Film protests: any “struggle” will do?

Submitted by Matthew on 19 September, 2012 - 11:03

Like many others, I watched The Innocence of Muslims thinking it must be some kind of satirist’s joke — that this couldn’t possibly be what all the fuss was about. It was too ludicrous, too obviously amateurish and awful, for anyone to take seriously.

I had precisely the same experience reading articles by the International Socialist Group (Scotland) (which is linked to the English splinter from the SWP led by John Rees). Someone, I thought, has written a parody of playschool “anti-imperialism”.

But no. David Jamieson, a student at Glasgow Caledonian University, writes: “Another day, another racist provocation from the west directed at Muslims [and] another opportunity for western politicos [etc.] to portray Muslims as irrational and intolerant when they choose to protest.”

He means, as “provocation from the West”, this film made by an Egyptian Copt (presumably he’s not studying geography). He means, by “choosing to protest”, obviously, the protests outside US and other embassies.

Muslims are a single, homogenous, one-voiced mass, which “chooses” collectively to “protest”, targeting people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the thing they’re “protesting” about. Oh, but it’s those in “the west” Jamieson is attacking who are racist. (It’s unclear what he thinks of the vastly greater number of Muslims in, say, Libya or Egypt who have not attacked US embassies and have, indeed, demonstrated against the attacks. I guess they must be racists, too.)

Next Jamieson provides lessons in history and literature. The “most memorable example” of attacks on Muslims is the “Salman Rushdie affair”. Rushdie, he explains, “wrote a semi-literate anti-Muslim polemic, The Satanic Verses, which portrayed Muslim men as sexual predators and Muslim women as inviting of sexual violence.” He celebrates the burnings of Rushdie’s novel, comparing it to “a book which perpetrates the blood libel” (against Jews).

I suppose whether or not Salman Rushdie is “semi-literate” is a matter of judgement, though it’s an eccentric one; but since Jamieson plainly has either not read the novel, or not understood a word of it, “semi” literate in his case would seem generous.

Another member of the ISG, though, is quick to outdo Jamieson in self-parodying idiocy. Chris Walsh, in an article entitled “Anti US protests are legitimate”, confidently assures us: “It matters not one iota that this particular piece of islamophobic filth is not being directly pedalled by the US state; it conforms to the prescribed dominant ideology of said state... and as such [the US state] is not only a legitimate target, but a strategically prudent one.”

Leave aside whether it’s true that The Innocence of Muslims can reasonably be said to represent the “dominant ideology” of the US. By this logic, if literally anyone, anywhere, does anything you or “Muslims” don’t like — well, it’s dominant ideology, innit! Kill Americans! What difference does it make that there even was a film, or what it says, or anything else? “Protests”about quite literally anything, real or imagined, would be “legitimate”.

Ah, but you see, it doesn’t actually make any difference. Walsh has that covered. “Those... who see this wave of protests as a massive over-reaction of Islamic extremists are predictably blinkered,” he tells us, because “struggle often comes from quarters that are not necessarily of our choosing... How struggle begins is of little interest to revolutionaries; how it concludes is everything.” Any “struggle”, about anything is “legitimate” if its enemy is “the West”, meaning America. Surely not any struggle, you think... (Was, for instance, the Nazis’ “struggle” against British and then American imperialism “legitimate”?).

Well, no: any struggle by Muslims, obviously.

Once again the only thing which makes sense of the argument is a view of “Muslims” as an elemental knee-jerking mass with a single reaction, a single opinion, a single voice. What it really means is: we clever people in Europe, we have political movements with aims and objectives and strategies which divide us; those Muslims, they all sound (and let’s face it, look) alike.

But to confound the mind-numbing cretinousness of the argument, Walsh — bless him — notices that this isn’t quite true. He quotes a member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists, a group linked to the SWP: “Almost everyone I know was against the protest from the start. Who supports any of this?” Undeterred, Walsh comments sagely that “socialists on the ground are capable of making mistakes.” Things of course are clearer from Glasgow.

All right, that’s a cheap shot. A socialist in Glasgow might, in principle, be right against a socialist from Egypt. But that would presuppose some effort to understand what is actually happening — in Egypt and elsewhere in the “Muslim world” — rather than deduce it from unexamined prejudices about “imperialism” and “Muslims”.

In fact it is not “Muslims” who are protesting but actual political forces, with ideas, objectives, aims. Other Muslims — not to mention secular, democratic and working-class forces in the region — disagree with them. This is because, contrary to the utterly racist basic assumptions of Jamieson, Walsh and the like, the Middle East consists of actual human beings with brains.

And they disagree with them for very good reason: because whatever their demagogy about America, these groups — the Salafists — are deeply reactionary anti-working-class movements which, in power, would not thank the likes of Jamieson and Walsh for their fawning, pitiful apologetics, but would slit their throats.

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