We join the comrades of the Red-Green Alliance of Denmark in unequivocally condemning the attack on a meeting to debate free speech and a Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen on Saturday-Sunday 14-15 February.
At this time it seems the attack, in which a member of the meeting audience and young Jewish security guard were killed, was the work of an individual, a young man of Palestinian heritage, and impoverished background who had recently spent time in jail. It seems this individual was “inspired” by an Islamist political creed and the murderous attacks in Paris last month.
How should socialists analyse this event, so alarming because it comes so soon after the appalling attacks in Paris, includes another anti-semitic attack, and brings the grim prospect of a right-wing backlash in Denmark and across Europe?
This was an act with a political purpose. To gloss and rationalise, as some on the left did over Paris, by saying that such individuals act out of a distorted sense of social injustice, is irresponsible. It minimises the danger of this form of extreme political Islam. While we should not inflate the danger, exaggerate the degree to which it has a grip on Muslim communities, or see it as equivalent in scale, here in Europe, to the threat of the racist far right, we need to understand why it is a threat.
Extreme Islamism of this type seeks to replace one form of oppression (against some people of Muslim background) with many kinds of virulent oppression — of non-religious Muslims, Jews, people of other religions, women, LGBT people.
Islamism of this type wants and fights for an extremely authoritarian society.
Extreme Islamists, increasingly allied to or modelled on Daesh (Islamic State), carry out dramatic terroristic actions to polarise debate and provoke a violent reaction by the state. They want to dramatise their own situation and present themselves as underdogs and martyrs. They are a new and particular form of fascism.
What is the democratic and socialist response to these threats?
We fight all forms of fascism, including extreme political Islam. We fight the Islamist ideas which seek to divide and oppress. Our first task is to stand in solidarity with people affected by this political ideology and build a political alternative which preaches equality, humanity, and social solidarity.
We oppose repressive responses by governments: state bans, the strengthening of borders and police powers, the criminalisation of Muslim communities.
We oppose attempts by the racist right and the tabloid press to demonise Muslim communities.
Revenge killings of Jews, and anti-semitic attacks, have absolutely no part to play in getting justice for Palestinians. We condemn the rise in these attacks and fight all forms of anti-semitism.
We consistently defend the right to debate and freely criticise the role of religion in society, including the right to “commit” what religious authorities and fundamentalists call “blasphemy”.
We defend people’s rights to practise their religion, whatever that religion may be. We do not want to oppress religious belief, but we are secularists. Religious institutions do not have the right to impose conditions on the free speech of atheists, free thinkers and secularists.
We stand in solidarity with the marginalised and oppressed people who are the victims of Islamist groups, such as the Coptic Christian migrant workers who were recently murdered by Islamic State. We are with the people who suffer under the influence and violence of religious fundamentalisms.
Our solidarity is fundamentally different to that of the neo-liberal politicians who backed the unity demonstrations in Paris and Copenhagen. Their governments want to further impoverish the whole working-class and weaken working-class organisations.
That drive shapes the conditions which are now fuelling the populist right, anti-immigrant racism, and different forms of right-wing Islamism.
Copenhagen: Against Islamist terror, against a racist backlash
Bjarke Friborg reports from Copenhagen
The shooting of two people in Copenhagen by a lone terrorist, taking place only weeks after a similar incident in France, raises concerns for the left of a racist and nationalist backlash.
On Saturday 14 February Danish-born Omar el-Hussein cold bloodedly attacked a cafe and a synagogue with an automatic weapon, killing two people and injuring three policemen. Hosting respectively a political meeting and a Bat Mitzvah, the two targets seem carefully chosen — even though the gunman is has been identified as a petty criminal and former gang member recently released from a prison sentence. Leaving an obvious trail through the streets of Copenhagen, he was found and liquidated by the police in the early hours of Sunday morning.
With everything happening within a time span of only 12 hours, in a limited part of central Copenhagen, at night time, the situation did not escalate. Nonetheless the impact on the Danish public has been massive, spurring local gatherings against terrorism in several cities, including 30,000 protesters in the capital on Monday 16th.
Politically the elements of this response are mixed – with establishment politicians insistent on cross-class “national unity” and abstract pro-democracy slogans, flanked by the left and the right wing with their class struggle and hate agendas respectively.
Doubtlessly, the terrorist attacks will be used by ruling Social Democrats to divert attention from the hugely unpopular social cuts and right wing economic policies that has characterised the government of Helle Thorning Schmidt since taking power in 2011. The main beneficiary, however, is most likely the right wing social populist Danish People’s Party (DPP) — thriving in a political climate focusing on Islamist terrorism as well as on welfare issues.
Even so, there is still room for a socialist agenda if the Red Green Alliance (RGA) lives up to its responsibility. Now the main opposition party on the left wing, with 8-10% of the voters and almost 10,000 members nationwide, the party has an important role in advancing a clear working class agenda, avoiding both fake “national unity” and an apologetic stance towards religious fundamentalism.
So far the RGA has firmly condemned the killings and encouraged members to take part in local solidarity protests. In Copenhagen this will be with all the established parliamentary parties, including the DPP. Certainly this raises the need for a clearer class line from the RGA in the future.
By a twist of fate, the IST section (linked to the British SWP), having left the RGA in a surprise move earlier this year, is already denouncing the RGA amid calls for a “renewed focus on anti-racism and struggle against Islamophobia’”.
The RGA need not cry over this exit, but the party should definitely take notice of a possible challenge from the left if the pull towards national unity and abstract pro-democracy slogans becomes too strong.
I think we should not overlook that the original cause of these events in Denmark was the publishing of cartoons of Mohammed in the Jyllands Posten, one of which portrayed him as a terrorist complete with a bomb as a hat, and another as a dog. These were not an innocent venture; they were intentionally published in order to provoke an angry reaction from Muslims, and after a while some obscurantist clerics in the Middle East duly took the bait, and all hell let loose, thus 'proving' what the paper wished to prove, that Muslims were a humourless, easily-offended lot lacking the requisite sophisticated qualities of civilised society. The Jyllands Posten is a right-wing paper, it supported the Nazis in the 1930s, and the cartoon episode was within its right-wing agenda, a deliberate attempt to whip up anti-Muslim sentiments.
Whilst it is essential to defend the right to free speech and publication and to criticise and if needs be mock religious dogma and obscurantist clerics, this does not mean that we should view the question outwith the social and political context in which it has been raised. In the case of the Jyllands Posten, we should say that whilst it had the right to publish material which people find offensive, we would not endorse the sentiments behind its doing so; indeed, we would be very critical of them, as socialists do not support the idea of whipping up religious hatred or dividing people along religious lines.
In defending the right to free speech and publication, we must be very careful that we do not allow any campaign for it to become hijacked by people with a reactionary agenda, or allow such people to hide their reactionary agenda behind a call for free speech and publication. The Jyllands Posten is no more a friend of genuine freedom than the Islamists it goaded into an angry response, and ironically enough they share the same agenda: both wish to divide Muslims from the rest of humanity.