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.


Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Morally bankrupt: ho hum. And to think that Martin Amis had Polanski's number years ago when he interviewed him. Listen to your friends, Salman.

2/21/2010 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

*Twiddles thumbs and hopes organic cheeseboard at least will come along to liven things up*

Earwigca has a good post: Irene Khan on Gita Sahgal, Amnesty & Poverty on the Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International 2001-December 2009, interview on Women's Hour today. This is particularly good:

There are two things, first is that when you’re an advocate for human rights you obviously have to have the voices of victims heard. Victims are not paragons of virtue and Amnesty has to make very tough decisions about who it works with, who it gives a platform to. We’ve worked with the Catholic Church on the abolition of the death penalty, but we have been in opposition to the Catholic Church on sexual and reproductive rights for instance. So you have to make those judgements. Now, during my time I launched the campaign to close Guantanamo, but I also launched the campaign to stop violence against women, because there’s a lot of talk about the Taliban, about terrorism – very little talk about sexual terror which probably takes many more victims every day in bedrooms, in battlefields, in back streets, in workplaces. So I think it’s important to focus on both issues equally strongly.

2/22/2010 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Heh, I meant to write something about being a Serious Novelist yesterday but forgot.

Something that a friend sent me - Ian McEwan on 'Saturday', from a while back. The context of this is: Perowne clips Baxter's car early in the novel (Baxter is on his way out of a strip joint). A confrontation ensues and Perowne correctly diagnoses that Baxter has Huntingdon's Disease. Later Baxter, still smarting from a 'humiliation', manages to gain entry to Perowne's house and looks set to rape his daughter, but she recites Matthew Arnold to him and he is transfixed, only to fall down the stairs and uffer a potentially fatal brain injury. Perowne decides that he'll operate on Baxter's injury and thus save his life, and thus the novel ends. McEwan:

just a little or maybe a lot below the surface in [Perowne's] confrontation with Baxter is an echo of the confrontation of the rich, satisfied, contented West with a demented strand of a major world religion.

My friend's comment - 'what an amazing cunt' - seems about right. And if you expand the metaphor outwards it gets pretty disturbing - bombing the shit out of Iraq = brain surgery? seriously? That's before we get to the other dodgy bit - that brain surgery in the novel is a metaphor for, er, writing novels...

What is it with these ageing literary stars of the 80s?

That Earwigca piece is very good. By the way, if you want to see someone Go Bezerk! then head over to Nick's blog... I'd hate to have to edit him.

2/22/2010 03:45:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

The post in question:

For goodnes sake ratbiter of course there's a ticking bomb argument for torture. The trouble is that the only cited case when it can be applied was the case of the German cop and the missing child and even then the torture was pointless. If you and your fellow Trots are truly interested in defending human rights I invite you to join as comrades in the struggle against radical Islam. No? Thought not.

2/22/2010 04:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just had the opportunity to visit the Stasi Central Directorate VII (Counterespionage and Internal Affairs)'s preserved "traditions room" - i.e, their trophy collection/hall of fame/place for handing out official commendations from the Minister and sipping beers on Feliks Dzerzhinski's birthday.

And one of the things in pride of place is a neat wall chart of all their newspaper clippings, documents, photos, etc about their campaign against...Amnesty International.

I think that should settle the issue. How do you know you're a real anti-totalitarian force? When the Stasi keep the newspaper clippings of that time they busted some guy with one of your petitions.

2/22/2010 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I'm afraid that doesn't settle it, Alex. You see, Christopher Hitchens, for example (and to a lesser degree Nick Cohen) claim that AI used to be a genuine anti-totalitarian force, but lately it's joined forces with the evil Islamofascists. Your evidence, while good, counts for nothing. It won't convince the people we'd like to convince, anyway.

2/22/2010 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

It's not them that's left Amnesty, it's Amnesty that's left them.


And to be honest you couldn't blame the organisation if it did.

2/23/2010 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

I was talking about this at my place the other day and Sunny's picked up on it today, but this old Hitchens article on Guantanamo really does have to be seen to be believed...

...I reckon it offers a rather more compelling reason for why Hitch is so horrified by Amnesty, i.e. that it campaigns against prisons and penal policies that he likes and cheerleads.

2/23/2010 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Crikey, that Hitch piece just drips with pomposity. It's also full of absurd statements. I mean how could anyone make statements like these with a straight face.

The position of the United States is different, because not only is it a signatory to the Geneva protocols, it is also the power that has pressed other nations to both sign and observe them.

It (AI) surely expresses a covert sympathy with the aims and objectives of jihad and an overt, if witless and sinister, hatred of the United States.

I mean Hitchens is obviously not an idiot. Is this all some kind of elaborate prank?

2/23/2010 06:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mean Hitchens is obviously not an idiot.

No, just a highly professional hack. Look at the use of "surely" in that quote - that's some masterly defensive writing there. AI sounds like an intensifier, but it has the effect of changing the rest of the sentence from a direct assertion of fact to an expression of opinion, and therefore much easier to defend on the grounds of fair comment and to publish through the traditional distinction of news and opinion editorial.

2/23/2010 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

The other thing that struck me about that piece is that he says openly - or at least adumbrates openly - something that isn't often brought into the open: these people should be outside the law, and failing that we should be able to treat them as if they were outside the law. Spelt out it's a fairly disgusting sentiment, but it's one which I think drives a lot of rhetoric in this area. Not just rhetoric, come to think of it. I got into a long argument on CT the other week with a guy who was maintaining that participants in an unjust war were ipso facto war criminals; it only gradually dawned on me that the reason he wanted the answer to be Yes was that he thought that would mean they would forfeit their rights as combatants. A kind of slippage from "war criminal" (someone who violates the rules of war and can later be brought to account) to "outlaw" (someone who is outside the protection of the rules of war and can be shot down like a dog).

2/23/2010 08:29:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

There's just so much to love, isn't there? I read it at the time, but I just happened to pick up Steven Poole's book off the shelf - he rips Hitch horribly for this in it - and there it was.

I don't know what my favourite bit is. Is where Hitch just says straight out that everyboy in Gitmo is guilty, then announces that he wouldn't give a fuck even if any of them are innocent?

Is it the bit where he asks if Al Qaeda itself is a "ticking bomb" (nudge nudge)? Hell, what about the bit where tells us how keen he is to find out what a detainee knows, even when he's already euphemised the torture he knows full well will be used to find out as "rough treatment"?

That's before we even get to the blatant lies about the Taliban we know returned to the fight (copyright, Dick Cheney's arse, 2004) and announces they've somehow proven one of the detainees was the 20th 9/11 hijacker?

I could go on and on... It really is a masterpiece. As I've said elsewhere, Hitch should've just called his Gita Sahgal piece "I Have Concerns About How Amnesty Protests a Prison And Torture System That I Fully Endorse”.

2/23/2010 08:49:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...


Isn't that essentially the purpose of the term "illegal combatants"?

2/24/2010 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

No and much, much bollocks has been released on the concept of an "illegal combatant" by both sides in the last ten years.

"Illegal combatant" in the Geneva Conventions basically means someone who isn't entitled to be treated as a prisoner of war. Which means that they have to be treated as a civilian (which of course is exactly what you don't want if you're engaged in the combatant business, as it's likely that you've committed quite a lot of punishable offences)

2/24/2010 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...


I agree that according to the Geneva Conventions a person is either classed as an enemy combatant or treated as a civilian, but surely the point of the term "illegal combatant" (which is not used AFAIK in the Geneva conventions)
as it has been used by the US and its defenders is to put someone outside both of these categories and justify them being treated neither as a PoW or a civilian.

2/24/2010 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

My impression of it - and I did a fair bit of reading in this area a couple of years ago - is that Guantanamo Bay is a genuine legal black hole (in the words of Johan Steyn), inasmuch as US law doesn't apply there (extra-territorial military base), Cuban law doesn't apply either and US military law doesn't apply to prisoners held there. Score one for the antinomian ingenuity of Team Bush (many of whom were of course lawyers in their own right). But efforts to create a similar zone of exclusion on the level of theory have been a lot less successful - it's hard to get round the basic logic that says you're either a civilian or a military combatant, not to mention difficult to find a good reason for wanting to.

2/24/2010 04:16:00 PM  

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