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.


Anonymous andrew adams said...

To make things clear, I am not, and never have been Andrew Adams.

Quite right, and neither am I.

2/09/2010 10:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Can we please stop accusing particular Muslims of being "jihadists"? I'm no Muslim, but as I understand it, all Muslims engage in jihad. It is a part of their religion. Those Muslims who we call "extremists", happen to engage in/believe in/promote an extreme version of jihad "of the sword".

So when Begg says, "jihad is a drug I'm allowed to take and I always come back for more", this would be like a Christian saying "I find that prayer brings me closer to Jesus" or whatever. The act of jihad implies Islam, and nothing more than that. If Begg is promoting violent jihad, then that is another matter.

2/10/2010 02:33:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

Just to note from Aaro ...

man whose three years’ incarceration without trial has helped, for many liberals, to turn him into a kind of Muslim Mandela

Famously, absolutely famously, Amnesty International refused to adopt Nelson Mandela as a prisoner of conscience for most of his time in prison because of his role in Umkhonto we Sizwe. Surprised that a long-time supporter, etc, etc didn't know that.

I don't really remember cutting out the newspaper coupon to subscribe to Amnesty, but when I did, I don't think that there really was an option below "Pay by direct debit" and "I will write letters in support of prisoners of conscience" for "I will support Amnesty by acting as a self-appointed consultant on every meeting they organise and shouting like a twat about any guests I disapprove of".

2/10/2010 07:49:00 AM  
Blogger angrysoba said...

It's not clear to me what point you're trying to make.

It seems you're being deliberately obscure.

Surely the point here is that Gita Sahgal objected to Amnesty International parading around with those who don't give a damn about human rights, but have sought to hijack a reputable organization for whom rights are sacrosanct.

Are you disputing this on the lines that you don't really think Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners have views antithetical to those of Amnesty? (I have to ask because it is exhausting to read your post and I'm not really sure I understand where you're coming from).

Okay, so you say that Gita Sahgal is guilty of some kind of unprofessional behaviour. Is that correct?

She shouldn't have gone public with her problems with Amnesty International?

2/10/2010 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

I think the answers are:

1) it is almost impossible for me to work out how good, bad or terrible Moazzam Begg actually is, because I can't find any sources who aren't either Harry's Place or their mates, and Harry's Place a) have a long past of ferocious bullshitting on similar issues (viz: Tariq Ramadan) and b) seem to find the concept of 'a timeline' utterly alien, making it excessively difficult to find out whether someone said something before or after a major life or world-historical event, in contexts where the timing is very important.

2) Amnesty International has a long and distinguished history of campaigning on behalf of the civil rights of unattractive prisoners - one only has to recall its reports on the Maze prisons, which both contained people who were much, much nastier than Cageprisoners.

2/10/2010 08:07:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Oh and:

She shouldn't have gone public with her problems with Amnesty International?

No, quite the reverse; in public is the best place to ahve this debate, but we can sympathise with Amnesty's view that if you work for them but disagree fundamentally with their policies, you need to resign, not to try and maintain your position in the organisation while undermining it.

2/10/2010 08:08:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Out of curiosity, but are letters from MPs usually proofread? I mean take the garbled ending of Denis Macshane's letter to Amnesty:

For Amnesty to victimise a woman who has raised legitimate questions about Mr Begg is Kafkaesque as Gita Saghal, the exposer of an ideology that denies human rights, has her career threatened by the very organisation meant to defend human rights.

I think this comes back to the whole 'lid blown/poster boy' problem doesn't it? the 'career threatened' thing seems pretty easy to work out - she took private, internal correspondence and made on-the-record statements to the press using it, specifically to attack the organisation she works for - for an 'offence' which has from the beginning been totally in the public eye. This is not whistleblowing; she wasn't suspended for raising the questions since she admits they have been the topic of internal discussions for a while. She has not actually exposed any ideologies.

The grammar in MacShane's letter is really tortured and that might seem minor but I don't think it is, because it allows a conflation of her rights as a worker with human rights more generally that seems at best distasteful, at worst belies a total misunderstanding of Amnesty's goals.

as for Kafka - it's pretty clear MacShane has never read him. But what's new about that?

verification is genuinely 'berman'. i think i win.

2/11/2010 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

Well, there you go - Decent Dennis's Diamond Used Argument Emporium seems to be punting horseshit at crazy discount prices today.

I mean of course, you could say that Amnesty suspended her for "rightly rais(ing) questions about whether Amnesty should be promoting someone whose views" etc. etc. I mean, it's bullshit, but you could say that.

OTOH, it would be factually correct to say she was suspended for accusing her employer of sucking up to the Taliban in the pages of the Murdoch press. If this strikes you as "victimisation" (x2), then I suggest readers try attacking their own employers in print and see how they get on.

This is before we get to the part about Amnesty "endorsing" Begg et al which, given this claim's proximity to descriptions of Begg's pals' extremist nuttiness, may leave the reader with the impression that AI are maybe, probably just plain endorsing the Taliban.

I don't understand at all why MacShane needs to use these obvious wheezes. The plain facts - Amnesty International + Dodgy Islamist types with nasty views = The Big Waggy Finger - are surely more than strong enough for his needs. Unless, of course, he has some excellent new anecdotes on the subject from the unending array of modish dinner parties he attends and reports on so heavily.

2/11/2010 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

As far as I'm aware, being suspended by one's employer is not the sort of offence which normally would call for Amnesty's intervention or indeed the kind of thing which brought the organisation into being.

2/11/2010 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

cor, the facebook group about this is a bit of a car crash isn't it? the distortions of logic they have to go through to manage to call her a whistleblower are pretty impressive, in a vaguely sinister way.

2/11/2010 01:48:00 PM  

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