Okay, to the piece. The report, Siding with the Oppressor: The Pro-Islamist Left does, unfortunately, have a point. The evidence martialled does show that figures associated with the SWP/Galloway/Livingstone triad not only have views that would make Tommy Robinson look like Harvey Milk; but shows clear instances of them apologising for or covering for their Islamist allies. Not that this is any news, of course. As well as covering up a macho culture of sexual predation in their own ranks, the SWP are well known for soft-soaping any regime or movement that earns Uncle Sam's ire. I'm sure they would even find some positive things to say about Saudi Arabia should it ever fall out with the State Department.
There are two well-springs of this blindness-cum-fondness for Islamism or Jihadism. The first, as is well known, is 'anti-imperialism'. The term, for reasons I've described elsewhere is, in my opinion, dated and utterly useless bordering on the counter-productive. But the relationships of hierarchy and dominance in international relations, combined with capital's frontierless pursuit of profit and the readiness of states to use force to preserve or further both are real enough. In the SWP's understanding of Lenin's theory of imperialism, global capitalism is overseen by the USA, its subordinate imperial powers in Western Europe and Japan, and a variety of regional gendarmes and allies - such as the Saudis and Israel. The USA has and frequently does use its overweening military muscle to dispose of regimes it doesn't like and is also often the first line of capital's defence against popular movements and states that challenge this order of things. It therefore stands to reason that if you're in the business of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, in nearly all circumstances the United States is your immediate enemy.
The US then through a variety of means manages and holds down the national-popular aspirations of hundreds of millions of people via its network of client regimes. Hence should a movement emerge that challenges these relationships, it de facto carries within it some democratic content. For example, putting aside the political characteristics of the Viet Minh or the Sandinistas, they were fighting for national sovereignty, for the opportunity to independently develop their nation free of US-led interference and subversion. As they are struggling to break free it is the job of the left to stand shoulder to shoulder with such forces and 'support' them in their fight. However, this strategic insight in the game for global revolution has acquired the force of a principle for the SWP. It's a point that is valid in all circumstances in all times. Hence while Galloway and the SWP are highly critical of Israel - and rightly so in many cases - in the grand scheme of things Hamas and Hezbollah are progressive because they're standing up for the democratic rights and national aspirations of the Palestinian and Lebanese people respectively. The actual character of the regimes they run - anti-democratic, anti-labour movement, repressive - these things don't really matter. And, in actual fact, to make standard socialist criticisms of those regimes does not actually help the workers and peasant they're holding down. Rather one is providing left cover for the imperial dominance of Israel and the US. And as the SWP strive to be the 'best builders' when it comes to everything ever, to venture criticism of Jihadism undermines their own revolutionary creds.
The second point is domestic, and pertains more to Livingstone and the SWP than Galloway. Livingstone can certainly be very proud of the stance the GLC and the London mayoralty took on racism and multiculturalism. There are few Labour politicians that spring to mind who have done more to promote integration across ethnicities and religions. And, generally speaking, credit where credit is due the SWP have always been very hard on this issue too. No economistic fudging here. But there's a but coming. In both cases the anti-racism has come less with a drop of liberalism, but more of a dollop of do-gooderism. There is the undercurrent - never explicitly stated, but always implied - that to criticise the reactionary politics of certain (i.e. Islamist) organisations who are associated with and primarily organise among minority ethnicities is, as with anti-imperialism, to go along with the hegemonic racism of the establishment. Quite how hegemonic racism is in contemporary Britain is open to question, partly thanks to the work done by Livingstone and his allies.
But why do Livingstone and the SWP go along with and turn a blind eye to unpleasant individuals and political groups? Partly it's because of the perceived anti-racist content characters like Azad Ali and Anas al-Tikriti possess, despite their politics. But also there's a sense such figures and Islamist clerics like Yusuf al-Qaradawi - variously promoted by Livingstone - have some sort of reach among Britain's most oppressed communities. After all, what socialist wouldn't mind being introduced to people at the sharpest edge of Islamophobic attacks? If endorsing and promoting someone who one holds, what you could generously call, bigoted views but gets you the ear of what is perceived to be a set of people open to socialist views, then why not? After all, as Lindsey German once noted, "gay rights are not a shibboleth". In other words, it's good old opportunism.
Unfortunately, while by no means a majority of the left the soft-soaping is writ large partly because of the media profile Galloway and Livingstone command, and thanks to the role the SWP played in Stop the War. As a key strategic actor in the formation and propagation of the coalition, they resisted criticism of Islamism and Jihadism in the name of keeping the anti-war movement broad. Presumably, critical comment on the participation of such groups in the movement would alienate Muslims in general. Thankfully, as the unfolding events in Egypt over the weekend demonstrates, Muslims themselves have their issues with Islamism too.
Nevertheless, giving Islamism a free pass is annoying. As a socialist, of course there is a bridge to be walked between defending Muslims from bigotry, up to and including tackling lies told about the alleged uniquely reactionary characteristics of Islam; and going over to and apologising for hard right self-styled representatives of the 'Muslim community'. But it isn't terribly difficult. Bridges are sturdy structures with barriers that prevent you from falling off - unless, for whatever reason, you want to. In the case of Galloway, Livingstone and the SWP, by going out of their way to associate with and turn a blind eye to Islamist individuals, organisations and regimes; they do socialism and the labour movement as a whole a great disservice.