Above: Prof Ramadan
Comrade Coatesy draws our attention to the unspeakably depressing fact that Tariq Ramadan (Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford and poster-boy for supposedly “moderate” Islamism) has been chosen deliver this year’s Orwell Lecture.
Now, Orwell was no saint, and certainly had his prejudices and blind-spots. He can reasonably be accused of a degree of sexism and homophobia. There are passages in his writings that have been considered anti-Semitic. He was a child of his time, and did not always rise above the prevalent backwardness of that time. But he was aware of his weaknesses and seems to have made genuine efforts to fight his inner demons. He was nothing if not scrupulously honest, self-critical (to a degree that sometimes played into the hands of his enemies), and humanist. He was also hostile to all forms of totalitarianism, religion and spirituality, despite a sentimental soft spot for the rituals of the C of E. All of which makes the choice of Professor Ramadan to deliver the lecture named after him, especially unfortunate.
The French revolutionary socialist and Marxist Yves Coleman wrote a trenchant critique of Ramadan back in 2007, published by Workers Liberty. We republish it below, preceded by Workers Liberty‘s introduction. Given Ramadan’s evident popularity not just on sections of the “left”, but also with Guardianista-liberals, and his selection as the Orwell lecturer, this is a timely reminder of just how unpleasant his underlying politics are:
“40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot” was written by the French Marxist, Yves Coleman and has been reproduced by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The text presents factual information about the politics of Tariq Ramadan.
There are many issues the Left must address.
First is the question of honest polemic.
Useful political debate requires clearly presented political positions and an attempt to honestly engage with opponents.
And yet Yves Coleman believes that it almost impossible to either ‘catch’ or ‘corner’ Tariq Ramadan. He is difficult to pin down. The reason is simple: Tariq Ramadan often says one thing to one group, and something different, or contradictory, elsewhere.
This slipperiness connects with the second issue for the left.
No doubt, given the support Ramadan has on the “left”, there will be further “left” attempts to refute the damning contents of this document. However, it will not be good enough to answer Yves Coleman by producing further quotes from Ramadan.
It just won’t do to reply to the reactionary statements Ramadan has made on the issue of women’s rights, for example, by presenting other quotes suggesting he is a liberal on the question (and so implying Ramadan can’t have made the statements cited by Yves Coleman without having to address the quotes directly). Ramadan might well have made both the reactionary and the liberal statements. As Yves Coleman shows, on many issues Ramadan has done exactly that.
It will not do to protest that Ramadan is more liberal-minded, less rigidly reactionary than extreme Islamist groups like Hizb-ut Tahrir. He is. Mainstream Catholic ideologues are less rigidly reactionary than the Tridentines. They are still not allies for the left.
Nor will it do to try to change the question by saying that the left has also had Christian preachers sometimes share platforms with it to denounce apartheid or war. The left will work with campaigners who may be Muslims on the same basis. But Tariq Ramadan’s left-wing friends promote him not because he has campaigned on some progressive political issue (and despite his Islamic ideas), but because he is a (sometimes left-sounding) Islamic ideologue, regardless of him doing nothing for progressive politics other than making bland statements against poverty and so on.
The only possible “left” responses to this document are: to attempt to prove Coleman has mis-quoted Ramadan; or to attempt to explain away Ramadan’s statements (by claiming some sort of special privilege for Muslim bigots); or to accept Ramadan is a reactionary.
Third is the peculiar fact – one which Yves Coleman notes in his text – that the left finds no problem in condemning Catholic reactionaries, but often praises and promotes Islamic reactionaries such as Ramadan who have similar views. Criticisms of Tariq Ramadan are often called “Islamophobic”. But we do not say that Ramadan is worse than a Catholic reactionary because he is Muslim rather than Catholic. We only say that a Muslim reactionary is no more defensible than a Catholic reactionary.
The problem is that large sections of the left have degenerated and decayed to such an extent that they become unable to differentiate between critics of existing society who offer a positive alternative to capitalism (the working-class, class-struggle left), and those critics who are backward-looking reactionaries.
The kitsch-left has – seemingly – forgotten what it positively stands for, and can only remember what it is against (Blair, Israel and, most of all, America). Since Islamists are against Israel and the USA, and Catholic reactionaries generally are not, the kitsch-left thinks the Islamists are progressive. Or that Ramadan, a Swiss university professor, is the best person to invite to be a “Voice of the Global South” at the European Social Forum, precisely because he is an Islamic ideologue.
It is organisations such as the SWP – which found itself unable to condemn 9/11, and which supports the so-called resistance in Iraq – that promote Ramadan.
Forth is to understand Ramadan’s project.
Yves Coleman writes: “The basic thing is that Ramadan wants is to enlarge the power of control or religion on society. Ramadan always invokes French racism (which exists and can not be denied) and colonial history to explain the hostility he provokes in France. In this he is partly right, but what is at stake is the meaning of secularism. For him (as well as for the SWP and its French followers) secularism means that all religions are treated equally by the State and are respected. For the French Republican tradition, it means something different: it means (in theory) that people should not express religious views in the public sphere (in their job, in the schools, in Parliament, etc.) and should keep their religious views to the private sphere. That’s where the difference lies.
“Ramadan may not be a fundamentalist of the worst sort but he is clearly training a whole generation of religious cadres who are trying to change the content of secularism in France in a more pro-religious direction.”
Fifth is to understand the role Ramadan is playing in NUS.
Behind Ramadan – urbane, reasonable sounding – stand the Islamists of the MAB/Muslim Brothers.
Ramadan is the reasonable face of Islamic politics, and he is the thin end of the wedge.
Finally, we need to understand that attempts to shout down Marxist critics of Ramadan with demagogic accusations of “Islamophobia” and even “racism” are absurd.
Discrimination and even violence against Muslims are real. We oppose such bigotry.
However we also demand women’s liberation, gay liberation. The AWL is an atheist organisation, and fights for secular values. Therefore we will not ignore Ramadan’s bigotry or backwardness.
40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot
By Yves Coleman
Tariq Ramadan often complains that the media accuse him of being two-faced. He considers that this critique is a plain racist slander in the line of the eternal cliché about so-called Arab “deceitfulness”. If we read Mr Ramadan’s writings we reach a much simpler conclusion: Tariq Ramadan is a sincere Muslim who defends reactionary positions on a number of issues, but that does not prevent him from holding critical views on many injustices, while being fundamentally a moderate in politics.
Just as Pope John Paul II condemned the “excesses of capitalism”, unemployment, greed, poverty, the war in Iraq and the way Israel treats the Palestinians.
Only somebody who has never thought about about the function of religions (of all religions) can be surprised by this coexistence of different interpretations of the world: a faith in myths (as in the Bible, Torah, Quran, Upanishads, etc.) and absurd superstitions; a use of reason in many daily (manual and intellectual) activities ; a sincere revolt against all injustices; a misogynist and homophobic moralism; a need for dreams and utopias, etc.
Revolutionaries do not question Tariq Ramadan’s right to defend his religious beliefs, or to proselytise. After all, as he rightly notes, nobody in France is scandalized by the constant propaganda waged by missionaries like Mother Teresa or Sister Emmanuelle in Asia. Nobody protests against the repeated presence of Sister Emmanuelle, Cardinal Lustinger (former cardinal in charge of Paris) and other priests, nuns and monks in all sorts of French TV shows and programs.
Nor is this a matter of a theological dispute with somebody who is always going to know Islam better than any “Western” atheist.
What we insist on is that there are other interpretations of Islam, from Muslims who are much more democratic and secular than Ramadan.
And we reject the dishonest gambit used by this Swiss philosophy lecturer to deflect criticism: each time a Muslim intellectual defends an opinion which is different from his, it is because she or he is “westernized”, has adopted a “West-centred vision”, or worse, has sold out to imperialist, colonialist and racist Western powers.
Revolutionaries do not claim that Tariq Ramadan holds reactionary positions on all issue. We simply ask his “left-wing” friends not to knowingly dissimulate his obscurantist positions and not to dismiss in advance the positions of other Muslims who are much less conservative than him as regards morals, secularism and all the issues of daily life.
This dissimulation comes sometimes from a unworthy paternalism (“he will shift as he comes into contact with us”), sometimes from a manipulative approach (“we are not interested in him, but in the immigrants he influences”), and sometimes from a political vision which blurs all class divisions (“the confluence of all anti-capitalist movements”, the “revolt of the multitudes”, and other such rubbish), sometimes from the cynical relativism of disillusioned former adherents of dialectical materialism (“after all, no-one knows whether scientific truths exist”), and sometimes from a “Third Worldism” which has still not given up on the Stalinist illusion of “socialism in one country”.
In all these cases, such hypocritical attitudes to Ramadan’s bigotry do a disservice to workers who still believe in Islam but who also want to fight against capitalism. And after all, as revolutionaries, it is those “Muslims” who interest us.
Tariq Ramadan does not approve of flirting, sex before (or outside) marriage, homosexuality, women’s contraception or divorce. He thinks that Muslim women should submit to their husbands if they are “good” Muslims. He believes that men must be financially responsible for the well-being of their family, and not women. In other words, Tariq Ramadan is opposed to or equivocal about feminism, women’s rights, gay rights and sexual liberation. One should also have strong doubts about his respect of the freedom of speech and thought: in Switzerland he contributed to a campaign against a Voltaire play, and he wants Muslim parents to control the content of State school programs according to “Islamic values”, to give only two examples. But that does not prevent him from constantly using the key words of today’s public relations industry: “respect”, “tolerance”, “communication” and “dialogue” in the manner of a cynical politician.
What a strange friend for the Left! Read the rest of this entry »
It’s fairly well known that some people in Pakistan hate Malala Yousafzai and sympathise with the Taliban barbarians who tried to murder her. Other elements deal in conspiracy theories to the effect that she wasn’t really shot at all and the whole thing was some sort of elaborate conspiracy by “Western” forces, etc.
But such opinions are not confined to backward elements in the Swat Valley. In Britain, Malala has her detractors, peddling even more pernicious conspiracy theories – more pernicious because they’re dressed up in the pseudo-sophisticated language of post-colonial studies, third-worldism and cultural/political relativism.
A classic example of such loathsome, wheedling, dishonesty and de facto appeasement of clerical fascism, is a piece by one Assed Baig that first appeared on the Huffington Post website, entitled ‘Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex.’ It effectively sums up the poisonous politics that lie behind much of the Chomskyite/Saidite so-called “left” (and Guardianista liberal-”left”) that has come to the fore in British, European and US w-w-wadical circles in recent years. A fuller version of the article is published here.
For those who cannot bring themselves to read the article (though you should), the following gives a pretty good flavour:
“There is no justifying the brutal actions of the Taliban or the denial of the universal right to education, however there is a deeper more historic narrative that is taking place here.
“This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalised. Journalists and politicians were falling over themselves to report and comment on the case. The story of an innocent brown child that was shot by savages for demanding an education and along comes the knight in shining armour to save her.”
But a pretty strong reply has since appeared, nailing Assed’s hypocrisy, dishonesty, relativism and sexism in the matter of Malala. We’re pleased to reproduce it below:
Silencing Malala Yousafzai and “the Brown Man’s Honor Complex”
By Meriam Sabih
-a reply to ‘Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex.’
“I want to give my message to Pakhtoons, to educate their sons and daughters. Not just school, work on them so they treat every human being well…Teach them tolerance. Teach them how to tolerate the ideas of others and how to live in coexistence with others.”– Malala Yousafzai
In a Pakistani interview long before she became a household name, outspoken Malala shared her dreams of becoming a politician, gave advice on foreign policy (yes including drones), and thanked the Pakistani Army for their successful operation in Swat. Malala was a force to be reckoned with long before the Taliban shot her in the head for speaking out for the education of girls. And despite their best efforts, she is an even greater force to be reckoned with now.
Assed Baig in his article, “Malala and the White Saviour Complex” failed to understand the universality of Malala’s message and did not give her the credit that she deserves. This is not the story of “the weak native girl being saved by the white man,” it is the story of the bravest girl in the world. A girl with a voice so powerful she had to be eliminated. The West didn’t offer Malala protection when she was receiving daily death threats nor did a knight in shining armor rescue her when she stood face to face with the Taliban. She endured these threats alone without the tactical support of the world’s largest armies; let alone a bullet proof vest or a bodyguard.
Baig argues that although her message is true and profound it has been “hijacked by the West.” Therefore this coverage must be scorned and vilified. His very masculinity as a brown man and worldview in which the West must remain the enemy are brought into question when Malala receives a warm welcome by the international community. How can the West be the enemy and then do any real good? He cannot fathom doctors, activists, institutions, and politicians around the world engaged in humanitarian work unrelated to a larger racist narrative.
More troubling, he can not fathom Malala being a true inspiration to the West. As she spoke from the podium of the United Nations inspiring millions by her words as the likes of Pakistan’s little Mother Teresa — others such as Baig felt a sense of shame that a native girl stood on a world stage “unveiling” herself as the poster child for a narrative which dishonors the brown man.
Does Baig realize he is identifying every brown man with the Taliban? At the UN Malala demanded the strongest leaders in the world “…to change their strategic policies in favour of peace and prosperity,” as she averred the urgency to protect the rights of women and children. Since being attacked she has not hesitated a single day in speaking out against the Taliban. In meeting with President Obama, Malala reiterated the concerns back home about drone attacks. One wonders if a Muslim man had made such a fearless litany of demands to both world leaders and terrorists alike would Baig and others have referred to him as a “tool for the West” or celebrated him as a hero?
Remnants of Baig’s distrust eerily reminded me the rambling letter Taliban Commander Adnan Rashid wrote to Malala explaining that every perceived Western good must have within it a sinister plot, a suspicion so deep and twisted that he justifies the killing of polio workers and education activists. He offered Malala a safe return to Pakistan only if she study Quran at a Madrassa and reject a western education. He too accused Malala of being easily swayed and “using her tongue at the behest of others” depriving her of her own agency and ideas.
Similarly Baig’s argument seeks to confine Malala and place restrictions lest she become impure with Western exposure, sympathy, or indoctrination. Though it was the Pakistani military who cleared Swat from the hands of the Taliban and the Pakistani military doctors which removed the bullet from Malala’s head, Baig continues in making even her medical treatment in England a means of shame for the native brown man. Such divisive attitudes seek to perpetuate a cycle of hate, cynicism, and distrust. There seems to be no room in such a world view for reconciliation, redemption, or working together with “the white man” for common goals.
Furthermore it is a sexist narrative. Vilifying coverage of Malala’s message is another attempt to silence her. Comparing her to victims of violence who were not specifically targeted for their fierce activism (literally called out by name and shot in the head for only that reason alone) doesn’t make sense, even though their deaths are tragic and wrong. Extremists have intentionally killed far more people in Pakistan than any drone. They have deliberately destroyed countless Pakistani schools and vow to continue doing so. And if we are comparing, how many schools have the Taliban built?
As Malala Yousafzai stood on the world’s stage, she paid homage to her culture, her religion, her heroes, and her dreams. Her eloquent voice aligned with those of countless other girls whom she spoke for, and imagining them all standing before her gave her peace. Far from needing a savior she embodied a remarkable image of Muslim female leadership and power — she was the savior — the likes of that of Benazir Bhutto — Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister, her ideal, and another woman attacked and killed by the Taliban. Her message remains that we must join hands with all people from all walks of life who support education, and that includes Gordon Brown. It echoes the highest ideals of her heroes who taught mercy, unity, forgiveness, reconciliation even with one’s staunchest foes, and also called for non-violence.
“Our words can change the whole world because we are all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness…” Malala Yousafzia
Malala’s dreams have not been hijacked, she has been given the largest global platform in order for her to amplify her voice. Why should that disgust us? Shouldn’t it make us proud? It is not just the West, but also the East which lauded her with praise. Pakistan’s former President has awarded her the highest national award in Pakistan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has named her the Education Envoy for the country. If Gordon Brown, now the UN special envoy for Global education is presently ‘using’ Malala, it is certainly not to spearhead another war, but to grant free primary education to all children — a campaign that Malala along with other Muslim Nations fully supports.
By denigrating Malala’s profound message as “western propaganda” Baig and those like him are doing far more to try to rob Malala’s dreams before they even come to fruition simply because it’s not the kind of “so-called propaganda” they would like highlighted. Yet the irony of such sensationalism is that had the media largely ignored Malala’s story, Baig would be outraged that the image of a courageous Muslim fighting terrorism instead of promoting it is not deemed news worthy. And had she succumbed to her wounds, the media frenzy around her would not have amounted to some sinister plot to use her as a “tool.”
Yes there are hundreds and thousands of girls like Malala who struggle, who are robbed of an education, who are silenced, and whom Malala now speaks for. But as fate has it, there is only one Malala Yousafzai the captivating activist, just as there was one Hellen Keller, one Benazir Bhutto, and one Martin Luther King. The world needs heroes because of their innate leadership qualities, electrifying charm, and resolute unshakable commitment to their dreams that make them stand apart from every crowd and inspire us all to higher ideals. Even the Taliban could long see that Malala is no ordinary girl, but is intensely special, and that’s why they still want her dead.
Those who want to paint Malala as an easily influenced “tool” and not as a strong young Muslim woman driving an inspirational campaign have failed to really listen to her message. They failed to know who Malala is and to know the message she has always stood for. We face a grave danger to our own advancement as a society if we label brave female activists who use an international platform as ‘tools’ or ‘traitors’ hurling an attack on the native man’s honor. Shouldn’t we instead rally to their causes as their biggest supporters as opposed to being cynical of their fame, and even join in applauding them when the world takes notice of our own heroes? Whose side are we on?
Meriam Sabih has a BA is English and Psychology from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Follow Meriam Sabih on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@meriamsabih
It was yesterday, so we’re a bit late. But it’s still well worth showing some solidarrty with these brave women in their campaign for a basic human right.
Eman Al Nafjan (@Saudiwoman) is a female blogger from Saudi Arabia who has been campaigning against the driving ban. She was arrested by police earlier this month as she filmed a female driver breaking the ban.
‘Society’ is no longer an excuse for Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving
If there was one word to describe what it is like to be a Saudi woman, it would be the word patronizing. No matter how long you live, you remain a minor in the eyes of the government.
In Saudi Arabia we take patriarchy to the extreme. The fact that the culture, like many others around the world, is male-dominated is not the major challenge. The real challenge is that the government has allowed this patriarchy to dictate how it deals with citizens. Female citizens are assigned a legal male guardian from her immediate relatives. This male guardian can legally marry her off as a child to a man decades her senior. He can also legally and easily ban her from education, work and marriage. He has to pre-approve any international travel officially. Since basic education is free and college education comes with a stipend paid by the government to all public college students, most male guardians prefer to send their daughters to school. Yet in those cases where the male guardian chooses to imprison his female ward at home, the legal system makes it almost impossible for her to be able to get away.
The de facto ban on women driving is one of the main things that perpetuates this governmental patriarchy. Currently there is no public transportation system available. You cannot walk to the corner and catch a bus or take the subway except in Mecca. Thus for any woman to get from point A to point B, she doesn’t only have to buy a car but convince a male relative or employ a man from South East Asia to drive that car. This day-to-day obstacle has proven to be a demoralizing deterrent for many women from pursuing an education, a career and even maintaining their own healthcare.
When government officials are asked about the driving ban, they respond that there is no legal or Islamic basis for it and that it is only socially maintained. The King himself stated so. Others who have made similar statements include the Minister of Justice, the Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and the Chief of Traffic Police. Yet when a woman gets behind the wheel of her car, it isn’t society that stops her but the police. In many cases the woman is then taken to the nearest police station and her male guardian is called. The woman and her guardian are both made to sign pledges to ensure that this case of driving while female is not repeated.
There have been several attempts since 1990 to try to lift this ban on women driving. Among them were proposals sent to the Shura Council by Dr Mohammad Al Zulfa in 2006 and another by Abdullah Al Alami in 2012. Both were not even allowed to be discussed on the floor of the council. There have also been several petitions and requests sent to the Royal Court, which mostly failed to get a response. There were also campaigns to get women just to go out and drive. And they too were met with more of a response from the government than from society.
In 1990, 47 women got into their cars and drove and the government responded with job suspensions and travel bans. In June 2011, Manal Al Sharif made a Youtube video asking women to join her in driving their own cars and was imprisoned for over a week for it.
Thus the October 26th Women Driving Campaign is the most recent campaign to try to resolve the women driving ban. What makes this campaign special is that it’s the first real civil movement to occur in Saudi Arabia. There is no face to the movement. The petition was written by more than 30 people, many of whom do not know each other.
The first couple of days the petition went public, we were still accepting revisions to the text. It was only finalized on the third day. Everyone who signs the petition is considered not only an organizer but a leader who can take the initiative to act in the name of the campaign. The campaign itself has Youtube channels and an Instagram account for signatories to upload their driving videos, photos and even just to talk or make a statement through art. Through these means, the campaign aims not only to call on the government to quit its ambiguity regarding the ban but also to demonstrate that officials can no longer use the “society” excuse.
Get involved with the October 26th Women Driving Campaign:
Saudi Arabia must not thwart campaign for women drivers (News story, 24 October 2013)
One year on, Saudi Arabian women still driving their way to greater freedom (News story, 15 June 2012)
Women activists prepare to defy Saudi Arabian driving ban (News story, 16 June 2011)
Campaigners in Egypt say the problem of sexual harassment is reaching epidemic proportions, with a rise in such incidents over the past three months. For many Egyptian women, sexual harassment – which sometimes turns into violent mob-style attacks – is a daily fact of life . .
In 2008, a study by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights found that more than 80% of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment, and that the majority of the victims were those who wore Islamic headscarves.
Said Sadek, a sociologist from the American University in Cairo, says that the problem is deeply rooted in Egyptian society: a mixture of what he calls increasing Islamic conservatism, on the rise since the late 1960s, and old patriarchal attitudes.
Egyptian women fight back:-
An Egyptian women’s initiative has launched a campaign entitled “We Will Ride Bicycles” to confront sexual harassment in the streets and public transportation. . .
“Riding a bicycle and feeling the breeze of the air is one of our simplest dreams,” said the campaign’s event page, adding that all women should be allowed to freely ride bicycles without being harassed or judged.
The activists behind the campaign said they chose the theme of riding bicycles to promote women and girl’s rights to run errands through cycling without being afraid of attracting negative reaction in the streets.
Scheduled for Saturday, the event’s assembly point will be outside October War Panorama on Saleh Salem Street and its end point will be at Azhar Park. “The campaign’s main objective is confronting the unjustified rejection of the community concerning females riding bicycles,” said Michael Nazeh, one of the founders of the campaign.
Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.
Susan B. Anthony, February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906
American campaigner for women’s suffrage and civil rights
The Socialist Workers Party’s first pre-conference bulletin of 2013 has already been quite widely leaked, which in itself tells you a lot about the state of that organisation. I’ve been dipping into the 88-page document over the last week or so and was particularly struck by the following contribution from Andrew “ozzy” Osborne – not because it’s particularly insightful or sophisticated (it’s not) but because of its obvious sincerity and almost heartbreaking sadness. I was also particularly interested in the comrade’s account of the way the SWP Unite fraction reacted to being overruled / outvoted despite all its leading members disagreeing with the Party leadership’s wish to support Jerry Hicks in the Unite GS election. It should go without saying that I have not spoken to “ozzy” (who I don’t know anyway) about reproducing his piece here, but as it’s already effectively in the public domain I don’t believe that’s an issue. Nor have I had any contact with the ’In Defence Of Our Party’ (IDOOP) faction of which “ozzy” is a member:
ME AND THE PARTY…..A PERSONAL JOURNEY OF 9 MONTHS AT THE END OF THE STRUGGLE.
A funny thing happened to me in January of 2013, I voted against the Central Committee on two issues (once against the entire CC once against the CC Majority group) at the party conference having never done this before; January 2013 was a bit of an eye opener for me.
One issue was a strategic/tactical issue and one was a question of principle.
I voted against the CC regarding the “should we support Jerry Hicks position” myself, Frank W, Gill G, Ian A and Julian V were the 5 members of the SWP unite fraction committee who opposed the CC at the conference.
My position (the position of the 5 members of the SWP unite fraction) was massively defeated. My vote at that conference on the acceptance of the disputes committee report was also defeated by a wafer thin margin as was my vote on the Central Committee.
At a recent meeting at Marxism Alex Callinicos asked a question of a comrade “what do you do if you lose the vote??” I think the actions of the unite fraction leadership provides a useful example of what comrades in the tradition of the International Socialists who understand democratic centralism do when you lose a vote on a question of tactics and strategy, the vote was taken by the highest democratic body of the party and we were obliged to follow it, there was no more discussion, it was not required….We campaigned our collective asses of(f) and secured Jerry Hicks 118 branch and 19 workplace nominations, 9 branch nominations were from my county of Cambridgeshire.
When the election was put to the membership of Unite Jerry received 79,819 votes an absolutely amazing result. During the campaign I coordinated the
activities of the unite fraction and from that the industrial intervention of the party nationally over this important trades union election campaign. It wasn’t just me; Gill secured her branch nomination for Jerry speaking in opposition to Frank W (Unite EC Health sector) who resigned from the party in protest at the parties support for Jerry. Ian A set up Jerry’s website for the campaign, was at most of the face to face meetings with Jerry during the campaign and secured the workplace nominations of 4 Fujitsu sites as well as his his own branch,Julian put the case for Jerrys nomination at his branch which we lost as it’s a bit of a united left (unite broad left – backed Len during the campaign) stronghold but secured his workplace nomination.
Over the period from the SWP conference of January 2013 till the close of the campaign and the result announcement on the 13th of April there were 320 emails all related to the general secretary election campaign on the swp-unite-fraction email group, there were also skype teleconferences and more phone calls than I care to remember. Maps locating major unite workplaces in most regions of the country were produced and used to direct the intervention of the party nationally. The united left and Len McCluskeys campaign actually did shit a brick once they realised the fact that the SWP was incredibly organised and taking the election campaign very seriously. I was sent an email from Steve Turner the unite Executive policy director and Len McCluskeys campaign manager during the election campaign on the 15th of March which was titled “SWP activities in your area – BE AWARE” I almost fell of(f) my chair as I laughed so hard.
During the election Jerry Hicks campaign was attacked on twitter and other social media sites disgracefully by Len and the united left as being “rape apologists” and the question was put why should unites female members vote for a candidate supported by the SWP, these attacks were disgraceful but despite my protestations the SWP did not respond seriously to these allegations. We did get an article written by Julie S from the CC in the guardian as a right of reply to an article by Laurie Penny but without meaning to offend Julie S (who I have a great deal of respect for) this article was not the defence of the party position we needed.
During the campaign (the period from January to April) I had to temporally shut down the SWP unite fraction email list twice due to comrades using it to factionalise, my actions were not one of a comrade trying to damage the party rather that of a comrade trying to build the party organisation in the country’s biggest trades union.
Then we come to the second issue on which I opposed the central committee at the January 2013 conference on the question of the disputes committee, prior to the January 2013 conference I had signed the CC statement and was not involved in any factional issue. My position changed after the January 2013 conference session on the disputes committee, let me be frank, I’m a big bloke with a thick skin but when I walked out of the venue for a fag break on evening of the 6th of January 2013 I was actually in tears and gave serious consideration to keeping on walking, I didn’t walk but resolved then and there to do all I could to fix the problem which evidently had occurred. I was a member of the In Defence Of Our Party faction (IDOOP) prior to the special conference in March and I have signed the statement of intent to form a faction at this year’s conference.
A lot of mud and rubbish is slung around at comrades who oppose the CC around the disputes committee report, some of which is that we don’t want to build the party, sell the paper or that we have moved away from democratic centralism, I would urge comrades to look a mine and the unite fraction leaderships example. We understand democratic centralism and do want to build the socialist workers party but don’t judge us by our words judge us by our actions. Words are cheap actions are solid gold. I have said all I am going to say on this subject unless the CC responds to me directly.
This pre conference period will be tough for many comrades I would urge all comrades in unite and in the wider party to listen to my words and judge me by my actions. Join me in opposing the current leadership. We have had a tough year as a party. We can get through this if we do a couple of things, firstly apologise to the two women who raised issues with a former member of the SWP, and secondly be a tribune of the oppressed.
Andrew “ozzy” Osborne (Cambridge)
We haven’t always agreed with Yasmin Alibhai Brown, but her column in today’s Independent is an honourable and quite brave statement of principle that needs to be thrown in the face of relativist/”multicultural” (sic) idiots and religious reactionaries everywhere:
Fully veiled women hinder progressive Islam
Toleration is good but not when it prevents fair interrogation and robust argument
First a British judge, then dedicated educationalists running a British college have been defeated by the aggressive guerrilla army of Muslim Salafists and their misguided allies. At Blackfriars Crown Court, Judge Peter Murphy ordered a 21-year-old, veiled defendant to show her face. The accused had been charged with witness intimidation and pleaded not guilty. Whatever the results of that case, she and her supporters certainly intimidated the judge, who backed down so the trial could proceed.
Birmingham Metropolitan College was similarly cowed and had to reverse a directive forbidding students from covering their faces. One hooded lady crowdsourced a protest against the college. Some overexcited student union members, Muslim objectors and online petitioners have forced a U-turn. Shabana Mahmood, MP for Ladywood, Birmingham, welcomed the capitulation. Happy days. Muslim women can now to go to courts and college in shrouds.
That all-covering gown, that headscarf, that face mask – all affirm and reinforce the belief that women are a hazard to men and society. These are unacceptable, iniquitous values, enforced violently by Taliban, Saudi and Iranian oppressors. They have no place in our country. So why are so many British females sending out those messages about themselves?
Some think they are outsmarting anxious Western institutions by covering up, winning dispiriting culture wars which will give them no advantage in our fast moving world. Young women in niqabs are either testing the state as teenagers do their parents or think their garb is political action – but for what? Many women, mothers in particular, have been brainwashed by proselytisers who want to spread conservative Islamic worship across Europe and North America. They are well funded by sources based in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
And then there are those vacuous females who argue that it is their right to be objectified, that they must be allowed to live as invisible creatures. I don’t know which of these dubious forces prevailed in the examples above. But I do know that this trend is growing fast and cannot just be “tolerated” as a minority tendency, just one of many choices people make.
Toleration is good but not when it prevents fair interrogation and robust argument. I have written hundreds of times about the prejudices and discrimination experienced by Muslims, and other minorities. It isn’t easy being a Muslim anywhere in the world – not in Muslim lands or the West. But when Muslims wilfully create problems and build barriers, anti-racists and egalitarians have an absolute duty to engage with them critically and in good faith. I know frank engagement is avoided because it gives succour to the EDL, BNP, neocons and manic anti-Muslim atheists. I, too, have to think hard before penning columns like this one. In the end though, I don’t think we should abdicate these grave responsibilities because so much is at stake.
The woman before the judge must know that she or others like her will never be judges or barristers. Will she make her daughters do the same? The system wasn’t picking on her – a defendant in a micro mini would have caused as much disquiet. And the aggrieved college student, what future does she imagine? She denies herself jobs for the sake of what? They keep apart from fellow Britons by withholding proper human interactions. It’s not right or fair.
None of our sacred texts command us to cover our faces. Some branches of Islam do not even require head coverings. These are manmade injunctions followed by unquestioning women. We are directed always to accept the rules of the countries we live in and their institutions, as long as they are reasonable. For security, justice, travel, education and health identification is vital. Why should these women be exempt? We Muslims are already unfairly thought of as the enemy within. Niqabs make us appear more alien, more dangerous and suspicious. If it is a provocation for Ku Klux Klan to cover up so they can’t be recognised, it is for Muslims too.
This is a struggle between the light of the faith and dark forces here and also in Islamic countries. The clothes symbolize an attempted takeover of the religion just when believers are looking for liberty, autonomy, democracy and gender equality. Malala Yousafzai doesn’t hide her determined face. Nor do our female Muslim MPs and peers or civil rights lawyers.
Some of the bravest human rights activists are Muslim women. Take Tamsila Tauquir awarded an MBE for her charitable work with Muslims and Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, which I co-founded seven years ago. The two of them, with other idealists, have embarked on an “inclusive mosque” initiative, with pop-up prayers in various venues, where men and women, gays and straights, humanists and modernists can pray together. Many others are trying to promote progressive Islam, which fits our times and needs.
Islamic zealots must fear these developments and want to crush them. Whether they know it or not, fully veiled women are part of this reactionary mission. Our state must not aid and abet them. The judge and the college should not have retreated and handed them this victory.
NB: since this article was written, the judge in the (alleged) witness intimidation case has ruled that the accused woman must remove her veil while giving evidence and (presumably) while under cross-examination: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/09/16/muslims-woman-must-remove-veil-evidence_n_3933773.html?utm_hp_ref=uk
Guest post Pink Prosecco.
On Socialist Unity I have just read what struck me as a sensible and sympathetic review by Phil B C of Laurie Penny’s new book Cybersexism.
Before long John Wight (above – note left hand), scourge of moralisers, is muscling in below the line:
“There is nothing wrong with a good filthy fuck. Men and women are primal animals and lust is both healthy and entirely natural.
What is unnatural is the demonisation of sex.
I think this latest moral panic over porn is exactly that: an artificially whipped up moral panic with a political objective at its heart.”
Actually, Wight has said many stupider things, and this made me laugh:
“I don’t [know] about you, but the last thing I think about while approaching orgasm are “workers’ rights”.”
Then I noticed that there were no (identifiable) women commenting on this lively thread. I had a look at all the other posts currently in play, ten in total, attracting (so far) 182 comments and there were no identifiable women commenting there either. Funny that.
More on Egypt from Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog. This time he comes up with a surprising angle:
Within Egypt, and in many other Arab countries, the shocking killings of Black Wednesday have elicited horror in many quarters, but have actually been supported in many others. I am in the horrified camp, and ask myself how in the world people can be indifferent to or even justified what the Egyptian military did.
It is always dangerous to try to explain an unpleasant reality, since some inept readers will assume that explanation is justification. All I can say is, it’s not.
Those anti-Muslim Brotherhood Egyptians and Arabs who feel little sympathy for the victims typically depict the Brotherhood as a violent cult stockpiling weapons and kidnapping and torturing people. That is, they speak about the sit-ins in Giza and Nasr City the way the Clinton administration spoke of the Waco cult of Branch Davidians, which US law enforcement besieged and attacked in winter of 1993. Just as the Branch Davidians were depicted as closed, cultish, deviant, violent stockpilers of weapons, so that is increasingly the language used about the Muslim Brotherhood by their critics in the region. President Clinton blamed them for the fires that killed members during the FBI assault, including children. I should underline that the Muslim Brotherhood is a major group in Egypt and not in fact analogous to a small cult like the Branch Davidians. I’m just talking about the attitude to them among the military, the old Mubarak elite and even the Rebellion or Tamarrud youth spokespeople, who led the effort to unseat Muhammad Morsi.
These observers are struck not by the body count but by what they call the clear evidence of weapons stockpiles at the sit-ins.
It is true that on Wednesday and Thursday, Muslim Brotherhood cadres did deploy firearms against the police, killing some 50 of them. There was a report of the Brotherhood actually using mortar rounds against a police station in the upper Egyptian city of Asyut. Euronews reports that Brotherhood attackers took over the governorate offices of Giza with firearms and then burned it (see also RT :
Brotherhood cadres have also burned down at least 12 Coptic Christian churches and attacked 28 others in the past two days, as well as shooting dead at least 3 random Christians. They blame the Copts for supporting the coup against Morsi, though the Copts as a minority of 10% of the population are powerless and hardly conducted the coup.
But such violence (inexcusable as it is, especially toward innocent Christians) is an outcome of the coup and of the dispersal of their protests, and was not typical of the movement in the past 3 decades.
According to opinion polling, some 57% of Egyptians either felt that the Brotherhood protesters at the sit-ins were terrorists or included terrorists among them. Only about a fifth sympathized with them. Nearly two-thirds wanted the sit-ins broken up “immediately” (though they mostly preferred it be done “peacefully.” These findings are shocking, since the mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood gave up violence in the 1970s and has been participating in parliamentary elections (even though until 2011 they were known to be rigged) since them. Moreover, I suspect that these attitudes stem from the past year of Brotherhood rule, since Gallup found that in early 2012 some 60% of Egyptians had a favorable view of the Brotherhood, which fell to 19% in early June, 2013. Morsi’s violent crushing of protests against his constitutional decree of November, 2012 putting himself above the law, including the alleged deployment of Brotherhood paramilitary against the New Left youth crowds, seems to have been a major turning point in shaping images of the movement.
The Tamarrud or Rebellion movement of Mahmoud Badr and others had actually forwarded a memo to the United Nations asking them to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as an international terrorist organization.
A splinter group of the Muslim Brotherhood, “The Brotherhood without Violence” is also making wild charges that the inner circles of the Brotherhood leadership are planning a bloody campaign of violent reprisals.
It is not only Egypt. The Kuwaiti newspaper al-Siyasa headlined on Thursday after the bloody events, “Egypt breaks up Sit-in of the Brotherhood of Terror,” saying the long-suffering Egyptian people had awaited the end of this nightmare of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had turned city squares into armed camps.
Entertainment stars even got into the action. Asked about the car bomb in a Shiite neighborhood of Beirut that killed 18 on Thursday and the events in Cairo, diva Haifa Wahba expressed anguish at the region’s terrorism problem and asked God to “save us from those cannibals and from blind hatred.” I think she was referring to the perpetrators of the car bomb, but in the general context some people in the region read her as denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood as cannibals along with the violent Sunni extremists of Beirut. (Haifa is from a mixed Shiite and Christian background, and is known for steamy music videos, so Sunni fundamentalism would certainly not like her very much).
It should just be pointed out that the far Right in the US considered Waco an unjustifiable massacre, and that the Oklahoma City bombing of the Federal building, among the worst instances of domestic terrorism in US history, came about in part as a reaction to it.
NB: as we’ve been making quite a lot of use of Informed Comment lately, it seems only fair to draw this to your attention:
Informed Comment is made possible by your support. If you value the information and essays, I make available and write here, please take a moment to contribute what you can - Juan Cole
For many years the writer Michael Rosen has been a fairly uncritical fellow-traveller of the SWP. Now, he’s broken with them over the ‘Comrade Delta’ affair, and has had this exchange with SWP loyalist John Rose and others:
Michael Rosen (above) writes
My old friend John Rose has asked me to put this letter up on my blog. Here it is:
You and I have been good friends for years – more or less since that great year of ’68. You have not only been a trusted friend – but a trusted comrade as well, even if your disagreement with our ‘Leninist’ model of organising inhibited you from joining us. Your close and critical reading of all of the chapters before publication for my book The Myths of Zionism helped guarantee its success.We recently spoke together at the Bookmarks Holocaust Day event at Bookmarks, the Socialist Bookshop on the subject of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Bookmarks tell me that you have kindly offered to help promote the new 70th anniversary edition The Ghetto Fights by Marek Edelman which I/we launched at our Marxism Festival last week. Over the last few months you and I have had furious e mail and text exchanges about the swp’s internal developments. More recently in the light of important changes that are now underway in the organisation which address all the issues that you raise, I offered to meet you and discuss them. I pointed out to you that only a face to face discussion can clarify matters in a way that is simply not possible by relying on e mail and text exchanges, given the proper necessity of respecting principles of confidentiality. For reasons best known to yourself, you have felt unable to do so, but I be obliged if you would let readers of your blog know that that my offer remains open. Many thanks John
My reply: Hi John
Thanks for this.
The problem here is that I’ve become the story. I’m not the story. The story is a) the mishandling of a dispute b) the mishandling of the mishandling c) the lack of an open approach to your friends and allies in what we call the ‘movement’.
As you’ve asked for this letter to be made public, I can only think that you feel that some part of it makes a point to the outside world. I’m guessing that this is the part where you ask me, in effect, why I haven’t discussed this matter whilst ‘respecting principles of confidentiality’. Aha – surely this shows that Rosen has not been totally honest in his open letters…he could have heard the whole truth…he would then have not needed to go public about all this…etc etc.
I can explain. It is precisely because you wanted to have a ‘confidential’ talk about this that I found myself resisting your suggestion. I’ll be blunt, I don’t want to be the recipient or owner of any confidences in this matter. That’s the last thing in the world I want. The dispute has been played out in various kinds of public forums. The consequence is that many of us who’ve been involved in eg Marxism, LMHR, UAF, Respect, ANL, Stop the War etc etc feel that we are entitled to be told what’s going on - but not in terms of confidences – only in terms of why a proper procedure wasn’t followed, why the SWP couldn’t have admitted that it should have followed a proper procedure, why it couldn’t have admitted that its committees were the inappropriate means by which this dispute was heard, why it hasn’t hurried to put a proper procedure in place and why the person we call Delta went on being involved in LMHR and UAF long after the dispute was underway. And, I hasten to add, this is not because I am prejudging him as guilty. I repeat: I am not prejudging him as guilty. It is because this would have been the right way to proceed – for the benefit of all parties: the accusers, the accused, the SWP and the rest of us on the outside. I repeat, the SWP has set out its stall in relation to sexual oppression, liberation and equality. It can hardly complain if people on the outside ask how this dispute matches the principles and analysis that the SWP has put before us.
You mention ‘The Ghetto Fights’. In fact, my offer was more than the one you mention. I said to Bookmarks that if they wrote an appeal I would kick off some crowd-funding with a contribution.
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatsey)
Wadjda: Joyous and Free.
Wadjda is pioneering film by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour. She is also the first person to shoot a full-length feature in the country itself.
The picture is wonderful. It also raises serious political and cultural issues.
Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a 10-year-old. She is referred to in reviews as ”sparky” and “rebellious” and, somewhat patronisingly, a “sweet scamp”.
She reminded me of Marjane Satrap in Persepolis - someone with the humour and wit to stand up for herself against the dead hand of religious pressure.
In that film Marji faced the power of Khomeni’s Iranian Islamists.
In Wadjda the heroine has to live with the Saudi educational system and the male-dominated world of orthodox Islam.
The latter appears in the trap her mother is caught in: a life dependent on the good will of her husband, a daily commute provided by a Pakistani driver who speaks broken Arabic, and her fears about him searching for another wife.
For her daughter we see the continuous surveillance of her dress, and the sudden appearance of the religious police when Wadjda is seen playing around with a boy.
The scenario revolves around Wadja’s efforts to buy a bicycle.
Bikes are, naturally, not seen as suitable for modest women.
Listening to “satanic” rock music she plots to raise the cash. But selling football team colour bracelets does not get her far.
Her efforts also get ensnared by her pious head mistress – whose constant enforcement of the Islamic ‘modesty’ codes go against the fibre of the young rebel.
Wadjda hears that winning a Qur’an knowledge and recital competition could deliver her the money.
She suddenly becomes pious and sets out for victory.
As her project gets underway there are plenty of moments with a political message.
With an admiring friend, a young boy, they pass a celebration of a suicide bomber’s death. He remarks that the martyr will be enjoying 72 virgins in paradise.
Wadjda looks at him wryly and says,”Does that mean I’ll get 72 bicycles in heaven?”
It’s hard not to relate the film to recent discussion about multiculturalism.
It is the right thing to defend plural cultural identities, and, specifically, groups targeted by the Church and King mob of the English Defence League.
But do we want to defend those who wish to introduce a moral police like that of Saudi Arabia?
The curriculum followed by Wadjda is present in this country, in Saudi linked schools – right up to their textbooks. It’s hard not to imagine that the religious policing that goes with it is not present.
Wadjda shows how women can be joyous and free.
Like the Iranian film by Jafar Panahi Offside it expresses the universal hopes for human freedom.
And it does so beautifully.