[W[hen Asim Qureshi, Research Director of Cage, alleged that harassment from MI5 was responsible for Emwazi’s journey to IS (Islamic State) in a Channel 4 interview with Jon Snow, they overreached themselves and opened themselves up to general ridicule and incredulity.
The ensuing outrage at Cage’s arguments appears to have pushed Amnesty International (AI) to put more distance between itself and Cage than it has ever done before, even though it was widely called upon to do so at the time of Gita Sahgal’s suspension from her post as head of the Gender unit at AI in 2010.
In December 2014, Gita Sahgal again criticised AI for co-signing a letter with Cage, along with seven other signatories, to David Cameron calling for a judge-led inquiry into rendition and torture of Islamic states. Both Steve Crawshaw, the deputy director of Amnesty, and Gita were interviewed on the Radio 4 Today programme on the issue of AI’s relationship with Cage. Crawshaw began by saying that he was ‘enormously saddened’ by Gita Sahgal’s interview which was ‘inaccurate on so many levels’ although he did not elaborate on this.
Well I’m enormously saddened, or rather make that disgusted, by Amnesty’s habit of throwing Gita under the nearest bus. Amnesty should never have been in bed with Cage, and Gita was right all along.
Crawshaw then said he didn’t know if Amnesty would sign such joint letters in the future, and the next day the director, Kate Allen, said they were “reviewing whether any future association with the group would now be appropriate.” As if something were different “now.”
Hopefully these public statements are not just an exercise in image management but an indication that Amnesty is undergoing a genuine and long overdue ‘crise de conscience’, although the above statements have left them with substantial wriggle room. Gita Sahgal is not optimistic. She says, ‘Amnesty International’s long relationship with Cage and other Islamists damages the credibility of their research and their ability to make informed decisions on campaigning and partnerships. There is no sign that they have actually understood this – they are simply responding to media pressure and thinking it will all blow over.’
And why should we care?
Why should the level of co-operation between two NGOs matter to women, particularly BME women? Why should the world view of groups like Cage impinge on Amnesty’s decision to work with them? It matters because women need the support of organisations like Amnesty in their lonely struggle against the growth of religious fundamentalism. It matters because joint work with Amnesty is a gift to any organisation, gives them credibility and a place at the top table. What kind of belief systems acquire legitimacy as a result? Both Asim Qureshi and Moazzam Begg, director of Cage, idealise societies which would, in my view, extinguish women’s rights as we know them.
Oh, not just in anyone’s view – that’s a fact. What we call women’s rights would be extinguished in the ideal society that Qureshi and Begg dream of.
How come such beliefs do not undermine the dangerous tropes circulating in left wing circles? One of the tropes is that one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. This assertion is no longer a clever inversion of dominant narratives that it once was since most of the recent strands of ‘terrorism’ have an ideology which is anti-woman, anti-sexual minorities and religious minorities and anti-secular. This ideology does not make them ‘freedom fighters’. Whose freedoms are they fighting for – a tightly defined brotherhood of a particular strain of Islam, be it wahhabi or salafi? This is not comparable to the old freedom struggles for independence from colonial yokes or Marxist-inspired struggles for the liberation of the working classes from their capitalist masters.
And yet, bafflingly, many people think it is comparable. I’ll never understand why.
Maryam Namazie, of the International Committee against Stoning, says that AI refused to campaign jointly with them on the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman who was sentenced to be stoned for adultery, on grounds of impartiality. She adds ironically that she [might] have won AI support if she had supported ‘defensive jihad’. All human rights organisations are faced with choices about the alliances they make. Their choices need to be consistent with a universal human rights agenda.
That’s not such an onerous requirement for a human rights organization, I’d have thought.