Giles Fraser: smug, banal idiot
If asked to nominate the most annoying commentator presently to be heard and read in the British mainstream media, I think I’d go for Giles Fraser – the Guardian‘s ‘Loose Cannon’ and regular contributor to Radio 4’s ‘Thought For Today’ and ‘The Moral Maze.’ I am, of course, ignoring right-wing scum like Toby Young, Rod Liddle and Katie Hopkins: they’re simply beyond the pale and so don’t really annoy me. Liberals and leftists with whom I’m supposed to be on the same side, are the ones who infuriate me – and none more so than Fraser.
What I object to most about Fraser is not so much his sanctimony (after all he is a priest of some sort), nor yet his evident stupidity. It’s his smugness – his wheedling, self-righteous tone (to be heard on the radio and sensed from his Guardian columns), implying that he’s got something really profound to tell us, when all it is, is a load of half-baked relativist bollocks from someone whose political education stems from a brief passage through the SWP at university. He really is a caricature comes true – or rather two caricatures, both old favourites from Private Eye: the Rev JC Flannel and Dave Spart.
If Fraser has any consistency, its’s his admiration for Islam and – indeed – politicised Islam or Islamism. We’ve had cause to take him up on this before, when he endorsed Lady Warsi’s suggestion that criticism of Islam is the last acceptable form of racism, but his most recent swooning in the Graun over Islam is perhaps his most preposterous yet – comparing militant, politicised Islam (ie Islamism) with … the Levellers (a movement, you may recall, that was rather keen on democracy). He also doesn’t seem to ‘get’ the point that it is quite possible to encourage violence yourself, whilst remaining personally uninvolved in any acts of violence: for Fraser the concept of non-violent extremism is, by definition, not a matter of concern and he goes on to suggest that to to attack it “is simply an attack on thinking big, thinking differently and arguing passionately.”
Presumably, as a C of E priest (albeit a turbulent one), Fraser has no theological sympathy with Islam. What seems to excite him about it (and he’s not alone amongst Christians and other non-Islamic religious people here) is its militancy, assertiveness, and willingness to engage in politics. How he wishes the dull, inoffensive, middle class C of E would show just a little of Islam’s virility! He spells it out in his piece for the Graun, entitled “I believe in an authority greater than David Cameron’s. Am I an extremist?”:
“And then along comes Islam – and, thankfully, it disrupts this absurd game and refuses to play by the rules. Its practitioners want to talk about God, sex and politics rather than mortgages, school places and the latest Boden catalogue. And good for them.”
To be honest, when I read Fraser’s ridiculous piece I felt annoyance and frustration that such rubbish gets published in a ‘serious’ newspaper. But I couldn’t be arsed to write a reply. Life’s too short to respond to every example to half-baked nonsense spouted by prating prelates. So I’m happy to hand over at this point to the author of a new blog, Exit Pursued By Bear:
Giles Fraser’s recent defence of radical Islam from what he sees as David Cameron’s assault on it – has grown to become the focus of the piece. What’s interesting about this article is that both on its surface, and on every level underlying the surface, it’s nonsense confected with absurdity: a liberal Christian minister writing in defence of the most totalitarian and oppressive interpretations of a faith he doesn’t belong to. Nowhere does Fraser indicate that he finds the views obnoxious, but nevertheless wishes, Voltaire-style, to advocate their right to be expressed. Quite the opposite: he seems enraptured by the audacity of asserting, frankly, medieval ideas as – at the very least – worthy of consideration, and caricaturing those who hold qualms about this type of approach as not just opponents of free speech but the modern-day equivalents of those who would shoot the Levellers. The interesting question then becomes: what explains this monumental myopia on the part of somebody who is clearly well-educated and whose heart, broadly speaking, appears to be in the right place?
Read the full piece here
And has the wretched Fraser even considered where the exciting “refusal to play by the rules” by people who “want to talk about God, sex and politics” can lead in, say, Bangladesh?
Sarah AB has written this thoughtful and nuanced piece over at That Place. I have not been able to contact her to obtain her express permission to re-blog here, but I’m confident she’ll have no objection and I think it deserves to be read as widely as possible:
By Sarah AB
I agree with plenty of Hope not Hate’s blogs and campaigns, but have some reservations about their latest report on the UK’s counter-jihadist movement and a planned exhibition of Mohammed cartoons in London this September.
The first thing to note is the cover. This depicts red ink splattering from a pen nib, and thus conflates those who draw the Prophet Mohammed with those who react violently to such drawings. People will have different views about the various Mohammed cartoons but neither they nor their creators are responsible for others’ violent reactions.
This choice of image reflects the main thrust of the report – the claim that the organisers of the planned exhibition are concealing a sinister agenda behind the banner of free speech – a wish to provoke violence, even ‘civil war’ (p. 2).
It’s possible that some of the organisers and their allies may both want to provoke some kind of reaction and genuinely care about free speech. I don’t agree with the counter-jihadists’ analysis or strategy, but that doesn’t mean their concerns aren’t sincerely held. I can imagine some of those backing the exhibition might welcome a clearly illiberal and intolerant demonstration against it as that would help prove their point and attract more supporters. But that’s very different from actively wanting to spark violence and civil war.
However the report alleges that just this scenario was discussed earlier this year by Anne Marie Waters, Alan Lake and Tommy Robinson. Yet the only source for this claim is the decidedly dubious Knights Templar blog (p. 6 and p. 20) The views of Anne Marie Waters are certainly increasingly vehement, but I’d want to see more evidence to support such a serious claim.
Although I agree with much of the analysis of individual counter-jihadists contained in this report, there is a tendency to downplay the threat posed by Islamism and focus almost all criticism on the counter-jihadists. One example of this is the account given of the attempted murderous attacks against Pamela Geller (pp. 10-11). Another problem is the failure to consistently discriminate between those on different parts of the counter-jihadist spectrum. The report’s executive summary ends by asserting that the counter-jihadists are as dangerous as their Islamist foes and that they want to bring society to its knees (p. 2). This is a pretty sweeping claim. Some – including, as far as I know, Waters and Klendjian – are prepared to accept secularist Muslim allies, for example.
It is not always easy to tell which counter-jihadists are implicated in the report’s various claims – such as the assertion that some want to see genocide. There is no evidence that all counter-jihadists want to see any such thing, though they may be bigoted or blinkered. Yet on p. 25 it is claimed that ‘they’ all have as apocalyptic a view of the world as jihadists and are willing to use equally violent means to achieve them. This claim is distractingly hyperbolic (certainly with regards to some of the people featured in this report) and draws attention away from the serious problems with counter-jihadism, with the completely appalling views of Fjordman for example (p. 26), rather as the counter-jihadists themselves distractingly overegg the very real problem with Islamism and often fail to distinguish between liberal and extremist Muslims.
I completely agree that, assuming the exhibition goes ahead, the best response will be to ignore it, and not to engage in direct counter protest (p. 28). But I don’t agree that it would be wise or right to ‘change the narrative from free speech to incitement’ (p. 28) in order to get the exhibition banned. ‘Incitement’ really isn’t the right word in this context, whatever one thinks of the exhibition and the motives behind it. And to ban the exhibition would be just the step to play into the hands of any counter-jihadists who do want to stir things up as it will prove their case perfectly.
However, if Hope not Hate haven’t quite got their line and length right here, neither – although I do agree with some of his points – has Raheem Kassam writing (twice) in Breitbart. Hope not Hate is hardly ‘hard-left’, and this is a very misleading summary of the report:
Hope not Hate … has come out against free speech, mocking the counter-jihadist claim that Islamism “is a supremacist and expansionist ideology”, despite recent evidence at home, and abroad, through groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, and ISIS.
Nick Lowles very clearly (and accurately) states that the counter-jihadists think that Islam, not Islamism, is a supremacist and expansionist ideology (p. 3). In sharp contrast with UAF, Hope not Hate has helped draw attention to some Islamist groups and individuals – and come under attack from the usual suspects for doing so.
habibi adds: have a look at this from Hope not Hate’s key source:
In the context of the cartoon plot, however, ISIS and Al Qaeda are merely bystanders. The biggest beneficiaries would – unsurprisingly – be the group directly behind the proposed operation. And, while HopeNotHate are unwilling to use the Z-word, it is a simple fact that the common denominator in every single one of the plotters is that they either are themselves hardcore Likud extreme nationalists or are funded by ultra Likud Zionists.
The most telling thing about Emine Saner’s article is part of its title – “How the Pompey Lads Fell into the hands of ISIS.”
Perhaps the Pompey lads took a rational decision that ISIS broadly met their beliefs, and the caliphate was an ideal worth fighting for?
It is remarkable how readily good liberal journalists can now infantalise people from ethnic minorities in a way we would never see with others. During the conflict in Northern Ireland, did we ever talk of young Catholics in west Belfast ‘falling into the hands’ of the IRA? Or young unionists who joined loyalist paramilitaries in such terms?
Its the same with the woman and girls who have traveled to live in the Caliphate – they are always ‘groomed’ or ‘lured‘ . Despite every one of them being over the age of criminal responsibility, we are asked to pretend nobody ever takes a rational decision.
I wonder if the war in Syria, the emergence of the Islamic State and British Islamist support for it actually tells us more about the crisis of liberalism and our staunchest advocates of multi-culturalism, than it does about the state of British Islam. Whatever you want to say about British Muslims, they are certainly not as prone to deluding themselves as our liberal media….
Why can’t most of the left be as clear-cut and straightforward on the scandal of state-sponsored sectarian schools as the NSS?
Prime Minister ‘blinkered to ignore role faith schools play in segregating communities’
Statement from the National Secular Society
Despite criticising “segregated” education, Prime Minister David Cameron has defended the continuation of faith schools in a speech on counter extremism.
In a wide-ranging speech, delivered in Birmingham, Mr Cameron set out his thinking on how to confront extremism and Islamist ideology and rejected what he called the “grievance justification” for Islamist violence.
He talked about Britain as a “multi-racial, multi-faith democracy” and as a “beacon to the world”. He said no-one should be demonised but said there was a need to “confront, head on, the extreme ideology” behind Islamism.
He said that Britain needed to be bolder in asserting “liberal values”, which he called “our strongest weapon”.
The Prime Minister issued a strong challenge to “the cultish worldview” of extremists and the “conspiracy theories” that support it, and he said the UK should contrast the “bigotry, aggression and theocracy” of the Islamists with our own values.”
Mr Cameron indicated that funding would be made available for groups willing to lead reform and spread an “alternative narrative”. He also committed to do more to tackle extremism in prisons.
Turning his attention to the newly introduced “Prevent duty” for public sector bodies, Cameron said that it is “not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children” and accused some of its opponents of “paranoia in the extreme.”
However, despite warning that “the education that our young people receive” in schools in “divided communities” is “even more segregated than the neighbourhoods they live in”, David Cameron said the UK should not “dismantle faith schools.”
Instead, he said “it is right to look again more broadly at how we can move away from segregated schooling in our most divided communities.” The Prime Minister suggested that faith schools could share sites or facilities.
“It cannot be right that children can grow up and go to school and not come into contact with people of other backgrounds [and] faiths,” he said.
Research by Demos recently found that “some faith schools effectively exclude other ethnic groups” and that minority faith schools were particularly segregated.
NSS campaigns manager Stephen Evans said, “Much of this speech is very welcome – and echoes what secularists have been saying for a long time. But it is blinkered to ignore the role that faith schools play in creating the segregated communities that Mr Cameron rightly criticises. The potential of faith schools to exacerbate the separation of communities is obvious for all to see.
“Children from different backgrounds need to mix with each other on a daily basis if we are to break down the barriers. They will never truly understand and trust each other if their schools are encouraging an us-and-them mentality. Tinkering round the edges with occasional visits and shared resources is not good enough – in fact it can be counterproductive, reinforcing the feeling of being from different worlds.”
The Prime Minister also said action was needed on unregulated religious ‘schools’, an issue previously raised by the NSS.
On hate preachers and Islamist speakers invited onto university campuses, the Prime Minister said: “When David Irving goes to a university to deny the Holocaust university leaders rightly come out and condemn him. They don’t deny his right to speak but they do challenge what he says.”
In contrast, Cameron argued that university leaders “look the other way through a mixture of misguided liberalism and cultural sensitivity” when Islamist speakers attend university events.
He also issued a strong rebuke to the National Union of Students.
“When you choose to ally yourselves with an organisation like CAGE, which called Jihadi John a ‘beautiful young man’ and told people to ‘support the jihad’ in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, it brings “shame” to your organisation and “your noble history of campaigning for justice.”
The Prime Minister cited the review of sharia ‘courts’ among measured to crackdown on non-violent extremism, and promised a consultation on lifetime anonymity for victims of forced marriage, in a proposal welcomed by the National Secular Society.
He spent much of the speech dealing with non-violent extremism, and argued that “if you say ‘yes I condemn terror – but the Kuffar are inferior’… then you too are part of the problem.”
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “This all sounds very familiar, and we are glad that the Prime Minister is catching up with the NSS’s thinking and suggestions. All he has to do now is carry out his plans, which may be more difficult than he thinks. There is a lot of resistance not just from the Islamists but from the liberals who imagine that taking a stand against the Islamist threat is equivalent to attacking all Muslims. It is not and for all our sakes we must not be put off tackling the bad guys for fear of offending the good ones.”
The Government will publish its counter-extremism strategy in the autumn.
Interview with Marieme Helie Lucas
In 1984, she founded the international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) and served as its international coordinator for 18 years. WLUML linked women fighting for their rights in Muslim contexts, throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. WLUML focused on research and grassroots solidarity work aimed at reinforcing local struggles. In 2004, she founded the international Secularism Is A Women’s Issue (SIAWI) network, and serves at its international coordinator. She is currently based in India.
Earlier this year she spoke to the AWL’s paper, Solidarity, about the struggles of women, workers, and other democratic and progressive forces against the Muslim far-right in Algeria and elsewhere.
Solidarity: For many years, large parts of the global left have regarded political Islam as essentially progressive against the dominant (US) imperialism; what do you think about this analysis? What are its roots?
We can incriminate several factors. The left’s traditional focus on the state impeded its ability to decode in time the warning signs of supposedly religious non-state forces rising as powerful extreme-right political actors. Human rights organisations – sorry, comrades, for this unholy comparison but I must make it – also have trouble delinking from an exclusive focus on the state and considering these new players for what they really are. I situate this difficulty at the same level as that of re-identifying and re-defining classes today. One badly feels the need for innovative, intellectually fearless, communist thinkers and theorists to account for the many changes in the world in the last century.
Allow me a digression about the state. The question of “less state” or “more state” is at the heart of the dealings with the Muslim far-right in Europe. Interestingly, in France, the once-grassroots organisation Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS, Neither Whores Nor Submissives), led by women from Muslim migrant descent, was the first one to call on the state to fulfill its obligations vis a vis citizens. The suburbs of big cities had slowly been abandoned by French authorities (police patrols, which were stoned as soon as they set foot in it, did not dare enter these locations, but neither did the fire brigade, or emergency doctors, not to mention garbage collectors or postmen). As a result, these areas were governed by Muslim fundamentalist groups and organisations who did the social work the state was not doing any more; in the process, among other things, they imposed dress codes and behaviours on the girls. NPNS was set up in response to one of these odious crimes, in which a girl aged 17, whose behaviour was not considered “proper” enough, was burnt alive in the garbage dump of the building where she lived.
In Algeria, we witnessed a similar approach, with Muslim fundamentalist groups taking over and politicising social work: they slowly replaced the state when it abandoned areas to their fate – and, in the process, were imposing their rules, laws, and “justice”, terrorising the population, which subsequently also wished for the state to be back in their areas.
Not that the state was ever seen as any good – people loathe our successive governments – but fundamentalists’ rule was much worse. After the slaughtering of the population by non-state, far-right armed groups in the 1990s, this reaction increased: people despise President Bouteflika [Algerian president since 1999] (who, in order to stay in power, made all sorts of compromises with the religious far-right and traded with corrupt politicians), but they vote for him in order, they hope, to keep direct far-right theocratic rule at bay.
The terms “political Islam” or “Islamists” are misleading: both suggest religious movements, while they should in fact be characterised in political terms. The left (and far-left) in Europe did not take the trouble of going through a thorough analysis of the political nature of Muslim fundamentalist movements; it mostly saw them as popular movements (which indeed they are, and populist too, but that did not ring any bells, it seems) opposing… you name it: colonisation, capitalism, imperialism, undemocratic governments, etc. The European left only looked at what it thought (often mistakenly, for example when it presumes the Muslim right is anti-capitalist) fundamentalist movements stood against, never at what they wanted to promote. Yes, they stood against our undemocratic governments, but from a far-right perspective. In Algeria, since the nineties, we have been calling them “green-fascists” (green being here the colour of Islam) or “Islamo-fascists”.
Many historians in Europe dismiss us when we use the term “fascism”. However, their ideologies (if not their historical and economic circumstances) are scarily comparable: it is not the superior Aryan race, but the superior Islamic creed that is the pillar on which they base their superiority, a superiority they infer from a mythical past (the glorious past of Ancient Rome, the Golden Age of Islam, etc.), a superiority which grants them the right and duty to physically eliminate the untermensch (on the one hand: Jews, communists, Gypsies, gays, physically and/or mentally disabled, on the other: kafir, communists, Jews, gays, etc.). Nazis, fascists, and the Muslim far-right all want women in their place, “church/mosque, kitchen, and cradle”, and all of them are pro-capitalists: the Muslim right calls on the rich to performing the Islamic duty of zakkat (charity), which leaves untouched the power structure, and the “poor” in their place too, which is god’s will.
Overlooking the political nature of the armed Muslim far-right had terrible consequences for us, anti-fundamentalists from Muslim countries. What Cheikh Anta Diop, the famous Senegalese historian, used to call, in another context, “leftist laziness”, needs to be blamed and exposed.
If we agree that Muslim fundamentalism is a far-right movement, the question then becomes: can the left support far-right, fascist-type movements in the name of anti-imperialism? And an additional question is: is there still, in this day and age, only one imperialism (i.e., US imperialism)? Or are there emerging imperialisms, for example in oil-rich countries, which should now be taken into account? Is the promotion of the religious far-right, in various forms, one of the elements in the global strategy of these emerging powers?
A simplistic approach, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, supplemented the old dichotomy between the “main” enemy and the “secondary” enemy that so very few thinkers on the left and far-left have questioned in relation to Muslim fundamentalist movements. As women, we experienced the “main enemy” theory being been used against movements for women’s rights: it was never the right time to demand these rights; they should be postponed until after decolonisation; until after the liberation struggle; until after the reconstruction of the country; until we gain some political stability…
Let me pay tribute here to Daniel Bensaïd, one of the lone voices on the left with a better perspective on this issue. In La Republique Imaginaire (2005), he writes (my own translation from French): “The control of capital over bodies, its strong will to reveal their market value, does not at all reduce their control by religious law and the theological will to make them disappear…The poor dialectic of main and secondary contradictions, forever revolving, already played too many bad tricks. And the ‘secondary enemy’, too often underestimated, because the fight against the main enemy was claimed to be a priority, has sometimes been deadly”.
Bensaïd goes on to quote Erich Fried’s poem: “Totally caught into my struggle against the main enemy / I was shot by my secondary enemy / Not from the back, treacherously, as his main enemies claim / But directly, from the position it has long been occupying / And in keeping with his declared intentions that I did not bother about, thinking they were insignificant”.
So-called “political Islam” is treated by the left in a way which is very different from its treatment of any other popular far-right movement working under the guise of religion. In fact, I should say that “Islam” is treated differently from any other religion. Jewish fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism, even in oppressed groups, would not be met with such patronising benignity; they would be analysed, in terms of class for instance, and of ideology, of political program. Nothing of the sort is even attempted for supposedly Muslim groups: no research is done on those who plant bombs and organise attacks in Europe or North America, for instance – it is assumed that they are lumpen, while the evidence is that they are from lower-middle-class and educated backgrounds, mostly middle-range engineers or technicians. “Leftist laziness” again…
Imagine for one second what would be the reaction of the left if even working-class or lower-middle-class Jews in France had been attacking Muslim schools and killing pupils, or the customers of “Arab” groceries; how come that when it is “Muslims” doing it to “Jews”, the left starts looking for good reasons they may have had for doing so? I cannot help feeling there is hidden racism at work here, against “Muslims” who are seen as such inferior people that barbaric behaviour is naturally to be expected from them.
To a situation of oppression there is no “automatic” response: there are several possible responses: one from the far-right, but – also ! – one from the left, a revolutionary one. Accepting – even implicitly – the idea that joining fascist groups is the only possible response to a situation of oppression, or to racism, exclusion, and economic hardship, etc., seems like an incredible twist of fate coming from the left!
Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Rahman and a supporter
By Martin Thomas (at Workers Liberty)
Pretty much all the left press other than Solidarity [Workers Liberty’s paper] has denounced the election court decision against Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets in East London, and most of the left has backed Rabina Khan, Rahman’s ally, for the new mayoral election on 11 June.
Does the left press reckon that Rahman didn’t do what the court disqualified him for doing? Or that he did do it, but it was all right? It’s hard to tell. I don’t know if the writers in the left press even read the judgement.
If they did read it, then probably, like me, they were annoyed by the style of the judge, Richard Mawrey – pompous, self-satisfied, arrogant. The judgement is full of show-off side comments. The Labour Party leadership has suspended left-winger Christine Shawcroft on the basis of one side comment in the judgement suggesting (wrongly, and irrelevantly to the case before Mawrey) that Shawcroft supported Rahman in the polls against Labour.
But probably most judges are pompous, self-satisfied, and arrogant. It goes with their social position. Yet often they can sum up evidence competently. Often they know that if they don’t do it competently, they will be rebuked when the case is taken to appeal, as Rahman, a lawyer himself, is taking his case.
In a previous case, Mawrey found in favour of George Galloway’s Respect group and against the Labour Party. Galloway’s speech applauding that judgement is published in full on the Socialist Worker website. Mawrey’s findings cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Mawrey found that charges of intimidation at polling stations, payment of canvassers, and impersonation of voters were not proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. But other charges were. Rahman had made false allegations against his opponent (the offence for which Labour right-winger Phil Woolas had his election ruled invalid in 2010). Rahman was guilty of “bribery of the electorate” via redistribution of grants to Bangladeshi community groups which would back him. And he had organised “undue spiritual influence”.
The left press has dismissed the last charge as anti-Muslim prejudice. But the judgement is explicit that there is nothing unlawful about imams, in their capacity as citizens, publicly backing Rahman. Unlawful is saying or suggesting that it is a religious duty to vote one way, or a damnable sin to vote the other way – the sort of thing which Catholic priests in Italy did, to boost the Christian Democrat vote after 1946 and until the decay of religion made it counterproductive.
The British law against “undue spiritual influence” dates from 1883. Its previous uses were in Ireland when still under British rule. The law was not, as some in the left press have suggested, a means to avoid the election of Catholic-backed nationalists. The British government had made its peace with the Irish Catholic church long before that. The conciliation is usually dated from the Maynooth Grant of 1845. The charges brought under the law were of priests declaring it a religious duty to vote against nationalists less in favour with the Church, such as the Parnellites (1890-1900) or Healy’s All for Ireland League (1910).
If Rahman’s clerical allies did something like the priests did in Ireland back then, or in Italy in the 1950s, then there is good reason to find the election invalid. If there is strong counter-evidence, on that charge or the others, then Rahman and his allies should publish it.
We know that Rahman has a soft-left Labour background, that Labour expelled him in a rigged-up summary execution, that he is close to the hierarchy of the East London Mosque. We know that the East London Mosque is one of the biggest in the country, built with large Saudi aid, and linked to the Islamic Forum of Europe and the Young Muslim Organisation, which are in turn linked to Bangladesh’s Islamist party, Jamaat e-Islami.
Those facts are documented in many books such as Innes Bowen’s Islam in Britain, reviewed by Matt Cooper in Solidarity 233.
It is also a fact that more secular-minded Muslims and Bangladeshis in the area find the religio-political power of the ELM/ IFE/ YMO complex overbearing.
Those background facts mean that Mawrey’s findings cannot be dismissed out of hand. To dismiss them out of hand is to let down the more secular-minded Muslims and Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets.
Re-blogged from Tendance Coatesy (very slightly edited):
Loved by all Progressive Humanity: hacked to Death by Islamists.
Ananta Bijoy Das: Yet another Bangladeshi blogger hacked to death.
(CNN)Attacks on bloggers critical of Islam have taken on a disturbing regularity in Bangladesh, with yet another writer hacked to death Tuesday.
Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, was killed Tuesday morning as he left his home on his way to work at a bank, police in the northeastern Bangladeshi city of Sylhet said.
Four masked men attacked him, hacking him to death with cleavers and machetes, said Sylhet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Kamrul Ahsan.
The men then ran away. Because of the time of the morning when the attack happened, there were few witnesses. But police say they are following up on interviewing the few people who saw the incident.
“It’s one after another after another,” said Imran Sarker, who heads the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh. “It’s the same scenario again and again. It’s very troubling.”
Das’ death was at least the third this year of someone who was killed for online posts critical of Islam. In each case, the attacks were carried out publicly on city streets.
In March, Washiqur Rahman, 27, was hacked to death by two men with knives and meat cleavers just outside his house as he headed to work at a travel agency in the capital, Dhaka.
The three victims are hardly the only ones who have paid a steep price for their views.
In the last two years, several bloggers have died, either murdered or under mysterious circumstances.
Das was an atheist who contributed to Mukto Mona (“Free Thinkers”), the blog that Roy founded.
Mukto Mona contains sections titled “Science” and “Rationalism,” and most of the articles hold science up to religion as a litmus test, which it invariably fails.
While Das was critical of fundamentalism and the attacks on secular thinkers, he was mostly concerned with championing science, a fellow blogger said.
He was the editor of a local science magazine, Jukti (“Reason”), and wrote several books, including one work on Charles Darwin.
In 2006, the blog awarded Das its Rationalist Award for his “deep and courageous interest in spreading secular & humanist ideals and messages in a place which is not only remote, but doesn’t have even a handful of rationalists.”
“He was a voice of social resistance; he was an activist,” said Sarker. “And now, he too has been silenced.”
Taking to the streets
Soon after Das’ death, his Facebook wall was flooded with messages of shock and condolence. And hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Sylhet demanding that the government bring his killers to justice.
“We’ve heard from Ananta’s friends that some people threatened to kill him as he was critical of religion,” Das’ brother-in-law Somor Bijoy Shee Shekhor said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We are ashamed, brother Bijoy,” someone posted on Das’ Facebook page.
“Is a human life worth so little? Do we not have the right to live without fear?” wrote another.
The beloved comrade will be remembered by all humanity.
Organized crime boss Joseph Anthony Colombo Sr. in 1971.
By Sean Matgamna (2006; very minor changes and additions made by JD, April 2015):
The story of Joe Columbo, the Mafia boss who briefly turned ethnic politician, is one of the most frightening stories I’ve come across. An instructive story, too. It sheds some light on [certain recent events in Tower Hamlets ]
Perhaps significantly, the year is 1970. In the USA there is a huge anti-Vietnam-war movement. The USA has also experienced the black civil rights movement and the black ghetto uprisings. It is a highly political period in American history.
When the gangster Joe Columbo, boss of one of the Mafia “Families” feels the pursuing FBI breathing down his neck, he reacts “politically”. He starts the “Italian-American Civil Rights League” (IACRL) to campaign against the FBl’s “harassment” of Italian-Americans!
IACRL’s message is simple and clear cut, the lie big and direct. The Mafia does not exist. There is no such thing as the Mafia. There never was. The Mafia is a myth invented by a racist police force less concerned with justice or with fighting real criminals than with self-publicity. The FBI has invented the Mafia and thus stigmatised and smeared the entire Italian-American community.
The Mafia myth is a burden and an affliction for every Italian-American, and it is time to fight back, says the mafioso Joe Columbo. The Italian-American Civil Rights League exists with Joe Columbo as its leading personality, to fight for justice, truth and the Italian-American way. It slots easily into the American system of ethnic politics, and it mushrooms into a powerful movement able to get tens of thousands to demonstrate on the streets.
They boldly picket the FBI, demanding that it should stop victimising and persecuting good Italian-Americans like Joe Columbo. They demand such things as more public recognition that it was an Italian who first discovered America for Europe, Christopher Columbus. The image of the Italian-American has to be changed.
Politicians, judges, entertainers, flock to get a piece of Columbo’s action. At $10 per member, the Italian American Civil Rights League becomes a nice little earner for Joe Columbo and his Mafia friends.
The IACRL is a political force for about a year, and then one day in 1971, just as Joe Columbo is starting to speak to a big audience of thousands of demonstrating Italian-Americans, to tell them once again that the mafia does not exist, a mafia guman shoots him in the head, blowing part of his brain away. The gunman is immediately killed by Columbo’s Mafioso bodyguards.
You see, the other Mafiosi hadn’t had Joe Columbo’s faith in the power of the big bold lie to protect them. Columbo had broken their traditional modus operandi of anonymous, background manipulation, and as little publicity as possible. They thought Columbo’s political operation would only get the FBI to intensify the heat on them. So they had him shot.
They didn’t quite kill Joe Columbo outright: he survived for seven years, incapacitated. What they did kill was the Italian American Civil Rights League. One irony of this strange all-American tale is that what Columbo said — the mafia is a myth — was what FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover had said for decades, until the late 50s. Hoover hadn’t wanted to admit that there were criminals and a criminal network too big for the FBI to bring down.
Joe Columbo would be the basis of one of the characters in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Part 3 (1990) He had, it seems, paid a visit to the Producer of the first of the 3 Godfather films,”The Godfather”, to threaten him out of too-close an identification of the film’s charaacters with their Italian background.
The story of Joe Columbo and his Italian-American Civil Rights League illustrates the ease with which politics can be faked and vast numbers of people fooled and led by their noses — the power of pseudo-political demagogy to drum up unreasoning movements around real grievances.
Marx said truly that ideas become a material force when they grip the masses. A big problem for socialists and people concerned to promote rational politics in general is that all sorts of ideas can grip the masses.
There are no political or ideological vacuums: it has to be either the ideas of the ruling class, even if in some “wild” varient like Columbo’s, or the ideas of Marxism, that prevail.
More than that: the emotion of resentment and rebellion can be hooked to many different ideas about the world in general — about what’s wrong with it and what needs to be done about that.
Democratic political processes are routinely corrupted and perverted not only by ruling-class political machines, but also by radical and pseudo-radical demagogues. Isn’t that what fascism — with its pretend anti-capitalism and its vicious scapegoating of Jews, black people, Muslims (in Britain now) and others — is all about: focusing the resentment of poor and ignorant people on nationalist and racist and cultural myths, and in binding them to the status quo by way of political mysticism and irrational leader cults?
Isn’t that what Stalinism was, with its reduction of the Marxist critique of bourgeois society to mere negativism, to “absolute anti-capitalism”, and its substitution for the democratic socialist Marxist alternative to the capitalism it criticised of advocacy for the totalitarian Russian Stalinist system?
Isn’t that what we see now in the bizarre combination by the SWP [and others on the] kitsch left with a supposedly “Marxist” critique of bourgeois society, combined with — to put it at it mildest — softness towards Islamist clerical-fascism?
One thing the Joe Columbo episode shows is the way that the expansion of democracy has separated the techniques of mass agitation and organisation from any necessary connection with serious politics or sincerely held ideas.
This deadly decadence of politics is nowhere more plain than in America, where politics is to a serious extent a branch of show business. In the years of Tony Blair’s “Presidential” premiership, Britain has taken giant strides in the wake of the USA.
When he was accused back in 1900 of exaggerating the power of socialist ideas to shape events, Lenin replied that the difference between the then Catholic trade unions of Italy and the class-conscious trade union movement of Germany was that in Italy the workers’ instinctive drive to combine together and fight for better wages and conditions had been corrupted and taken over by priests, who, naturally, brought to that workers movement, not the consciousness of socialists, but “the consciousness of priests”.
One and the same instinctive drive could produce either a fighting socialist working class movement, given ‘the consciousness of Marxists’, or, given the consciousness of priests, a sectarian, class-colaborationist working class based movement. The decisive thing is the battle to make ‘the consciousness of Marxists’ central to the labour movement and to movements of those —like many of the Italian-Americans who rallied to Columbo’s fake League — who feel themselves to be oppressed.
Examples of Lenin’s principle are very numerous. One is the emergence of the “revolutionary” Irish Republican movement,the Provisional IRA, which is now sinking into its natural place as part of the spectrum of Irish bourgeois nationalist politics.
If there: had been a sizeable Marxist movement in Ireland in the late 60s, when the Provisional IRA began to emerge, the consciousness of traditional physical-force Republicans, which permeated the Northern Irish Catholic community, kept alive in legend, reminiscences, songs and popular verse, would not have dominated and shaped the Catholic revolt; and that revolt would not have entered the blind alley of the Provo-war on the Northern Irish protestants and on Britain.
The existence and activity of a socialist group can make all the difference. The creation, education in authentic Marxism, and maintenance of such a force is the decisive immediate, practical question for serious socialists.
“Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam.
“These developments have shaped not just Muslim self-perception but that of most social groups. Many within white working-class communities are often as disengaged as their Muslim peers, and similarly see their problems not in political terms but through the lens of cultural and ethnic identity. Hence the growing hostility to immigration and diversity and, for some, the seeming attraction of far-right groups.
“Racist populism and radical Islamism are both, in their different ways, expressions of social disengagement in an era of identity politics. There is something distinctive about Islamist identity. Islam is a global religion, allowing Islamists to create an identity that is intensely parochial and seemingly universal, linking Muslims to struggles across the world, from Afghanistan to Palestine, and providing the illusion of being part of a global movement.
“In an age in which traditional anti-imperialist movements have faded and belief in alternatives to capitalism dissolved, radical Islam provides the illusion of a struggle against an immoral present and for a utopian future”.
Kenan Malik is always worth taking notice of. He was obviously too bright to stay with those idiots calling themselves the ‘Institute of Ideas’, and now seems to have broken with them and become a free-lance intellectual of considerable force. His article on Islamism in today’s Observer is outstanding, and if you haven’t already done so, you should read it now.
Reblogged from Tendance Coatesy:
Avijit Roy, who has been killed in an attack in Dhaka at the age of 42, was a Bangladeshi-American blogger, published author, and prominent defender of the free-thought movement in Bangladesh.
Mr Roy rose to prominence though his prolific writing on his self-founded site, Mukto-Mona – an internet gathering of mostly South Asia free-thinkers, rationalists, sceptics and humanists founded in 2000.
He was a passionate atheist and an adherent of metaphysical naturalism – the school of thought that rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.
He was the author of numerous books, and had many articles published in magazines and journals.
In a conservative country like Bangladesh, his subject matter was often contentious, covering sensitive issues such as homosexuality – which he argued was inherent in nature – religious unbelief and cosmology.
Mr Roy’s followers argue that many of his secular ideas are in the tradition of the great Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore, who died in 1941 and is often referred to as “Bengal’s Shakespeare”.
Some of the last books Mr Roy wrote, Obisshahser Dorshon (The Philosophy of Disbelief) and Biswasher Virus (The Virus of Faith), were critically well received around the world.
In the Virus of Faith he argues that “faith-based terrorism will wreak havoc on society in epidemic proportions”.
In one of his last published articles in the Free Inquiry magazine, Mr Roy wrote: “To me, religious extremism is like a highly contagious virus. My own recent experiences in this regard verify the horrific reality that such religious extremism is a virus of faith.”
He said in the article that a book he published last year “hit the cranial nerve of Islamic fundamentalists” and led to him being targeted by militant Islamists and terrorists.
It also led, he said, to a man openly issuing death threats against him on Facebook.
“Avijit Roy lives in America and so it is not possible to kill him right now,” Mr Roy quoted one threat against him as saying, “but he will be murdered when he gets back.”
The Independent reports,
Avijit Roy and his wife were returning from a book fair at Dhaka University on Thursday evening when they were attacked.
Witnesses told local media their bicycle rickshaw was stopped by two men who dragged them on to the pavement but police chief Sirajul Islam said the couple were ambushed as they walked towards a roadside tea stall.
Both accounts said at least two men with machetes started hacking at the couple as they lay on the ground.
The attackers then ran away, disappearing into crowds.
Mr Roy, believed to be in his 40s, was pronounced dead during emergency surgery at the Dhaka Medical College hospital and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, lost a finger and is being treated for serious injuries.
Police found her severed finger alongside two machetes and a bag possibly belonging to the attackers at the scene
In Commemoration: Avijit Roy.
News From Bangladesh:
BD News 24.
Avijit’s killing stirs world media Mohammad Abu Bakar Siddique
The brutal killing of writer, blogger Avijit Roy in hand of machete-wielding assailants has created a shockwave in the global media.
The leading news organisations from around the world including BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, The New York Times, NDTV etc condemned the barbarous killing, bringing out detail of the attack.
BBC placed the news on the attack that left the Bangladesh-born US citizen dead and his wife also a blogger Rafida Ahmed Bonna, critically injured, as its lead on the following day, with the headline suggesting “US-Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death.”
The contributions of Avijit, a naturalised US citizen, particularly his activism for scientific knowledge and secularism through online and publications, his receiving threats from militants groups, the attack by the widespread protest against the killing and for arrest of the attackers, and the country’s context were mentioned in the BBC’s report.
The killing of the son of the country’s one of the most prominent professors Ajay Roy was covered Reuters, as “American blogger killed in Bangladesh machete attack,” the New York Times reported “Avijit Roy, Bangladeshi-American Writer, Is Killed by Machete-Wielding Assailants,” besides several other versions with updates.
Roy came to Dhaka for publication of his new books in the book fair around mid-February with his wife, and on the evening they fell under the attack in the TSC area in Dhaka University on the way back from the fair.
Avijit wrote a number of books on mainly philosophy, rationalism and science, in line with his activism, also in online, for secularism and freedom of expression, for which he had been receiving death threats since long, including the recent one when social media fanatics openly declared to kill him on coming home, family told media.
The UK-based the Guardian reported “American atheist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh” mentioning the previously happened similar attacks on the free thinkers.
“American-Bangladeshi atheist blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death by suspected Islamist extremists,” wrote the UK based the Independent.
The Telegraph wrote: “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh,” while The Times headlined “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh”
CNN titled “Prominent Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy killed” where it detailed with the facts related to the killing and the shocks emerged from it.
It reported on the very attack in two more stories with title “American writer hacked to death in Bangladesh spoke out against extremists”, and “Blogger’s brutal death for speaking his mind.”
From the murder to the UN condemnation, the media all around the world are coming up with the follow ups as well.
The attack was widely covered in the media of neighboring India and Pakistan.
India’s NDTV and Pakistan’s Dawn among the prominent news media covered the story, his contributions, threats were mentioned.
These news media are also following the developments in Bangladesh and the world, in response to the attack, protest and condemnation that began in Dhaka.
Next page »