In a fascinating piece in the New Yorker, Timothy Garton Ash discussed Orwell’s famous list of names, written in the last isolated year of his life at the request of his friend and flame Celia Kirwan, who had just started work at a Foreign Office department that produced anticommunist propaganda. Orwell came up with some potential names to write for the unit, and also included thirty-eight intellectuals who ‘in my opinion are crypto-communists, fellow-travellers or inclined that way and should not be trusted as propagandists’.
We know that most of these latter names were vocal Stalinists, and that one, Peter Smollett, was an actual Soviet agent – ironically, he had blocked the publication of Animal Farm. Still, the dying Orwell had stained a perfect reputation at the eleventh hour. When you examine the facts closely, as Garton-Ash did over a half-century later, the controversy fades:
Some writers today suggest the IRD’s anticommunist activities were Britain’s equivalent of the McCarthyite witch-hunt. If so, then one is struck by how mild it was by comparison with the American McCarthyism which prompted Arthur Miller to write The Crucible and Charlie Chaplin to flee back to Orwell’s Britain.
Kirwan herself said that ‘everybody thinks that these people were going to be shot at dawn. The only thing that was going to happen to them was that they wouldn’t be asked to write for the Information Research Department.’
In today’s Guardian, Inayat Bungawala comments:
This is just like something straight out of a Stasi manual. The advice from Quilliam is frankly appalling and incredibly self-serving. This is a truly shocking document, and it is little wonder that the Quilliam Foundation marked it as being not for public disclosure. In effect, Quilliam – a body funded very generously by the government through Prevent – are attempting to set themselves up as arbiters of who is and is not an acceptable Muslim. Their document specifically contains a McCarthy-type list of large and established Muslim organisations that they regard as suspect and smears them as being ‘Islamists’.
What is he talking about? Well, the Quilliam Foundation, a policy unit that argues for secularism and democracy, has contacted Charles Farr, director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, with recommendations on counter-terrorism policy. The report was for his eyes only but has been leaked.
The report itself is uncontroversial, a swirl of: ‘What’s the problem?’ In the document Quilliam outlines an analysis of the last government’s Prevent counterterrorism programme, where it went wrong and what the new government can do differently. It draws a clear separation between Islam the faith and Islamism the political ideology, and it points out that whenever Islamist movements gain power, blood and horrors follow, as sure as night follows day. The authors also make a point that can’t be emphasised enough: that when Islamist parties stand for election, they’re generally defeated.
It is the appendix that is the problem for Bungawala. It constitutes a list of UK Islamic organisations. This isn’t a blacklist of peace-loving innocents. It’s an ID line of fanatics. There’s the Muslim Council of Britain, a Jamaat i-Islami front which claims a risible four to twelve percent of British Muslim support. The Muslim Association of Britain promoted pro Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. The Federation of Student Islamic Societies hosted him in 2003, and presented him as a ‘distinguished Islamic scholar’. The Cordoba Foundation used Prevent money to provide a platform for the fundamentalist Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Islam Channel provides digital brainwashing courtesy of a Tunisian Islamist. There’s the truly Orwellian creation of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the Khomeinist front which organises the annual Al-Quds day dipshit parade. George Galloway, also on the list, is famous most recently for having crossing the desert to give a load of money to Hamas:
I, now, here, on behalf of myself, my sister Yvonne Ridley, and the two Respect councillors – Muhammad Ishtiaq and Naim Khan – are giving three cars and 25,000 pounds in cash to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Here is the money. This is not charity. This is politics.
You can go on. The East London Mosque hosted Awlaki at an event called ‘The End of Time: A New Beginning’ and advertised the talk with a poster depicting New York in flames. Under its deranged chair Dr Mohammed Naseem, Birmingham Central Mosque has promoted 9/11 deniers and anti-semites. There’s the Muslim Safety Forum, which recently elected Azad Ali: ‘a senior official of the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), which works, in its own words, to create an Islamic state under sharia law in Europe.’ After a Dispatches undercover reporter filmed him rhapsodising the sharia, Ali responded with a threat on the IFE’s radio station: ‘We’ve got a picture of you and a lot more than you thought we had. We’ve tracked you down to different places. And if people are gonna turn what I’ve just said into a threat, that’s their fault, innit?’ A prince among men.
Thing is, you would know nothing of this from the Guardian article, or the op-ed from Brian Whittaker, who makes a great deal of Quilliam’s government funding without finding space to mention the MCB’s own government funding or indeed, the lobbying and Whitehall tin-rattling of that and other fundamentalist organisations. Whittaker says that ‘Islamist ideology certainly needs to be challenged. The question is whether its nonviolent form should included in an anti-terrorism strategy’.
Translation: keep on working with fascists, as long as they only promote fascist ideology, and haven’t yet got round to putting it into practice.