People reading political blogs generally seem to hate nuanced positions, but I’m going to try anyway. For that it’s likely I’ll get slammed by both sides but that’s fine. I need to get this out of my system.
Many of you will know the background to the Amnesty/Gita Sahgal/Moazzam Begg/Cage Prisoners saga. Well, even if you don’t, you can read on. I’ll focus on each of the main actors – none of who come out smelling of roses I think.
I’ll start by saying I have had great respect for Women Against Fundamentalism and Southall Black Sisters (who Gita was associated with). I’ve made several docs where I’ve worked extensively with women from SBS and lobbied hard when their funding was being cut.
I think Gita was right to raise concerns over Amnesty’s link with Cage Prisoners (CP), who Moazzam Begg (MB) leads, for reasons I’ll come to later. But she’s wrong on various counts:
1. Her implication is that Amnesty is being affected in its support for human rights across the Middle East by giving MB/CP a platform. There is no proof for this. If she’s only arguing that Amnesty’s reputation would be damaged, I’d argue that having a public spat did far more damage to Amnesty.
2. She has also argued that Amnesty has “never done any research on the networks developing in Britain or Europe or the US” – but that’s not their job. They don’t do counter-terrorism they do protection of human rights. And on that basis they have to argue for the rights of all people including Islamists and even white fascists.
3. I’m also unsure of what Gita is specifically accusing MB of? This is unclear. She knows that Amnesty does not have any formal links with CP or Begg. She also knows they are not consulted on for Amnesty reports. So how exactly are Amnesty being affected by them?
I have the highest respect for Amnesty, but I think they made a few mistakes here. First, they should have paid more attention to its very loose relationship with Cage Prisoners for reasons I’ll come to later. I decision to suspend Gita was not unexpected, but Amnesty has to realise this is no longer about her.
The loudest voices pushing this campaign have had a vendetta against Amnesty for years because of its unrelenting willingness to highlight human rights abuses across the Middle East. This is also an issue I’ll come to later.
The point is, they need to quickly draw a line underneath this episode. Reinstate Gita, have discussions about her concerns and deal with them. Say it will review its relationship with CP and MB and put joint events on hold until that has been done. It should also admit that they should have been more careful before associating with Cage Prisoners.
Also – Amnesty should recognise that most online commentators bad-mouthing them, in all likelihood, never paid much attention to universal human rights anyway and don’t donate to Amnesty. The real danger for them is to have feminists turning against them and this dragging on. Draw a fucking line underneath it.
Moazzam Begg / Cage Prisoners
I’m not going to bother defending CP really. I spoke to a (Muslim) friend last night who admitted that he had his own reservations about them because they had gone further than simply trying to agitate for Gitmo to be closed, and to trying to defend other Islamist radicals, even some who had been convicted on terrorism offences.
They should have strongly distanced themselves from Anwar al-Awlaki and other Islamists. They have people like Yvonne Ridley representing her: an apologist for the Taliban and the Iranian regime.
Moazzam Begg alone however is a slightly different issue. MB was a radical before he went to Afganistan – no doubt about that. His views since on various issues are more difficult to pin down. For example he wrote this last year:
Freedom of life, religion, movement and thought are fundamental rights that every human being has from birth till death. But like most rights, freedom is taken for granted by many people â€“ especially when they are freelike most rights, freedom is taken for granted by many people â€“ especially when they are free.
Freedom of religion? Does that sound like a guy who supports the Taliban?
I’m not denying however that MB seems very ambiguous on certain issues. My friend said that he was either naive or was unwilling to publicly abandon more radical people who he wanted to reach out to, to bring them back from the brink of violent extremism.
But I’ve not found a single statement from him since coming back from Gitmo that says he supports terrorism or the Taliban. Also, we have loads of former radicals in the UK: Shiraz Maher, Ed Husain and Hassan Butt (who Nick Cohen even praised a lot) are just three. Why are some people allowed to change and others not?
“He’s failed to articulate a clear position but that doesn’t mean he’s guilty,” said my colleague and I agree with that. But failing to articulate a clear position when you’re working with world’s foremost human rights org is a liability.
MB needs to clearly say what he is for and what he is against on a range if issues: the Taliban, violent extremism, women’s rights in Afghanistan etc. That isn’t to say he does not have dodgy associations: he does. But the question is: is he a support of jihadi terrorism or curtailing women’s rights or the Taliban? That is the issue here.
Amnesty’s remit is to fight for human rights of all – incl those of Islamists who are not convicted of terrorism. If Begg and Cage Prisoners were advising them on who to ally with then that would be a cause for concern. Do we have any evidence of that?
If Amnesty were tempering criticism of the Taliban or women’s rights in Muslim countries then we have a right to be concerned. But that is emphatically not the case
This year Amnesty has been consistently and loudly talking about violence against women in the UK and worldwide. It is run by a woman. Are people really saying it has abandoned women’s rights?
My main concern here is that people who have already had a vendetta against Amnesty are being supported by feminists who would otherwise not agree with them on a range of issues.
For example, David Aaranovitch is having a go – the very same who was “agnostic” on 42 days detention.
Nick Cohen is also having a go – the very same who on record as supporting the torture of detainees in certain circumstances, and has wrongly criticised feminists themselves in the past. With friends like these…
Link: Earwigca has diligently written up transcripts of interviews and published all the statements.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Islamists,Terrorism