PROTEST THE POPE!
On September 18th thousands of protestors wended their way to Downing Street to demonstrate their anger that the Pope had been granted the status of a state visit, and that we the taxpayers were being forced to foot the bill. Speakers at the rally included Clara Connolly from WAF and Pragna Patel from Southall Black Sisters. Visit WAF's Protest the Pope page to read the speeches and Julia Bard's report on the demo.
Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International
(published February 2010)
On February 7, 2010, Gita Sahgal was suspended from her post at Amnesty International. If you would like more information, please go to the website Human Rights For All. This statement was issued by WAF in response to Amnesty's action.
WAF is publishing this statement in support of Gita. We are concerned at the way in which Amnesty International has sought to address Gita Sahgal’s criticism of its involvement with Moazzam Begg. Surely Amnesty International should be able to tolerate questioning from one of its senior officials about its associations? Amnesty International’s equation of Gita Sahgal’s legitimate concerns with the demonisation of Guantanamo inmates as the ‘other’ by the neoconservatives and their allies in the West, in our view, amounts to a denial of internal and external accountability. What we need is a proper debate, not a closing down of debate of these important issues.
We admire and respect the work of Amnesty International to place women’s human rights on the agenda, and more generally we support Amnesty International’s campaign to highlight the plight of those who have been tortured, detained without trial and denied due process. However, we believe that it is right that Amnesty International’s stance is questioned in order to ensure that the debate on the War on Terror and religious fundamentalism is not reduced to the logic of ‘either you are with us or you are against us’. Woman Against Fundamentalism & Southall Black Sisters have sought to avoid such dead ends which fail to illuminate how and why human rights violations are perpetrated either by states or by religious fundamentalist movements.
We have fought against considerable odds to ensure that women’s human rights and those of other marginalised groups and minorities are universally accepted and addressed, especially in the face of violence and persecution by non-state actors, including all religious right wing forces who masquerade as anti-imperialist, development, human rights and anti-racist movements. Failure to acknowledge concerns that Gita Sahgal and others have raised about those who sympathise with, or have connections with, anti-democratic religious right forces in all religions, raises a concern that Amnesty International is not sufficiently committed to the rights of women and sexual minorities or freedom of expression.
When governments and individuals advocate ‘engagement’ with the Taliban – perhaps necessary to achieve peace – why are they not challenged on the authoritarian social and political agenda of the Taliban? We know from experience around the world, including post war Iraq, that women’s rights are the first to be traded in these political settlements.
If human rights are universal and indivisible – a view which we believe we share with Amnesty International – then it becomes all the more incumbent upon us all to double check who we take on as our partners. If, like us, Amnesty International accepts that the question should not be about whether some are more deserving of human rights than others, then it should urgently review its collaboration with those who sympathise with religious fundamentalist forces however difficult this may be. The time has come for all liberals working within the human rights arena to engage their critical faculties, not suspend or leave them behind for fear of being labelled Islamaphobic, anti-Semitic or racist. There is another way of looking at human rights – one which does not trade women’s rights or those of other vulnerable minorities - for either the right to security or for the right to manifest religious identity.
Peter Tatchell and Islamophobia
(published February 2010)
WAF recalls its commitment to the abolition of the blasphemy law and its defence of free speech. WAF believes that the threat of the far right is one of the key concerns today, and that the far right is establishing itself as both racial and religious movements across all religions, a fight against the reconstitution of the far right should recognise it clearly in all its forms.
WAF believes that terms such as anti-semite and Islamophobe are used as a disabling tactic against people who criticise religion and fundamentalists. This tactic is used to trash reputations, to silence critique and to stop political activism. In particular, in the current context where religious identities and faith-based organising is being privileged and where ‘anti-imperialist’ activism has become about defending any and all ethnic minority religious voices, no matter how right wing and at great cost to equality campaigns, those advocating secular solutions and secular spaces are being accused of racism and Islamophobia.
In that light, WAF supports the right of Peter Tatchell and numerous other gay activists to oppose the legitimisation of fundamentalists and other right wing forces on university campuses, by the Left and by the government in its Preventing Violent Extremism strategy and numerous other programmes and platforms. The fight against fundamentalism and other forces of the far right, cannot be limited to a single strategy, nor is it an intra-religious struggle. It is a struggle for universal values including the struggle for sexual autonomy and human rights for all.
WAF recalls the slogan ‘Fear is their weapon, courage is ours’ and invites everyone to renew its commitment to struggle against fundamentalism in all religions.
Women Against Fundamentalism
This statement has been issued in the light of attacks on Peter Tatchell in the book Out Of Place, whose publishers have since issued an apology to Peter on their website