ModernityBlog

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Amnesty International And Gita Sahgal.

with 16 comments

Amnesty International do terrific work, but you get the impression sometimes that internally they’re playing games, games with people’s lives.

The appalling treatment of Gita Sahgal is one such example, Flesh is Grass highlights the issue:

“Amnesty International is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. I’m rooting for Amnesty.

I am deeply nervous about the way Amnesty is going.

They have suspended the head of their international secretariat’s gender union Gita Sahgal, ostensibly because of this interview with The Times. Sahgal objects to Amnesty’s involvement with the apologist for terror, Moazzam Begg, in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign.”

The Spittoon has more:

“Sahgal, a senior official at Amnesty International, has accused AI of legitimising the jihadist Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners. This is a hugely significant intervention which, we hope, will finally point much-needed spotlight on Amnesty’s continued patronisation of this known jihadist group and the activities of its directors.

Sahgal’s accusations are based on a fundamental point of principle, which is this: It is correct for Amnesty hold human rights positions on fair trial, torture, diplomatic assurances and work against renditions and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. However, these positions should also require us to hold salafi-jihadi groups and other religious absolutists accountable. Human rights abuses of torture, for example, should not be used to justify, legitimise and finally partner with proponents of violent jihad such as Moazzam Begg.”

Update 1: I’m still trying to make head or tails, of who said what and who believes what. This is not my subject area, so I am not terribly familiar with the various combatants, but David Aaronovitch adds some, How Amnesty chose the wrong poster-boy.

Update 2: I think this may have been the original contentious article at the Times.

Update 3: Paul Stott seems to know more than most on this topic, Amnesty International Begins To Wise Up To Moazzam Begg.

Update 4:Thanks to Stroppy for following events and highlighting how those people at Islamophobia Watch are now attacking women with the epithet of “nutty” and “cranks”.

You can’t get much lower politically than that, but I am sure the proprietors of Islamophobia Watch will try.

I think the comments by one of my readers, Leni, comes to the nub of the issue:

The abysmal treatment of women is unquestionably of paramount importance – one that is too often subsumed into a more general political perspective – in simple terms one of ‘don’t rock the boat’. I am trying to separate the women’s issue from all others. Without the genuine liberation of women and until attitudes towards them are fully freed from outmoded and repressive thinking societies cannot themselves be free – children continue to suffer and girls are often denied education and individual autonomy from early childhood.

Challenging repressive ideologies which trap women in a subservient position is to challenge the whole society and the foundations on which it is built. External pressure will not succeed until the women within have the courage and the backing of enough men to guarantee that women will not suffer even more.

Western women , in the early days , were imprisoned and force fed when necessary – they were not in danger of being killed or whipped.

It is tragic that Ms, Saghal has been silenced – or that an attempt to silence her has been made – by an organisation which supports the liberation of women. We have a long way to go.” [My emphasis]

Written by modernityblog

07/02/2010 at 21:40

16 Responses

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  1. What a pity Gita didn’t feel able to raise this issue direct with Moazzam Begg, if she had instead of briefing against him, she would have discovered that he’s a great supporter of women and a promoter of their rights.
    There is a campaign underway to demonise him and I would have thought, coming from such an excellent human rights background, Gita would have stopped and asked questions first from the man himself instead of joining in the witch-hunt.
    I am a committed feminist and a Muslim as well as being a patron of Cageprisoners which is an excellent organisation and resource used and respected by international lawyers, human rights organisations and activists.
    The very last thing Cageprisoners wants to do is silence her – she should now take the opportunity to meet with Moazzam Begg and air her concerns – real or imagined – to him face-to-face. I am sure he would welcome the opportunity for some real transparency.
    But at the moment he is the victim in all of this not the person who went briefing the media with wild allegations … allegations which I note are now repeated in this forum without any reference to facts. Are we dispensing with the whole concept of innocent until proven otherwise?
    The US and the UK have had a chance to charge him but they didn’t – ask yourself why? Or are we opting for trial by media these days?
    Moazzam has, at last, been able to give his initial response through the Cageprisoners website – if you want to make a more informed judgment I suggest you go to http://www.cageprisoners.com

    Yvonne Ridley

    08/02/2010 at 02:20

  2. […] The alarm was raised by Gita Saghal, head of the gender unit at Amnesty’s international secretariat. She has since been suspended from her post. A Facebook group set up by Nick Cohen is calling for her reinstatement. A statement by her can be found here. Former New Statesman political editor Martin Bright has also weighed in in support of Saghal via Twitter and his Spectator blog. The journalist Yvonne Ridley has lent her support to Moazzam Begg, through a comment on the Modernity blog. […]

  3. Surely she simply went against the Conesus and agreed policy of the organization which employs her? She knew what she was doing; why should she be reinstated!? Why has she been treated appallingly? She betrayed AI, her job and broke her contract. Imagine if all AI employees did that? Picked and choose which issues they didn’t agree with then went running to the press. It would never work. Get a grip. She may have been right, but surely there’s over ways of getting your point across without undermining all the good work. The fact is she was wrong; YOU CAN’T DRAW A LINE ON TORTURE, no matter who’s been tortured.

    topcat

    08/02/2010 at 21:18

  4. Was there a consensus? when was that drawn up? which Amnesty policy document discusses it?

    More likely some AI management felt that getting into bed with strange bedfellows was useful, but hadn’t thought it through.

    Once they’ve been picked up on it, they can’t admit they’re wrong and so shoot the messenger (figuratively speaking), that seems more likely.

    modernityblog

    08/02/2010 at 21:24

  5. Blimey Mod, a visit frmo Yvonne, you must feel very honoured.

    BobFromBrockley

    08/02/2010 at 22:59

  6. That’s “from” not “frmo” obviously.

    BobFromBrockley

    08/02/2010 at 22:59

  7. Bob,

    You took the words from me.

    Honoured, that’s the word I was looking for.

    But then again, I’ve been visited by a lot worse, my pending queue is stuffed full of neo-Nazis and their mates, so Ms. Ridley was fairly mild by comparison and I let it thru🙂

    I expect a few more stranger visitors shortly when some of my draft posts are a bit more polished and posted.

    modernityblog

    08/02/2010 at 23:07

  8. AI’s stance is that human rights are for all. They rightly condemned the use of torture in Gitmo. Other considerations – such as the religiopolitical views of the tortured – are irrelevant. We cannot condone torture – of anyone.To say that torture is fine as long as ‘we’ do it is to legitimise torture as a political tool.

    Leni

    leni farrer

    09/02/2010 at 00:51

  9. But surely torture is not the bone of contention?

    Rather that it is impossible to work with those who think violence and deliberate attacks against the civilians, etc are acceptable.

    modernityblog

    09/02/2010 at 01:27

  10. Cageprisoners never has and never will support the ideology of killing innocent civilians, whether by suicide bombers or B52s, whether that’s authorised by Awlaki or by Obama. Neither will we be forced into determining a person’s guilt outside a recognised court of law.

    Modernity

    The above from Cageprisoners (Begg).

    There will always be mistrust around the true motivation of various groups caught up in the Gitmo arguments. As we have no evidence from open, jury based trials to go on judgements about individuals are based predominantly upon their statements. Do we trust them or not ?

    Gitmo – badly conceived and poorly thought through – locked away from view but increasingly shown to have been a place of cruelty and torture has left a legacy which will reverberate ror years.

    So many prisoners cannot be repatriated, very few countries want them. Several committed suicide and some grew from late childhood to adulthood during their time there.

    Solutions have to be found. Those who represent no threat should be free to begin new lives. Some were doubtless wrongly imprisoned. Will anyone ever be called to account for the wrongful imprisonment of the innocent and the tortured? I doubt it.

    It is frankly a mess. I doubr we will ever know the truth. Cageprisoners are campaigning for the closure of Gitmo and the resettlement/repatriation of those prisoners wrongly held. AI supports them.

    Leni

    leni farrer

    09/02/2010 at 01:59

  11. Leni,

    I think I’ll go with Ms. Sahgal.

    I’m completely against Gitmo.

    I believe in habeas corpus, I don’t believe in interning people without charge, so Mr. Begg’s view are not terribly radical on this topic.

    Ms. Sahgal is a very experienced woman, and I doubt she would put her career on the line if it wasn’t a matter of principle, exactly what Mr Begg really thinks I don’t know.

    I think the problem is with AI’s management and their method of settling what is essentially an internal matter, it should not be to suspend someone.

    modernity

    09/02/2010 at 02:20

  12. PS: I have update the post.

    modernityblog

    09/02/2010 at 02:43

  13. Modernity

    I agree the suspension is wrong. I would prefer to see internal discussion within AI and indeed a mor open discussion all round.

    There is a danger of several issues becoming confused – more confused than they are already. For example the issue of extremist violence against innocent civilians is not actually the same as questions around the treatment of women by these same extremists. Both are serious issues and need addressing by human rights campaigners such as AI.

    We often get into this messy confused state – as a result we never seem to identify or define the specific problem and so fail to even map out a pathway to possibile solutions.

    Like you there are certain principles I see as absolutes – beyond that the field of modern politics becomes very murky. The transgression of these principles – such as imprisonment without trial – has to be challenged. The thoughts, attitudes and deeds of those thus imprisoned is altogether a different matter. Imprisonment without trial – or even specific charge – allows the aregument to revolve around the principle rather than the guilt – and possible future danger – or innicence of those imprisoned. Both gaoled and gaoler are guilty in some cases in other only the gaoler carries guilt.

    How do we resolve that?

    Leni

    leni farrer

    09/02/2010 at 02:48

  14. Leni,

    Agreed there is the possibility of confusing the two issues, but I can see from a feminist point of view why the treatment of women is so important, in this case.

    30 to 40 years ago, it wasn’t. There was a sea change in politics and how women were viewed and treated in society was examined, rightly in my view.

    But sadly there are too many examples in the last few years of the treatment of women being brushed aside, for the sake of political expediency or as a lesser “oppression”

    That is wrong in my view, and I could see why someone such as Ms. Sahgal could become extremely frustrated by politically regressive moves.

    As for Gitmo, I am not really interested in the views of those locked up.

    Many have been locked up far too long without charge, possibly tortured on the way there and many of their detainments are questionable, as was seen recently with the young chef.

    My view is fairly simple, either charge them or release them.

    I think reading Paul Stott’s work I can see what the wider political points are, seemingly this organisation, caged prisoners, says one thing to one audience and something else when the audience isn’t composed of white liberals.

    But for me that’s not the issue, I’d need to verify all that, but AI’s appalling treatment of Ms. Sahgal is clear, and in my view very wrong.

    modernityblog

    09/02/2010 at 03:01

  15. Modernity

    The abysmal treatment of women is unquestionably of paramount importance – one that is too often subsumed into a more general political perspective – in simple terms one of ‘don’t rock the boat’. I am trying to separate the women’s issue from all others. Without the genuine liberation of women and until attitudes towards them are fully freed from outmoded and repressive thinking societies cannot themselves be free – children continue to suffer and girls are often denied education and individual autonomy from early childhood.

    Challenging repressive ideologies which trap women in a subservient position is to challenge the whole society and the foundations on which it is built. External pressure will not succeed until the women within have the courage and the backing of enough men to guarantee that women will not suffer even more.

    Western women , in the early days , were imprisoned and force fed when necessary – they were not in danger of being killed or whipped.

    It is tragic that Ms, Saghal has been silenced – or that an attempt to silence her has been made – by an organisation which supports the liberation of women. We have a long way to go.

    Leni

    leni farrer

    09/02/2010 at 03:33

  16. […] Gita Sahgal has been incredibly brave, putting her own job on the line, how many people, in reality, would do that? Too few. Amnesty International’s despicable treatment of her and the wider implications need highlighting. […]


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