Notes on a UK Journey

Thanks to all of you who have responded to our recent fund request letter. Those of you who have not, please know that only your support can ensure that we continue building our work. You can help us out securely via the website ( www.freedomarchives.org).

I just returned from an amazing trip to England which was sponsored by CagePrisoners. This London-based organization was formed to oppose torture and the detention of hundreds of people in Guantanamo, Bagram, Kandahar and the UK under the justification of fighting the “war on terror.” The group exposes secret detentions, renditions and the ‘Close Supervision Centres’ (the British equivalent of Control Unit Prisons in the US). The Director of CagePrisoners is Moazzam Begg who is a Guantanamo Survivor. Other former prisoners are also on their staff.

Four of us from the US joined members of the CagePrisoner staff in showing Cointelpro 101 in five venues – three events in London and others in Manchester and Leeds. We also went to community meetings and briefly attended “Policing Communities: Race, Class and the State: a Symposium comparing Black, Muslim, Irish and Gypsy Traveller community perspectives on public order policing.”

On Tuesday, June 19, our opening event was at the prestigious BFI – British Film Institute on the banks of the Thames in Central London and was packed to overflowing. The discussion raised issues of resistance in the streets especially by youth who oppose “stop and search” (akin to stop and frisk in the US) and the scapegoating and targeting of Muslims.

The BFI showing was attended by a producer and crew from Islam Channel in London. The next day they invited us to the studio and interviewed Monami Maulik – the Executive Director of DRUM (Desis Rising Up & Moving) and myself about Cointelpro and current Islamophobia in the US. They also broadcast Cointelpro 101 twice the week we were in the UK. (Note: DRUM’s website describes it as a “multigenerational, membership led organization of working class South Asian immigrants in New York City. Desi is a common term used by people of South Asian descent to identify as people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and parts of the diaspora including Africa, England, Fiji, Guyana, and Trinidad.”

Thursday, we appeared at the Stratford Picture House. This event was chaired by the Newham Monitoring Project, a civil rights organization that works with members of the black and Asian communities suffering racial discrimination/violence and police misconduct. The discussion included a focus on policing practices triggered by the upcoming Olympics – many Olympic venues are in that neighborhood of East London.

On Friday, we traveled to Manchester for an event in the Central Hall Methodist Church. That event was threatened by the EDL – English Defense League – a racist organization that mainly targets Muslim communities. That event featured family members of Munir Farooqi, one of the first British Muslims to be convicted of ‘terrorism’ based on actions and testimony of undercover police. The government is now trying to seize their family home.

Saturday, we traveled to Leeds and appeared at the 100-year old Hyde Park Picture House along with community members challenging police infiltration of activist movements. There too, a few audience members tried to put forth EDL racism, but were firmly cut short from the stage.

Our last event was at the new community center and offices of the Global Women’s Strike in London. Another packed crowd engaged in a discussion hosted by Selma James, covering many issues, but especially support for US political prisoners.

While there are many differences between the United Kingdom and the US in how the state operates and how state violence is exercised, the fundamental unity of the western powers and their shared history of empire, racism and colonialism made political connections readily understandable. The police and population are much more overtly militarized in the US, but the most obvious manifestation of state intrusion in the UK is the massive presence of CCTV cameras everywhere. The torture and violence of prisons in the UK has its roots in the treatment of the Irish, and now Blacks, Asians, immigrants and Muslims – no different fundamentally than in the Guantanamos or Pelican Bays of the US.

The trip was great­, we learned a lot and made many connections with activists and community members. We are very pleased that our work and the film are proving useful both near and far. As usual, things were done on a shoestring, and we hope you can contribute to help us maintain and intensify our work.

Claude Marks

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