Thursday, February 25, 2010

Decenthead, part 2

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Manifestly hyperbolic

Hooray for Norman Geras. Via Malky Muscular.

One quibble:

[Amnesty International] repeats and repeats - as Kate Allen does again in the linked report - that Amnesty will 'continue to press for "universal respect" for human rights' when that is not the issue over which it has been criticized.

I thought Gita Sahgal's criticism of Moazzam Begg included the allegation that Amnesty did not 'press for "universal respect" for human rights' when it came to Begg and CagePrisoners; that it had a dual standard. I think Kate Allen isn't being evasive: she's addressing the core of the criticism levelled at AI, rather than the surface.

I cannot see why anyone takes Nick Cohen seriously now

To be fair, some research went into Nick's column today. Credit where it's due.

This week BBC's File on 4 will broadcast a documentary about the disaster in the family courts. Not only did the Cafcass workers its journalists interviewed refuse to allow the BBC to use their real names, they insisted it distort their voices too. It is as if they were terrified dissidents in a totalitarian regime rather than free citizens in a modern democracy.

There's the old reliable Harry Fletcher of the Probation Officers' Union. The fact that probation officers have a union, which complains about management on their behalf without their being sacked for same seems to go someway to refuting Nick's "dictatorship in the workplace" thesis.

If I may be allowed a Jeremy Clarkson type joke, Nick's view of New Labour's record is, ahem, curiously one-eyed.

In local government under Brown, the number of people in councils earning more than £50,000 a year has shot up by a factor of 11 from 3,300 to 38,000, while in the economy as a whole it only went up by a factor of three. I could go on quoting him, but it ought to be clear that while the characteristic beneficiary of the Attlee era was the factory worker and the characteristic beneficiary of the Thatcher era was the entrepreneur, the characteristic beneficiary of the Brown era has been the target-setting manager, regulator or consultant.

Yet earlier we had:

In 1997, the NHS had 12 hospital beds per manager; now it has four. ...
You'll not be surprised to learn that the forms come from a head office that has seen the number of bureaucrats double in four years and its budget increase threefold.

I don't know in which four years "the number of bureaucrats double[d]" but they can't all have been under Gordon Brown.

Brown gets named and blamed; Blair doesn't. Yet much of the changes happened under Tony Blair. Given that Nick wrote Pretty Straight Guys (from this quotation), he has a strange reluctance to name one of the chief suspects. If you look in a mirror and say "Anthony Charles Lynton Blair" three times, does he come to get you?

It's not that Nick is entirely wrong, it's just that this has been said better already by David Craig (as he admits) and is still open to investigative journalism by the BBC. Nick, rather like the middle managers he hates, contributes very little personally.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Precious to me

Christopher Hitchens on the Gita Sahgal thing.

It is not what is said, it is what is not said.

In time, the organization also evolved policies that opposed the use of capital punishment or torture in all cases, but the definition of “prisoner of conscience” remained central.

All true. However, AI also takes a stand against extrajudicial punishment per se. Hitchens also fails to mention that the policy that "Amnesty did not adopt people who either used or advocated violence" meant that they - very controversially - did not support Nelson Mandela.

Amnesty International has just suspended one of its senior officers, a woman named Gita Sahgal who until recently headed the organization’s “gender unit.” It’s fairly easy to summarize her concern in her own words. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender,” she wrote, “is a gross error of judgment.” One might think that to be an uncontroversial statement, but it led to her immediate suspension.

Love the "gender unit" quotes. It's rather hard to be clear, but it seems to me that Ms Sahgal was suspended for saying the above to the media, in the form of the Sunday Times, rather than for making an "uncontroversial statement". As far as I can tell, this issue was discussed within Amnesty International UK - and her arguments failed to convince whoever decides policy. And if torture and/or extrajudicial imprisonment do violate human rights (as I believe they do - as do AI and - if I've understood him - C Hitchens), then I don't see why Moazzam Begg can't both be "a human rights defender" and a "supporter of the Taliban". (NB I'm not trying to imply that Mr Begg is a "supporter of the Taliban", merely that Hitchens' assumption that the two are mutually exclusive doesn't work.)

There's a lot more in the Hitchens commentary. But what's the point? Phil d'bap, Alex M-H bring it on. Seriously, I want to hear (see, whatever) your views on this.

Update 10:15 Sunday 21 Blogger won't take my comment (I'm signed in already), so I'm pulling rank and sticking it here. (Feel the power! Feel the power!)

I'd say that the same goes for the lawyer story. This has the following elements, as I see it:

1. Ms Sahgal approached human rights lawyers (and ones she knew - presumably through AI), and they responded:
a) they also work for Amnesty, so there is a conflict of interest;
b) they are not specialists in UK employment law (which is very complex) and therefore unqualified to represent her anyway, even if a) can be got round.
2. If she also approached employment lawyers, they may have told her that her contract can't be read in her defence. She can pay them lots of money - and lose her job. Or she can go to AI less antagonistically and take her chances.

Whatever, the "there's a conspiracy not to represent Gita Sahgal among bien-pensant claret-quaffing lawyers" line (which I think is Nick Cohen's and C Hitchens merely copied) isn't convincing either.

I don't know about Slate (where Flying Rodent found the Hitchens piece) but the comments on the link I gave come from the usual retinue of Amnesty haters.

See also letters to the Observer, the first from Matthew Ryder of Matrix Chambers. (Didn't NC used to have a bit of soft spot of Cherie Booth, QC? I can't find any evidence now.)

Those weapons had better be there somewhere

At the United Nations in February, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, presented evidence claiming that there were mobile laboratories and showing clear signs that the Iraqis had moved material to escape inspection from UN teams. Put together, all this was argued as constituting a clear breach of UN resolutions that therefore required urgent action.

These claims cannot be wished away in the light of a successful war. If nothing is eventually found, I - as a supporter of the war - will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Those weapons had better be there somewhere.

Thus that bloody prediction.

I hope this isn't off-topic, but what the hell is he talking about? WMD not reason I backed Iraq war, says Gordon Brown.

But Mr Brown said weapons were not his prime motivation, and instead it was Iraq's persistent disregard for United Nations' resolutions which "put at risk" global security.
"The evidence that was given to us was that there were weapons and that was the finding of a number of people, but for me the reason for intervention was always the breach of international obligations by the Iraqi government," he said.

There were many allegations and arguments around at the time, and its hard to recall them all now, but actually David A did a fair job, IMO. If there were WMD (or intent to produce same), Iraq was contravening UN resolutions. But if there weren't, what "international obligations" were breached that were serious enough for invasion? If we're not talking about weapons, but, say, torture and general unpleasantness, how did this '"put at risk" global security' where North Korea or Saudi Arabia (as for instances) don't?

I'm not trying to join the Nick Cohen/Martin Bright etc attacks on Gordon Brown. I understand the 'regime change' argument, even though I'm not persuaded by it; and I understand the 'WMD' line. But this? Tell me it isn't nonsense.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How do you confuse a neocon?

In his Standpoint blog (also crossposted on lots of other places on the web, for some reason, including Harry's Place), Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens connects Moazzam Begg and Abdullah Azzam. (Abdullah Azzam 1941-89.)

While Amnesty decides whether it will continue backing this man, it should also take note that among other things, he has expressed support for renowned jihadi ideologue and religious supremacist, Abdullah Azzam. Writing for the Cordoba Foundation's journal, Arches Quarterly [PDF], Begg states:
In his magisterial discourse on jihad during the soviet occupation, ‘Defence of the Muslim Lands', the charismatic scholar, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam resurrected the famous 13th century fatwa of Ibn Taymiyyah which states: ‘As for the aggressive enemy who destroys life and religion, nothing is more incumbent [upon the believer] after faith than his repulsion.' Al-fatawaa al-kubraa, Ibn Taymiyyah.

As was noted by Harry's Place last week, Azzam is also celebrated in a jihadist text published by Begg's Maktabah al-Ansar bookshop in Birmingham which was written by Dhiren Barot, now in prison for planning a string of terror attacks in London and New York.

Wonderfully, here is a quotation in support of that jihad:

Every country and every people has a stake in the Afghan resistance, for the freedom fighters of Afghanistan are defending principles of independence and freedom that form the basis of global security and stability.


The whole of Meleagrou-Hitchens' argument hangs on whether Moazzam Begg can be connected to Abdullah Azzam on the basis of praising jihad to drive out the Soviets (and also in Chechnya and Bosnia) and publishing a book which "celebrates" Azzam. I'm really not keen on any actions against publishers. I'm still not convinced by the case for the prosecution here.

Begg has a rather appealing failing detailed on Amnesty International You Bloody Hypocrites Reinstate Gita Sahgal[1]:

She has therefore blown the whistle on the disgraceful arrangement between her own organisation and Begg, who has visited Downing Street as a guest of Amnesty, but refuses to condemn the Taliban.

Note, Begg "refuses to condemn" prima facie evidence of thoughtcrime! Doesn't he know that a good comrade will denounce everyone from George Galloway to mummy and daddy for the good of the Party? The only words Harry's Place want to hear from Moazzam Begg are [nb corrected after posting from - horror - 'is'] "Do it to Julia!"

Decentpedia has more.

[1] See If you don’t think torture’s a good idea, you might as well be in the bloody Taliban for more in this vein. If the careful reader thinks that this means that I have my doubts (to put it mildly) about anyone who doesn't condemn torture, the careful reader would be correct. I reserve the right to be inconsistent. I wish that bloody abyss would stop looking at me, too.

Aaro breaks America?

In publishing circles, being reviewed by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times is apparently a big deal - the review itself is rather drippy, but favourable. Does a glistening future as the thinking man's Niall Ferguson await?

Private lives don't belong to the public, they belong to the state

Aaro returns to a theme, in a column that reads much, much longer than its word length. And once more, my mind boggles because I don't understand - how can a person so exquisitely sensitive to the need for privacy on the part of politicians and business leaders, and at the same time be one of the leading journalistic supporters of the database state? Aaro is completely happy about the rest of us having our movements tracked by CCTV, our DNA records kept on file, our living arrangements scrutinised under "anti-terrorism"[1] powers, our medical records up for sale to anyone who cares to buy them. Why does he think we're less concerned about our privacy than John Terry or Gordon Brown?

In the past, he's retreated into a "security through obscurity" defence, just basically laughing off the whole business by saying that his life would be much too boring to be worth investigating, hardy har. Which it might be for the SIS (although this would probably be more true of you and me than Aaro, what with us not being a Times columnist with a Communist party past and all sorts of contacts at various levels of government), but do you know what? Everybody's interesting to someone. These powers are available to civil servants of a ludicrously low security clearance and have been used in respect of school catchment areas and rubbish dumping. This can't be emphasised enough - under the current arrangements, the powers trading under the brand name "anti terror" can be used at the caprice of nearly any official, with next to no oversight. In order to be happy with this, you need to be someone who trusts, sight unseen, the good faith and probity of more or less every single local government officer in the UK.

I end up concluding that Aaro hasn't really thought this one through, and that what we're seeing is just the reflex action of someone who actually basically does think that there ought to be one rule for Party members and another for the proles, with increasing privacy and privilege the further up you go. He is a past winner of the Orwell Prize after all. (Update: People who were paying attention in O-level Eng Lit don't seem to think much of this analogy, see comments).

Monday, February 15, 2010

This seems apt

Harry's Place: The Guardian Picks Its Heroes by Lucy Lips.

The Guardian appears rather fond of the failed jihadist, Moazzam Begg.
Although a storm has been raging for two weeks now about the criticism of his partnership, and that of his organisation Cageprisoners, with Amnesty, the Guardian newspaper hasn’t reported on it. Perhaps they couldn’t find the space.
Strangely, they did manage to find a slot for Begg to talk, once again, about his own detention in Guantanamo. As it is a first person piece, unfortunately no journalist asks him any of the really interesting questions. Such as “how come you were allowed to build a girls’ school just at the time that the Taliban was shutting them down and chucking aid workers out of Afghanistan”.
In fact, Begg is a very prolific contributor to the Guardian’s Comment is Free. They evidently really like him.

The Guardian ad above seems apt because I know that I've argued before[1] that Moazzam Begg has written for the Guardian several times, and he has stuck to the subject of his detention and treatment; he hasn't promoted violence or tried to convert Guardian readers to Islam. I don't see any reason why he should do either when he's on stage with Amnesty. 'Lucy Lips' manages to see things differently.

'doodlelogic' in the first comment points out that the Guardian did indeed give "house room" to the Gita Sahgal 'storm' here.

And 'Zin' makes a further observation:

If one single Cif piece (written before his conviction) means the Guardian “really likes” Ali Disaei, then the five pieces than a certain Mr David Toube has written must mean that the Guardian is positively IN LOVE with Harry’s Place.
The Guardian’s story on Disaei’s conviction was a straightforward news report! What on earth is your problem? They quoted all interested parties: the victim, the judge, the CPS, the Met Police commissioner, and the IPCC, as well reporting the reaction from Disaei.
Get a grip, Lucy Lips, cos you’re coming across as a bit of a green-ink obsessive.

What is Cageprisoners 'collaboration' with Amnesty like? you ask. Like this:

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.

Cageprisoners: Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International.

Nick Cohen keeps us up to date with Gita Sahgal with his post: Amnesty International & Megagreed Plc.

Far from listening to her wise objections, Megagreed's bosses suspend her for exercising her right to free speech on matters of public importance; it is a very evil corporation as I said. Our brave whistleblower tours the streets looking for a human rights lawyer to represent her. But none will because they are all so frightened of incurring the wrath of Megagreed plc they would rather allow an injustice to pass than run the risk of taking up her cause. ...
If there are any principled human rights lawyers left in England, contact me and I will pass on your details.

As Matthew says in the comments, Ms Saghal wants an employment lawyer, not a human rights one. Nick replied:

@matthew. I think the point is she phoned all the lawyers she knew and none of them would help her. @ Frankie V standing up for women's rights is standing up for human rights and to accuse me of not doing it is going it somewhat even for a man so cowardly he will make accusations against others without using his real name.

I think that brings us back to 'Lucy Lips'...

Ms Sahgal explains her concerns on Radio 4's Today programme 10 February.
Amnesty supports 'every human' Widney Brown, senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International interviewed on the same programme 11 February. (These may only work in the UK and until Wednesday and Thursday respectively. My apologies for not putting them up sooner.)

[1] It wasn't on here. It was in the comments on Harry's Place, where I also asked whether 'Lucy Lips' and David Toube were one and the same.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Guilt by association ...

... or omission? Do you suppose that the typical Sunday Times reader will be more familiar with a radical economist who died in 1998 or with with the daily paper's regular Tuesday columnist? The ST (Doctor Who in war with Planet Maggie) reports on the up-to-the-minute doings of long-running children's show just before it was cancelled by Michael Grade in the 80s.

Andrew Cartmel, who was employed as script editor after telling the show’s producer that he aimed to “overthrow the government”, assembled a number of “angry young writers” to produce plots that would foment anti-Thatcher dissent.

They included Ben Aaronovitch, the son of the late Marxist intellectual Sam Aaronovitch, and Rona Munro, who went on to become a scriptwriter for Ken Loach, the socialist film-maker.

Wow, a BBC script writer had a radical dad! and his brother writes for the Sunday Times sister paper. And ...?

Here is our Dave on Ken Loach:

... the cinematographically talented but politically ridiculous director Ken Loach...

Dave's brother once worked with a woman who wrote scripts for Ken Loach who has made common cause with George Galloway. No one must ever share a platform or, worse, collaborate with David Aaronovitch ever again!

(Via Paul Waugh.)

A bunch of smug, far lefty, middle class faggots

Because I'm lazy, this week's Nick Cohen watching is brought to you by Malky Muscular:

Is it just me, or is Nick basically calling everyone who disapproves of torturing people a bunch of smug, far lefty, middle class faggots?

Shorter Nick: Don't you lot know there's a war on? Unfair?

Most of the British do not behave as if they are at war. ...

Only the atmosphere of phoney war can explain how Amnesty International

How do people behave when their country is at war? Jane Austen's first three novels were written and, as they featured contemporaneous characters presumably set, during the Napoleonic Wars. Who can forget the immortal scene where Warden Hodges forces Mr Darcy to prove he is not a French spy at blunderbuss point? Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach open in July 1962, in other words during the period building up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, yet the protagonists worry about bonking rather more than practicing their Bert the Turtle routines. (Or as they had it in 'Man Men' 3.3 "We could have died." "But we didn't!") Jonathan Coe's splendid The Rotters' Club is partly about the Birmingham Pub Bombings which happened in 1974 - in other words at the same time as Martin Amis' Dead Babies; Amis's title is ironic, it was of no interest to him whatsoever that his countryfolk of roughly his age were blown to bits. How do people behave during wartime? They pretty much carry on, go the Mud Club, to CBGBs...

Ah, what Nick wants is a real war, hygiene of the race, and all that...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not that Martin Bright

Many of you noticed the comment on David Aaronovitch's column on Tuesday by 'Martin Bright' (the one that used 'Nazi' three times in eight sentence.)

Martin Bright has pointed out on his Spectator blog that he didn't write that comment, nor other aggressive comments which have appeared under the name 'Martin Bright'. I've read a quite a few of the former New Statesman editor's pieces, and neither the Nazi fixation nor the closing sentences are quite his style. I think Bright can tell a full stop from a comma.

Galloway is a sub politician who has not made the grade
outside his little comfort zone. And we all know the type of people who live in Tower Hamlets.
Reputedly the most corrupt constituency in the UK.

I'm writing this as a post out of a sense of fairness. Mr Bright has not contacted me, and I have done this entirely voluntarily. I stand by calling his Spectator blog post on Amnesty over-caffeinated, but that comment suggested that he'd lost his marbles entirely. I'm happy to learn that he hasn't.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Conor Foley wades in

In defence of Amnesty and its impartiality.

Perhaps predictably, some of the people who were most vociferous in calling for Garlasco’s suspension have been equally forthright in calling Sahgal’s reinstatement.
I used to work as a middle level manager in Amnesty International UK Section’s Campaign Department 10 years ago and a large part of my job involved personnel issues.
I have absolutely no doubt that if a member of my staff had behaved as Sahgal is alleged to have done I would have had to take disciplinary action against her and this applies not just to Amnesty International, but to every management job in every organisation I have done before or since.
As even her friend and supporter, Rahila Gupta, admits here Sahgal was not a whistle-blower because she was not revealing activities that anyone was trying to conceal.

I think Conor makes a mistake in trying to second-guess Ms Sahgal's intentions; OTOH, I feel his second-guessing happens to be correct - unless Ms Saghal is very naive and/or unaware of the attitude of certain journalists toward her employers.

She disagreed with a decision that Amnesty had taken to give a platform Moazzam Begg and to work with his organization Cageprisoners on behalf of people detained in Guantánamo Bay. She must have done it knowing this would be used by journalists like Nick Cohen who is on record as supporting the torture of detainees in certain circumstances, as part of his ongoing campaign to denigrate the organization.

Ah, Nick Cohen, back in 2006:

Because Germany has experienced the horrors of both fascism and communism, torture is a taboo, banned not only by laws, but by the constitution.

Could there be another country which explicitly banned torture in its 8th Amendment without having experienced fascism or communism?

For the first time in British history, there are asylum seekers who could attack the country which gave them sanctuary. I don't think people realise how unparalleled this change is.

Quite right, Nick, 'asylum-seekers' is new, politically correct speech. We didn't use to call immigrants that, even if they were refugees.

Peter the Painter, also known as Peter Piaktow (or Piatkov, Pjatkov, Piaktoff), was the leader of a gang of Latvian revolutionary criminals in the early 20th Century. After supposedly fighting in and escaping the Sidney Street Siege in 1911, he became an anti-hero in London's East End. ...
In 1988, based on research in the KGB archives, the historian Philip Ruff suggested Peter the Painter might in fact be Gederts Eliass, a Latvian artist involved in the 1905 Revolution and living in exile during the time of the Siege, returning to Riga after the 1917 Revolution.

Famously, then Home Secretary Winston Churchill went to see the Sidney Street siege and was nearly killed when an anarchist's bullet went through his top hat. (Since the EU body responsible for 'asylum seekers' is the European Council for Refugees and Exiles, I don't think the exile/refugee difference is all that important here.)

This brings me to Nick Cohen's recent Standpoint blog where he reproduces a whole chapter from Waiting for the Etonians.

But ever since Khan took over [Amnesty International], I've had an uneasy feeling that it is losing universal principles and treating the abuse of rights by the United States as worse than similar or more grotesque abuses by dictators who aren't white, middle-class or Western.

I'd say Nick Cohen has an "ongoing campaign to denigrate the organization."

Update Sat 13:20. Sunny Hundal has a say, too: Amnesty, Gita Sahgal, Moazzam Begg and why they’re all wrong which is an admirable stab at a "nuanced position", and one I pretty much agree with. David T pops up in the comments and wants to discuss - at length - some guy called Massoud Shadjareh who appears to be Iranian, wasn't a prisoner in Guantanamo, and otherwise has no connection whatever to Amnesty, Moazzam Begg, or Gita Saghal, but he has his own personal definition of 'human rights' so let's all talk about that for a while. (Also if Massoud Shadjareh is pro-Iran, he's very likely to be a Shi'a Muslim; the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Moazzam Begg are Sunnis.) If you're against torture, your position is "this person should not have been tortured" not "what bad things did he do or believe?" Sunny Hundal is quite right to ask for evidence that Moazzam Begg has any influence on Amnesty's policy or its definition of human rights. Via Harry's Place. Is there a reason why 'Your View' refers to 'Sunny' and 'Foley'?

Holiday in Guantánamo Bay

Splendid. Terrorism Fight Creates Battle Over Prosecution (New York Times).

John Walker Lindh and David Hicks were both young Muslim converts who traveled to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and were captured there in 2001 by American troops. But then their cases diverged — in ways that might surprise anyone following the fierce political debate over how the Obama administration should treat terrorism suspects.

Bush administration officials decided to charge Mr. Lindh, an American, in the civilian criminal justice system. He was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and will not get out until at least 2019.

Mr. Hicks, an Australian, was treated as an enemy combatant — the approach now pressed by President Obama’s Republican critics. He went before a military commission at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and got a seven-year sentence with all but nine months suspended. He is already free.

The Dec. 25 arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, has reignited an old argument over how to treat terrorism suspects. Republican critics have denounced the decision to charge Mr. Abdulmutallab criminally, read him his rights and give him a lawyer. He was a combatant in Al Qaeda’s war on the United States, critics say, and should have been treated accordingly.

I'll probably want to refer to these cases in the near future: Guantánamo Bay and the detention of terrorism suspects is still an issue.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A platform for the crudest propaganda

Slightly off-topic, but this pertains to a recurring trope of Decency. In the Jewish Chronicle the Guardian's Comment is Free editor, Matt Seaton, replies to JC columnist Geoffrey Alderman: Geoffrey, you fell foul of our hate speech policy:

He made three serious complaints: that he has been censored by having comments in discussion threads vetted before being posted online (“premoderated”); that he has been told his status as a contributor to Cif is incompatible with writing for the website CifWatch; and that Cif is “a platform for the crudest propaganda that can only have been intended to foster a hatred of the Jewish state”.

On the first: Geoffrey made an intemperate comment in a thread, comparing Palestinians to Nazis. In discussion of the Middle East, we don’t permit “Nazi comparisons” because they are often used as an offensive way to attack Israel and Jews. Thus Geoffrey fell foul of a policy primarily designed to prevent antisemitic abuse.

As is standard procedure, a moderator then subjected Geoffrey’s subsequent posting to premoderation, checking that comments abide by rules before posting them. This is the same process used by the websites of the BBC, Times and Telegraph all the time.

Kudos to the JC for allowing Mr Seaton the right of reply. The Guardian's policies seem pragmatic and sane. But what better way to dissemble the paper's super secret anti-semitic agenda?

We've got nothing to hide

I liked this:

Full sized We've got nothing to hide - after Leonardo. (Link to cartoon from Philip Challinor.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Amnesty International's long history of support for terrorism

Rósín McAliskey. Note that a) McAliskey was actually accused of carrying out a terrorist attack, rather than various purely notional and verbal crimes and that b) Rósín McAliskey's connection to organisations fundamentally opposed to the values of Amnesty International was a lot more obvious and direct than Moazzam Begg's - her common-law husband served time for being a member of the IRA. Nonetheless, I don't think there was much controversy at the time over the fact that Amnesty took up her case; apart, of course, from the usual crew of yahoos and bollixes who had been trying to pin the terrorists on the British human rights community ever since they pointed out that there was something unpleasant going on in Long Kesh.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Some further thoughts on Gita Saghal, and a bit of Aaro watching

Now Aaro's joined in, it seems that my last post really was on topic. My name's Dave Weeden, by the way: if you write a post about this post, and I pop up in your comments, don't be surprised.[1]

Brownie of Harry's Place said in the comments to my last post the following:

Yes I can. Here's what I expected at AW, for example:

"See what those wankers at HP are up to now? Shat the bed...royally buttfucked...right-wingnuts...etc., etc....."

Followed by:

"Mind you, what the fuck are AI playing at? Are they stupid?"

Rather, that's what I hoped for rather than expected. I actually expected exactly what you can read in this thread.

If we're going to play at fantasy history, this is how I would have preferred the situation to have developed.

Gita Saghal has a dispute with her superiors at Amnesty International because (to quote David Aaronovitch's succinct rendering of her opinion) she "objects to Begg, however, being used as a kind of poster boy for important Amnesty campaigns when, in her view, he is not a great stickler for the rights of others." (This part happened; unless you go with the theory that Ms Saghal's objection to Mr Begg lay not with his beliefs, but with his being a Taliban/jihadist front-man. Either way; Ms Saghal objected to Mr Begg 'sharing a platform' with Amnesty International. Let me be clear: I am not unequivocally saying that I believe she was wrong in her objection.) What she should have done, in my opinion, was, when the situation was clearly not going to be resolved to her satisfaction, was to threaten to resign - essentially, say "It's him or me." (Easy for me to say, greater love hath no man than to suggest a stranger give up her career for a cause which he is, at best, ambivalent about.) And, if the decision went to "him", walk out and tell the press. As Flying Rodent has pointed out in the last thread (and been quoted in horror over at Harry's Place), going to the press with private, internal emails really doesn't do one's career much good. You try it. Worse, this was done at the weekend, forcing someone at Amnesty to draft a quick press release. No wonder they suspended her. Now, I'm sure some readers will say but AI did this because they're institutionally fascist. But my explanation relies on Occam's Razor. I merely state that AI is an organisation and further than organisations would not take kindly to internal disputes being ventilated in the papers. The alternative thesis (which many bloggers take as a given) requires some proof than AI regularly quashes dissent. My argument here is simple; it's the one against AI which requires evidence.

Now, if Ms Saghal had resigned, and announced same to the Sunday Times, they might have felt obliged to actually contact Amnesty and request their side. So far, we've only had one side. Amnesty often represents rather unpleasant people. Some people detained as terrorists really are terrorists. They hate you and your way of life. I still think they deserve a fair trial, with good legal representation, and they shouldn't be tortured before or after being tried. "Amnesty in league with nasty/crazy bastards" is not news, people.

I have to say, I love that Aaro quote, about Begg "being used as a kind of poster boy for important Amnesty campaigns". Let's recall Martin Bright:

Congratulations to Richard Kerbaj for blowing the lid on Amnesty International's relationship with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners, who act as apologists for Islamist totalitarianism.

So, Moazzem Begg was a "poster boy" for AI, but this relationship needed the lid blown. Moazzam Begg is on Wikipedia, which lists his alleged contacts with extremists. Aaro accuses them of, if I can put it like this, excessive openness. Bright of covering up unpleasant facts. Something doesn't add up.

I find Aaro's column a mixed bag. Partly I wish that he had debated Mr Begg as he says:

A couple of years ago I was invited to debate with Moazzam Begg, but in the event he pulled out. I wasn’t surprised. It was clear to me, and I had suggested it, that while there was no evidence that he was a al-Qaeda sympathiser, there certainly was plenty of reason to believe that he was a political extremist who supported jihadi movements abroad.

First, I'd like a little clarity regarding Mr Begg: either he's exposed (in which case AI may drop him) or he's exonerated (in which case all this nonsense stops). Second, I'd like to understand better the shades of difference between being "a[n] al-Qaeda sympathiser" and supporting jihad movements.

There comes a time in every Aaro Watch post I write where I simply get tired of my own voice, and that time has arrived, so I'll end with one final objection to Aaro's piece.

In the wake of the Sahgal statement, that strangely likeable but unreasonable Muslim convert, the former journalist Yvonne Ridley, complained that Begg was being “demonised” and asserted that he was “a great supporter of women and a promoter of their rights”.

Aaro goes on to quote Begg: "jihad is a drug I’m allowed to take and I always come back for more". Indeed, Begg does seem rather a bellicose fellow. However, just as between the idea and the reality between the motion and the act falls the shadow, so there is a certain distance between Yvonne Ridley's defence and our man's critique. Suppose, for instance, that one thought that women were actually oppressed in Europe. Suppose one thought that the contraceptive pill had put all the blame for pregnancy on women, and cleared men of same. Suppose one thought that naked women in the tabloids, and impossibly beautiful women everywhere in the media actually harmed women, made some of them anorexic, for instance.

He said: "She died at the age of 46, not of anything sudden; she was one of the most spectacular victims of the revolution.
"It would have needed the Taliban to protect her."

That is, of course, Martin Amis talking about his sister.

My view is this: it's possible to support women and be a total fuckwit, which is what I think Amis (and Begg if that is his logic) is/are. Begg could be sincere in his support of women. It's possible to be sincere and wrong at the same time.

[1] This is my little dig at Brownie of Harry's Place, who quoted my previous post in the comments here. I replied and got duly told off for not being Andrew Adams. To make things clear, I am not, and never have been Andrew Adams.

Update 21:55 There's always more. Here's Yvonne Ridley on Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. She and Martin Bright deserve each other. Harry's Place like YouTube videos (see this anonymous post). Well, so do I. I'm sure you can work out the relevance to both Ms Ridley's and Mr Bright's prose style.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Martin Bright vs Amnesty

I don't particularly want this blog to start watching Martin Bright, but where he goes, I think Nick Cohen (and Harry's Place) are likely to go too. I'll try to keep this brief.

This morning's Sunday Times ran Amnesty International is 'damaged' by Taliban link:

Gita Sahgal, head of the gender unit at Amnesty’s international secretariat, believes that collaborating with Moazzam Begg, a former British inmate at Guantanamo Bay, “fundamentally damages” the organisation’s reputation.

(Unspeak alert: is 'collaborating' really the best word here? It seems to imply guilt on Amnesty's part. It also doesn't seem to be Ms Sahgal's word. I've quoted her below.)

This was taken up by Martin Bright in the Spectator: Amnesty International, Moazzam Begg and the Bravery of Gita Sahgal. Bright's prose is somewhat over-caffeinated: "... blowing the lid... rightly sick of the lazy alliance... blown the whistle [hmm, lots of 'blowing' going on here - Ed] ... Begg is now an integral part ... she has been deeply frustrated by the way the British liberal intelligentsia gives house-room to right-wing Islamists ... Jamaat-i-Islami, the south Asian blood-brothers of the Muslim Brotherhood... It is Gita Sahgal who should be the darling of the human rights establishment, not Moazzam Begg." What, I wonder, is giving "house-room"? Until today, when, according to Bright, Ms Sahgal was suspended she was a 'senior official at Amnesty' (Sunday Times). So which of them, if either, was a 'darling' of the "liberal intelligensia"?

“I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “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.”

I can understand Ms Sahgal's position, but I can also see why Amnesty suspended her for taking an internal disagreement to the press.

The Spittoon has picked up this story.

Amnesty has issued a statement.

I'm on Amnesty's side here. I can't help but see Bright's argument as being, "if I think you're guilty, who cares if you get a fair trial? and if you support terrorism AND you've been accused of terrorism and taken to Guantanamo Bay, who cares if legal niceties were observed or not? I, for one, don't want to know you."

I don't doubt that Bright is sincere in his feelings, but writing, as he did, in the grip of deep emotions alienates rather than persuades me. Put another way, Bright's post fails the Politics and the English Language smell test.

Update 19:30 Harry's Place got there last night. It includes this, which, if I could be bothered, I'd tie into Nick Cohen's libel piece today.

Here is a Guardian apology which makes the point that Martin and Gita cannot:

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin: we apologise for publishing allegations that he was part of a group that abducted people in East Pakistan and was involved in the commission of genocide (Prosecute Bangladesh’s war criminals, 7 October,

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin has never been prosecuted, charged nor even arrested in connection with these events. Mr Mueen-Uddin has consistently denied the accusations made against him as utterly false.

We are sorry for the distress our article caused him.

Britain’s absurd libel laws are another part of the jigsaw that allows champions of human rights abuses and jihadism to pose as progressives and civil libertarians. Put simply, the more outrageous and extreme your behaviour, the easier it is to cry ‘defamation’ when your politics is pointed out.

IANAL (and David Toube, who may or many not be 'Lucy Lips' is), but alleging that someone committed genocide is different to pointing out their politics.

Update 2 21:30. I'm glad I posted this. Mail on Sunday pointed out the politics of a blogger. Justice Eady dismissed the libel case. Why? Because there was clear evidence that those were the blogger's views. There is no such evidence that Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin committed genocide. See also Nick on libel today, particularly this comment.

There is a case for some reform. But not the half-baked slanderer's charter drafted by PEN, which is a thinly disguised plea by the UK media to do what the hell it likes with no fear of comebacks. If enacted, it would have prevented say Kate and Gerry McCann from successfully suing the UK tabloids for alleging they had done away with their own daughter.

Friday, February 05, 2010

what, who, me?

The 2009 Community Security Trust Report is out and being covered in the Guardian, although naturally (at the time of AW going to press), Denis MacShane's joke of a Potemkin thinktank couldn't get their act together to do so much as a blog post about it. It blurbs:

Anti-Jewish hate crime in Britain is a growing problem that the liberal left must condemn as readily as any other form of racism

well, certainly, I definitely condemn, why would anyone have thought I did anything other than condemn, I wholeheartedly condemn ... hang on a minute, what the fuck has this got to do with me?

The actual CST report makes it crystal clear why 2009 was the worst year on record for anti-Semitic violence in the UK - the increase was a result of anti-Semitic attacks by Muslims during the period of Operation Cast Lead. Why is this the "liberal left"'s problem? What are we doing in that headline?

In so far as I understand it, Mark Gardner's point is that anti-racist organisations don't take anti-Semitic violence seriously enough (I think the underlying idea is that anti-racists don't take anti-Semitism seriously specifically because they think it's motivated by Israeli foreign policy, although he doesn't say this in so many words and I might be wrong) and that this neglect is tantamount to "institutional racism" under the definition of the Macpherson Report.

To which I respond a) that Gardner gets points from me for using the phrase "institutional racism" correctly, unlike ENGAGE et al, whose misuse of the term as a blanket synonym for "differential impact" was one of the points made in Martin Shaw's humiliation of David Hirsh in the famous Democratiya exchange[1]. But b) that is this actually true of most mainstream (as opposed to specifically Muslim) anti-racist organisations active in the UK, most of whom seem to take anti-Semitism plenty seriously IME? And c) how is it relevant to "the liberal left", which is not an organisation and therefore can't have any institutional features at all, let alone racism?

The idea that anti-Semitic violence would be less of a problem in the UK if only the 300,000-odd readers of the Guardian would condemn it a little more is a curious kind of vanity. It's also more than a little pernicious because it is more or less inevitable that the CST's report, when publicised in this language, is going to be taken up by the kind of yahoo who thinks that anyone who notes that a consequence of Israeli militarism is anti-Jewish sentiment outside Israel (which the CST report itself does, how could it otherwise) is thereby making excuses for anti-Semitic violence. Which I think we can all agree is not going to be remotely productive for any kind of public debate, particularly the one that the CST wants to start.

[1] If you understood that sentence without following the links I hereby award you the title of "Aaronovitch Watch Black Belt Spotter"

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Bright Ideas

As regular commenter Organic Cheeseboard pointed out, Nick Cohen has said on his Standpoint blog (6th comment) that he "will vote Labour - but only because of Iraq". His friend, Martin Bright, will vote Labour too. (He's said so a few times on his Spectator blog.) Presumably, then, they want Labour to win the election. They should write 'DIVIDE AND CONQUER' in the largest font they have on a sheet of A4 and stick it on the walls facing their desks. Guys, this is not the way to win.

First Nick has a long post on Sunday Gordon Brown: the Fear and the Filth (same post as the one the comment above is on) which pretty much does what it says in the title, and yet again re-opens the wound of Martin Bright's exit from the New Statesman. NC quotes from Private Eye, naturally anonymous, but very likely by Nick himself. The only reason for believing it's not Nick is this: presumably Nick writes on a PC like everyone else, and he presumably keeps his work (for later reference, books, and so on), so all he'd need to do would be to copy and paste his original article. However, there appears to be a transcription error. The story in the Eye clearly lacks some detail.

Instead of congratulating her, Whelan's face darkened. Geoffrey Robinson, the wealthy Labour MP and one of Brown's oldest friends, bankrolls the Staggers. Next to its office, is the Robinson-funded Smith Institute, a think tank that so blatantly provided jobs and favours for Brown's allies, the Charity Commission investigated it.

Brown's aides expect Robinson and everyone he employs to follow the party line. They hate Bright because in a documentary for Channel 4, he investigated the corruption allegations against Ken Livingstone's cronies, the London Mayor's use of public money for political purposes and his alliances with ultra-reactionary Islamists. He then compounded the offence, by writing articles for the Statesman that were insufficiently adulatory about the Great Helmsman.

Immediately after the Livingstone documentary, Neal Lawson the Brownite lobbyist was telling anyone who would listen that Bright had to be punished.

Whelan followed up by giving Thorpe and listening hacks a rambling monologue in which he asked her to agree that her husband and father of her two children should be fired.

What did Whelan follow up? A sentence seems to be missing after 'darkened'. I can only assume that this is because Nick hates typing up someone else's prose as much as I do. I'm no fan of Charlie Whelan, whose only purpose in life, as far as I can tell, is to make Alastair Campbell look like a reasonable human being. But I do think Whelan had a point. The New Statesman is supposed to be a Labour magazine. It seems unusual for it to employ an editor who attacks Labour candidates and writes polemics against them. Bright puts his side very well in Gordon Brown, Charlie Whelan and Me in the Spectator. I accept that Geoffrey Robinson doesn't like Bright, but I still don't see any evidence that Gordon Brown was behind his firing. Editor deviates from owner's political line. Editor gets fired. Also, dogs bite people, the Pope is not a secular humanist, and bears defecate among trees.

Finally, Nick updated his blog with a quote from Harry's Place attacking the new editor of the Staggers, and one from Guido Fawkes, the "I'm a libertarian not a Tory" Tory.

...Gordon Brown is a malevolent, deeply damaged and unpleasant human being. ...

Does the Guinness Book of Records have an entry on suicide note length?

PS Nick also cites Andrew Rawnsley. I think there's a difference between NC and Rawnsley (but you may disagree, so I'll articulate my position as best I can). NC seems to me to be a partisan in the Blair-Brown struggle, and he's one-sidedly reporting dirt on Gordon Brown. Rawnsley, I think, is a journalist who found a good story, and is reporting it because he believes it to be true. Both show Brown in a bad light, but one is writing journalism, the other not.

A 'stunning performance'

I actually haven't managed to watch the whole thing, but Richard Madeley's defence of Tony Blair is a hoot.

Not curiously at all, Norman Geras has ignored it. Harry's Place, however, says, "All I can say is: cor blimey. That’s a stunning performance from a man who is basically a daytime chatshow host." Some of Madeley's high points: Churchill had to answer inquiries into his decisions during WWII (good for democracy!), but he was acquitted, ergo so should Blair be. (Getting information out of Nazi Germany in 1944 given a state of all out war was somewhat harder than gathering intelligence with UN weapons inspectors inside Iraq in 2003: the two really don't bear comparison.) Thatcher used spin to get us into war with Argentina. (She didn't: she did use spin during the war; however Argentina mounted amphibious landings of the Falkland Islands, which would be very hard to spin as anything other than an act of war.)

What was impressive was that Madeley can walk and talk at the same time. Has anyone ever seen him chew gum?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

"It is 1940 and I am Churchill"

In more or less so many words!. Other "shocking little moments of whatever the opposite of an epiphany is" - Daniel Finkelstein notes that after his horrific cock-up in Iraq, nobody is particularly interested in what he's got to say about Iran, then proceeds to tell us what he thinks about nobody caring what he's got to say about Iran (I didn't read on).

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Aaro ghosts for the "Guilty Pleasures" column of Metro

In which, Aaro does what the broadsheets are regularly mocked for, repeating all the salacious and entertaining redtop stories, under guise of condemning them for their triviality and prurience. The unworthy thought occurs that perhaps he is speaking in parables here, and really wants to talk to us about another leader of a troubled institution who the press are all clamouring to resign ... but that would be too easy.

I don't think this was a very well thought-out column or a particularly sensible argument - it's basically a twitch of the knee in the direction of Aaro's reflex response to any attempt by the media to criticise anyone in a position of leadership. I was wondering whether it was a sign of something or other that the captain of the national football team had now entered the charmed circle of those who Aaro regards as far above any criticism on any grounds at all, as opposed to those of us lower down the food chain, interference in whose personal lives is practically a duty of government. But no, I think he's just flexing the muscles and keeping his hand in for writing "bias against understanding" bollo.

He's also presenting a somewhat deracinated view of human life - apparently, if Danny Finkelstein slept with the wife of another Times leader-writer, Aaro would expect it to have next to no effect on the Comment team's morale and teamwork, as they all sagely worked together to inform us that more regulation was not the answer, and that China needs to take its place at the top table. Unrealistic, I think.