After announcing a “March 4 Sharia” in London on October 31 (and then calling off at the last minute), Anjem Choudary’s Islam4UK — a far-right descendant of al-Muhajiroun — recently pulled another bluff by announcing and then cancelling another action, this time in the small Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett.
The march was banned, and that ban was swiftly followed up by a legal proscription on Islam4UK as an organisation.
Islam4UK chose the town as it is the location of a parade to honour British troops returning from Afghanistan, as well as two soldiers — Aidan Howell and David Watson — killed in fighting. As with the 31 October action, the English Defence League called a counter-protest. The BNP also weighed in, grotesquely appropriating anti-fascist language and vowing that Islam4UK “shall not pass”.
The ban on Islam4UK is not a measure socialists endorse (state bans on politico-religious “extremists” are easily turned against left-wing “extremists” in periods of heightened struggle), but neither should we be leaping to Islam4UK’s defence.
Islam4UK’s announcement looked like a provocation. It generated an enormous amount of publicity for them, with senior government figures — including Alan Johnson and Gordon Brown — speaking out to condemn them. The press outcry has made Islam4UK appear to be a substantial force rather than the small group of marginal obscurantist bigots they are.
Regardless of their size the left should have something to say about them. The fact that a far-right religious communalist organisation is able to assert itself and generate so much publicity in this way is troubling.
Even those sections of the left such as the SWP who have attempted to make common cause with Islamists cannot deny that Islam4UK are a straightforwardly reactionary outfit whose opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is inseparable from their medievalist vision of an Islamic-theocratic world.
The fact that the proto-fascist EDL and the fascist BNP have positioned themselves as the main centres of opposition to Islam4UK makes the situation even more depressing; the threat they pose in terms of the imposition of ferociously reactionary politics is far greater than that posed by Islam4UK, and they will certainly attempt to use the situation to whip up hostility and hatred not only against Islamic fundamentalism but against all Muslims and other ethnic minorities.
The stakes are too high here for the left to prevaricate. When Workers’ Liberty, along with socialists from the Iranian and Iraqi refugee communities as well as some individual anarchists, called for a counter-counter-action against both the mobilisations of Islam4UK and the EDL on October 31, we were denounced by SWP members as “racists” and accused of lining up with the EDL. But if the working-class left fails to mobilise independently against both the white nationalist far-right and the religious bigotry of Islam4UK, we will be abandoning the terrain to forces that seek to divide our class on the basis of ethnic or religious identity.
What is needed on the streets of every town and city in the UK is a visible, organised working-class left that takes a stand for workers’ unity on the basis of consistent anti-racism, anti-fascism and anti-capitalism. It is to that left and to those ideas that which we must win both the disaffected white workers taken in by the racist demagogy of the BNP and the EDL. To that left too we must win the many young people in the Muslim communities increasingly attracted to Islamism as the only ostensible source of radical opposition to the wars of the British government and the racist attacks which those communities face.