Monday, 22 February 2010

Hypocrisy International

What the fuck has happened to Amnesty International? As a long-time admirer of the organisation's work (and someone who has on occasion contributed his own two cents to their efforts), I could perhaps just about swallow the bitter pill of the decision to include the former Guantanamo inmate and armchair jihadist Moazzam Begg on an AI platform. I say bitter, because I consider it an uncomfortable paradox for an event supposedly geared towards the global defense of human rights to give legitimacy to a stalwart supporter of a regime with among the most dismal records in that area to so recently scar the face of the earth: Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. So great was Begg's zeal for the regime of Mullah Omar that he moved against the traffic of those lucky enough to escape the hell-hole and planted himself and his family in Kabul in July, 2001.

This itself is sin enough. It is however not a significant deviation from the already murky moral waters direction AI have traversed of late. The presence of Noam Chomsky, a man who has never fully repudiated his mushy feelings for the devastating Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, at the AI Belfast conference last year is of a similar vein.

But the Begg case - or rather its ramifications - suggests something is truly rotten in this noble edifice. Something must be rotten when a secular human rights organization suspends a woman with a fine history of opposing religious fundamentalism for voicing her concerns at its association with a religious fundamentalist. Gita Saghal has recieved extraordinarily unjust treatment for her honesty.

I don't believe this exposes AI to be the 'enemy within' some paranoid right-wingers lambast it as. Au contraire, this is something to be regretted, not celebrated. As David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times, trouble at AI is welcome news to no-one, "except to tyrants". What would be welcome however, would be some evidence of AI challenging this encroaching politicization which seems to be rendering some cases more equal than others.

We need search no further than the island of Cuba for disappointment. A poster on Harry's Place compares the attention bestowed upon Begg and his Guantanamo Bay case on the AI website (59 results) with that for the Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, whose hunger strike in Castro's gaols since Dec 3 led to his death today (24th Feb), a search for whose name produces just 9 results. Such a differentiation, the differences between the cases themselves (the far greater openness of US and UK society over the Cuban, where AI cannot operate, for instance, as the HP poster acknowledges) notwithstanding, cannot be justified considering Begg has not seen the inside of a prison cell since January 2005 and, of course, has his own organisation to convey his message, the charming 'Cageprisoners' which has done some sterling campaigning for the twin causes of prisoners' rights and global jihad. Tamayo, by contrast, would never breathe free air again the day he was arrested during the 'black spring' protests in Havana in 2003.

It seems AI need a little soul-searching. I still applaud their positive work (and feel I should perhaps get back into writing those solidarity cards they encourage. Has been a while...) and am of course aware than in this strange age of ideological transvestism, they are far from the only ones in want of soul-searching.

MOAZZAM BEGG FUN FACTS: Did you know...when failed 'suicide pants bomber' Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was chair of the Islamic Society at UCL, speakers he invited to various events included Yvonne Ridley (who would be proud to have late al-Qaeda butcher Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as "her brother"), George Galloway (well...) and a Mr Moazzam Begg? If you didn't know, I hope you're not surprised...

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