(FifthSitting)?highlight=cage%20prisoners#contribution-ABE06DA3-3623-4188-94A6-FE3B233E5912

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