Posts Tagged ‘Islamism’

The left must lose its instinctive defence of multiculturalism

February 6, 2011

David Cameron made a perfectly sensible speech at a security conference in Germany and – predictably enough – many of my fellow travellers have got their knickers in a twist.

Billy Bragg complains about the timing of the speech on his Facebook page, coinciding as it did with the English Defence League’s march through Luton. Dozens of fans then write on the Braggmeister’s wall to suggest that David Cameron is working in cahoots with the EDL, that making the speech in Germany is akin to saying ‘Hitler wasn’t all bad’, and that Tory ideology is based on white supremacy.

As I understand it, the PM’s attendance at the security conference was a longstanding commitment. Fine, the timing was maybe a bit unfortunate considering the EDL march, but the scheduling of Government business shouldn’t be dictated by the events calender of a right-wing street movement.

Some Labour MPs agree with the claim that Cameron is encouraging the EDL and other Muslim-bashers with his speech. Labour MP John McDonnell has tweeted “In every recession politicians find a scapegoat so instead of sorting out the bankers and their bonuses Cameron attacks Muslims. Same old”. Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan made a similarly stupid comment about Cameron producing propaganda for the EDL.

This despite the fact that the PM said “We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing” and rejected “Islamophobia”. McDonnell and Khan therefore appear to be essentialising all Muslims as religious reactionaries who reject women’s rights, gay rights, secular democracy, etc. This is far more untrue and offensive than anything Cameron said in his speech.

Such lefties have an unsophisticated view of the world in which hatred and distrust of Tories outweigh their ability to perform objective analysis. I suspect that if David Cameron made a speech proclaiming that the Earth orbited the sun many of them would call for a general strike to demonstrate disagreement.

But it also comes from a the left’s attachment to the concept of multiculturalism. Opposition to multiculturalism, however defined, is equated to support for racism. However, the debate has moved on, with today’s far-right boot boys proclaiming themselves to be anti-racist and embracing the language of universal human rights. Suzanne Moore has a good article about this narrative shift here.

In contrast to the EDL, the left has failed to fully adapt its thinking and its discourse to deal with the rise of political Islam, the communitarian divisions which have been imported from the subcontinent, and the incidents of British Muslims becoming involved in terrorism.

The left needs an approach that will address people’s concerns and channel them into something other than the EDL’s ‘tide of patriotism’. And it could be to our electoral advantage if we do a better job of this than Cameron.

Considering the Conservatives’ sometimes uncomfortable relationship with issues around race and multiculturalism, I would say that Labour is better placed to produce a radical redefinition of multiculturalism. Or to just drop the word altogether.

Labour leader JR Clynes said that he came into politics not to practice the class war but to end it. That struggle continues, but it sits alongside cultural concerns and divisions that the left must also address.

Labour should uphold policies aimed at reducing cultural divisions rather than exacerbate them through crude state-sponsored multiculturalism – seen in policies such as propagating faith schools and trying to protect religious beliefs from criticism (yes, conveniently enough for this secularist my solution demands consistency through widespread secularisation!).

Demands for women’s rights, gay rights, secular laws, religious freedoms. These are all marks of human progress and all have originated from the left.

We must not surrender this language to the bigots of the EDL. We must not let our Conservative opponents pretend to do a better job of standing up for these demands. We must not compromise our values for fear of upsetting reactionary Muslim religionists.


Waiting for the people of Egypt to set up a secular democracy before the celebrations can begin

January 31, 2011

Many leftie friends and acquaintances are understandably excited about the revolutionary situation in Egypt. ‘Solidarity with the people of Egypt‘ is the Facebook status update de jour.

Of course, it is pleasing to see a peaceful, popular uprising against a dictator. But this must have been exactly how idealistic outsiders viewed events in Iran in 1978 and 1979.

If the ousting of Mubarak leads to the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood government then there will be little to celebrate.

I suppose the supposed moderation of the Muslim Brotherhood may be proven true and Egypt could turn into something more akin to Turkey – a reasonably democratic state with an elected moderate Islamist party in power abiding by the constitution whilst the army remains a major political player.

But even a moderately Islamist Egypt would be an unwelcome development, considering Egypt’s border with Israel and Gaza.

For many years Egypt has been bribed by the US into accepting Israel’s right to exist. If that key foreign policy assumption changes then things could get even messier in the Middle East, which won’t be good for anybody.

Revolutionary situations tend to favour a military strongman (England 1648, France 1790s, Spain 1936) or ideological fanatics (Russia 1917, Iran 1979). It will be fascinating to see what happens next in Egypt.

Gilligan on the state and Islamism

August 8, 2010

It may be an article in the Telegraph written by Andrew Gilligan, but I have no qualms in saying that this is a good article.

It’s hardly groundbreaking but it’s a neat summary of the current situation and the direction of travel we should move in.

I would only question a few points. Gilligan insists that there is a clear distinction between ‘Islamist’ and ‘Islamic’ thinking. This is debatable – it could be more useful to consider them as different points on the same ideological spectrum.

It’s also a tad simplistic to declare that Maududi was the “founder” of Islamism. That’s like positing that there was a single thinker responsible for coming up with socialism. Other notable Islamists gave the creed their own flavours, such as Qutb and al-Banna (who of course gave it al-Bannana flavour. *Boom boom*).

Tory burka barminess

July 20, 2010

Philip Hollobone, the Tory MP for Kettering who clearly wants to be the Daily Express’ favourite parliamentarian, wants to ban the burka (or, to be more accurate but less linguistically pleasing, niqabs).

This seems an odd response given his Government’s apparent concern for maintaining civil liberties and reducing state interference.

By contrast Caroline Spelman, the Tory Environment Secretary, posits that this sort of ultra-conservative Islamic dress can be “empowering”. She spoke of how burkas conferred dignity to women in Afghanistan and expressed respect for that culture of women covering up.

Both attitudes are wrong.

Hollobone justifies his proposed ban by claiming it would promote integration. How? Instead it would strengthen the Islamist narrative of Western society being ‘Islamophobic’. I’d like to see his evidence that curtailing the clothes choice of a minority of British Muslims would be more successful at promoting integration and cohesion than, for example, ending faith schools.

He also argues that these face veils are “un-British”. Well, yes, I agree that they do not conform to mainstream cultural norms in the UK but so do lots of things that Hollobone is surely not going to ban.

Looking at Hollobone, I would guess his list of suitably British activities includes dressing up as a station guard and playing with a model train set. But having an interest in daisy age hip hop may constitute an un-British activity that needs to be outlawed.

The bloke simply wants to demonise Muslims and it stinks.

Spelman’s position is another category of stoopid – a wholly different kettle of crazy fish. She seems to be advocating the worst form of multiculturalism; the lazy assumption that all cultures are equally valid and worthy of respect.

Rather than use her position as one of the few women in Government to point out how disgracefully repressive conservative Islamic cultures are in terms of women’s rights, she is excusing the proliferation of the most horrific anti-women attitudes.

We should not beat about the bush. Burkas, niqabs, and suchlike symbolise the belief that women needed to be hidden from men, that women are the property of men, that women’s sexuality needs to be controlled by men.

This is abhorrent and it is regrettable that any woman in the 21st century, anywhere in the world, chooses to wear one. Niqab-clad British Muslims effectively giving the sartorial equivalent of a two finger salute to the progress our society has made in the struggle against patriarchy.

I await a more sensible Tory to articulate a balanced approach which neither advocates crude bans or foolishly endorses the most reactionary Islamic cultures.

Ken wins my support and then immediately does his best to lose it again

July 9, 2010

We London Labourites have to do a lot of decision-making this summer. Not only do we have to decide which of the Big Five we want for party leader; we also have to select a candidate for the 2012 mayoral election. Lucky us!

With this in mind, I went along to Thursday’s mayoral hustings in Hackney to witness the two prospective candidates – Ken Livingstone and Oona King – as they tried to show us what they’ve got.

Unlike party members proudly wearing the stickers of their favoured candidates, I was entirely undecided. As far as I was concerned both Ken and Oona came with both strengths and weaknesses. Attending the hustings was therefore a genuine opportunity to help me make my mind up.

I liked how Oona walked across the room before the event making (awkward) chit chat with everyone. While we were still waiting for things to get started, I had a quick argument with my friend over the merits of Oona’s proposal for a mayoral term limit. I tried to posit that this would help encourage fresh political talent to come forward so that we would not be so reliant on veterans like Ken hogging the limelight. I really did want to give Oona a chance.

However, as the proceedings got underway and the candidates began to give us their respective spiel it soon became clear that Oona was the weaker of the two.

Her outpourings of meaningless guff were unimpressive. In an apparent effort to turn the hustings meeting into a Waffle House, she at one point essentially said that she would win the election by appealing to people and getting them to vote for her (like, duh!) and at another descended into gobbledygook about the importance of promoting social capital in London (i.e. nice things).

Perhaps I’ve got the wrong idea about the public speaking skills of MPs, but for someone who spent quite a few years in the Commons she was remarkably incoherent. I noted her seemingly claiming to have repealed Thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation, inaccurately saying that the Labour Government had successfully got 50% of school leavers into university, and mistakenly telling the audience that Labour had only enjoyed 12 years in power during the 20th century.

To be harsh but honest, she at times sounded like someone applying to stand as a councillor, not a former MP wanting to run for a position which would make her one of the most powerful Labour politicians in the country.

Admittedly she spoke well on the need to tackle knife crime but promptly ruined it by, whilst hinting at her unproven ‘yoof’ appeal, verging dangerously close to crying out ‘won’t somebody please think of the children?‘ or ‘the children are our future!‘.

Oona criticising Ken for losing the 2008 election when her own biggest claim-to-fame is being defeated in what had been a fairly safe Labour seat was frankly embarrassing.

Say what you like about Ken, but from the very start of the hustings he was impressive. He demonstrated masterful command of the issues which the mayoral election should really be about – transport, policing, housing, the Olympics, etc. Plain speaking and authoritative, there was no guff from the former mayor.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when Ken is banging on about practical matters of London governance rather than defending obnoxious regimes in Venezuela, Cuba and Iran I agree with just about everything that comes out of his mouth. Listening to his conviction on things such as securing funding for sewerage system upgrades made me realise that I trust him to deal effectively with the unglamorous but nevertheless important aspects of London politics.

The hustings came to an end and I approached Ken to let him know that he’d won me over. He seemed pleased and asked what exactly had done the trick. I gave an honest appraisal and made clear that whilst he had come across as the stronger candidate I still vehemently disagreed with him when it came to his views on Islamism and multiculturalism.

This prompted a clearly oft-used defense of Sheikh al-Qaradawi – apparently he’s a nicer bloke in the flesh than the nasty right-wing press makes out. According to Ken, al-Qaradawi is a progressive Muslim scholar who only defends suicide bombing in Israel because it’s a war zone. Gulp.

Whilst I listened on in bemusement, Ken explained his theory that Islam was 700 years behind Christianity and so naturally was not going to be very progressive on questions such as gay rights. Anyway, surely it was better to engage with the relatively moderate Islamic scholars rather than let Al Qaeda present themselves as the sole representatives of Muslims, Ken suggested.

Ken was friendly and seemed up for a comradely debate on this. I dearly wanted to point out that al-Qaradawi was a reactionary old religionist rather than an elected representative of Muslims or indeed any other human beings and therefore Ken was under no obligation to give him the time of day.

Of course, I would also have liked to have said to Ken’s face that I was disgusted by his working with Iran’s Press TV and some of his other weird dalliances into foreign policy.

But by this point I was becoming nauseous and wanted to get away from Ken before he turned me into a devoted member of the Oona campaign.

If only there was some way Ken could be persuaded to focus his considerable talents and energies entirely on improving London and standing up for the values of municipal socialism.

If only his tendency to indulge dodgy regimes and his bizarre soft spot for Islamism could be expunged.

I would then be enthusiastic about supporting him.

The logic of the suicide bomber and the war in Afghanistan.

September 4, 2009

Tom Harris has a post in which he rails against left-wingers suggesting that our government’s foreign policy brought Islamist terror, i.e. the 7/7 bombings, to Britain.

He calls it a “dishonest, craven and blindingly stupid argument” supported by people who want “to pin the blame for terrorism on the British government, and not on the murdering psychopaths who actually set off the explosives on London’s transport system”.

He also goes on to say “the war in Afghanistan is sadly necessary and the public’s impatience with the mission’s progress can have no bearing on the rights or wrongs of our presence there”.

Tom is being unfair. Only the tin foil hat brigade suggest that 7/7 was carried out by the government. All sane people have to accept that Hasib Hussain, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Germaine Lindsay and Shehzad Tanweer chose to blow themselves up and murder their fellow British citizens on July 7th 2005.

Of course the terrorists should be condemned for this atrocious act. That’s the easy bit. Understanding why people choose to engage in acts of terrorism is more difficult but ultimately more important if we want to prevent similar attacks in the future. Dismissing suicide bombers as psychopaths motivated only by hate and fanaticism is too simplistic.

Terrorism boffin Robert Pape has written of ‘The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism’. Reviewing the history of terrorists blowing themselves up, a tactic pioneered by Hezbollah but also used extensively by the secular Tamil Tigers throughout the 1990s, Pape argues that suicide terrorists are basically motivated by the down-to-earth desire to compel governments (usually democracies) to withdraw from territory the terrorists consider to be part of their homeland.

In their ‘martyrdom’ video the 7/7 bombers ranted against Western culture and presented themselves as religious nutters (as is tradition for Islamist terrorists) but also included clear criticisms of Britain’s foreign policy: the close alliances with the US and Israel, the decision to go war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the resulting “atrocities” committed against their Muslim “brothers and sisters” across the world.

Counter-terrorism efforts that ignore terrorists’ proclaimed motivations are doomed to fail. In the case of the 7/7 bombers it seems ridiculous to try to insist that British foreign policy had nothing to do with their willingness to launch suicide attacks on London.

Combine Pape’s analysis with the ideological pull of an interpretation of Islam that emphasises violent jihad and obligation to the ummah and it could be said that the 7/7 bombers were indeed motivated by a strategic logic.

As extreme Islamists they had come to consider themselves primarily members of a global Muslim community rather than British citizens. They therefore saw Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, etc, as part of their Muslim homeland that needed defending from non-Muslims. It’s the same logic that has led to British Muslims travelling to fight in Afghanistan on the side of the Taliban.

To me, it all seems very similar to the crude ‘blood and soil’ ethnonationalist politics of the far-right, which is partly why I think Islamism should be included as a target of anti-fascism. However, Marc Sageman’s brilliant book ‘Leaderless Jihad’ also compares Islamist terrorists to the volunteers of the International Brigades who went to fight in Spain during the civil war. It’s an uncomfortable but insightful characterisation.  

It’s not just anti-war lefties who argue that foreign policy plays a part in triggering terrorism. The Home Office’s 2009 revised strategy on countering the terrorist threat (known as Contest 2) admitted that “conflict” is a cause of radicalisation and terrorist violence. It reads:

“Conflict and the failure of states create grievances which can play a key role in the radicalisation process. Many Muslims as well as non-Muslims believe that the West (notably the US and the UK) has either caused conflict, failure and suffering in the Islamic world or done too little to resolve them. Military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan (and consequent civilian casualties), perceived Western inaction in Palestine and alleged support for authoritarian Islamic governments have all created controversy and anger”.

The document also predicts that Islamist terrorism is likely to persist because “many of the conflicts and disputes exploited by contemporary terrorist organisations show no signs of early resolution”.

I accept that allowing Afghanistan to return to the control of the Taliban would in all likelihood be beneficial to terrorist organisations that want to target the UK. However, it’s ludicrous to ignore the evidence that the prosecution of the war can itself radicalise Muslims into becoming terrorists. 

If it looks like the military efforts in Afghanistan are doing more to create terrorism than to hinder it, then from the counter-terrorist perspective the war should be ended.

Of course, that’s not the only perspective that needs to be taken into consideration. Our idealistic wish to encourage governance based on human rights in Afghanistan is an argument in favour of continued military presence, though these efforts seem more and more like a tragic farce. The need to undermine an insurgent force that could destabilise Pakistan and its nuclear weapons also stands in the war’s favour, yet military action may be causing more instability than it addresses.

But as things stand it is not clear what is being achieved in Afghanistan or even what the government wants to achieve. It will take more sophisticated arguments than Tom Harris’ to reassure the public that the war is worthwhile.

Barking mad

July 29, 2009

I spent yesterday in Barking. The sun was shining and lots of people were out and about. On Tuesdays the town centre hosts a market and yesterday it was very busy.

As I was walking around I came across a stall which stood out from the rest. It was flying a large Islamic flag on a pole and had numerous religious books, clothes, and miscellenia on display (the possible symbolism of the stall’s flag can be read about here).

The stall-keeper was a white man with a huge ginger beard wearing Islamic dress. Whilst his appearance was certainly eccentric, he was giving everybody a big proselytizing smile and seemed friendly enough.

I wanted to ask him whether he thought it really was a good idea to be trying to sell t-shirts with the words ‘SOLDIER OF ISLAM’ written upon them.

Doesn’t this just serve to confirm people’s prejudices about your religion, I would have suggested.

Why are you deliberately portraying the ‘religion of peace’ in a militant manner?

Do you think your stall has managed to win over more converts to Islam or more converts to the British National Party?

But since I myself was trying to conduct a public opinion survey on people’s attitudes to terrorism and multiculturalism in the nearby vicinity I thought it would be best to avoid any controversy.

Maybe next time!

Betrayal everywhere!

March 17, 2009

More bashing of the left from Nick Cohen, once one of my favourite polemicists. It is always worth remembering that this is a man who wrote in 2002: “Former lefties can make a good living by attacking their ex-comrades – I’d do it myself if the price was right”. Since then he has been pursuing a rightwards political trajectory and has indeed been doing very well for himself out of it.

Another Paintbrusher and myself once bumped into Nick Cohen in a pub. I told him that we were thinking of writing an article about secularism for the Young Fabian magazine and asked whether, as a renowned secular humanist, he would be so kind as to give us some juicy quotes to include in the piece.

But hearing the word ‘Fabian’ seemed to cause some kind of allergic reaction in Cohen. His face flared up with righteous fury and, wagging his finger in a terrifying manner, he informed us that Fabian C-in-C Sunder Katwala’s public statements of support for that antisemitic creep Ken Livingstone amounted to a gross betrayal of everything decent and noble in the Fabian tradition, or something like that.

This may have happened simply because Mr.Katwala gave a less than complimentary review of one of Mr.Cohen’s books. Or maybe he has genuinely come to despise his ex-comrades for their alleged wrongdoings. Perhaps a bit of both. (more…)