Clive on Paris: “Just some thoughts. No conclusions.”

November 17, 2015 at 8:46 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, Cities, Clive Bradley, democracy, Europe, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, iraq war, islamism, kurdistan, Middle East, misogyny, murder, secularism, solidarity, Syria, terror, turkey)

By Clive Bradley (via Facebook):

For what they’re worth, my feelings about Paris, etc. Friday was personally upsetting because Paris is a city I know quite well: I’ve never been to the Bataclan, but for sure I’ve walked past it. I have friends in Paris. Elia and I have been to Paris for our anniversary in the past. It brings it home to me in a way which – to be honest – other recent atrocities don’t.

The reason for posting now, though, is that I’m frustrated by some of what I’m seeing in social media and in the news about the politics of this. It’s horrific to see the racist, nationalistic, xenophobic nonsense spouted in some quarters. It seems to me the single most important thing we have to do to fight ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh is fight for the rights of migrants and refugees, both because what Daesh want is to stir up Islamophobia and other kinds of hate – that’s the aim of the attacks – and because genuine democracy, equality and freedom are the real weapons in any meaningful struggle against terrorism and religious fascism.

It’s true, of course, as some of my friends have pointed out, that a big factor in explaining the rise of Daesh is Western intervention in the Middle East. Indeed, French colonialism played a particularly appalling role in the Middle East and Arab world more generally (Algeria). If you had to pick a moment when the fuse was lit which led to the current crisis, I think it might have been when the French kicked Faisal out of Damascus just after World War One (the British gave him Iraq as a consolation), thus preventing the independent state the Arabs had been promised in the war against the Turks. (This is one reason among many I won’t update my status with a French flag – or indeed any national flag).

But what events like Paris, and Beirut, and Baghdad (many times) and everything that’s been happening in Syria (and Libya), and so on – and on – show is that Daesh nevertheless has to be fought. Their chilling statement about the Paris attacks – Paris as a den of perversion, and so forth – brings home that I, for instance, am a target of their hate. Everything I stand for and everything I am. How, then, to fight them?

Sadly, they won’t go away just because we don’t retaliate by bombing them. The single greatest victory against them in recent weeks was the retaking of Sinjar by the Kurds (

To fight Daesh/IS, we should give the Kurds, the main military force opposing them on the ground with an agenda of democracy and human rights (ie not the murderous Assad regime), all the support we can.

But the uncomfortable fact is that the Kurds won this battle with US military air support. So maybe not all Western intervention is bad; or at least, if the Kurds want it and need it, shouldn’t we do what they want? And while Western intervention has mainly had disastrous consequences – the Iraq war being only the most obvious example – Western non-intervention in Syria has been pretty disastrous, too. We need to face the fact that this stuff is difficult. I’m not, here, advocating anything, just pointing out the complexity.

And there’s another question to do with Western ‘involvement’ which is harder to tackle. Daesh is the product of Western involvement up to a point; but it is much more directly the product of Saudi Arabia. (…/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia…). A big thing the West could do to fight Daesh is break links with Saudi Arabia – but of course this they don’t want to do for obvious reasons, namely oil. The very least they could do is not promote Saudi Arabia as ‘moderate’ or champions of human rights. But in fact, something much more profound in the way the Western world works needs to change (and for sure this will have consequences in my own little bit of it).

Another thing we could do is challenge ‘our’ NATO ally, Turkey, who have been consistently more concerned to subvert the Kurds than to fight Daesh, and whose repression of the Kurds, which of course has long historical roots, is now deepening again. (I posted this the other day:…).
Just some thoughts. No conclusions. Might try to go back to sleep.

Kurds take Sinjar from the Islamic State group

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A State Jew? – David A. Bell on Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum

November 3, 2015 at 4:05 pm (socialism, secularism, anti-semitism, Democrats, Andrew Coates, history, France, republicanism, internationalism, humanism, zionism, reblogged)

By Andrew Coates (at Tendance Coatesy),_1932,_2.jpg

Blum: a Generous Humanist Socialist, not a “State Jew”.

A State Jew. David A. Bell. Review of Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.

London Review of Books.

Thanks Jim D.

Bell begins  his review with this, which should give some pause for reflection,

The newspaper Action française habitually referred to Léon Blum, France’s Socialist leader, as the ‘warlike Hebrew’ and the ‘circumcised Narbonnais’ (he represented a constituency in Narbonne). On 13 February 1936, Blum was being driven away from the National Assembly when he encountered a group of ultra-right-wing militants who had gathered at the intersection of the rue de l’Université and the boulevard Saint-Germain for the funeral procession of Jacques Bainville, one of the founders of Action française, a reactionary political movement as well as a newspaper. Glimpsing Blum through the car windows, the militants began shouting: ‘Kill Blum!’, ‘Shoot Blum!’ They forced his car to stop and began rocking it back and forth. Blum’s friend Germaine Monnet, sitting with him in the back, tried to shield him with her body. Her husband, Georges, who had been driving, ran to look for police. But one of the militants managed to tear a fender off the car, used it to smash the rear window, and then beat Blum repeatedly over the head. Only the arrival of two policemen saved his life. They dragged him to a nearby building, where the concierge gave him first aid. The next day pictures of Blum, his head heavily bandaged, appeared in newspapers around the world.

We halt there.

To internationalist socialists Blum is above all known not for his Jewish identity – despite the book – but for his socialist humanist republicanism.

Blum defended French democratic republicanism, from the Dreyfus affair onwards. He was profoundly affected by the “synthesis” of socialism, including the Marxist view of class struggle, with democratic republicanism, that marked the life and work of one of our greatest martyrs, Jean Jaurès, assassinated in 1914 by a sympathiser of the far-right,  for his opposition to the outbreak of the Great War. Blum did not, however, play a part in the anti-War left.

That is the context in which we would take the shouts of “kill Blum”.  Political, not ethnic.

Blum was a leading figure amongst the minority of the French Socialists, the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière), who opposed what became in the 1920s the French Communist Party, the PCF. He was one of those who opposed affiliating the party to the Third International at the Congrès de Tours (SFIO).

Speech at the Socialist Party Congress at Tours, 27 December 1920 (best known under its French title, Pour La Veille Maison).

This is the crucial objection from the ‘reformist’ (but at this point, still Marxist) democratic socialists to the Third International – the Leninist one.

You are right to declare that the whole party press, central or local, should be in the hands of pure communists and pure communist doctrine. You are certainly right to submit the works published by the Party to a kind of censorship. All that is logical. You want an entirely homogeneous party, a party in which there is no longer free thought, no longer different tendencies: you are therefore right to act as you have done. This results – I am going to prove it to you – from your revolutionary conception itself. But you will understand that envisioning that situation, considering it, making the comparison of what will be tomorrow with what was yesterday, we all had the same reaction of fright, of recoil, and that we said: is that the Party that we have known? No! The party that we knew was the appeal to all workers, while the one they want to found is the creation of little disciplined vanguards, homogeneous, subjected to a strict structure of command – their numbers scarcely matter, you will find that in the theses – but all kept under control, and ready for prompt and decisive action. Well, in that respect as in the others, we remain of the Party as it was yesterday, and we do not accept the new party that they want to make.

To show how radical Blum was at this point, this is how he defended the dictatorship of the proletariat,

Dictatorship exercised by the Party, yes, but by a Party organized like ours, and not like yours. Dictatorship exercised by a Party based on the popular will and popular liberty, on the will of the masses, in sum, an impersonal dictatorship of the proletariat. But not a dictatorship exercised by a centralized party, where all authority rises from one level to the next and ends up by being concentrated in the hands of a secret Committee. … Just as the dictatorship should be impersonal, it should be, we hold, temporary, provisional. … But if, on the contrary, one sees the conquest of power as a goal, if one imagines (in opposition to the whole Marxist conception of history) that it is the only method for preparing that transformation, that neither capitalist evolution nor our own work of propaganda could have any effect, if as a result too wide a gap and an almost infinite period of time must be inserted between taking power as the precondition, and revolutionary transformation as the goal, then we cease to be in agreement.

Bear this in mind: these words are memorised almost by heart by many on the left.

The minority, for which Blum spoke, opposed to the Third International, retained the name, French Section of the Workers’ International, was significant: it referred to a claim to continue the traditions of the Second International, of Marxist, if moderate and reformist,  inspiration.

Blum offered social reform on this foundation. He led, during the Front Populaire (1936 -38)  a government (as President du conseil) of socialists and radical-socialists, backed by communists from the ‘outside’ and a vast movement of factory occupations and protests,  to implement some of them, on paid holidays, bargaining rights limiting the working week. He had great limitations – one that cannot be ignored is that his government did not give women the right to vote – and his role in not effectively helping the Spanish Republic remains a matter of controversy to this day. Indeed the absence of feminism – as well as a rigorous anti-colonialism (the FP “dissolved” the North African, l’Étoile nord-africaine of Messali Hadj –  in the Front Populaire, is something which should cause a great deal of critical investigation.

The review in the LRB is about a book, and this is what he has to say specifically about it:

Birnbaum, a well-known historian and sociologist of French Jewry, has written a short biography that focuses on Blum’s identity as a Jew, as the series requires. It cannot substitute for the more substantial studies by Joel Colton, Ilan Greilsammer and Serge Berstein, but it’s lively, witty and draws effectively on Blum’s massive and eloquent correspondence. Arthur Goldhammer has, as usual, produced a lucid, engaging English text. Birnbaum seems to have written the book in some haste: he repeats facts and quotations, and makes a few historical slips – France was not a ‘largely peasant nation’ in 1936; Hitler did not annex the Sudetenland in the summer of 1938, before the Munich Agreement. The chapters proceed thematically, highlighting Blum the writer, Blum the socialist, Blum the lawyer, Blum the Zionist and so forth, which produces occasional confusion as Birnbaum leaps backwards and forwards in time. But overall, the book offers a knowledgeable and attractive portrait. If there is a serious criticism to be levelled at it, it doesn’t concern the portrait itself, so much as the way Birnbaum draws on it to make a broader argument about French Jewish identity.

But there are issues of much wider importance in that broader argument.

Bell makes two points about his legacy as described in Birnbaum’s book,

As Birnbaum himself repeatedly notes, despite his ‘quintessential’ Frenchness, Blum always expressed pride in his Jewish heritage, often in the highly racialised language of the day. ‘My Semite blood,’ he wrote as a young man, ‘has been preserved in its pure state. Honour me by acknowledging that it flows unmixed in my veins and that I am the untainted descendant of an unpolluted race.’ While he could speak disparagingly of Jewish ritual, he recognised and respected a Jewish ethical tradition. In 1899, in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair, he insisted that ‘the Jew’s religion is justice. His Messiah is nothing other than a symbol of Eternal Justice.’ He went on to identify ‘the spirit of socialism’ with ‘the ancient spirit of the race’ and to comment: ‘It was not a lapse on the part of Providence that Marx and Lassalle were Jews.’ Blum, in short, thought the Jews could change the French Republic for the better by drawing on their own traditions to push it towards socialism.

This attempt to bring up Blum’s references to his Jewish background, even in terms more democratic than Disraeli’s novels, voiced above all by the character Sidonia, owes more to pre-1930s racial romanticism to racialism.

Does this prove Bell’s point that, “The republican model allows strikingly little space for what immigrant communities can contribute to a nation. Visitors to France can see at a glance just how much immigrants have brought to its music, literature, sport and even cuisine. But the republican model treats difference primarily as a threat to be exorcised in the name of an unbending, anachronistic ideal of civic equality. Even in the heyday of the Third Republic, many committed republicans recognised that different ethnic and religious groups could strengthen the republic.”

Yes it does: secularism is freedom for difference, not the imposition of homogeneity.

Blum could be rightly proud of his cultural heritage,as indeed in a ‘globalised’ world of migration many other people from different backgrounds should be, and are, within the democratic framework of secular equality.

There is little doubt that the spirit of nit-picking secularism can be as unable to deal with these backgrounds, as say, state multiculturalism, which treats ‘diversity’ as if this were a value in itself. If the first tends to be hyper-sensitive to, say, reactionary  Islamic dress codes, the second abandons the issue entirely.

But there are far deeper problems than superficial insistence on  Laïcité

The first is ‘Sovereigntist’ efforts to claim secularist universalism for French particularism. This is the rule amongst the supporters of the far-right Front National, historians and writers like Éric Zemmour bemoaning France’s ‘decline’ , though we should underline, not the novelist Houellebecq, who expresses disdain for things, not hate). There are those who call for all Muslims to be expelled from Europe, those  to those milder nationalists of right and left who commemorate “le pays et les morts” (and not anybody else – a return to the culturalist (not to say, racial)  themes of Action française to Maurice Barrès and to Charles Maurras. This is indeed “communalism”.

It is the major threat to French republicanism.

There is also the issue of anti-Semitism in France, woven into another kind of ‘communitarianism’. Alain Soral, his close friend the comedian Dieudonné, popular amongst young people from the banlieue and the more refined inheritors of the Marrausian tradition, the partisans of the  Indigènes de la République, (including those associated in the English speaking world) rant at thephilosémitisme d’Etat” in France.

It takes all the effort of refined ‘discursive analysis’ from academics to ignore that at its heart this is a current  which indulges in Jew baiting. The mind-set of these people was classically described by Sartre, “« Si le juif n’existait pas, l’antisémite l’inventerait.» (Réflexions sur la question juive 1946). They indeed spent an enormous amount of time ‘inventing’ the presence of Jews in politics, and giving them influence ‘behind the scenes’.

In words which might have been designed to pander to the world-view of the  Indigènes, Bell cites Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist,

Blum ‘the first of a new type of state Jew interested in giving greater weight to democratic sentiment within the framework of a socialist project.’ One wonders, though, what Birnbaum might say about a French Muslim politician today justifying an ideological position by reference to Muslim tradition and ethics (or sharia law). Would he have quite so favourable an  opinion? Or might he see the move as a ‘communitarian’ threat to ‘the unifying logic of the nation’ and to ‘French exceptionalism’? It is well past time to recognise that a nation can have many different unifying logics, and that a political model forged under the Third Republic fits the France of the Fifth Republic very badly.

Blum celebrated his Jewish heritage. It is hardly a secret. Nor is his post-war Zionism, or support for Israel, a stand shared in the immediate aftermath of the conflict by the USSR.

But did he become a  man of the  ‘state’ because he was a ‘Jew’, and does this aspect of his person matter politically – that is in terms of the state?

For us Léon Blum is only one of the sources of a generous humanist secularism, but a significant one. That he did not tackle issues like feminism, anti-colonialism, and a host of other issues, goes without saying. But it would be a great shame if his legacy was reduced to being a “State Jew”.

And it could equally be said that republican secularism has many strands, that it is being transformed by the views of secularists from North Africa, the threat of the Islamist genociders of Deash, the mounting oppression in Erdogan’s Turkey, backed by his Islamist AK party, and – no doubt – Israel’s evident failings. Every one of these cases shows that religious law is not any part of a “tradition” that socialists – believers in equality – would recognise.

The logic at work here binds us to our French sisters and brothers, binds internationalists across the globe, in the way that the Je Suis Charlie moment briefly melded our hearts and minds together.

That is perhaps the real ‘end’ of all exceptionalisms.

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Giles Fraser: the Rev JC Flannel meets Dave Spart

August 9, 2015 at 6:53 am (Beyond parody, Christianity, Guardian, Islam, islamism, Jim D, plonker, relativism, religion, secularism)

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?

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Nawaz dissects the Graun’s hatchet-job

August 4, 2015 at 3:00 pm (Guardian, islamism, media, posted by JD, secularism)

Maajid Nawaz, of the Quilliam Foundation, has clinically dissected the Grauniad‘s dishonest hatchet-job on himself (a supposed “interview” by one David Shariatmadari published in yesterday’s G2: Maajid Nawaz: how a former Islamist became David Cameron’s anti-extremism adviser):

Nawaz writes:

My reply to Mr Shariatmadari of the Guardian:

Dear Mr Shariatmadari, I do wonder what exactly about me made you feel so insecure?

Anyway, below are some reflections of mine, and a bit of fact-checking for you, on your rather personalised hatchet-job of me in the Guardian…/maajid-nawaz-how-a-former-isla…

1) Concerning your passage:
“…If much of Quilliam’s – and now Cameron’s – positioning reflects Nawaz’s own journey, it’s reasonable to ask how representative his experience has been. Hizb-ut Tahrir, which does not advocate violence, sees the creation of a new caliphate as the solution to the Muslim world’s problems.”

Unfortunately, as has become a habit with your paper, you are too soft on Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) here. It is true that HT does not advocate terrorism. However it is not true that it does not advocate violence. All terrorism is violent, but not all violence is terrorism.

HT’s aims to come to power via military coups, these are inherently violent, even if non-terrorist, acts.

“(This would) normally be done by the Party seeking to access the military in order to take the authority…After this the military would be capable of establishing the authority of Islam. Hence a coup d’etat would be the manifestation of a political change…” (The Method to Re-establish the Caliphate and Resume the Islamic Way of Life’, Members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain [al-Khilāfah Publications], pp. 105-6.)

Once in power, pretty much like ISIS, which is a group HT’s ideology played a large part in inspiring, HT advocates the use of state orchestrated massacres to further its aims.

“Hence, it is imperative to to put back this issue in its rightful place and consider it to be a vital issue, by killing every apostate even if they numbered millions”. (Abdul Qadeem Zalloom [2nd global leader for HT], How the Caliphate Was Destroyed, Khilafah Publications, p.193)

2) Concerning your passage:
“Nawaz’s powers of verbal persuasion are something even his detractors concede. There’s a strong line to take in every answer. But equally, there’s very little sense of being open to persuasion himself.”

Indeed, I must be very unopen to persuasion. This must be why – despite the fact that it cost me my marriage, proper access to my son, my home and most of my friendships – I changed my mind after nearly 13 years inside HT’s leadership, and I left that group.

3) Concerning your passage:
“Perhaps this is the Hizb-ut-Tahrir training at work, a training he says involved sitting in meetings “concocting rebuttals as defensive mechanisms’.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Bringing secularism into disrepute: has the LSS lost the plot?

August 1, 2015 at 1:33 pm (Free Speech, immigration, Islam, islamism, Pink Prosecco, Racism, secularism)

Liberty GB leader Paul Weston speaks during the first Pegida Rally

By Pink Prosecco

Last year the Lawyers’ Secular Society was instrumental in persuading the Law Society to withdraw its ‘practice note’ offering advice on Sharia compliant wills. Now it is supporting another venture, a Mohammed cartoon exhibition organised by Sharia Watch UK and Vive Charlie. In response to criticism, the LSS President Charlie Klendjian has written a long post defending the decision to share a platform with Geert Wilders and Paul Weston, Chairman of Liberty GB.

In the ‘about us’ section of the LSS site it is asserted:

‘The LSS is not anti-religious, and we are equally opposed to the religious or the non-religious being discriminated against.’

It is difficult to square that policy with having anything to do with Paul Weston. Although Klendjian is right to insist on the importance of free speech, there is no reason why one can’t defend this and other secular values robustly without getting involved with dubious individuals and organisations. It is implied that Weston is controversial because of his views on immigration, but this only scratches the surface of the problem.

Klendjian makes this passionate appeal to his readers:

“If Mohammed can’t be depicted then Islam can’t be challenged, at which point democracy dies a horrible death.”

But what kind of ‘democracy’ does Paul Weston support? The answer, according to his party’s manifesto, is one in which Muslims are barred from public office. And whereas some gloomily fret about a future ‘Eurabia’, dominated by Muslims, Weston is openly preoccupied, not just with religion, but with race:

“In England we only have 45 million whites and we have 11 million non-whites, and again we have to look at the fact that only 10 percent of that is aged under 16 on the white European side; and on the non-white side we’re looking again at figures of 30 percent aged under 16. So if you look at those figures we see that we today have under the age of 16 4.5 million whites in England and 3.3 million non-whites.”

Klendjian points out that the LSS used to share platforms  with ‘an open communist’ (Maryam Namazie of the Worker-communist Party of Iran). But whereas many evils have been carried out in the name of communism, I can’t imagine Maryam Namazie condemns these any less strongly than the rest of us. She is also an uncompromising anti-racist.

Klendjian goes on:

“Another accusation against Wilders and Weston is that “they’re not secularists” or that they don’t share the other goals of secularists. I don’t even know whether they describe themselves as secularists and you know what? I don’t care.

“We can’t restrict the people we share platforms with to those who describe themselves as secularists or who sign up to the entire ‘shopping list’ of secularism causes (faith schools; Bishops in the House of Lords; council prayers, etc).”

This (at least if he knows the full extent of Weston’s views) is disingenuous. It’s one thing for ardent secularists to allow a bit of leeway to liberal allies who don’t oppose ritual slaughter and don’t lie awake worrying about Bishops in the House of Lords. But – barring Muslims from public office? This discriminatory policy is the very reverse of what secularists should stand for – ensuring that people from all faiths and none are treated equally.

And here’s another bad argument:

“The LSS’s priority should be to defend free speech and to support this event as fully as possible, and not to guard itself against baseless accusations of ‘racism’.

“In any case, as we have seen over the years, such accusations will be thrown no matter what.

“Look what happened to Charlie Hebdo. The Charlie Hebdo corpses are still regularly smeared as ‘racist’.”

This is like a BDS supporter saying there’s no point condemning Holocaust denial or even the Holocaust itself because some will see any opposition to Israel as anti-Semitic.

At one point in his post Klendjian states (and I’m not making this up – check it for yourself): “It is no exaggeration to say that fear of being called racist could quite easily dismantle the superstructure of western civilisation as we know it.”

And what about racism itself – is that not a threat to our values too, or are Paul Weston’s supremacist views acceptable?

Klendjian ends by quoting at length from Douglas Murray. Here’s just one paragraph of Murray’s argument.

“The organizers at the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, are not left-wing journalists but conservative activists; and because the Dutch politician Geert Wilders spoke at the opening of the exhibition, that added a layer of complexity for people who like labeling actions with political valences, rather than just seeing actions as apart from them. It seems clear, however, from the pattern of condemnations on one side and silence on the other, that a cartoonist may be worthy of defense if he is associated with a left-wing organization, but not if he is associated with a right-wing one.”

Murray is also being disingenuous in suggesting there’s a hypocritical distinction between attitudes to secularists from the left and right. Plenty of Conservatives have no time for Geller and Spencer. Those who dislike them don’t do so because of their views on fiscal policy or the size of the state. As for Weston – I’d expect Conservatives to oppose his horrific views as strongly as left/liberal types.

And I’m sure there are many on the left – like myself – who would be quite prepared to put differences aside to work together with centre right allies against theocratic fascists – or against Weston and his ilk.

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Time to get rid of faith schools

July 22, 2015 at 9:29 am (anti-fascism, conspiracy theories, David Cameron, Education, islamism, posted by JD, religion, secularism)

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

Prime Minister 'blinkered to ignore role faith schools play in segregating communities'

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.

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Socialism, feminism, secularism and Islam: interview with Marieme Helie Lucas

July 9, 2015 at 12:49 pm (AWL, fascism, Feminism, Human rights, islamism, misogyny, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion, religious right, secularism, terror, women)

Interview with Marieme Helie Lucas

Marieme Helie Lucas is an Algerian sociologist. She participated in the national liberation from French colonialism and was close to the then-underground PCA (Parti Communist Algerien, Algerian Communist Party). She worked as a senior civil servant during the first three years after independence, before leaving to teach at Algiers University for 12 years.

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!

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Heroic Kurds close in on ISIS capital

June 24, 2015 at 9:11 am (anti-fascism, islamism, kurdistan, liberation, Middle East, posted by JD, secularism, solidarity, Syria, turkey, war)

Above: female Kurdish fighters

From a BTL comment by Lamia at That Place:

Kurdish forces, having linked from east and west to take Tal Abyad and thus cut off the main ISIS supply route to Raqqa (from Turkey), are moving steadily towards the ISIS capital itself. Today they have taken a military base, Brigade 93, outside Ain Issa, which ISIS seized last summer. Reports are of ISIS forces and civilians fleeing to Raqqa itself (which is also the subject of ongoing allied air strikes). Kurdish forces are now only 30 miles from Raqqa. They also have US air support which is of course an advantage in case of ISIS attempts to counter attack on the growing Kurdish front.…

The Kurdish campaign in the north of Syria has been the one clear ongoing success in recent months in the fight against ISIS. To think: the heroic Kurds at Kobani were almost written off last October by governments and media alike. Now they are pressing ISIS hard in its own heartland. It’s hard to tell what the outcome will be – even if Raqqa falls, there is still Mosul in Iraq, and ISIS have a habit of taking territory then moving out when under pressure and striking elsewhere. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they might try setting up a capital in another country entirely. But in the long term that is not a recipe for maintaining a state, keeping up recruitment or scaring your enemies into giving up without a fight.

Kurdish progress in the past couple of weeks alone has been wonderfully fast. Let us hope it is not a false dawn, and keep our fingers crossed for them and their allies.

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Left gains in Turkey: Erdoğan’s Islamists rebuffed

June 7, 2015 at 11:42 pm (elections, Jim D, kurdistan, left, Middle East, secularism, turkey)

Halkların Demokratik Partisi – HDP's photo.
Above: victorious HDP candidates celebrate

Some good news is coming through from the Turkish election. Reports of high votes for the leftist/secular/Kurdish HDP – 12% or higher: with the peculiar undemocratic nature of representation this will mean over 70 seats. This could well mean the collapse of Erdoğan’s vicious authoritarian Islamist government. Turkey, along with Saudi  Arabia, is a key reactionary government in the Middle East enjoying US support. This is a massively encouraging result, and should give pause to those on the UK and European left who give knee-jerk support to Islamism.

HDP: a Turkish Syriza?

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Tower Hamlets and the left: listen to the secular!

May 20, 2015 at 4:47 pm (AWL, conspiracy theories, corruption, democracy, Galloway, islamism, left, London, posted by JD, religion, secularism, truth)

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.

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