The calumniations against CAGE have continued unabated to delegitimise their government-shaking statements and concerns through the right-wing, neoconservative and Zionist media outlets. Most of these articles, if not all have tried to construct a strawman portraying CAGE as the “supporters of terrorism”, but have been unable to provide legitimate academic refutation of core arguments posited by the organisation. The “experts” which have come forth to protect their failed theories are primarily the politicians, as well as cheap hacks climbing up their professions through the well-beaten, Muslim-bashing career tracks, and opportunist human rights “activists”.
One of these “experts” brought out against CAGE is fundamentalist, secularist, feminist, extremist, anti-Muslimist, (why not eh?) Gita Saghal, (formerly of Amnesty International), who’s claim to fame is slandering Moazzam Begg, Asim Qureshi and CAGE in 2010. By bandying her name, the media has been seeking to undermine the credentials of CAGE (see, inter alia, here, and more recently the “expert” in the Jewish Chronicle, here), whilst failing to address the claims against the security services. Shamefully capitulating to media pressure, Amnesty have stated that they are “reconsidering their relationship with CAGE”, and that campaigning with CAGE will be “highly unlikely in the current circumstances of seeing the kind of public statements that are being made [by Cage].” Incidentally these “kinds of public statements” have been supported by leading intellectual, Noam Chomsky.
For an organisation which seeks to work with facts rather than smears, it really is a testimony to the pervasiveness of the anti-Muslim hysteria, where allegations, circulated en mass, can be treated as the truth if the subject of those allegations is Muslim.
However, evidence of clear partiality on the part of the media across the spectrum has been the failure to present the other side of what happened in the Gita Sahgal/CAGE affair(no surprises there), whilst making a martyr out of Sahgal who challenged “terrorist supporters”.
Amnesty, CAGE and Sahgal
Sahgal claimed in the Sunday Times, (through Richard Kerbaj, a Murdoch hack with a biased focus on Muslims), that by Amnesty International associating (“partnering”) with Moazzam Begg and CAGE, Amnesty’s reputation as a human rights organisation was being tarnished because Begg was a “Taliban supporter”. She also stated that she had been raising these concerns to Amnesty, which were then dismissed. She was subsequently suspended for not actually raising the concerns internally, contrary to her claims. The piece by Kerbaj is similar to the current crop of biased diatribe emanating from the neoconservative brainwashing outlets: a hatchet-job with an unhealthy dose of spin applied to the statements of those being attacked.
The smears she made were in fact responded to, however, as is the case with Muslims now, their voices and arguments were drowned out despite exposing the falsity of the claims. She was invited by CAGE to speak to them directly, which she refused, based on her feeling “unsafe” around Begg. Of course this was the man who co-wrote his book with Victoria Brittain, who went on to defend Begg against Sahgal’s allegations. The famous lawyer Gareth Pierce, after Begg’s 2014 release from detention stated that,
“He is a rare individual who will talk to everyone and listen to everyone, even those with whom he profoundly disagrees.”
The reliance on an emotional slant usually indicates to a defeated argument and an irrational fear. When she eventually did decide to sit with Asim Qureshi, her tirade was comprehensively exposed. In the BBC radio interview she continued with her allegations, arguing that Begg stood for violence and “systematic discrimination” against people he doesn’t agree with. Qureshi highlighted, that Begg had in fact documented the abuses of the Taliban in his book, and that he riskily set up a girl’s school in Afghanistan. In response to the allegation of supporting “violent Jihad”, Qureshi brought to attention the Geneva Convention, which enshrines the use of violence in pursuit of self-determination against racist/colonialist regimes. The whole interview demonstrates the superficiality of her claims and is definitely worth listening to.
Many of the arguments are also elaborated upon by a post on CAGE’s old website.
Scrutinising Sahgal’s “Links”
This “globally recognised” expert attacked Amnesty for its association with CAGE, but the question is, should any human rights organisation have an association with Sahgal? Does she have any moral authority as a neutral reference point?
Sahgal has frequently shared platforms and ideological positions with anti-Muslim bigot Maryam Namazie. I have detailed Namazie’s views here. Namazie believes that “religion kills” but Islam in particular should be singled out for further discriminatory treatment. She has called for the banning of the face veil and supported the “illiberal” ban on Hijab. Her disdain for Islam in particular is a measurable one.
Sahgal has praised Namazie as an “elegant” speaker. In an interview with Namazie, Sahgal also positively cites “One law for All” (OLFA) stating that “we [including OLFA] stand on firm principled ground”. OLFA, a front organisation for the anti-Islam Worker-Communist Party of Iran, is known for its anti-Muslim, discriminatory and bigoted views. It was used as a platform for the anti-Muslim Anne Marie Waters, who also supports discriminatory treatment towards Muslims, is a supporter of bigots, and is linked to far-right, terrorist-inspiring ideologues.
Sahgal’s anti-Muslim Views
In the same interview Sahgal, demonstrating the nexus of her views with the far-right and neoconservatives, states that Islamophobia, a clearly demonstrable phenomenon, “is almost invariably used to silence criticism.”
Of course, stating that Islamophobia is “almost invariably” used to silence criticism masks the genuine rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment which is manifesting itself in violence against primarily women (see here, and here). For human a rights-touting feminist, such a claim is shambolically irresponsible.
Sahgal blatantly has a discriminatory attitude towards Muslims. Explaining secularism she states that,
“…secularism is a view of the world which guarantees freedom to hold religious belief while limiting manifestations of religion which are harmful in some way.”
The question which comes forth logically is who defines what is harmful? She has no qualms about sitting with Namazie who has advocated banning the hijab. Clearly “freedoms” are not universal for Sahgal.
Moreover, she herself has advocated the banning of hijab. In 2014, Namazie, in a revealing interview with Sahgal, asks whether the ECHR upholding of the French ban on Fiqab, which was unanimously condemned by leading human rights organisations, was a “good move”, Sahgal replies,
“I think it was an excellent decision… the reason I think it’s a good decision in defence of human rights as opposed to all the human rights organisations who have condemned it is that there is no appetite at all anywhere… to examine violence, murder coercion in the name of the veil.”
She continues her argument that, she isn’t in favour of the state telling people how to dress, however, Muslims are an exception:
“When I say this was a good judgment it’s because we have a terrible situation in Europe where there is not a single body that I know of, except for bodies like ours… like the Council for Ex-Muslims or the Centre for Secular Space [Sahgal’s organisation], but except for [these two organisation] the major human rights organisations have all taken positions which are pro-Islamism”
The reasons why she supports it therefore is because most human rights organisations are against the ban, because they are “pro-Islamist”. Indeed. Confused doesn’t begin to describe the logic invoked.
The rationale for her animosity towards Niqab/Hijab is even more revealing. Stating that the Niqab is a danger to others, as it may pressurise co-religionists into wearing it, she nonchalantly absolves the turban and Jewish kippa from the same argument because it does not, for her, constitute a threat. Confusingly, she later admits that other religions also enforce dress codes giving examples of evangelical Christians banning women from wearing trousers and Orthodox Jews forcing girls to cover their arms. Agreeing with another fraudulent bigot, Taj Hargey, she says that “the hijab, in all its forms” demands “an exception”. Her problem is quite evidently Islam.
In short, she enforces her own perverted and contradictory analysis of the meaning of Hijab on Muslim women who wear it and calls for a ban on it on the basis that it presents a “danger” to society because some people may force it.
What exasperates her blatant bias is her position on arranged marriages, a cultural practice of her homeland. Dealing with this topic she is able to separate the abuses of the practice, which are far more invasive and prevalent in the Indian subcontinent, from the practice itself. According to a 2010 Times of India report, more than 1,000 young people in India die in “honour killings” linked to forced marriages. Despite this, Sahgal affords nuance to this topic and is able to make a distinction between those who abuse the practice through “pressure, emotional blackmail, the massive physical pressure of beatings and abduction”, and the practice itself. The inconsistency in applying the same logic to Hijab and Niqab demonstrates her bigoted attitude towards Islam in general.
The media has paraded Gita Sahgal as the “expert”: an objective individual who rose to challenge Amnesty International. That was her defining moment. Yet her discriminatory attitude against Muslim women elucidated in detail above and the exposition of the superficiality of her claims against CAGE demonstrate her want of neutrality. Beneath the veneer of moral authority is a bigoted lean against Islam and Muslims. She therefore perfectly fits her role in the Islam-bashing, pseudo-experts industry propagated in the corporate media.
As for Amnesty, it has truly lost its credibility. This is not because of its association with CAGE, which has continually made a principled position based on rule of law and due process. Rather, it is for capitulating in an anti-Muslim atmosphere to pressure rooted in the attention-seeking antics of a person who holds deeply discriminatory views against Muslims and who has been exploited by an agenda-driven media.