Saturday, 17 April 2010

Gita Saghal in her own words

Further to the Gita Saghal story, a statement by Gita has appeared in a Standpoint article by Nick Cohen.
I assume Cohen picked it up from an agency, as I can’t imagine any reason why she’d give it exclusively to one journalist if she wanted genuinely interested people to know (rather than apologists for military action in the Middle East), and as it’s also appeared elsewhere I reprint in full below. For anyone who needs Cohen’s take on the issue in full, you can find it at .

She says:

“On Friday 9th April, 2010 Amnesty International announced my departure from the organization. The agreed statement said, ‘due to irreconcilable differences of view over policy between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International regarding Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, it has been agreed that Gita will leave Amnesty International.’
I was hired as the Head of the Gender Unit as the organization began to develop its Stop Violence Against Women campaign. I leave with great sadness as the campaign is closed. Thousands of activists of Amnesty International enthusiastically joined the campaign. Many hoped that it would induce respect for women’s human rights in every aspect of the work. Today, there is little ground for optimism.
The senior leadership of Amnesty International chose to answer the questions I posed about Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg by affirming their links with him. Now they have also confirmed that the views of Begg, his associates and his organisation Cageprisoners, do not trouble them. They have stated that the idea of jihad in self defence is not antithetical to human rights; and have explained that they meant only the specific form of violent jihad that Moazzam Begg and others in Cageprisoners assert is the individual obligation of every Muslim.
I thank the senior leadership for these admissions and for their further clarification that concerns around the legitimization of Begg were of very long standing and that there was strong opposition from Head of the Asia programme to a partnership with him. When disagreements are profound, it is best that disputes over matters of fact, are reduced.
Unfortunately, their stance has laid waste every achievement on women’s equality and made a mockery of the universality of rights. In fact, the leadership has effectively rejected a belief in universality as an essential basis for partnership.
I extend my sympathies to all who have fought long and hard within Amnesty International to match the movement’s principles with its actions. I know many of you have been bewildered by this dispute and others deeply shamed by what is being done in your name. You may have been told that that debate is not possible in the middle of a crisis. I agree that there is indeed a crisis and that the hardest questions are being posed by Amnesty International’s close human rights allies, particularly in areas where jihad supported by Begg’s associates, is being waged.
I am now free to offer my help as an external expert with an intimate knowledge of Amnesty International’s processes and policies. I can explain in public debates, both with the leadership and inside the Sections, that adherence to violent jihad even if it indeed rejects the killing of some civilians, is an integral part of a political philosophy that promotes the destruction of human rights generally and contravenes Amnesty International’s specific policies relating to systematic violence and discrimination, particularly against women and minorities.
During these last two months, human rights gains have been made to defend the torture standard and to shame governments who have been complicit in torture through their ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policies. But the spectre that arises through the continued promotion of Moazzam Begg as the perfect victim, is that Amnesty International is operating its own policies of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’
So I invite you to join me as I continue to campaign for public accountability at this moment, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? "

Gita Sahgal
Former Interim Head of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit, Amnesty International

For what it's worth, I don't see this as a reason for anyone to stop supporting Amnesty, and I certainly won't. It's simply another of hundreds of conversations people to whom Amnesty's work is important have with each other. Any member of a local group, or who's ever attended a national AGM and seen the staggering range of 'special interest' groups trying to thrash out some common line, knows that.
In my experience Amnesty is the only campaigning organisation of size with a membership crossing all manner of social groups and views which isn't solely led from the top by a professional clique whose first (or only) aim is to perpetuate a crisis long enough to get a career out of it. Most of the effective work, and decision-making, is taken at grassroots by ordinary members who often hold conflicting views yet agree a middle ground to get stuff done.
The only walkout in recent years I know of was the closing of all UK Amnesty local groups affiliated to Catholic schools or colleges. That was done on direct orders of the bishops, and ultimately the Vatican, because they couldn't bully Amnesty into taking a pro-life line which would have negated the rights of others (and women in general). It was opposed by almost all the individual members of those groups, who just found other local groups where religious bigots could not interfere.
The current issue, while unfortunate, is simply not on that scale, and not even irreversable given enough grassroots pressure, say at the next UK AGM.

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