Friday, 19 February 2010

Moazzam Begg: Another Communiqué From The Front Line

Originally I wasn't going to bother commenting on yesterday's statement from Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), adding their support for Gita Saghal in her battle with Amnesty International (hat-tip to Harpymarx for pointing it out). I didn't see that it added anything new, but mainly I don't understand the tendency of certain NGOs to imagine they are engaged in some kind of international diplomacy, issuing long rambling communiqués like G8 countries at the end of one of those troubled summit meetings, where discussion is euphemistically described as "frank and full".

But WLUML's contribution to the debate - make that lack of a contribution - about Gita Saghal's decision to attack Amnesty International, Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners in the pages of a Sunday newspaper is particularly expatiative and particularly hypocritical. Aside from providing, at some length, the circumstances of Ms Saghal's suspension and praise for her previous work, the statement mirrors Saghal's own in offering a total lack of evidence for its attack on Begg and yet expresses "deeply regrets [at] the attempts of some media commentators and apologists for torture and war crimes to hijack this important debate to smear progressive movements, organisations and individuals".

Sorry, but as the Americans say, that dog won't hunt. If Gita Saghal has a well-respected expertise and "demonstrated commitment to exposing and addressing fundamentalisms", which I'm sure she does, then there is no way that she can possibly be unfamiliar with the politics and tactics of people like Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Martin Bright, Melanie Philips, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens at the Centre for Social Cohesion or the bloggers at The Spittoon or Harry's Place. Targeting individuals and denouncing progressive organisations for 'collaboration' is hardly a secret, it's their stock in trade - as this article and this one and this one amongst the hundreds I could choose clearly illustrates.

Did Saghal not suspect, even for a second, that the pro-war 'Decents' wouldn't leap at the chance to castigate Amnesty International the moment she spoke to the Murdoch press, or are we expected to believe that an experienced campaigner and activist suffers from staggering naivety? Why not distance herself from them if she too feels an important debate has been hijacked?

Moreover, if WLUML genuinely regrets such tactics, why would Marieme Helie Lucas, its founder and former International Coordinator, even consider joining others in conflating fundamentalist armed groups in Algeria with Moazzam Begg and placing him amongst "perpetrators of violations [who] cannot be considered defenders of rights" - a charge that not even Saghal has accused him of?

I started following this ridiculous affair from the solid secularist position of refusing to take anything on faith alone. Show me the evidence and let me make up my own mind. But instead there has been little more than a stream of smears and innuendo. Moazzam Begg may be far from perfect, but after a year in Bagram and two more in Guantánamo Bay, where the lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said there was "credible and consistent evidence" that he had been tortured, at the very least he deserves to be listened to, not vilified.

Looking at the way the attacks on him have been conducted since the article in the Sunday Times appeared on 7 February, however, I'm no longer convinced that 'the very least' is enough. Begg, in his statement on withdrawing from an Amnesty event on Tuesday, said that he “truly cannot understand why this is all happening now, since nothing that has been said in the media is new at all – no new and sensational revelations, no new controversial comments, at least not by or about me.” So unless Gita Saghal, whose actions kick-started the current furore, can come up with something far more convincing than what's been offered so far, then those who loathe the tactics of the pro-war 'left' should, on principle, offer Moazzam Begg their sympathy and solidarity.

1 Comment:

harpymarx said...

Great post Kevin. I was going to comment on the statement from WLUML but I must confess I am getting really fed-up with this and reiterating the same points.

"I started following this ridiculous affair from the solid secularist position of refusing to take anything on faith alone. Show me the evidence and let me make up my own mind. "

Pretty much my own position on this and central to the debate is 'show me the evidence'..

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