Comment: When human rights organisations align with the far-right

A new book examines the mistakes made by the left in finding common cause with the islamic far-right.

On Monday, in Toynbee Hall, London, the Centre for Secular Space (CSS) launched its first report authored by Meredith Tax entitled ‘Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left and Universal Human Rights’.

The panel for the launch, which included Meredith Tax and Gita Sahgal, the former head of Amnesty International’s Gender Unit, now founder of the new centre, cut through much of the so-called left’s hypocrisy when it comes to siding with supporters of extremist views.

The inclusion of Gita Sahgal makes the centre all the more interesting. Her resignation from Amnesty International in 2010 raised some very pressing questions about which groups and individuals nominally left-wing groups, or human rights organisations, should provide a platform for.

I refer here to Amnesty’s teaming up with Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee, head of the group Cageprisoners, and who the Sunday Times described as ‘Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban’.

When Amnesty started to do more than just advocate on behalf of former prisoners, and start to give Begg a louder voice, even support, despite the contradiction in beliefs and values, Sahgal rightly raised the alarm saying how inconsistent this was in highlighting human rights abuses worldwide.

The reasons for Sahgal’s opposition to Begg go further still. The Cageprisoners had a long time relationship with the late al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki. The relationship dates back to when al-Awlaki was in prison in Yemen.

From the outset it is clear that the relationship between Begg and the Cageprisoners and the once al-Qaeda motivator was more than a simple one of political networking (I profile this relationship here). So why it was that Sahgal received the cold shoulder from Amnesty is anybody’s guess.

But it is one more episode of the left, or left leaning organisations, finding skewed comradeship with what the CSS’s report calls the ‘salafi-jihadis‘, or what the media, often erroneously, calls the moderate Islamists.

According to the report, the genesis of salafi-jihadism stems from Saudi-financed madrassahs (or is at least bolstered by them), which have been described as ‘factories for salafi jihadism’ by the late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

The running themes of salafi-jihadism include the ultimate belief in Sharia law; sectarianism; the curtailing of women’s rights; an authoritarian view of the family; the disregard of democracy; a support for jihad, as in physical fighting or providing money for it; chauvinism and the creation of a global caliphate.

None the less both the US and the UK today both remain allied to Saudi Arabia, despite the state’s appalling human rights record.

Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. Proving how the organisation is an otherwise worthy one, according to Amnesty in 2011 at least 82 executions took place; more than triple the figure of at least 27 executions in 2010. In 2012, a similar number of people were executed.

Additionally, of the 10 executed in the first five-and-a-half weeks of 2013, four were executed for drug related offences, and four were foreign nationals.

However consider the case of self-proclaimed Saudi cleric Fayan Al-Ghamdi, a Father who allegedly raped and killed his own daughter last year, only to pay ‘blood money’ of £50,000.

Lama al-Ghamdi, the daughter, was denied seeing her Mother and the courts did next to nothing, since by law after a man divorces a woman he claims sole custody of any children. The five-year-old had been repeatedly raped and burned all because, a court heard, he wanted to ‘save her virginity’.

Saudi Arabia is a country where men can, in the words of writer Iman Al Nafjan blogged, ‘literally get away with murder‘.

Though instead of calling Saudi out over it, the UK would prefer to carry on its lucrative trade deals and arms sales.

And here is were the far-left and the British and American establishment can find harmony. While the latter needs the Muslim far-right in Saudi Arabia for cash, they keep quiet about human rights abuses. For the far-left the comradeship is just as dubious, if not slightly more immature.

Recently I was at the launch of a new book by Trotskyist writer and blogger Richard Seymour, who told a packed audience in Kings Cross that the Stop the War Coalition did not wish to pursue sectarianism, deciding who should and should not be marching against the war, but in any case those religious right-wingers might have had their minds changed through a union with the left.

In a book whose main charge is that Christopher Hitchens was patronising to Muslims for belittling their beliefs, it comes as a surprise that he should consider the beliefs of the Muslim right as so weak that even Trots could persuade them of the virtues of progressive politics.

If this isn’t paternalist (Muslim beliefs, whatever they are, are only temporary, easily overturned), I don’t know what is.

The CSS’s new book goes a long way in to finding fault with the Anglo-American left and the British and US establishment. They are on the side of neither. I think this is something we should all get behind.

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