“But [against the state] socialists cannot give support to the Islamists either. That would be to call for the swapping of one form of oppression for another, to react to the violence of the state by abandoning the defence of ethnic and religious minorities, women and gays, to collude in scapegoating that makes it possible for capitalist exploitation to continue unchecked providing it takes 'Islamic' forms.
"It would be to abandon the goal of independent socialist politics, based on workers in struggle organising all the oppressed and exploited behind them, for a tail-ending of a petty bourgeois utopianism which cannot even succeed in its own terms.
"The Islamists are not our allies. They are representatives of a class which seeks to influence the working class, and which, in so far as it succeeds, pulls workers either in the direction of futile and disastrous adventurism or in the direction of a reactionary capitulation to the existing system – or often to the first followed by the second”.
Chris Harman, The Prophet and the Proletariat
The following are all, more or less indisputable, plain matters of fact.
• A large proportion of Muslims in Britain and Europe are among the most downtrodden, oppressed, poverty-afflicted targets of racism.
• Some who are hostile to Muslims as people, the British National Party fascist Nick Griffin for a noxious example, sometimes present themselves as hostile only to Islam as a religion.
• The outlook of many strongly religious Muslims (as of many strongly religious people of other religions) in Britain often has more in common with pre-Renaissance Catholic Europe than with the world of 21st century secular or only superficially religious people.
• Very far from all Muslims have that mindset. According to the rueful calculation of the Islamist Tariq Ramadan, only 40 to 50% of Muslims in Europe are “practising” even on a very loose definition.
• Powerful currents of political Islam exist among the devout, feeding demagogically on their sense of grievance and alienation.
• The political-Islamist groups feed off real social and economic grievances and alienation, and off a mix of religious self-righteousness and religious outrage against the broad society in which they live.
• In their criticism of the modern bourgeois world, those Islamist currents sometimes say some things socialists say, and criticise, some of what we criticise; but as alternative they offer the utopian and reactionary project of “recreating” the Islamic world which they think once existed.
• Broadly speaking, they are near-equivalents of the religio-fascist movements of Europe in the mid 20th century — the Falangists and Francoists of Spain, the Blueshirts of Catholic Ireland, the Salazarists of Portugal, etc. Those movements too criticised aspects of capitalism — as indeed did the Catholic church — and had in them elements of what Marx and Engels called “reactionary socialism”. They criticised aspects of capitalist society, but to it counterposed not enlightened working class socialism, but return to an imaginary and half imaginary past. In reality while being socially and culturally regressive they all served capitalism.
• Political Islamists in the west are linked to parent movements in the Muslim world — to people and organisations who, where they rule, crush with horrendous and sustained violence, and where they do not rule, terrorise and murder, secularists, international socialists, lesbian and gay people, advocates of female equality and female education, and those who embrace and actively promote the alien culture of the West.
• The forces of traditional Christian reaction and bigotry and their desire for privilege for their own religion are being encouraged and energised by the example of Islamist militancy.
• In response to the outcry against the cartoons depicting Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper on 30 September 2005 many Western governments have offered abject apologies (Denmark) or placating noises. These include Britain, whose government was already attempting, under Muslim pressure, to inhibit hostile comment on religion. Much of the Western liberal press has expressed little or no solidarity with the right to free expression for the Danish cartoonists or the newspaper which published them. They have tended to blame the cartoonists, and the right-wing Danish paper which published them. In the past, some of these papers blamed Salman Rushdie for “offending” Muslims and “provoking” the Ayatollah Khomeini into issuing a sentence of death upon him.
• It is likely that governments like the British have privately influenced newspapers against publishing or saying anything that “would make the situation worse”.
• The religio-fascist Islamist groups and other currents of Islamic opinion less politically defined than they are, subscribe, passively or more or less actively, platonically or as practitioners, to the Islamic doctrine of the jihad, understood as active warfare against the non-Muslim world and, often, against the “ordinary” people of Muslim countries whom they consider to be morally blameworthy for not actively supporting their cause.
• The outcry against the Danish cartoons is being fomented, organised, and used by political-Islamist movements and governments (Iran and Saudi Arabia) to mobilise the support of Muslims and Muslim communities worldwide.
• The consequence of the great rallying of political Islam to denounce the Danish cartoons can not but be the strengthening of the clerical-fascist movements of political Islam — and in the first place against dissenters, unbelievers, socialists, lesbians, gays, feminists etc. in the Muslim-majority countries and in Muslim communities elsewhere.
Which of that list of statements is untrue? What is not there that should be in a list of the dominant facts in the cartoons furore?
If those are the facts, then it will be one of two things with socialists (and, for that matter, liberals).
Of course we have to fight racism and discrimination against Muslims and Muslim communities in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Either, while doing that, we will find a way to combine that defence of those communities with opposition to them where they are bases of political, cultural, and civic reaction — where they are champions of intolerance, bigotry, and sanctified, petrified, age-old ignorance, trying to spread it from the large areas in the Muslim world where it is the norm, into the bourgeois democracies of the West.
Or, we cease to be socialists and democrats ourselves. In the name of combatting racism and imperialism, we capitulate to reactionary Islamism.
The Socialist Workers’ Party is now a living, or half-living, embodiment of what happens when socialists — for good “anti-racist” and “anti-imperialist” reasons, as they like to believe — turn themselves into mouthpieces and echoes of reaction — here reactionary political Islam — and politically eviscerate themselves in futile devotion to an “anti-imperialism” that embodies only a negative opposition to capitalism and imperialism, and absolute anti-capitalism from which the positive working-class socialist alternative has been excised.
The quotation at the top of this article is from Chris Harman, one of the long-time leaders of the SWP and until recently editor of Socialist Worker. It is taken from a 1994 pamphlet. The pamphlet’s conclusions, are full of hedges and qualifications, but the quotation establishes that when the SWP were still trying to be Marxists, they agreed more with us than with themselves now!
Now they throw themselves wholeheartedly behind the Muslim demand for the suppression of hostile comments on Islam — or justify those who in the name of Islam commit mass murder by way of an explosive homicidal suicide, which they believe will gain them entry into Paradise.
They translate the Islamist outcry into the language of the guilt-ridden and politically disoriented Guardian-reading middle-class liberal left. The issue, they insist, is “racism”.
The issue of free speech, of asserting and defending the right — in principle, the right of anybody, whatever their politics — to condemn, mock, satirise, and denounce a religion; of helping those in the Muslim world who work to win that right there — these things are of no account. The SWP can see nothing there, but — “racism”.
Any criticism of the religious practices of an oppressed community — racism!
And surrender to imperialism, too!
Resistance to the mobilisation and its demands — racism! The Islamist political mobilisation around the world, to demand the suppression everywhere of hostile comment on Islam — anti-racism!
The entire liberal-left Establishment, from the Government down to the Guardian, has scurried to placate the Islamists — and all the SWP can see is that there hasn’t been enough of the scurrying.
The entire British press has complied with the demands of the religio-fascists who have organised the international outcry, and what does Socialist Worker see? Only racism. Some of the press have talked about the issue of free speech! Racism! Racism, racism, all is racism!
At the very least, measured by any sane standard, this is a one-sided picture. In reality it is an utterly false construction on the facts. It is using the cry of “racism” as a moral blackjack to stop awkward questions being asked, inside the SWP and outside, about their descent into sharia socialism.
Socialist Worker reiterates the virtuous parrot cry — we are against racism! — to disguise their abject surrender to political Islam.
“The socialists” have made themselves into toadies and outriders for Islamist reaction!
Less than two years ago one of the editors of Solidarity wrote an open letter to Chris Harman, who was then editor of Socialist Worker and is the only one of the International Socialist “old guard” still in the leadership of the SWP.
Commenting on the failure of their hopes in the London Assembly and Euro-elections of 2004, the open letter said this:
“What if [Lindsey] German was a London Assembly member and something like another Salman Rushdie-Satanic Verses affair blew up? She would ‘be a fighter’ for ‘Muslims’ [as their election literature had promised] on that sort of question? Certainly she’d be under immense pressure to be exactly that. But she would then suddenly rediscover her socialist principles? The SWP would?
“You would risk losing the position you had demeaned yourself and the ‘socialism’ you claim to represent to get, and refuse to be a ‘fighter for Muslims’?
“Your record over recent years suggests that in such a crisis, you would not act as democrats, secularists or socialists. You would continue down the road you are on now” (Sean Matgamna, Solidarity 3/54, 24 June 2004).
Even while still having only a few local councillors elected to public office as “fighters for Muslims”, the logic of full-scale accommodation to political Islam has in a short time eaten like a voracious cancer into the political vitals of the SWP.
What, Solidarity asked, if a new Rushdie affair arises, something like the Iranian-organised campaign from 1989 to silence and threaten death to writer Salman Rushdie, who had written a novel offensive to Muslims. We addressed the question to people who at that time (or so we thought) would probably have been as horrified as ourselves at the idea of doing anything but defending Rushdie’s, and anyone else’s, right to write or draw whatever they liked about Muhammad and Islam, as about Christ, Martin Luther, the Pope, the Prophet Abraham, the Buddha.
In 11 Feburary 2006 Socialist Worker, the supple-spined academic Alex Callinicos, in the course of advocating what the political Islamists advocate over the cartoons, reassesses the Rushdie affair in the light of the SWP’s current politics.
“The book caused great offence among Muslims, including many in Britain, and led to the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issuing a judgement (fatwa) condemning Rushdie to death...
“Socialist Worker defended Rushdie’s right to publish The Satanic Verses. But we also recognised the real anger and hurt the novel caused among Muslims in Britain and other Western societies.
“The book, rightly or wrongly, came to symbolise the humiliation and discrimination Muslims suffered, and indeed continue to suffer.
“The Rushdie affair marked the beginning of a campaign by many Western liberal intellectuals to portray Islam as a uniquely dark, barbaric religion... [it] paved the way for contemporary Islamophobia”.
In other, less weaselling, words, they no longer “defend Rushdie”. If Rushdie’s book were published tomorrow, they would be in the forefront of organising protests! Lindsey German spoke at the Trafalgar Square rally organised by the Muslim Association of Britain (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) to protest at the cartoons.
The SWP now uses a reckless demagogy reminiscent of the Stalinists in their heyday. A demagogy all-too reminiscent of fascism but all too-befitting to the British allies of clerical-fascism here and in the Middle East.
They point to the political and social exclusion of the Muslim communities of Britain as if that outweighed everything else involved. They ignore the fact of the great wealth and power of those who have set the pace in the agitation over the cartoons and spurred on the political Islamists here (not, it should be noted, the Muslim communities in general: the demonstrations have been small).
They point to double standards and hypocrisy in the Danish paper which published the cartoons. Apparently it campaigned in 1984 against an erotic cartoon image of Jesus. Double standards... And, faced with such double standards, socialists respond not by demanding consistent freedom to use and caricature iconic images, but... what? Consistent repression and opposition to free comment on religion?
SW writes of “bigoted” cartoons which portray all Muslims as terrorists.
But the only truth in the comment is that the use of Muslim stereotypes in a cartoon might convey that idea — all Muslims are terrorists — to some people. That is why socialists would not use such stereotypes. It is not an argument for socialists hysterically joining in a political-Islamist campaign to rule out free comment, which, if it is free, has to include the right to make hostile and “hurtful” comment.
As it stands, SW’s attitude is implicitly to come out against all cartoon caricatures as a form of political comment!
They solve all the problems, cut through all the complexities of the real situation, by refusing to see anything but “racism” and “anti-racism”. All is racism!
In a world in which international terrorism, rooted in political Islam and in certain aspects of the Muslim religious tradition, is a major factor; in which rampant Muslim clerical-fascism is a powerful force in many countries; in which the Islamists can generate and organise a world-wide campaign to impose their “standards” on countries like Denmark and Britain - why, here there is no issue but “Islamophobia”, anti-Muslim racism! Innocent Muslims are being scapegoated! Socialists must concentrate all their efforts on “fighting Islamophobia”, for, as the wise editorial in Socialist Worker puts it, “in its wake comes further racism”.
The SWP might well summarise their present politics thus: the religious bigotry, the clerical-fascism, and the religious terrorism of the oppressed is not the same as that of the oppressor. That is what they are saying, even if they do not say it quite so bluntly.
It is a recipe for socialist political suicide.
But the SWP, we fear, is still what it has always been — a havering, confused, half-hearted, eclectic, “centrist” organisation. It fears to draw the full implications of what it is now saying.
For, comrades, if the way to fight “Islamophobia” and “the further racism that comes in its wake” is to champion and mimic political Islam, to adopt its slogans and demands, and to equate socialists like ourselves who refuse to do the same with the BNP (which you do in your editorial of 18 February) — then, ask yourselves, is that enough?
Isn’t there an altogether better, more whole-heartedly, more wholly affirmative, way of doing things here? Shouldn’t the leaders of the SWP discuss converting to Islam?
Other erstwhile European Marxists have done that — most notably Roger Garaudy, a one-time prominent dissident in the French Communist Party. “Carlos the Jackal” Ramirez converted in jail. Yvonne Ridley, the one-time Daily Express hack who now graces Respect platforms, and whose head-covered photo the SWP likes to display, converted to Islam.
Political accommodation is not enough, comrades of the SWP! Do the decent thing! Go the whole hog! Convert, comrades, convert!