Woolwich, Islamism and the racist, authoritarian backlash

Submitted by AWL on 23 May, 2013 - 6:05

The young men who murdered an off-duty soldier in Woolwich, in South East London, on 22 May seem to have been Islamists - supporters of violently reactionary theocratic politics. We condemn the killing.

For the most part, the threat posed by Islamists - whether ultras like these ones, or softer varieties - is not directed against off-duty soldiers. It is directed against women, LGBT people, atheists and secularists, dissidents and critical-minded people in Muslim-majority countries and in some Muslim communities in countries like Britain.

Islamism is a threat to the working class, in the first instance the Muslim working class. But this killing has ramped up other more powerful threats too.

There is a nationalist, racist, far right backlash under way, championed by the English Defence League, which will violently target not only Muslims - there have already been attacks on mosques - but many other dark-skinned people living in Britain.

The far right campaign feeds off and feeds into a more widespread, "mainstream" hysteria about Muslims and terrorism, playing on the ridiculous and disgusting idea that all or most Muslims are in some way responsible for the actions of the Islamist killers. This in turn interacts with a media promoting sensationalist messages about the threat of terrorism. (Tellingly, the murder - also by brutal stabbing - of an elderly Muslim man, Mohammed Saleem, it seems by a white racist, in Birmingham on 29 April has generated much less and very different coverage.)

It also seems there will be an authoritarian state backlash which will target civil liberties and democratic rights in the name of fighting terrorism.

The left needs to stand strong against all this, speaking up for rational thought in the midst of hysteria, advocating working-class unity, defending Muslim communities and helping organise anti-racist counter-protests against the likes of the EDL.

This is, or should be, a wake up call for the labour movement and socialists. If we cannot build a political force in working-class communities capable of appealing to the angry and dispossessed, then reactionary ideas like radical Islamism and nationalist racism will continue to spread.


Submitted by AWL on Thu, 23/05/2013 - 18:35

The EDL will be protesting in Newcastle on 25 May.

The anti-racist counter-protest will assemble outside Newcastle City Hall at 1pm.

Facebook events here and here.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 23/05/2013 - 18:40

See here.

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 24/05/2013 - 11:31

The EDL will be protesting at Downing Street on 27 May - and anti-fascists will be counter-protesting. Meet 12.30pm.

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 24/05/2013 - 11:46

This is what we said in 2005 shortly after the 7/7 bombings. It is highly relevant now.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 30/05/2013 - 13:15

Woolwich, Islamism and the racist, authoritarian backlash

1. The murder of off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 22 May.
2. The reactionary politics of Islamism, in this case extreme, ultra-violent Islamism, which seems to have inspired the killing.
3. The ramping up of racist hostility towards Muslims, from abuse and harassment in the street to the firebombing of a mosque in Grimsby to demonstrations by the English Defence League and British National Party. According to the interfaith group Faith Matters, on 30 May there have been 201 anti-Muslim incidents since the murder, a 15-fold increase.
4. Possible attacks on civil liberties, including reviving the Communications Data Bill, which would allow police and security services access to all electronic communications.

1. That the main threat posed by Islamism is directed against working-class organisations, women, LGBT people, atheists and secularists, dissidents and critical-minded people in Muslim countries and some Muslim communities in the UK.
2. That acknowledging that British foreign policy has created conditions which help Islamists to grow should not mean failing to condemn Islamist politics.
3. That opposing the racist backlash and attacks on civil liberties must be top priorities for the labour movement.
4. That this is a wake up call – if the left and labour movement cannot build a force in working-class communities capable of appealing to the angry and dispossessed, then reactionary ideas like Islamism and nationalist racism will continue to spread.

1. To issue a statement based on this motion.
2. To support and publicise protests against the racist and fascist threat, and oppose attacks on civil liberties.
3. To contact local Muslim organisations and mosques to offer support in defence against racists and the far right.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 06/06/2013 - 12:29

Firstly, comments of that sort can be very unpleasant if you're experiencing them.

Secondly, the point is that the overall number of incidents has increased.

Thirdly, not all the incidents are so minor, eg this.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 07/06/2013 - 09:57

I have no idea what political programme these men thought they were adhering to, and I don't support acts of terrorism of this kind.

But what would a "rally" to "protest" about this issue actually be for? What would its demands be? "Defend the EDL from nasty Asians"?

No thanks.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 07/06/2013 - 16:04

Workers' Liberty has been involved in protests against Islamism, alongside our Iraqi and Iranian comrades and others - against Quds Day, against Anjem Choudhary's Islam4UK, against Press TV, and recently against a celebration of the life of Khomeini in Kilburn.

Our newspaper last week carried the strapline "against the EDL, against Islamism". There is no question mark over our opposition to Islamism.

But there were not 1,000 Islamists on Whitehall on 27 May, there were 1,000 EDLers. The main context right now is a rise in racism, including violent attacks on Muslims and Asians, and a rise in "mainstream" anti-immigrant feeling.

The politics of the EDL and the politics of Islamism may be equally abhorrent but they are simply not equivalent social forces right now.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 10/06/2013 - 15:29

See here.

We are very much against Islamist terrorism. We are very much against far right/racist terrorism. Yes, the former is sometimes more spectacular/violent than the latter. But actually violent terrorist outrages are very rare/marginal. The main Islamist 'terrorism' is lower level social authoritarianism aimed against women, gay people, secularists, etc, etc in Muslim communities.

At the moment far right campaigning against Muslims is ramped up and has included quite a few violent acts. Would you deny that?

But in any case, why is it impossible to oppose both?

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 13/06/2013 - 10:19

I don't think our reporting is alarmist. I think you are being pedantic, because we have not "confused" physical attacks with Facebook comments. It seems like you are concerned to downplay the surge of bigotry and violence against Muslims. It would be good if you could think about that and respond.

On Mohammed Saleem, clearly less was known than in the case of the Woolwich attack. Nonetheless, the difference in response was disproportionate. Let's see what happens. But there is a more general point about the difference in how Islamism and far right/racist reaction are treated in the press.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 13/06/2013 - 15:03

The police say that racism is a "significant line of inquiry". Given their record of letting racist murders go or downplaying the issue of racism I think we can say that means it's pretty significant.

Leaving aside whether anti-white "racism" can meaningfully be called "racism" in the same sense as white racism against black and Asian people, the fact is that anti-white attacks are incredibly rare. (And I don't think Islamist terrorist attacks - which are very rare too - are really "anti-white".) In contrast white racist attacks against black people happen all the time.

You seem to have somehow acquired the idea that we are apologists for Islamism. That couldn't be further from the truth. But let me ask you this: do you think bigotry against and attacks on Muslims are a serious problem to be fought or not?


Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.