Monday, February 22, 2010

Moazzam Begg on Gita Sahgal's Criticism of Amnesty, Cage Prisoners and himself

Moazzam Begg

"It has been my great pleasure to break many a stereotype one would assume of a Guantánamo terrorism suspect who believes in Islam as a way of life. As a child I had studied at a Jewish primary school and as an adult I married a Palestinian woman. Both have given me fond and loving memories. Last week I was walking with a friend in the streets of Berlin, where Adolf Hitler had once created — and ultimately destroyed — the capital of his Nazi wonderland. My friend is an observant Jew whose family had fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe around the same time. The experience was surreal for both of us: for him, the knowledge of the sort of hatred that once spewed out on these very streets so many years ago changed the world; for me, the growing feeling that hatred of a comparable sort, albeit in a subtler guise, is on the march once again. I can’t help but to think now, as we passed what was once the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, what Joseph Goebbels once said about the truth: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.
My God, was he right." Moassam Begg (from end of the following article by Begg found in full here)

The full article stands out unique yet representative of so much intolerance and downright insidious misinformation and unnecessary conflict that not only helps to fuel wars but keeps them inflamed - even among those who've been working together for peace, human rights and understanding all along...Even my summarized version here is long...but the whole response needs reading by all who care about the travesties and the indidious targetting and misrepresenting of whole groups of people without just cause. Connie

Moazzam Begg Responds To His Critics

Preface from Andy Worthington: (plz read in full on his site)
...I hope that readers pay attention to Moazzam’s report that he and Cageprisoners have recently received death threats, and that, for his own safety, he is withdrawing from public events for the foreseeable future. From my own point of view, I maintain that Gita Saghal...should dissociate herself from the opportunists who have seized on her complaints, and whose lust for war and Islamophobia make them the most unprincipled bedfellows for someone who claims to respect universal human rights.

(This is here only an excerpted version...plz read the entire article soon)

Hatred and Another Agenda: A Response by Moazzam Begg
In the Name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful,

...we have to accept, on a daily basis, the vilification of all things Muslim by certain politicians, a public that increasingly sees Muslims as a “fifth column,” fuelled by a media and blogosphere that vilifies us as a matter of routine...
...the pro-war lobby (people) ...have cemented and justified, through the media, illegal wars of occupation which have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and created severe human rights abuses for many — not least women...
However, it is my code of life that my oppressor does not become my teacher.

...In May last year I appeared alongside Colonel Tim Collins (famous for the stirring speech he gave to British soldiers on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion) on a televised panel discussion about Barack Obama’s attempt to censor the publication of photographs of alleged prisoner abuse which included images of apparent rape and sexual abuse of Iraqi women by US soldiers. Col. Collins opined that these pictures should be made public so that the world becomes aware of the abuses and that the culprits are brought to book. Again, there was a deafening silence on this issue — especially from the journalists who promoted the war...

...During the mid-90s I took several aid convoys to Bosnia, motivated to help the people there after genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape was used as a weapon of war against women. Bizarrely, my decision to go there too has been described as part of a mindless “jihadist” fantasy, overlooking completely that an entire Muslim population, in the heart of Europe, was being systematically put to the sword, under ...It is by now public knowledge that I was involved in the establishing and running of a school for girls in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the rule of the Taliban. The Taliban did not give us a licence to operate but neither did they impede us from having the school — openly — or from having the girls collected to and from the school in buses clearly marked with the name of the girls’ school. There is a deliberate attempt by my detractors to neglect this point each time I mention it — and I can only assume why: it doesn’t fit the stereotype, or the agenda.

Then there is the repeated allegation that because I went to live in Afghanistan — with my wife and children — I deserve what happened to me because I chose to live under a regime that was known for abusing women’s rights — amongst other things. I have never denied the Taliban were guilty of abusing women’s rights, but my presence there should not be equated as an endorsement of their views regarding them. A similar charge however is not put to the numerous white, Caucasian and non-Muslim NGO workers who were living there during the time of the Taliban — sometimes with their families — well before I ever arrived. I wonder why?

It might come as a surprise to some that the executive director of Cageprisoners for over six years was a Muslim woman — someone who was regarded as the backbone of the organisation and an immense source of pride for us all. Since my return from Guantánamo, Cageprisoners and I have been very closely involved in organisations which assist the silent victims of anti-terror measures (utilised against men detained without charge): their wives and children...

I’m not sure why, after having spent years in Bagram and Guantánamo and being subjected to innumerable human rights violations and abuses — including witnessing two murders — I might be expected to be an expert on women’s issues, especially when almost every single prisoner I encountered was male, even though some of the abuses were carried out by female soldiers. There was, however, one woman whose screams I still hear sometimes in my head. I was led to believe she was my wife being tortured in the next room while photographs of her and my children were waved in front of me as I lay tied to the ground with guns pointing at me and interrogators asking: “What do you think happened to them the night we took you away? Do you think you’re going to see them again?”

Several months later I received news via the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) that my wife and kids were, thankfully, safe, but I knew the screams had been real, that it had been somebody’s wife, sister, daughter or mother I had heard. After my return from Guantánamo I began investigating who that person might have been but have been unsuccessful in my findings. However, through my own investigations I discovered that there was a female prisoner once held in Bagram.... After years of denial of the existence of women prisoners the US administration finally admitted that there had indeed been a female held in Bagram — but only after I’d asked a colleague to request the US administration’s official policy on detaining women in Afghanistan.

...Cageprisoners is an information portal which merely carries information and reports on the cases of all held as part of the War on Terror...(and)has raised the cases of those held under control orders, deportation, detention without trial, US extradition — making them no different from other human rights organisations that similarly do not face the same accusations as a result. The people we do campaign for are highlighted clearly on our “Campaigns” page on the site...

In October last year I attended a conference in Malaysia where I met survivors of the Abu Ghraib prison. Amongst them was a woman who told me about some extremely disturbing experiences she and others had gone through. She now runs a women’s refuge in Syria for Iraqi refugees. Cageprisoners intends to do more work on the cases of such women and it is an issue I discussed with some Amnesty UK members who were very keen to bring her over and start highlighting issues related to sexual violence against women during incarceration. In fact, I discussed this issue at the Amnesty Human Rights Action Centre only in November on a panel with Professor Joanna Bourke, who spoke about “Sexual Violence in the War on Terror.” ...

I may be no expert on women’s rights issues but I think I have a little idea and sympathy to some of their causes — as a husband and father. Take Johina Aamer for example, a 12-year old girl whose father, Shaker Aamer, has been held for over eight years without charge or trial in Guantánamo. Johina’s mother has undergone repeated psychiatric treatment since her husband’s abduction all those years ago. I went with Johina, Vanessa Redgrave, Victoria Brittain, Helena Kennedy, Gareth Peirce, Kate Hudson and Kate Allen to Downing Street so she could deliver a letter to the Prime Minister, asking that her father finally be allowed home. None of those who attack me now were there — from media or otherwise...

There is another charge implicitly laid against me (and Cageprisoners): that I am only concerned with the rights of Muslims. Just a few months after my release from Guantánamo I saw on the television images of four hostages in Iraq, dressed in orange Like-like suits, facing threats of execution. I contacted all the former Guantánamo prisoners I knew and issued a televised and written statement in all our names calling for their release. Sadly, the only American hostage was killed but the others, a Briton, an Australian and a Canadian (all non-Muslims), all lived and are safely back home. All of them have written to me the warmest messages of support I’ve ever read. I told them it was the ORANGE SUITS that DID it.

(My)book — and I — have been scrutinised at every literary festival I can think of, from Hay-on-Wye to Edinburgh and Dartington to Keswick. The common response I get is that it (and I) lack(s) bitterness, is devastatingly reasonable, conciliatory in nature and, as Desmund Tutu says: “I feel that Enemy Combatant has the capacity to win hearts and minds.”

Unfortunately some minds are not accompanied by hearts in order that they can be won. I would have thought that the pioneering work done by Cageprisoners and myself might also have served to create more understanding and less hatred by engaging in dialogue with former US soldiers and interrogators — but I seem to have been proved wrong. Up until now I have spoken all around the country addressing over 50,000 people with a view to educate, debate, understand and be understood so that hatred is eroded through interaction and knowledge.

The numbers of people who have told me they’ve been inspired to learn more, get involved, join human rights groups like Amnesty International, raise awareness and develop a new and nuanced understanding are countless. But, in spite of all the blatant anti-Muslim feeling and the rise of the far-right, Islamophobic sentiments it is only now, after this episode with Ms. Sahgal and her protagonists, that I am reconsidering my entire approach towards engagement and dialogue to create understanding and acceptance. The fact is the climate of fear has just been raised a level — and I am no longer immune. I will continue to campaign for the men suffering in the concentration camps of Bagram, Guantánamo and the secret prisons. But withdrawal to a place of safety, my own Muslim community, seems to be the best option right now. It seems, at least to some, that engagement has its limits.

...This is what it comes down to in my estimation. The attacks have been very personal, questioning everything I’ve done in my life in the same way as the US/UK intelligence services had sought to when they colluded in my abduction, false imprisonment, torture and abuse...The motto of Cageprisoners is “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

...Cageprisoners’ previous work...illustrate the levels of criminality we have stooped to in the name of fighting terrorism. The extent to which our own government has been involved in this is quite breathtaking too. Our report last year, “Fabricating Terrorism II” (PDF), highlighted the cases of 29 individuals — one of them before September 11 — who had been tortured and abused with the complicity of British intelligence services, while “Detention Immorality” showed the extent to which prisoners are held without charge or trial in the UK under secret evidence.

...Ms. Sahgal has, perhaps unwittingly, become a cause celebre for some of the pro-war hacks in this country — and around the world...I firmly believe this, more than anything else, is the reason why people want my voice and that of Cageprisoners silenced. But it won’t be — not as long as I can help it.

Find the entire article here

Al Rawi

Here's a response from another victim of the US torture program - here

Find plenty others related to these unfortunate events at including one by Andy Worthington himself and also at Cage Prisoners.

Later, I want to add some of the original URLS with interviews of the various parties, etc. all of which helped me already to make up my mind even before I read the featured article by Begg here.

Meantime, plz read the entire article by Mr. Begg for yourself and that may lead you to others...see what you find.


Andy Worthington: Sunday Times Misrepresents Views of Amnesty's Sam Zarifi: here

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