By John Bloxam
George Galloway, the loud cheerleader for the fundamentalists and others of the Iraqi "resistance", noticeably changed tack last week when some fundamentalists turned up on his own doorstep.
On Tuesday, 19 April, a group took over a meeting he was addressing in a tenants' hall. He accused the "fundamentalists" of holding him hostage, issuing a fatwa against him and threatening to string him up.
Visibly shaken, Galloway then made statements for the first time about the need to calm things down in his election contest with the New Labour sitting MP, Oona King.
In fact, the Galloway incident was just one among a number of similar incidents reported to have occurred during the election campaign. Its target was not typical.
The others have been directed against Oona King and her supporters.
King has alleged that some Respect canvassers have told people not to vote for her because she is Jewish.
Her car was vandalised by Bengali youths, some of whom were reported to be wearing Respect stickers.
A Brick Lane shopkeeper has alleged that a gang of youths threatened him, told him to vote for Galloway and tried to take down his Labour window sticker.
On Sunday 10 April, a commemoration meeting for the largely Jewish victims of Hughes Mansions, in the last German V2 raid of World War Two, had anti-semitic abuse and objects thrown at it by a group of Bengali youths. Oona King was at the meeting, but probably not the direct target of the attacks.
Given the nature of the Galloway/Respect/SWP campaign, such incidents are not surprising.
Bethnal Green & Bow is Respect's main target seat. For the last year they have organised a populist campaign, nakedly concentrating on winning the Muslim vote, combining Galloway's demagogy with the general approach of "turning the heat" on King and New Labour. They have vigorously courted "community leaders" and have also started to attract a section of Bengali youth, largely men.
The Irish writer and SWP sympathiser, Eamonn McCann, once explained the attraction of the Provisional IRA to the largely unemployed, alienated Catholic youth of Derry in the following terms. Pointing to the British army the IRA said: there's the enemy, shoot it. The approach seemed easier to understand and more attractive than a programme of social revolution.
In East London, Respect/SWP's approach is similar in this way. They point to the Blairite Oona King and say: there's the enemy, "turn the heat" on her. And if some of the youths around Respect react in line with the reported incidents, it would not be surprising.
Respect/SWP's response to the incidents fits this picture. Against accusations of their involvement or culpability, they have either threatened legal action, suggested the incidents haven't taken place, or blamed Oona King for starting it in the first place.
The events get no mention in Socialist Worker. To the bourgeois media they write some letters and make statements, but on the ground it's business as usual.
In their glossy publicity and elsewhere there is a silence. No open and clear condemnation of anti-semitism; no sharp dissociation from the sort of activity that has been reported. The shameful calculation, presumably, is that such statements might alienate supporters and lose votes.
This is in stark contrast to local religious leaders, who have at least issued a clear condemnation of the attack on the Hughes Mansion memorial meeting.
The fact that Galloway, after his own skin was threatened, now makes statements about calming the situation and against "intimidation", doesn't change the general picture about Respect's campaign, and neither does the character of the Blairite King's own campaign - at times also pandering to communal prejudice - absolve Respect of its share of responsibility.
The argument that King started it first is both an implicit acceptance of the general picture and a naked attempt to justify their own opportunism.
Such opportunism took a bizarre twist after the incident between the fundamentalists and Galloway.
Respect's website carries a brief report of the "attack", never mentions the word fundamentalist and spends most space exonerating Hizb ut-Tahrir from all blame.
The "attack" doesn't get a mention in Socialist Worker, although on Galloway's own account the police saved his life! The line, apparently, is against sowing division in the Muslim community, as though the fundamentalists are on the same side, even if some threaten to kill your candidate! Presumably, Respect calculates that there are more communal votes to be won by not criticising other Muslims.
In fact, the fundamentalists hate democracy, and Hizb ut-Tahrir is leafleting the area against all the political parties, who "are all campaigning to get the Muslim vote".
Hizb ut-Tahrir clearly see themselves as being in competition with the Galloway/Respect bandwagon, and are concerned that Respect "promotes liberal secular values".
But the fundamentalists are wrong on that as well. In their grubbing for votes, the Galloway/Respect campaign has done the opposite, and whatever the result on 5th May the legacy of this election campaign - for which Respect/SWP bear a heavy share of the responsibility - is clear and shameful: a strengthening of communal politics, and an inevitable increase in communal antagonism.