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Nick Cohen
Monday 12th April 2010
Amnesty Prefers Jihadists to Feminists

Well, given the contortions in modern liberalism, Amnesty's abandonment of universal human rights was always likely. In the 2000s I wrote that Amnesty was becoming equivocal about political violence, torture, racism and the hatred of women and gays if abuse could not be blamed on the West. (Here scroll down.) Still, its final collapse remains a melancholy spectacle and a shocking one.

  Gita Sahgal, its women's officer, has finally decided to resign. In her resignation statement she says that Amnesty remains unconcerned that its poster boy Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee, is now involved with an organisation called Cageprisoners which has championed the views of jihadists. Amnesty has persuaded itself that Islamism is not objectionable as long as it does not threaten civilians. As theocracy can be nothing other than the suppression of civilians, their self-persuasion took some doing. Neverthless as Gita says, "They have stated that the idea of jihad in self defence is not antithetical to human rights; and have explained that they meant only the specific form of violent jihad that Moazzam Begg and others in Cageprisoners assert is the individual obligation of every Muslim." Amnesty is playing the sly liberal's get-out-of-jail card: a one-sided cultural determinism. Jihadism is a part of "Muslim" culture, says Amnesty, so we cannot criticise it, indeed we must promote it. Yet if the head of a pro western intelligence agency were to say that colonialism was part of his cultural inheritance, Amnesty would condemn him as a racist.

Support for religious reaction and support for the rights of women are, of course, incompatible. Amnesty has made its choice, and as Gita announces, its Stop Violence Against Women campaign is over. 

Here is what she says

 

Below follows a statement on the departure of the Head of the Gender Unit from Amnesty International following her making public her concerns regarding Amnesty International's relationship with Moazzam Begg a former Guantanamo detainee, now runnning an organisation called Cageprisoners which has championed the views of Anwar al Awlaki . Begg has also described  the convicted terrorist recruiter Ali Al Timimi  as “one of the most reasonable and middle of the path scholars that I have come across”.   Begg once owned a bookshop in Birmingham UK which sold  a books by  al Qaida mentor Abdullah Azzam. The bookshop also published 'The Army of Madinah' by Dhiren Barot, a close associate of Khalid Mohammed Sheikh,  and perhaps Britain's most important connection to the al Queda leadership, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder and is serving a life sentence in prison, without parole.

On April 9th 2010, Amnesty International  issued the following  statement:

Due to irreconcilable differences of view over policy between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International regarding Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, it has been agreed that Gita will leave Amnesty International on 9 April 2010.  Gita has most recently held the position of Interim Head of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit, and was in a period of consultation over possible redeployment following a redundancy process. Accordingly, Gita will leave receiving a payment based on Amnesty International’s redundancy policy.

 

Below is the text of my statement on departing Amnesty International.

 

STATEMENT BY GITA SAHGAL ON LEAVING AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

 

On Friday 9th April, 2010   Amnesty International announced my departure from the organization. The agreed statement said, ‘due to irreconcilable differences of view over policy between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International regarding Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, it has been agreed that Gita will leave Amnesty International.’

 

I was hired as the Head of the Gender Unit as the organization began to develop its Stop Violence Against Women campaign. I leave with great sadness as the campaign is closed. Thousands of activists of Amnesty International enthusiastically joined the campaign. Many hoped that it would induce respect for women’s human rights in every aspect of the work. Today, there is little ground for optimism.

 

The senior leadership of Amnesty International chose to answer the questions I posed about Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg by affirming their links with him. Now they have also confirmed that the views of Begg, his associates and his organisation  Cageprisoners, do not trouble them. They have stated that the idea of jihad in self defence is not antithetical to human rights; and have explained that they meant only the specific form of violent jihad that Moazzam Begg and others in Cageprisoners assert is the individual obligation of every Muslim.

 

I thank the senior leadership for these admissions and for their further clarification that concerns around the legitimization of Begg were of very long standing and that there was strong opposition from Head of the Asia programme to a partnership   with him. When disagreements are profound, it is best that disputes over matters of fact, are reduced.

 

Unfortunately, their stance has laid waste every achievement on women’s equality and made a mockery of the universality of rights. In fact, the leadership has effectively rejected a belief in universality as an essential basis for partnership.

 

I extend my sympathies to all who have fought long and hard within Amnesty International to match the movement’s principles with its actions. I know many of you have been bewildered by this dispute and others deeply shamed by what is being done in your name. You may have been told that that debate is not possible in the middle of a crisis. I agree that there is indeed a crisis and that the hardest questions are being posed by Amnesty International’s close human rights allies, particularly in areas where jihad supported by Begg’s associates, is being waged.

 

I am now free to offer my help as an external expert with an intimate knowledge of Amnesty International’s processes and policies. I can explain in public debates, both with the leadership and inside the Sections, that adherence to violent jihad even if it indeed rejects the killing of some civilians, is an integral part of a political philosophy that promotes the destruction of human rights generally and   contravenes Amnesty International’s specific policies relating to systematic violence  and discrimination,  particularly against women and minorities.

 During these last two months, human rights gains have been made to defend the torture standard and to shame governments who have been complicit in torture through their   ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policies. But the spectre that arises through the continued promotion of Moazzam Begg as the perfect victim, is that Amnesty International is operating its own policies of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’

 So I invite you to join me as I continue to campaign for public accountability at this moment, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others?

 

Gita Sahgal

Former Interim Head of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit, Amnesty International

 

 

 

 
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vildechaye
April 20th, 2010
9:04 PM
The only "shoddy and shameful" thing written here is inf4mation's weak, inaccurate and duplicitous defence of AI and its association with CP and MB. First, the statement that "Mr Begg was directly involved in building a school for girls during the time that the Taliban were in power" is validated only by Mr. Begg; that being said, it also validates his affiliation, if not affection, with the Taliban, for whom girls schools were -- let's put this politely -- not a priority. As for CP, this organization clearly identifies with radical islamists and jihadis, which makes Begg unfit for association with AI, if the AI leadership truly cared about women's or human rights offences committed by groups or nations other than those with Western values. I have encountered this in4mation thingie before. He's an apologist for the worst, and deserves nothing but scorn.

inf4mation
April 14th, 2010
9:04 AM
Hi Nick, You are a making a basic error of attributing the views of some supporters of Cageprisoners to Ammesty International. At no point have Amnesty claimed that it is now committed to promoting violent jihad. To get to that point you have to de-contextualise, twist and convolute. Its a cheap kinda McCarthyite 'guilt by linking' approach to journalism. It is also plainly nonsensical and ridiculous. Cageprisoners is a human rights organisation that exists solely to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror. You will no doubt also remember that Mr Begg was directly involved in building a school for girls during the time that the Taliban were in power. I wouldn't respond to this normally but you are attempting to undermine the worthy activities of an important international organisation committed to standing up for humanity and human rights. It is important to protect individuals wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied. Perhaps your publicly stated position of support for the War on Terror and bombing of Baghdad etc has influenced your judgement here. Shoddy and shameful really.

Ophelia Benson
April 12th, 2010
5:04 PM
"non-Westerners (read Muslims) are not expected to be held to the same standards as Westerners and their sins of homophobia, racism, violence, sexism, and anti-Semitism are forgiven." It's even worse than that - it's that non-Western or Muslim MEN are not expected to be held to the same standards. It boils down to: whenever there is a choice between liberal egalitarian rights-protecting standards and reactionary inegalitarian rights-denying standards, the latter is always the "correct" choice. So it's not even really a matter of preferring "non-Western" standards to "Western" ones, it's a matter of assuming that only the most reactionary illiberal standards are the "non-Western" ones and thus must be given preference and that any non-Western liberal standards are automatically inauthentic and imported and colonial and bad. Thus Afghan and Pakistani and Nigerian feminists and human rights activists are treated as if they were interchangeable with colonial administrators, and ignored in favor of Afghan and Pakistani and Nigerian reactionary theocrats.

Wien1938
April 12th, 2010
5:04 PM
I do wonder at the nebulous "Muslim victim" archetype constructed in liberal minds. The demopathy is quite astoundingly open to anyone with a critical mind. No one would make a documentary in Britain today about the abuse of women in traditional Muslim communities because that would invoke the physical danger from jihadis and the moral opprobrium of the liberal intelligensia for "racism". The question for those of us who read Standpoint and debate these issues is how are these to be forced into the public sphere for debate?

Martin Anonymous
April 12th, 2010
4:04 PM
Amnesty has long been compromised because of its allegiance to anything that calls itself "Left Wing". Most of the Guantanamo internees were, & are ultra Right Wing terrorists with beliefs that leave Hitler at the starting gate. However since they hate Western Liberal Democracy, they are useful allies to the ultra left, & middle class lefties ("useful idiots") fall in behind. All people who care about civil liberties & progressive politics should avoid AI.

Carl
April 12th, 2010
12:04 PM
It's not hard to find out why it is abhorrent to, in the words of Salman Rushdie, hold [the cageprisoners] up as human rights advocates. The same organisation championed for its support of Anwar al-Awlaki who has not only a long history of prosecutions for soliciting prostitutes (who may or may not be virgins) but the spiritual leader for two 9/11 planners Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. According to this article [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/26/AR2008022603267.html] he also visited radical Islamic cleric Ali al-Timimi, and asked him about recruiting young Muslims for violent jihad, before recruiting in Britain alongside the Muslim Association of Britain, bedfellows of Britain's leftwing front the Socialist Workers Party. according to an article in the Times in January, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a transatlantic jet on Christmas Day, invited two speakers from Cageprisoners to an event that he organised as president of the Islamic Society at University College London (UCL). These people are not simply radicalised by the war on terror, or are simply pro-Palestine, their respective networks have organised and sought terror for years; it is no mere reaction to what they see as an unjust war, it is something dangerous and more apocalyptic what they stand for, and Amnesty should back well away.

Steve Bronfman
April 12th, 2010
8:04 AM
Amnesty, like Human Rights Watch, suffers from the "Stockholm syndrome" of political correctness and cultural relativism so prevalent amongst charitable organisations and left-leaning causes in the Western world today whereby (in a case of blatant paternalistic racism) non-Westerners (read Muslims) are not expected to be held to the same standards as Westerners and their sins of homophobia, racism, violence, sexism, and anti-Semitism are forgiven. This was the case for many years but it’s only in the post-911 world that we see these organisations sacrifice all of their supposed standards in order to "contort" (as you say) into positions justifying the violence and misogyny of Jihadism even at the expense of feminism, free speech and liberalism. The Jews are so often the canary in the coalmine (as we can see in the Goldstone Report (himself a member of HRW before resigning during the reports writing with was mostly lifted from HRW articles and Hamas testimony) but now we are seeing feminists, gays and other minorities (e.g. Hindu's treatment by the BBC) also sacrificed on the altar of the lefts new cause celebre of all things Islamic/islamist.

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About Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate) and What's Left? How The Left Lost Its Way (Harper Perennial). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint, is available as an ebook. 

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