Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International


Moazzam BeggJust when it seemed that Republicans in America had a monopoly on Islamophobic hysteria, the Sunday Times prompted a torrent of similar hysteria in the UK by running an article in which an employee of Amnesty International — Gita Sahgal, head of the gender unit at the International Secretariat — criticized the organization that employed her for its association with former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg.

Before getting into the substance — or lack of it — in Sahgal’s complaints, it should be noted first of all that her immediate suspension by Amnesty was the least that should have been expected. What other organization would put up with an employee badmouthing them to a national newspaper on a Sunday, and then allow them to return to work as usual on Monday morning?

That Sahgal’s many defenders have all chosen to ignore this point suggests that they believe that her allegations were so significant — the actions, indeed, of a self-sacrificing whistleblower — that this blatant unprofessionalism was acceptable, whereas, in fact, it was no such thing.

That Sahgal also chose to air her complaints in the Sunday Times, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, is also significant, particularly because the Times first attempted to smear Begg and Cageprisoners a month ago, in connection with the failed plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in an article by the normally reliable Sean O’Neill, entitled, “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had links with London campaign group.” To me, this suggests that Sahgal may have been used as part of an ongoing attempt to vilify Begg that was part of a specific editorial policy.

It is also significant that Sahgal confided in Richard Kernaj, a reporter who, as Rick B explained at Ten Percent, enjoys his work “specialising in exposing shortcomings, crime and corruption in the Muslim community” to such an extent that, when he exposed child abuse in an Australian Islamic council in 2006, he boasted afterwards — using a distinctly inappropriate analogy — that being handed the documents that led to his scoop “was like a journalist’s wet dream.”

So what of the allegations? According to Kernaj’s article, Sahgal stated her belief that collaborating with Begg “fundamentally damages” Amnesty’s reputation. Kernaj added that, in an email “sent to Amnesty’s top bosses,” she suggested that “the charity has mistakenly allied itself with Begg and his ‘jihadi’ group, Cageprisoners, out of fear of being branded racist and Islamophobic.” He also explained that she described Begg as “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban.”

Kernaj also claimed that Sahgal had “decided to go public because she feels Amnesty has ignored her warnings for the past two years about the involvement of Begg in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign,” and quoted more extensively from the email written on January 30, which stated:

I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights. To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.

Right-wingers — and other thinly-disguised right-wingers described, laughably, as the “decent left” — seized on the article with glee, and responded to Sahgal’s inevitable suspension not with recognition of her lamentable lack of professionalism, but by providing her with a platform for further misplaced allegations, and by writing opinion pieces drawing on their rarely submerged hostility towards Islam.

In the Spectator, Martin Bright posted a statement by Sahgal on his blog, David Aaronovitch followed up with an article in the Times, Nick Cohen set up a ridiculous Facebook group, “Amnesty International You Bloody Hypocrites Reinstate Gita Sahgal,” and even the Guardian allowed a friend of Sahgal’s, Rahila Gupta, to write an opinion piece that failed to justify the descriptions of Begg and Cageprisoners, and that also failed to address the question of why Sahgal should keep her job after criticizing her employers in a national newspaper. Gupta also suggested, erroneously, that Amnesty International had “filtered out” negative comments responding to a statement that the organization issued on its website, whereas, in fact, a cursory glance at the comments should convince anyone that Islamophobia is as alive and well in Amnesty’s supporters as it is in the world of Kernaj, Bright, Aaronovitch, Cohen et al.

On Cageprisoners, Begg defended himself admirably, asking Kernaj why, after discussing his planned article with him, and asking him detailed questions, he chose to ignore all his responses. Begg also criticized Sahgal for not talking to him first, noting, “Whilst it gives me no personal pleasure to hear of the suspension of Ms. Sahgal for holding her view, the newspapers were not the right place to air them without first putting them to Cageprisoners or me.”

In key passages addressed to Kernaj, he wrote:

When asked specifically about the Taliban I told you my view: that I have advocated for engagement and dialogue with the Taliban well before our own government took the official position of doing the same — only last week — although I did not say, like the government, we should be giving them lots of money in order to do so.

I also clearly told you, though you deliberately chose to ignore, that I had actually witnessed what I believe were human rights abuses under the Taliban and have detailed them in my book, from which you conveniently and selectively quote. I added that the US administration had perpetrated severe human rights abuses against me for years but that didn’t mean I opposed dialogue with them.

I even told you that Cageprisoners and I have initiated pioneering steps in that regard by organising tours all around the UK with former US guards from Guantánamo and men who were once imprisoned there. Cageprisoners is the only organisation to have done so. One of these soldiers, in response to your article, sent this message to me: “They are attacking you and your causes … don’t forget you have real support by some of us ex-soldiers who have seen the light.” […]

Had you — and Ms Sahgal no doubt — done your homework properly you’d have discovered also that I was involved in the building of, setting up and running of a school for girls in Kabul during the time of the Taliban, but of course, that wouldn’t have sat well with the agenda and nature of your heavily biased and poorly researched article.

Cageprisoners, for whom I write on a regular basis, describes itself, accurately, as an organization that “exists solely to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror.” In his letter to Kernaj, Begg also mentioned that Cageprisoners would not “be forced into determining a person’s guilt outside a recognised court of law.” This happens to be a view that I share, and it has motivated me for the last four years as I have assiduously chronicled the stories of the men and boys — all Muslims, in case anyone has overlooked this particular point — who have been redefined as a category of human beings without rights in a post-9/11 world of hysteria in which apparently intelligent non-Muslims regard the indefinite detention without charge or trial of Muslim “terror suspects” as somehow appropriate.

I know from personal experience that Moazzam Begg is no extremist. We have met on numerous occasions, have had several long discussions, and have shared platforms together at many events. He also features in the new documentary about Guantánamo, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” directed by Polly Nash and myself, talking about Afghanistan, and his hopes, in 2001, that civilized intervention from other Muslims would help the country to engage with the modern world.

Along with other representatives of Cageprisoners, Moazzam and other released prisoners have all welcomed me — a non-Muslim — with nothing less than friendship, support and openness at all times, as they have with numerous other non-Muslim supporters of universal human rights. Is this really what we should expect from extremists or supporters of the Taliban?

I also know, from my conversations with Moazzam, that he is capable of far more open-minded discussions than many of his critics mentioned above (of the kind that sustained him in his conversations with guards throughout his long ordeal in US custody), and that his calm and considered response to the treatment he received is a far more moderating and moderate influence than that of his divisive critics.

It also seems clear to me that the manner in which this story has been stirred up by the media actually has less to do with Moazzam and Cageprisoners than it does with illiberal attempts to smear Amnesty International’s reputation, and to advance an all too prevalent anti-Islamic agenda.

This is supposedly disguised through the purported defense of an Amnesty employee who had no excuse for speaking to the press as she did, but instead, I would suggest, Gita Sahgal is largely being used by those whose only aim is to stir up hostility towards a man who was imprisoned without charge or trial for three years, who has never been charged with a crime, and who dares to defend the rights of other Muslims not to be held without charge or trial.

Note: Moazzam Begg, Omar Deghayes and Andy Worthington will attend a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in London on Tuesday February 16, at 6.30 pm, and will take part in a Q&A session following the screening, moderated by Sara MacNeice, Amnesty’s Campaign Manager for Terrorism, Security and Human Rights. For further details, see here. Tickets are free, but booking is required. Please visit Amnesty’s site for booking details, and see here for details of other UK tour dates for the film.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

87 Responses

  1. Faisal says...

    Here’s Joan Smith from today’s Indy:

    Begg’s enthusiasm for the Taliban is shared by another British Muslim who went to see the regime for himself: “They were amazing people. People who loved Allah. They were soft, kind and humble to the Muslims, harsh against their enemies. This is how an Islamic state should be.”

    That is the verdict of Omar Khyam, now serving life for his part in a plot to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre and the Ministry of Sound nightclub (chosen, don’t forget, because it was likely to be full of “slags” enjoying themselves). Khyam appears on the Cageprisoners website, which says it exists “solely to raise awareness of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror”. He is in illustrious company: the site also lists Abu Qatada – once described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden’s spiritual ambassador to Europe – and the notorious preacher of hate, Abu Hamza.

  2. Faisal says...

    In response to Amnesty’s statement, it is true to say that are more than willing to take cover behind a false dichotomy. Amnesty can easily highlight abuses against human rights without cuddling up to people who are seeking to abuse human rights themselves. Would you say that that is true?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    So we were largely quoting the same things there, Faisal, and I don’t see anything that would require me to interpret Moazzam’s interest as anything other than hearing from “a prisoner held in the Middle East at the behest of the US,” which is central to Cageprisoners’ concerns regarding prisoners of the “War on Terror.”

  4. Faisal says...

    Failing to acknowledge concerns that Gita Sahgal and others have raised about those who sympathise with or have close connections with anti-democratic religious right forces in all religions including the Taliban, signals the view that Amnesty International is not concerned about the rights of women and sexual minorities or freedom of expression.

    From the Southall Black Sisters‘ and Women against Fundamentalism’s statement.

  5. Faisal says...

    Andy, yes we are quoting similar passages by Begg but there seems to be a world of difference in interpretation.

    You seem to find no problem with the fact that Begg legitimises al-Awlaki because he “neither shied away from talking about the Islamic concept of jihad (in military terms) nor from condemning the September 11 attacks and terrorism in general” and uses that as a cover for lionising him in public meetings, arranging for video hook-ups with Awlaki from Yemen and quoting him deferentially on the CP site.

    Other people, not least mainstream Muslims like myself, find that very disturbing indeed.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Faisal,
    Re: “Amnesty can easily highlight abuses against human rights without cuddling up to people who are seeking to abuse human rights themselves. Would you say that that is true?”

    Yes, but your inference is that Amnesty is “cuddling up to people who are seeking to abuse human rights themselves,” and I don’t believe that to be the case.

  7. Faisal says...

    Yes, but your inference is that Amnesty is “cuddling up to people who are seeking to abuse human rights themselves,” and I don’t believe that to be the case.

    Depends whether you hold the human rights position against torture and renditions trumps the humans rights of women and sexual minorities.

    It is of some concern if leading activists inside Amnesty International have erected some sort of hierarchy of human rights violations, with torture being a more heinous crime against humanity than, for example, deprivation of rights on the basis of gender. This sort of “triage” approach to human rights is perfectly mistaken and very dangerous.

    And in any case, that goes against Amnesty’s own position of a universalist human rights approach.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Faisal,
    Yes, but we’re not on the same page here. Your presumption is that Moazzam/Cage defend oppressors of women, whereas I don’t agree that that’s the case. We’re going round in circles. I’m happy to discuss this, but I can’t see that we’re going to end up anywhere.

  9. Keep up the good work says...

    I read Joan Smith’s appallingly misleading hack piece in today’s Indy and while researching the background to this issue came across your article on the

    I have attended two public events in Manchester where Moazzam Begg has spoken–I filmed both for Stop the War. I was impressed by his cool, calm, rational approach and so I was not taken in by Smith’s ridiculously misleading portrayal of Begg or by the highly selective and self-serving quotes (ripped out of context) from his book–which I bought. Unfortunately others may well be taken in by her nonsense through ignorance. I do hope that Moazzam responds.

    Of course, such a piece appearing in the Indy on the day as the Appeal Court decision on MI5 complicity in torture is purely coincidental you understand. Why wasn’t it on page 1? It is more important than the tedious revelations about Brown’s bad temper for God’s sake!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, “Keep up the good work.” I’m sure that Moazzam will respond, but I know that he has more pressing concerns at the moment. While all this has been going on, he’s been in Ireland, hoping to persuade the government to take more cleared prisoners from Guantanamo. Here are some relevant passages from a report in the Irish Times:

    THE GOVERNMENT has acted as a “beacon of light” in Europe for taking in two inmates from Guantánamo Bay, a former inmate turned human rights activist has said.

    Moazzam Begg, who was held in the US-run detention centre for about two years, told TDs on the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday that he would like to thank Ireland on behalf of Guantánamo inmates for opening its doors.

    Speaking to The Irish Times before the informal meeting, Mr Begg said Ireland was a role model and it should persuade other EU states to take in inmates to enable the detention centre to close.

    He said it was necessary to bring inmates into the country to “rehumanise them without great fanfare, without great publicity and help them pick up the pieces of their terrible shattered lives”.

    He criticised the use of Shannon airport for enabling the US and third countries to transport people illegally to detention centres where they often faced torture.

    “Whichever countries that have been involved in this process, they carry a burden, a share of the blame,” he said. “These countries need to be forthright and at the forefront of rectifying this.” […]

    Mr Begg denied he was a supporter of the Taliban or had engaged in terrorist activity, allegations made in some US news reports [and in the UK]. “I’ve always called for a dialogue with the Taliban. I’ve always said the only way forward — and the British government knows very well because of its experience in Northern Ireland — is negotiation.

    “Do I support terrorism? The answer is an unequivocal no,” Mr Begg added.

  11. ahmed errachidi says...

    hello andy
    i quote
    “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.”
    thanks for these golden words.if the people in the uk read this quote with a free mind like yours then there will be peace and and equality in this world .
    i idmire your free mind and intelligence your comments are real educational thanks for that….as always..

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ahmed. I’m so glad you know where I’m coming from!

  13. Faisal says...


    “Yes, but we’re not on the same page here. Your presumption is that Moazzam/Cage defend oppressors of women, whereas I don’t agree that that’s the case. We’re going round in circles. I’m happy to discuss this, but I can’t see that we’re going to end up anywhere.”

    We’re not going to go anywhere because you have chosen, like Amnesty to view women’s rights to be of a lower qualitative value than human rights of the tortured. You have done that because you have wilfully chosen not to look into the view of Anwar al-Awlaki, who have been promoted by Cageprisoners.

    It is also interesting to note that Amnesty now acknowledge Moazzam Begg’s politics are problematic. Which is why their line of defence has changed from a defiant call to stay with Begg to this:

    He speaks about his own views and experiences, not Amnesty International’s. And Moazzam Begg has never used a platform he shared with Amnesty to speak against the rights of others.

    In other words, however appalling Begg’s views are, he didn’t advocate them on an Amnesty platform. However, what Amnesty has done is to promote the man itself, in spite of being aware of his views. And that is why Gita Sahgal was right to alert us to this appalling development.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Not at all, Faisal. That’s why we’re going round and round. I haven’t “chosen, like Amnesty to view women’s rights to be of a lower qualitative value than human rights of the tortured,” and I haven’t “wilfully chosen not to look into the view of Anwar al-Awlaki.” I’ve explained myself above, but the problem with this essentially adversarial type of argument is that you think you’re right, and attempt to justify your views, and I think I’m right, and attempt to justify mine. Who’s the arbiter? Well, your friends agree with you, and mine agree with me.

  15. Faisal says...

    I think this is bigger than either you or I, Andy. I think the best comment on this so far has been by Rahila Gupta:

    This is no ordinary spat between two individuals and an organisation. It is an attempt to tease out the contradictions that bedevil the human rights debate in this country. In the campaign to achieve human rights, whose human rights get privileged? In the attempt to redress the balance, liberal-left thinking correctly identifies Muslims as the underdogs, especially those who have been terrorised by the state in its war on terror agenda. But beyond that, we need a more sophisticated response so that the human rights of even more powerless groups, such as women and sexual minorities, do not get trampled once again.

  16. Deepak Tripathi says...

    Gita Sahgal has had her moment of ‘glory’. Moazzam Begg’s story concerns much bigger issues and he will continue to be in public life. A tragic error of judgment on Sahgal’s part.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for getting in touch, Deepak. Your perspective is appreciated.

  18. Tom Friedman, Yemen the new Waziristan | Tea Break says...

    […] Report Blames White House’s First Year Failures on Emanuel and the Obama’s Inner Circle Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International Altogether … the big push in Afghanistan Black sites in the empire of bases THE ROVING EYE : […]

  19. Tom Friedman, Yemen the new Waziristan | Tea Break says...

    […] Report Blames White House’s First Year Failures on Emanuel and the Obama’s Inner Circle Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International Altogether … the big push in Afghanistan Black sites in the empire of bases THE ROVING EYE : […]

  20. Amnesty, Moazzam Begg, Gita Sahgal – Link roundup « Earwicga says...

    […] February 2010 Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International  Andy […]

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    This was posted by Tim on The Public Record:

    I thought this article was brilliant. I would like to pick up on one point:
    ‘’Nick Cohen set up a ridiculous Facebook group,
    “Amnesty International You Bloody Hypocrites Reinstate Gita Sahgal,”
    Below is a cut and paste of from that very group:
    (it will still be on the group if you search on FB)

    To Nick and Martin – can ground rules be placed to prevent schneurs cluttering the place up. This is a Group in *defense* of Sahgal. Individuals are welcome to respond to such posts, but to post repeated naysaying posts, they come across as the sort of freeloaders who think the freedoms they consider their rights are negotiable for Muslims.
    Wed at 1:33pm • Comment •LikeUnlike • View Feedback (2)Hide Feedback (2) • Report
    Nick Cohen
    Done comrade
    Wed at 10:30pm •

    Nick Cohen responds – Done comrade. Then the majority of posts against Gita actions are deleted. (hypocrites?) What gets me is the phase:
    ”freeloaders who think the freedoms they consider their rights are negotiable for Muslims’’
    (‘freeloaders’ being the people who didn’t agree with the group, whose posts were deleted.)
    I keep reading it, again and again, thinking do they mean all Muslims, everywhere? What if some of these ‘freeloaders’ are Muslims? What about Muslims who work for AI who defend the same freedoms and rights as the freeloaders or the people who posted the post? Is a blatant anti-Muslim statement about what Muslims consider rights? Or is a very lazy attack on fundamentalism? It’s obviously what Nick feels is right as he later pastes the exact same as I have above into his own explanation as to why the deleted posts.
    To be honest, I don’t understand it, but it does leave a very bitter taste in my mouth, not sure why…anyone care to comment?

  22. Rachel Davenport says...

    Andy, I hope you will take a good look at the petition in support of Gita Sahgal on the site
    yes, Nick Cohen signed it, and no doubt some others of questionable reputation, but notice how many, many of the signatories are South Asian, and if you look at some of the websites, represent human rights and secular groups. Take some time to look at some of these sites. These are not ‘Islamophobes’. These are the people whose voices are rarely heard, but who know Gita Sahgal through her decades of work. They are capable of holding a nuanced position, as Gita does: defending the victims of the War on Terror but also taking a critical stance against authoritarian religious movements. Yes, it took some time for the news to spread around the world and to set up this petition and in the meantime rightwingers rushed to associate themselves with Gita. But they will be disappointed. If you read the statement you will see the it is far from rightwing, Islamophobic, racist-friendly, and all the other ill-informed insults you flung at Gita. I hope you will acknowledge your mistake.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Rachel,
    My issue is not with Gita Sahgal’s integrity, nor with that of other South Asia experts. Rather, my problem with her criticism is that I know, from my experience of Moazzam, that he is not an extremist, and that, most crucially, his work aims at defusing extremism. He was always the biggest nightmare for the Bush administration, because he has always been calm and eloquent, and has refused to suggest that anger is an adequate response to the “War on Terror.” I sincerely believe that those criticizing him and Cageprisoners need to reflect on that.
    Furthermore, the compilers of the petition might also want to reflect on the fact that the support of Nick Cohen, Rod Liddle etc. undermines the credibility of those supporting Gita Sahgal, as these people have a clear anti-Muslim agenda that can only lead objective commentators to conclude that Gita and her supporters do too — and that,as a result, human rights are not for Muslims.
    I’m afraid that, when it comes to alliances, criticism cuts both ways, and whatever Gita hoped to achieve will fail if she does not distance herself from being a “poster girl” for these people.

  24. Rachel Davenport says...

    I hope that Gita will distance herself from Rid Liddle, Nick Cohen, etc.

    But I need to ask you who is allowed to speak for Muslims – only the groups you associate with, not the individual Muslims and groups who have signed the petition? You do good work, but maybe you need to broaden your experience of Muslims to discover that many do not believe that criticism of conservative Islam is the same as being anti-Muslim.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Rachel,
    Of course I understand that criticism of conservative Islam is not the same as being anti-Muslim, and I would not, for a minute, want to pretend that I have any right — or need — to ask Muslims not to criticize various manifestations of their faith. Where I think the confusion arises is in Cageprisoners’ work defending the rights of all Muslims held in the “War on Terror” versus the personal beliefs of those in the organization, and it is here that serious errors are being made. I know for a fact that Moazzam, Asim and other members of Cageprisoners do not represent repressive elements of “conservative Islam” in their personal lives.
    What we’ve ended up with here is a situation in which Moazzam and Cageprisoners are being regarded as hard-line Wahhabis — or, even more worryingly, Salafists — when there is simply no evidence that this is the case.

  26. Richard Crossin says...

    I have read Sahgal’s piece and now, your response. She is right. You and Amnesty are being duped, acting as apologists for a man actively supports armed jihad, sharia and dar islam.

  27. Freeman says...

    I’ll never give another cent to Amnesty International following this incident. To share a platform with an extremist who’d grossly abuse the rights of women, religious minorities and gays if ever given the chance represents such a low point for AI that one wonders if they even understand what the term “rights abuses” even means. Begg represents a Far Right totalitarian ideology (gussied up as religion) that has more in common with nazis than with progressivism. AI has shot itself in the foot. It is more interested in getting a jab in at America than it is with defending human rights. Shame on them.

  28. Salman Rushdie Accuses Amnesty International of “Moral Bankruptcy” « Prison Photography says...

    […] Worthington looks at every angle, but states at the outset that Sahgal and the Rupert Murdoch owned Times may have been pursuant of an “editorial policy”: That Sahgal also chose to air her complaints in the Sunday Times, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoc… […]

  29. Uditi Sen says...

    Dear Andy,

    “I may have my doubts about the wisdom of trying to bring enlightenment to the Taliban, but then I’m not able to look at this from a Muslim perspective.” This is shocking. Are you suggesting that ‘Muslims’ due to their different ‘perspective’ are more suited to repressive regimes? Or does the mere fact of being ‘Muslim’ give you a different perspective? Or a deeper understanding?

    Hundreds of Muslims have said many times, that there is nothing ‘Islamic’ about the Taliban. Highly respected Islamic scholar Sarfraz Naeemi was murdered by the Taliban for daring to say so openly. How dare you suggest that a ‘Muslim’ perspective might make the Taliban more appropriate, understandable? If you are indeed involved in an issue, take the trouble to educate yourself, to know the difference between religious faith and an invented tradition, which is the abuse of faith.

    Such an argument is a slight on the religion of Islam, a slight on the people of the region who have suffered this abomination. There is no one true ‘Muslim’ perspective- to even suggest that there is one, is to essentialise a rich and diverse religion and give more power to the fundamentalists. And ‘I am not a Muslim’ is the weakest excuse I have ever heard for a refusal of full engagement!

    Such liberal ‘tolerance’ in the name of religious plurality smacks of racism to me, which reserves liberal values as a ‘Western’ concept and chooses to ignore those who have globally fought and died for the cause of liberty and equality, and continue to do so, and many amongst them are Muslim!

    Why does Amnesty not champion Malalai Joya? Or is her perspective not ‘Muslim’ enough?


  30. Left of the Taliban « Action for a Progressive Pakistan says...

    […] Some have taken the view that Sahgal is an upstanding activist wrongly penalized by Amnesty while others argue that she is leveraging rampant Islamophobia for her […]

  31. Left of the Taliban | The Mob and the Multitude says...

    […] Some have taken the view that Sahgal is an upstanding activist wrongly penalized by Amnesty while others argue that she is leveraging rampant Islamophobia for her […]

  32. Pummy says...

    Andy Worthington starts and ands his article with ad-hominum attacks and fills it with other logical fallacies.

    When US Army soldiers become wistle blowers they are heros but when an supposed voluterr of a morally bankrupt organization blows wistle she is accused of violating the terms of employment. Sehgal owes her job to people who donate to AI and not to its management and its donors expect its employes people to stand for human rights and righteousness.

  33. Links 11/2/10 « Enemies of Reason says...

    […] Andy Worthington – Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International. […]

  34. John Magne Trane says...

    Its prison-break season: Iraq, Libya and now Pakistan: Taliban militants storm prison and free hundreds. #GTMO next, please!

    Moazzam Begg 30 Jul 13

    Small wonder Salman Rushdie thinks Amnesty only deserve contempt.

  35. arcticredriver says...

    Andy you must have seen that Moazzam Begg and three other individuals were arrested in the last couple of days, with various allegations connected to the terrible civil war in Syria.

    Five or six years ago there were four Christian missionairies who were kidnapped and held captive. One Brit, one Yank, and two Canadians. Both Moazzam Begg and Abu Qatada called upon the kidnappers to let the captives go. I thought that went a long way to countering those who claimed that Begg really had been a dangerous militant, all along, who had been released anyhow due to ill-informed public pressure. I was sorry that Zaynab Khadr hadn’t also called upon those kidnappers, with a plea based on her personal experience of having family members disappear into secret detention.

    I just googled his name, and although almost all the recent news reports were about his recent arrest, one report that showed up was from the Birmingham Mail, entitled Government set to make payments to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg: Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg is set to receive a compensation payout totalling millions of pounds from the British government.

    It says that the confidential terms of a settlement worth millions of pounds had been agreed to and his first payment was imminent. Is it possible this is a frivolous charge from rogue elements in the UK justice system, trying to frame him, and unfairly ruin his reputation, out of anger over this imminent settlement?

    Wait a second, google hiccuped, the dateline on that story was November 2010.

    With regard to which kinds of interest in and support for anti-Assad elements in Syria constitute terrorism — during the Spanish Civil War, Germany and Italy openly provided troops for the right-wing Franco rebels. But the UK, France, and other countries put legal or administrative road blocks in the way of foreign volunteers who traveled to Spain to fight fascism. George Orwell had to jump the border in order to volunteer with POUM. I had a sweet old Professor emeritus, who had volunteered in Spain and fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

    Are there grounds for countries to restrict their citizens from enlisting to fight in foreign wars as private citizens? I don’t know. But I question making a blanket characterization that any such volunteering is equivalent to terrorism. I sat down with my Professor, and asked him about what it was like fighting with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and, as I recall, he didn’t observe any atrocities. So, he wasn’t a terrorist.

    About six years ago the dreadful Ann Coulter was interviewed by a seasoned CBC journalist. Like almost all Americans, she showed she hadn’t done her homework on Canada. Among her provocative comments was one where she said something like, “What’s wrong with Canada? Why aren’t you our ally in Iraq? You used to be one of the good guys. You were on our side during the War in Vietnam”

    The interviewer corrected her, informing her that Canada was neutral, during the war in Vietnam.

    Typical for a right-wing commentator from the USA, she became even more pompous, and said she knew Canadian troops had fought beside American units in Vietnam.

    The next day that Canadian news covered her gaff, and her spin doctors claimed her statements had been edited out of context, and that what she meant was that tens of thousands of Canadian citizens had privately traveled to the USA, and enlisted in the US Armed Service, and had seen duty in Vietnam.

    I would assert that unless a Canadian volunteer had actually participated in an atrocity in Vietnam, or had helped cover one up, it would be completely unreasonable to characterize him as a terrorist.

    Is it possible that little old Swiss widow might donate part of her widow’s mite to aid widows and orphans in Syria, only to have some tricky guy subvert what she thought was a legitimate charity, to support fighters in Syria. Sure. Donors have to be on watch for this. And if Moazzam Begg was helping manage charitable funds that was supposed to be providing humanitarian aid to Syria, he should have been on watch for this kind of subversion. I would argue with anyone claiming her donation made the widow a terrorist, although I would agree the Swiss tax man should deny her a charitable deduction.

    I have seen discussions where donors were trying to claim that donations of tents, or medical supplies, were humanitarian aid, and those trying to demonize them either claimed that fighters might sleep in those tents, benefit from those medical supplies, or that fighters would sleep in those tents, benefit from those medical supplies.

    Should the UK have made it difficult, or illegal for George Orwell to try to help the Republicans, Spain’s legitimate elected Government, fight against Franco, a fascist coup leader? I think there are probably still people who would argue that the UK had an obligation to try and stop Orwell, and others like him, and a failure to try could have enabled Franco to declare the UK an enemy.

    But there is an aspect of the whole Spanish Civil War, and the large commitment Germany and Italy made to help Franco, that I have never seen commented upon. Italy wasn’t Germany’s only ally to field troops in Europe. Finns and Romanians and a couple of other right wing European nations fielded Divisions on the Eastern Front. So why didn’t Franco, who had the largest obligation to Hitler and Mussolini, join the Axis? Why did Spain remain neutral?

    My guess is that Franco remembered what tough determined fighters the American, Canadian, UK and French volunteers had been during the Spanish Civil War, remembered that there had only been ten or twenty thousand of them, and that they had not had modern equipment, and that he was genuinely afraid of the consequences of engaging Spanish troops against whole armies of well equipped American, Canadian, UK and French soldiers.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I have to say that I don’t believe it’s appropriate to making any kind of blanket characterizations of what people are doing when they visit war zones or generally demonized countries, as is clear from what happened at Guantanamo, when there were definitely humanitarian aid workers and missionaries, in significant numbers, amongst the Taliban foot soldiers.
    I’ve been speaking about Moazzam over the last few days – to Voice of Russia yesterday, and to Andrea Sears today, and will post links when available, but basically I find it hard to believe that someone so scrutinised would engage in anything that could be construed as terrorism, and nor does my knowledge of Moazzam indicate that such a thing is likely.

  37. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks, that is reassuring.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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