Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sundry notes from competing narratives on "human rights"

Amnesty International Mainstreams the Jihad :: Islamist Watch
Amnesty International famously advocates on behalf of people persecuted just for expressing an opinion. However, last month the group suspended Gita Sahgal, the head of its gender unit, after she expressed an opinion of her own: that by working with Taliban supporter Moazzam Begg, Amnesty has betrayed its mission to advance human rights. Here is a look at the scandal that the American media — once known for championing whistleblowers — have all but ignored.

Begg, a British citizen, moved to Kabul in 2001, was captured in 2002 on suspicion of al-Qaeda links, and ended up at Guantanamo Bay after admitting that he had attended terror camps and was prepared to fight for the Taliban. Released without charge in 2005, he became the face of Cageprisoners, which implores that Gitmo be closed and displays a disturbing level of sympathy for terrorists, even convicted ones. Begg himself has called the Taliban "better than anything Afghanistan has had" in decades and cited positively jihad theorist Abdullah Azzam.

Begg's troubling past did nothing to dampen Amnesty's eagerness to team up with him; the two collaborated on a recent visit to Downing Street and a European tour urging countries to grant detainees "safe haven." But while Sahgal endorses his views of Guantanamo, she thinks that the partnership is severely misguided, writing to her organization's leaders in a January 30 email:
I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International's integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights. … To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.
Hours after she made the contents of the email public on February 7, Amnesty suspended Sahgal. She fired back by slamming the organization for having "created the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights." Care must be taken, she says, in "maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights." A leaked memo from a senior Amnesty executive reveals that Sahgal is not alone in such fears.

Jewish Tribune - Kenney, Volpe condemn Israeli Apartheid Week
OTTAWA – More federal politicians are coming out against Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) on university campuses across the country.
In Parliament last week Cabinet Minister Jason Kenney and Liberal MP?Joe Volpe both came out swinging against IAW.

Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, said that Canadians are free to express different views about the policies of foreign government but Israeli Apartheid Week is not about that.

“It is about a systematic effort to delegitimize the democratic homeland of the Jewish people, a country born out of the Holocaust.

“We find very troubling this resurgence of the old slander that Zionism is racism. That is the notion that lies at the heart of Israeli Apartheid Week.

“Jewish students at campuses across the country are subsequently feeling increasingly vulnerable. We condemn these efforts to single out and attack the Jewish people and their homeland in this terrible way.”

Volpe told Parliament that events such as IAW “will inevitably sow discord, promote negative stereotyping and fuel hatred.

“Under the umbrella of free speech, some groups are using university campuses, like York, to undermine the fabric of civil discourse with events they have entitled Israeli Apartheid Week,” he said.

“One might well ask what motivates groups like the Canadian Arab Federation, CUPE Ontario and CUPW in their endorsement and organization of Israeli Apartheid Week.

“The safety and security of Jewish students and their instructors will be unnecessarily placed in danger by these demonstrations. The cause of peace in the Middle East will not be advanced by eroding the principles of freedom in Canadian universities.

“I invite the House to join me in condemning these Israeli Apartheid Week activities and in encouraging university administrations to take steps to stop antisemitism and the dissemination of hatred.”

Conservative MP Tim Uppal planned to introduce a motion that would condemn “any action in Canada as well as internationally that would equate the state of Israel with the rejected and racist policy of apartheid.”

Manitoba Progressive Conservative MLA Heather Stefanson says she unequivocally opposes Israeli Apartheid Week and plans to introduce a Private Members’ Resolution that would condemn the nationwide campus event in Manitoba once the House resumes later this month.

Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman was the first politician to introduce a resolution to condemn IAW. The Ontario Legislature passed it unanimously.

In an IAW-related situation, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has banned IAW from all board properties, after York Centre trustee James Pasternak voiced his condemnation, according to Inside Toronto.

David Solway >> Getting Israel Right
Any open-minded person who has either visited Israel, kept apace of the documentary evidence, or honestly examined the tainted “bona fides” of Israel’s accusers would realize that Israel has been set up as the target for what is nothing less than an illegitimate campaign of delegitimation. Orwell’s Hate Week has escaped the boundaries of the novel, whose “Enemy of the People” is someone with the surname — what else? — Goldstein. (Oddly, the enemy of the Jewish people is someone with the surname Goldstone.) And as Orwell writes about the Two Minutes Hate period instituted by the Party, “Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room.”
The Israeli contribution to the modern, high-tech world is second only to that of the United States and closing rapidly. Its major exports derive from the fields of advanced cybernetics, desalination projects, hydrology, energy technology, productive agricultural methods, and life-saving medical technology, in all of which it is among the world’s recognized leaders.

Windows XP and Microsoft Office were developed in Israel. Virus protection software and firewalls, cell phones, voice mail, instant messaging devices, Intel microchips, and Pentium microprocessors were also developed in Israel. Google runs on Israeli search algorithms and Google’s new super-search algorithm, Orion, launched on March 24, 2009, was developed by an Israeli doctoral student, Ori Allon. One of Israel’s newest technological breakthroughs involves the mobile Internet, where it is once again a global forerunner. The multi-jacketed Modu cell phone, which has made the Guinness World Records, has brought user functionality to a new level, unmatched anywhere in the world. The first wireless LAN (Local Area Network) was developed in Israel. Indeed, Israel is fast becoming the new Silicon Valley.

It doesn’t stop there. Whether it is the Israeli pharmaceutical company, Teva, the world’s foremost supplier of antibiotic medicines, including its “flagship drug” Copaxone treating multiple Sclerosis; or the Weizmann Institute’s bioinformatics computer project that will enable Eastern Europe and Asia to access the online molecular biology resource network, which even UNESCO has singled out for praise; or Tel Aviv University’s research into microRNA molecules that regulate gene expression and protein production, promising a cure for deafness, whether age-related or genetic; or the recently developed biomarker, called placental protein 13 (PP13), a pre-diagnostic for various severe fetal diseases; or the world’s tiniest medical video camera developed by two Israeli companies, Medigus and Tower Semiconductor, to be used for disposable endoscopes; or the Arava Power Company, one of the most advanced solar enterprises in the world, working towards the preparation of large-scale megawatt fields, an exportable technology; or Israel’s Epcon, a world pioneer in wind-turbine technology; or Ormat Technologies opening up the field of geothermal energy, operating eleven plants in five countries, and presently constructing a 340-megawatt geothermal power project in Indonesia; or the world’s first hybrid solarized gas turbine power station which runs on solar energy by day and biofuel by night, in process of assembly by the AORA company; or the fact that Israel is now working toward the development of an environment-friendly electric car network for which Israel Corp, a pace-setter in “green electricity,” will supply the power, a venture called Project Better Place; or Israel’s state-of-the-art desalination, drip-irrigation and water technology programs that benefit much of the world, including its Arab neighbor, Jordan — considering all these and more, a boycott against Israel would be something of a catastrophe for many countries. And I am only skimming the surface.
Indeed David Solway's list is even somewhat arbitrary in its choices. There is not a week that goes by when one cannot read of some new scientific discovery of potentially great impact coming out of Israel. Here's the latest: A New Solar Energy Source from the Common Pea | Green Prophet

But we may not survive in sufficient numbers to enjoy such fruits of Western modernity if we don't develop real human rights organizations that can distinguish cultures of life and cultures of death. If we can't defend those who are victimized for being defenders of Western modernity, if we only romanticize those opposed to what remains of Western-led modernity, it's dark days ahead...

Of course it's already dark days for Palestinians, as Jonathan Narvey reports:
Censorship by both Fatah and Hamas as well as self-censorship by ordinary Palestinians to avoid violent retribution is causing immense demoralization, says Palestinian blogger Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad. "There is only one newspaper in the West Bank and that is Fatah's propaganda paper. There is only one newspaper in Gaza and that is Hamas' mouthpiece... If you write anything that disagrees with the party line, the editor will refuse to publish it and it won't get published online because people fear that if they do that, they will be followed."
If there is a solution, it may have to come from Palestinians themselves, given how awesomely counter-productive international efforts from Canada, Israel and the rest of the international community have been. Palestinian Affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh is practically mournful on this topic. "You are funding Palestinian television, radio stations and newspapers with millions of dollars so that they can incite people to kill Jews. If anyone watches Palestinian television for just five minutes, they'll want to go out and stab Jews immediately. Palestinians have been fed a steady stream of this hate for years and your taxpayer dollars are funding it."

There's no getting around the fact that the money poured into the Palestinian Authority to help develop a marketplace of ideas has only resulted in a media industry that would scandalize any nation or non-governmental organization, with the possibly exception of Al Queda. Actually, this is par for the course for the return on investment of the billions of dollars that mostly gone to lining the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats and homicidal maniacs.

Can new Palestinian voices come forward despite the violence and repression of their governing regimes to change this system fundamentally into something other than a mass media hate-fest? It's a bad bet. But in the meantime, what we're doing isn't helping. Perhaps the Canadian government's new approach of targeted funding to programs like food aid that bypasses the Islamist kleptocracies will be a marginal improvement. Keep people fed, but don't feed the hate.

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