Monday 1 July 2013

The Left and Islamism

Let's get one thing straight. Contrary to the title of James Bloodworth's Why is the left so blinkered to Islamic extremism?, the left in its totality are emphatically not. If you use the broad definition that stretches from the front bench to the Weekly Worker, as a general rule they are resolutely opposed to Islamism. Even the revolutionary left, which gets tarred with every kind of brush, are not all cheerleaders. My former organisation, the Socialist Party, would not countenance alliances of convenience with Islamists. And the bulk of the smaller groups, for whom positioning is more a form of revolutionary identity politics than actually getting on with job of radicalising the working class, aren't fans either. So please, in future, unless you want to look like you're doing a hatchet job do be aware that 'the left' is far, far more than the SWP, Galloway, Livingstone and friends.

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.


Anonymous said...

Do you have any concerns about the report? I identified one problem in my own post on the issue, which is that it seems to suggest that charges of Islamophobia are always made in bad faith.

I agree with your implication that one should resist bigotry against Muslims, resist demonisation of Islam (though I also don't think we should demonise or ignore those, including ex-Muslims for example, who wish to critique it) and yet also resist overlooking bigotry from Muslim groups and individuals. I am quite receptive to the idea that sometimes the rhetoric of secularism can become tainted by (or appear to be tainted by) something less welcome. I think one can acknowledge and address that without in any way diluting one's (secular) principles.

Anonymous said...

Would the left side with Christian fundamentalists who believe that evolution did not occur have no regard for women's rights or gay rights and support the economic status quo as gods will
Living in a mediaeval mindset which is incapable of creating a modern economy based on anything other than extraction of minerals cannot be a requisite for a socialist economy and society or even a social democratic one
The reality for young female graduates in the Arab world has not changed in 100 years
Do you really want to support male dominated religious organisations against modernity
Did the left not make the same mistake with Iran over 30 years ago

Anonymous said...

Your article says things that a lot of people on the left just don't want to hear (same with your piece on the "Peoples" Assembly).

Without either trying or appearing to be facetious I would like to see this appear at Socialist Unity, because too many of them over there really are part of the problem that you refer to.

I have despaired about the lefts' attitude to all this since the Rushdie affair and then there was 9/11.

The SWP has never retracted its appalling "we understand" position and has continued (along with expelees like Rees, German and others to simply tail end Islamism on Press TV with other that should know better.

Secularism now!

Anonymous said...

But the 'decent' side of the left, i.e. the ones who hate Galloway for his fantastic work in the Palestinian struggle and his tireless efforts to stop criminal imperialist war, have been very supportive of Islamic extremists in Syria and Libya.

So they should shut the fuck up if you ask me, the hypocrites.

Howard Fuller said...


No we don't support the Jihadist nutters in Syria or Lybia, but didn't support Ghadafi or Assad either. There were and are those working for a little something called democracy, not easy but necessary.

Galloway has only tirelessly workerd for err..Galloway.

Didn't mean for my previous comment to be anonymous either.

Anonymous said...

"There were and are those working for a little something called democracy"

So has Galloway, the problem with you decents is that you distort everything the non decents say, you basically peddle lies for a living.

By your own low standards, you are a supporter of Islamists in Libya and Syria, as are most of the decents.

"Galloway has only tirelessly workerd for err..Galloway."

A classic example of your peddling of lies. If you are so concerned with democracy, why are you so hell bent on dishonesty and distortion. Surely this kind of argumentation actually undermines democracy in a fundamental way? I really don't believe you give a flying fuck about democracy.

The usual example the decents use to accuse the left of pandering to Islamism is our support of Lebanese and Palestinian resistance to muderous assaults by the Israeli state.

A state the decents regard as the very model of secular, democratic society. A shining beacon to the region. Therein lies the problem.

John Wight said...

What a crap article.

Ralph Musgrave said...

“The left in its totality is emphatically not …blinkered to Islamic extremism”.

Sorry but the Guardian has spent the last 20 years advocating the Islamisation of Britain and spewing venom on anyone (“far right” parties in particular) which oppose Islamisation.

Plus Tony Blair when in power did everything he could to encourage Muslim immigration.

Of course advocating Muslim immigration is not the same as advocating EXTREMIST Muslim immigrants, but there is no effective way of getting one without the other.

If Muslim extemists are mad, the political left is even madder.

Chris said...

"Sorry but the Guardian has spent the last 20 years advocating the Islamisation of Britain and spewing venom on anyone"

You keep telling yourself that if you can no longer afford the medicine.

"If Muslim extemists are mad, the political left is even madder"

But clearly, neither are as mad as you!

Ralph Musgrave said...

Hi Chris,

You want insults? I can do insults too. How’s about this: “You keep telling yourself your version of history if you cannot afford the medicine.”

And how about this: “Muslims may be mad, but not as mad as you”.
However didn’t really expect an intelligent response to my above points, which just confirms my suspicion that the political left nowadays are plain THICK.

And it’s not just on matters multicultural that the left is thick. Bill Mitchell (Australian economics prof) who is on the political left himself is appalled at the stupidity of the political left when it comes to economics. And I agree with him most of time on strictly economic matters. Go read some of his blog posts (though they'll probably be way above your pretty little head):

Anonymous said...

What is this post advocating? The same problem again: all discussion of this issue is so vague that nobody can form a judgement on what is being said. If you know James Bloodworth personally, then perhaps you can ask him to be more explicit as well.

Anonymous said...

When Hezbollah stand up for Palestinian & Arab rights the Left call it a noble cause,but when Brits defend their people against colonisation of Mass immigration,they are smeared by the Left as racists, bigots......

Phil said...

1st Anon - the post is discussing that segment of the left who are afraid to critique Islamism.

2nd Anon, that's because framed in those terms reveals you to be a racist bigot. How West Bank settlement by the Israeli state and people arriving in Britain to work are equivalents is something only an insecure, xenophobic imagination would dream up.