Updated October 2003
Since September 2002, the Stop the War Coalition's demonstrations against the invasion and occupation of Iraq have been co-sponsored by an organisation called the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB).
The leadership of the Stop the War Coalition, and in particular the Socialist Workers' Party, has gone to great lengths to portray the MAB as representative of all Muslims in Britain. This is very far from the truth.
In fact, the MAB is a political organisation with a very specific political agenda - and, as we shall see, a reactionary one which the labour, anti-war and student movements should be doing everything in their power to oppose.
The MAB in its own words
In the Inspire newspaper produced for the September 28th 2002 demonstration, an article on the MAB's "Historical Roots and Background" links it quite explicitly to the Islamist (Islamic fundamentalist) tradition of the Muslim Brotherhood, with the stated aim of "the widespread implementation of Islam as a way of life; no longer to be sidelined as merely a religion". At the Stop the War Coalition conference on 11th January 2003, an MAB speaker stated that his organisation was proud to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In short, the MAB is open about being part of a political current which aims to establish a state run under Islamic law, with decisions made by a religious elite and the population subjected to drastic rules based on the almost 1,300-year-old Qur'an and re-invented traditions from over a thousand years ago. What this means in practice is demonstrated by an article in Inspire on "Islam and Human Rights", which states that apostasy from Islam is either "a religious offence punishable by death" or, at least, "an act of mutiny or treason, that is punishable" as such.
The MAB's other political slogans are also indicative of its politics. Take "Zionists out of Palestine". Given that the vast majority of Jewish citizens of Israel considers themselves Zionists, this can only indicate hostility to the very presence of Jews in Palestine (as distinct from opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, or condemnation of the way Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens).
What is the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood, with which the MAB is politically affiliated, is the largest Islamist organisation in Egypt, Sudan and many other parts of the Muslim world. In countries where the Brotherhood has won mass support, it has played a thoroughly reactionary role, hostile to democracy, the labour movement, secularism and women's rights.
Some national examples:
In Egypt, the Brotherhood declared the Muslim academic Nasr Abu Zaid an apostate after he put forward the theory that the Qur'an has been interpreted differently in different historical contexts, and tried to force his wife to divorce him through the courts. The couple eventually fled to Scandinavia.
In Sudan, a military coup backed by the Brotherhood took power in 1989, crushing the powerful workers' strikes which had gripped the country in the late '80s, and closing off the possibility of a peace deal with the mainly Christian South.
In Palestine, Hamas originated in the Gaza branch of the Brotherhood; the website of the Pakistani group Jamaat-e-Islami, which is linked to the Brotherhood, includes links to Hamas.
In Algeria, the Brotherhood is part of the Islamic Salvation Front, the alliance of Islamist groups which won the 1991 elections and, after being prevented from taking power by the army, used the resulting civil war as an excuse to massacre thousands of left-wingers, secular intellectuals, feminists, trade unionists and others.
In Pakistan, in March 2003, members of Jamaat-e-Islami's student wing Islami Jamiat Tulaba attacked and wounded student supporters of the Labour Party Pakistan who were giving out anti-war leaflets at Karachi University.
The MAB and the Muslim community
In September 2003, the MAB itself admitted that it had only twelve branches (see Inspire) and that its activists were mainly Arabs, i.e. drawn from a small minority of British Muslims (yet it had the money to produce extremely glossy publications and carry out an extensive range of activities - which rather begs the question of where its money comes from). As a result of being promoted by the Stop the War Coalition, it has undoubtedly grown significantly since then.
Nonetheless, the MAB does not and cannot represent the "Muslim community" as a totality, since this community is divided by class, wealth, political opinions etc like any other.
The question is: why should the labour, anti-war and student movements help to promote and entrench the position of a right-wing political current among Muslims? By allying with the MAB, the Stop the War Coalition has effectively said that it is more interested in conservative and Islamist Muslims than left-wing and secular Muslims/ex-Muslims.
Criticising the MAB is not Islamophobic or anti-Muslim; many if not most Muslims are strongly opposed to Islamism, and Muslim workers, women and left-wingers are of course the first victims of the Islamists in power. It is no coincidence that socialist, feminist and labour movement groups in Muslim countries are among the most virulent opponents of Islamism, since they are fighting against it for their lives.
The Labour Party of Pakistan, for instance, has described Islamism as "the new fascism" and Jamaat-e-Islami as being one of the most serious threats the Pakistani labour movement faces; Dita Sari, chair of the Indonesian FNPBI trade union federation and herself a religious Muslim, has spoken in Britain about having to organise workers' guards to defend her union's meetings from armed Islamist thugs.
Is it not in fact "Islamophobic" to assume that all Muslims support the politics of Islamism?
The MAB and the anti-war movement
As well as alienating secular and left-wing Muslims from the anti-war movement, the Stop the War Coalition's alliance with the MAB also serves to alienate Jewish people, feminists and many on the left. The MAB's money means that it can mobilise substantial numbers of people; but even supposing that a clear anti-fundamentalist stance alienated more people than it attracted, numbers are clearly not everything.
Before, during and since the end of the war, the AWL has argued consistently for a movement in solidarity with the peoples - and in the first instance, the working-class - of Iraq, which raises democratic, secular and internationalist slogans against US-UK imperialism, the remnants of the Ba'athist regime and insurgent Islamic fundamentalism. It should be obvious, of course, that the alliance with the MAB is incompatible with this goal.
Conclusion: the politics of the MAB
It is sometimes pointed by the MAB's apologists that it has condemned the September 11th atrocity and disassociated itself from the activities of more radical Islamist groups. Certainly MAB stewards on the anti-war demonstrations have attempted to restrain groups such al-Muhajiroun; certainly its politics are not as extreme as those of eg al-Qaeda. However, this is not saying very much.
An analogy: groups such as the French Front National and the Austrian Freedom Party are not fascist in quite the same sense that the German Nazis were; there can be little doubt, however, that they are part of the same political milieu. The MAB is at the moderate, reformist end of the Islamic fundamentalist spectrum, but it is part of that spectrum nonetheless.
To taint the British left with these reactionary politics is to cripple and marginalise it.
Muslim Association of Britain
Labour Party of Pakistan
Workers' Liberty on the politics of Islamic fundamentalism
An article by Rumy Hasan of Birmingham Socialist Alliance on "Islamophobia" and alliances with Islamists.
Another article by Rumy Hasan on how the left should work with Muslims.