Book Review: ‘Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here’

Karina Bennoune

Amnesty Internationalfaced a pivotal choice in early 2010. For half a decade, the global human-rights organization had been promoting Moazzam Begg, a British-Pakistani radical Islamist, and the advocacy group he founded after his release from Guantánamo Bay. In 2006, Begg delivered the Amnesty International Annual Lecture in Belfast, and the next year the organization hailed his group, Cageprisoners, as one of six “leading human rights organizations” protesting CIA detention practices.

But Mr. Begg was also conducting fawning interviews with al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, publicly supporting the Taliban and visiting jihadist training camps. It was impossible to deny Cageprisoners’ pro-jihadist bent, and Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit, made public her opposition to calling “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban” a defender of human rights.

Amnesty quickly sided with Mr. Begg and suspended Ms. Sahgal before ousting her. Is “jihad in self-defense . . . antithetical to human rights?” asked Amnesty’s acting secretary general in a letter to activists. “Our answer is no.”

The Sahgal affair, and others like it, impelled Karima Bennoune to write “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here.” The author, an Algerian-born law professor and former Amnesty staffer, says that she was alarmed by how “the Western (and global) Left often refuses to recognize the reality” of Islamist violence “and the actual danger posed by its ideology.” She was enraged by the blindness of the human-rights establishment because “I am in their camp.”

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