Salman Rushdie is an award-winning novelist, essayist, human rights advocate, and the survivor of a 1989 Iranian fatwa that resulted in at least one assassination attempt. Amnesty International is a global human rights organization that works against, among many other things, religiously motivated violence. So it's a little surprising to read Rushdie's harsh condemnation of the group:
Amnesty International has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Moazzam Begg and his group Cageprisoners, and holding them up as human rights advocates. It looks very much as if Amnesty's leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy, and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong. It has greatly compounded its error by suspending the redoubtable Gita Sahgal for the crime of going public with her concerns. Gita Sahgal is a woman of immense integrity and distinction and I am personally grateful to her for the courageous stands she made at the time of the Khomeini fatwa against The Satanic Verses, as a leading member of the groups Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. It is people like Gita Sahgal who are the true voices of the human rights movement; Amnesty and Begg have revealed, by their statements and actions, that they deserve our contempt.
What, exactly, does that mean? Slate's Christopher Hitchens, in his own Amnesty International takedown, explains:
Amnesty International has just suspended one of its senior officers, a woman named Gita Sahgal who until recently headed the organization's "gender unit." It's fairly easy to summarize her concern in her own words. "To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender," she wrote, "is a gross error of judgment." One might think that to be an uncontroversial statement, but it led to her immediate suspension.
The background is also distressingly easy to summarize. Moazzem Begg, a British citizen, was arrested in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan in the aftermath of the intervention in 2001. He was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and then released. He has since become the moving spirit in a separate organization calling itself Cageprisoners. Begg does not deny his past as an Islamist activist, which took him to Afghanistan in the first place. He does not withdraw from his statement that the Taliban was the best government available to Afghanistan. Cageprisoners has another senior member named Asim Qureshi, who speaks in defense of jihad at rallies sponsored by the extremist group Hizb-ut Tahrir (banned in many Muslim countries) ... Yet Amnesty International includes Begg in delegations that petition the British government about human rights. For Saghal to say that Cageprisoners has a program that goes "way beyond being a prisoners' rights organization" is to say the very least of it.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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