Sahgal describes Begg as “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban”. He has championed the rights of jailed Al-Qaeda members and hate preachers, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the alleged spiritual mentor of the Christmas Day Detroit plane bomber.
It turns out however, Ms Sahgal’s warning was justified as the Head of Amnesty International has announced that Jihad may be justified in some situations.
Amnesty International (AI) Secretary-General Claudio Cordone has come under fire for defending jihad when it occurs in “self-defence” – a position many other human rights advocates believe “would gravely undermine the future of the human rights movement.”
Cordone’s comments came in response to a February 13 “Global Petition” to AI by human-rights and women’s -rights advocates protesting the suspension of Gita Sahgal, a senior AI official in London.
In the “Global Petition” sent to AI, the coalition of liberal human-rights advocates criticized what they called “U.S./NATO imperialism.” But the bulk of the letter consisted of criticism of Sahgal’s suspension and warnings about the pitfalls of negotiating with the Taliban and trying to advance human rights by working with “anti-democratic” groups.
On February 28, Cordone responded with a letter defending AI’s work with Begg and Cageprisoners. Begg “speaks powerfully from personal experience” about the abuses at the U.S.-operated Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, Cordone wrote, and advocates detainees’ due process rights within “the same framework of universal human rights standards that we are promoting.”
Cordone added that Begg and Cageprisoners’ advocacy of “jihad in self defence” is not antithetical to human rights and that Begg is the victim of “many distortions, innuendoes and ‘guilt by association’ ” charges.
In response, the initiators of the Global Petition criticize Amnesty’s endorsement of a “defensive” jihad. They noted that such a call “is a thread running through many fundamentalist texts.It is the argument of ‘defensive jihad’ that the Taleban uses to legitimize its anti human rights actions such as the beheading of dissidents, including members of minority communities, and the public lashing of women. It also says it used for by extremists as an excuse for killing abortion doctors
We believe that the question you raise in your letter as to whether the concept of ‘defensive jihad’ is antithetical to human rights, and your categorical statement that the response of Amnesty International to this question is ‘NO’, raises very serious concerns.
We are dismayed by this statement. Our considered opinion is that this is a highly contentious issue and not one which can be answered as firmly as you have done. The call for ‘defensive jihad’ is a thread running through many fundamentalist and specifically ‘salafi jihadi’ texts. It is mentioned by Abdullah Azzam, mentor of Osama bin Laden, and founder of Lashkar e Tayyaba.It is the argument of ‘defensive jihad’ that the Taleban uses to legitimise its anti human rights actions such as the beheading of dissidents, including members of minority communities, and the public lashing of women. It is a similar logic of ‘defence of religion’ that is used by Christian groups to justify the killing of doctors providing abortion services as well as by Hindutva organisations seeking to justify their actions to ‘liquidate’ Muslims and Christians in India.In your own organization, research done by Gita Sahgal and others for the last two years into the complex intersection between the preservation of the universality of human rights, terrorism and counter-terrorism in general as well as in relation to this specific case provides enough evidence of doubt and hence the need to proceed with caution. This is essential in order to maintain the integrity of human rights and indeed of the organisation in each and every campaign as well as in each region it works.It has been shown that ‘defensive jihad’ results in indiscriminate attacks on civilians, attacks which are disproportionate and attacks which are targeted for the purpose of discrimination such as those on schools, shrines and religious processions. As you know, international humanitarian law prohibits all such attacks under Common Article of the Geneva Conventions. Given this it is shocking to us that in your letter you appear to endorse ‘defensive jihad’ as a public position of Amnesty International position.
Any human rights defender or organisation, which pledges commitment to the universality of human rights cannot confuse resistance against oppression with espousal of a political ideology committed to indiscriminate use of violence. Endorsement of the concept of ‘defensive jihad’ by an organization such as Amnesty International would call into question its commitment to research the ideological underpinnings of acts of terrorism and its commitment to the eradication of discrimination on the basis of sex/gender and religion.