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The right-on are wrong to champion so-called victims

What do Mohammed Atif Siddique, Moazzam Begg and Binyam Mohamed have in common?

Well, if you are of a certain political disposition, you will probably see them as victims; each a former prisoner of conscience once hounded by the state and, in some instances, imprisoned without proper process.

All three this week have been in the news again.

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Siddique, having had one of his terrorism convictions quashed, was released after serving four years in a Scottish jail for other terror-related offences. Mohamed, meanwhile, continues to be at the centre of allegations that Britain’s security service MI5 was complicit in his torture while he was detained at Guantanamo. Then there is Begg, another former Guantanamo prisoner, who made the headlines after reports that one of Amnesty International’s senior workers, Gita Sahgal, circulated a memo criticising Amnesty’s high-profile collaboration with a group called Cage­prisoners’ of which Begg is a leading spokes­person. Sahgal, it seems, did the unforgivable, and paid the price, having now been suspended from her long-term job at Amnesty. But just what did Sahgal do exactly that made her colleagues at Amnesty see red?

After all, Sahgal has long since been the respected head of the organisation’s gender section, and an activist on human rights for going on 30 years. What’s more, she has not only been vociferous in condemning the illegal detention and torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo Bay, but is on the record as having personally told Moazzam Begg that she is “horrified and appalled” by the treatment of people like him. To these ends she has worked relentlessly in opposing attempts by governments to justify what many now try to shrug off as “torture lite”.

The simple fact is Sahgal was suspended for doing what her job description, not to mention conscience, requires of her: defending human rights. What she dared do was flag up how Amnesty International was wrong to give the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights abuses, but a defender of those same rights.

It’s not often that I find myself in political alignment with the likes of writer David Aaronovitch or the Spectator magazine, but over the past week both have hit the nail on the head when it comes to the controversy surrounding Sahgal’s suspension. As Aaronovitch put it, Amnesty “chose the wrong poster-boy” in Begg, and those who see Begg and others like him as some kind of “Muslim Mandelas” have at best been seduced into believing them the embodiment of the wrongly accused.

Certainly, there is something disconcerting about the blinkered way so many of those within our liberal-left establishment rush headlong into the fashionable cause celebre of campaigning for or defending the likes of Begg, Siddique and Mohamed.

Especially worrying is the way they invariably do it by conveniently glossing over or simply ignoring the devil that lies in the detail surrounding the backgrounds of such men. Let’s take a few examples.

To begin with, Begg himself has written of how he remembers the Taliban as having “made progress …in social justice and upholding pure, old Islamic values”. The period he refers to was when he lived in Kabul in 2001. I, too, remember being there at that time, and watching the Friday spectacle of stonings and amputations that took place in Kabul stadium under the regime’s perverse rendering of Sharia law.

This was a time and place where women were the prisoners of a truly mass extrajudicial detention. Kabul, a city where walking in the street wearing what the Taliban called “noisy shoes” was to run the risk of incurring the wrath of their sadistic “policemen”. These fanatics beat and tortured in the course of “preventing vice and preserving virtue” in the name of the “progress” Begg so admired.

Around this same time Binyam Mohammed was also in Afghanistan, and, like Begg, he has his own tale of going there to better himself. Something about getting away from familiar haunts, and kicking a drug habit – in one of the world’s biggest narco-states – and to see whether Taliban-run Afghanistan was the Islamic country it was cracked up to be.

That leaves us, of course, with our own homegrown Mohamed Atif Siddique, or “numpty” as he called himself after his release from prison this week. While it’s all very well to play the daft boy – and cretinous some of Siddique’s remarks have undoubtedly been – the fact remains that he is still a man convicted under the Terrorism Act.

He is a person who set up websites and provided links to documents, providing instructions on how to operate weaponry and how to make explosives. Not to mention, of course, that small detail of threatening to blow himself up in Glasgow’s George Square.

Did Siddique think this was all some kind of game? From Glasgow to London, Madrid to New York, Bali and beyond, the world has seen the reality of what terrorism is – and a game it certainly is not.

But, then, why should men such as Siddique worry if his online “curiosity” all gets a bit out of hand. Riding to the rescue will be the usual cabal of politically right-on groupies, activists and jihadist apologists there to campaign on behalf of such misunderstood souls.

Part of the problem in Siddique’s case, of course, and the charges that were brought under Section 57 of the Terrorism Act, is the inadequacy of the existing legislation. As Paul McBride QC – another man whose politics I wouldn’t normally find myself in agreement with – rightly pointed out following Siddique’s release, a review of the Terrorism Act 2000 and upgrading of the existing legislation and wording of the law is badly overdue.

Few among us would argue against torture and extrajudicial detention being morally and legally reprehensible. But it is wrong to advocate and propagandise on behalf of causes that blow up innocent civilians, subjugate women and ride roughshod over human rights. If nothing else, what the Gita Sahgal controversy has revealed is how the fight against the use of torture has now been manipulated inexcusably to sanitise or legitimise the political position of individuals and organisations linked to Islamic extremism and terror.

As Sahgal herself so eloquently put it in a statement following her suspension from Amnesty International: “The issue is not about Moazzam Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.”

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