Walking a tightrope: Between the pro-Islamist Left and the far-Right

1236466622-one-law-for-all-campaign-against-sharia-law-in-britain29189_29189Opposing Sharia and Islamism in the west is like walking on a tight rope most of the time – thwarting attacks from the Left, refuting cultural relativism, preventing alliances with the far-Right, explaining the issues ignored by government and the media, mobilising support for secularism and citizenship whilst opposing racism and xenophobia, and making linkages with the many fighting Islamism on the ground in countries across the world. It’s easy to fall off the tight rope and doesn’t surprise me when it happens given all the pressures involved.

Most disconcerting for many are the pressures from the Left; it is particularly hard when your “natural allies” betray basic human principles whilst using the language of rights and tolerance to defend the denial of rights and the intolerable.

Take this past weekend’s panel discussion at the NYU Global Secularisms conference that I was on. One of my co-panellists said she opposed all fundamentalists, including secular ones, when asked about my talk and another accused me of aiding and abetting racism against Muslims and Arabs by my very use of the term Sharia (I’ll have to comment on these later).

Add to this constant demonization, the day to day difficulties of doing such work, including the threats and all the clandestine attempts at intimidation and it is quite easy to see how one can be disillusioned and fall off the tightrope. (Just this week, I was asked to reassure a ‘moderate Muslim gentleman’ – read Islamist – with the content of my talk though he wouldn’t be attending and wanted me disinvited.)

I suppose it’s easier for people like me to stay the course coming from an Iranian Left political tradition with crystal clear clarity and an uncompromising defence of humanity. The Left I belong to has opposed cultural relativism and defended universal values and hasn’t sided with the Iranian regime or Syria’s Asad like Stop the War Coalition and the Socialist Workers Party.

When faced with such betrayal, I can fully understand that, for some, staying on course becomes impossible. What I can’t understand and will never accept, though, is falling off the tightrope or even trying to stay on whilst simultaneously finding solace in and partnership with the far-Right.

The argument in favour of collaboration with the far-Right is that we need as many allies as possible in the fight against Sharia and Islamism, which means that we must be “inclusive” and “tolerant” of those whose views we may find distasteful – all for the “cause.”

Sound familiar?

Is this not what the pro-Islamist Left says in justifying its collaboration with the Islamists?

I for one already work with many groups and individuals whose views I find distasteful; it is possible to do that in specific campaigns like One Law for All. But no movement includes or represents everyone. There are limits. And there are principles that are more important than any “cause.”

Also, creating movements is not merely a numbers game. When Stop the War Coalition brought in Islamists as partners, it ignored Islamic terrorism and discrimination against women. It sided with oppressive regimes, segregated meetings and defended Sharia and the veil. It brought lots of people to the streets initially but at what cost and for how long?

Collaborating with the likes of the English Defence League (EDL) may increase numbers in the short-term, but it’s self-defeating. This isn’t only about numbers. Aims and principles matter too.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I’m against the war on Iraq as is Al Qaeda but we’re against it for different reasons. I’m against Sharia and so is the EDL and the supposedly reinvented Tommy Robinson but we’re against it for different reasons.

I oppose Sharia in Britain and everywhere because universal rights, secularism, women’s rights and equality mean something to me. The EDL and Tommy Robinson oppose it because they want to defend their “homeland” (which I am reminded is a human right recognised by the UN) from “the changes and dangers brought to it by mass influxes of people from cultures they don’t understand or recognise.” Can you not see the fundamental differences in position? Theirs is a xenophobic position that blames immigrants and minorities for everything wrong with Britain. It’s a racist perspective that sees the teeming masses as the “other” trying to change white, British, Christian culture.

But people’s “culture” is not based on their immigration or citizenship status. Not every white European represents enlightenment values – as the EDL clearly proves. Nor is every immigrant or minority a regressive theocrat. This is not about a clash of civilisations between a regressive “east” and a secularist “west” but a clash between theocrats and the religious-Right on the one hand and secularists and democrats, including Muslims and immigrants on the other.

Where we each stand is based on our politics and choices not on our “identity” or immigration status. I too am one of those teeming immigrant masses after all as are many who are at the forefront of doing much of the dirty work of defending secularism in Britain and elsewhere.

It always annoys me to no end when I hear that the EDL are the only ones speaking out against Sharia. Please, we were speaking out against Sharia when EDL/BNP-types were openly collaborating with neo-Nazis and for white supremacy. Their language may have changed but political movements and organisations are thankfully not merely judged by the duplicitous language they use.

An undue focus on Britain, “homeland” and the west means that one can only see the likes of the EDL, thereby seeking common cause where there is none.

It also means that one cannot see the real allies in this fight, including amongst the “teeming hoards of immigrants” and women and men struggling in Iran, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Algeria, Mali, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere. One Law for All and the fight against Sharia and Islamism is a continuation of their struggle and fight – not that of the EDL’s and far-Right.

The far-Right will never have a place in One Law for All. I will make sure of that.

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As an aside, I must briefly address the fact that Tommy Robinson has left the EDL. I for one have nothing against working towards common goals with those who have left far-Right organisations – EDL or Islamist. One Law for All already works with ex-Islamists and ex-members of the BNP and EDL. However, I am doubtful that Tommy is a changed man. When Ed Hussain or Majid Nawaaz left Hizb ut Tahrir and founded Quilliam Foundation, they criticised the Islamist organisation they left and created a new position and space for themselves and others. Tommy has yet to do that. So far, all I have heard from him is how proud he is of his time with the EDL; he continues to defend the organisation. He has merely criticised certain elements within the EDL but not the organisation itself and its politics. One can’t be ex-EDL and still defend the EDL if one wants to show that they have truly changed. Islamists do this all the time by changing their organisational name and carrying on with business as usual.

Personally I think this is all a publicity stunt for Tommy to reinvent himself into a more palatable persona without any lasting change in his politics. (Notice how the BBC follows him everywhere?) For his politics to be considered different, he would need to take responsibility for the EDL’s far-Right politics during his leadership and must be judged not only by what he says but by what he does. Only time will tell whether he is the same old Tommy; I certainly hope not.

When Tommy met Mo

b03ghfypEarlier this year, Maryam Namazie was approached by the production company making the BBC documentary ‘When Tommy met Mo’, about the interaction between Tommy Robinson and Mo Ansar. They asked if we could put them in touch with any women who had been discriminated against in British sharia courts. We declined to help because framing the issue in this way was severely detrimental to the women in question, who could potentially be portrayed as siding with the leader of the EDL, an organisation responsible for intimidating Muslims and pushing forth a racist agenda of collective guilt.

We discussed this in a letter from the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. (Whilst circumstances changed during the filming leading to a different narrative direction, our warning remains relevant to any and all discussions surrounding Islam and Islamism in modern Britain.)

Sharia courts and the issue of Islam and Islamism are important issues of universal rights, secularism and one law for all and of combating misogyny and religious obscurantism  – issues that should not be framed within the context of two far-Right extremes of Tommy Robinson on the one hand and the faux-progressive, reactionary apologia of Mo Ansar on the other.

As you well know, Tommy Robinson leads a racist movement that engages in collective guilt against all Muslims… Not only does providing him with publicity by making him engage in a high profile programme like this confer a legitimacy on him, it also allows those who wish to stifle all critical scrutiny of certain precepts of Islam to stigmatise them as being in the realm of a far-Right response. This allows reactionaries to effectively usher in a narrative that conflates a secular rational critique of Islam with the bigoted agenda of the likes of Tommy Robinson. It is just one way of asserting a kind of proxy blasphemy code into the debate around religion in modern Britain, and it is something that ex-Muslims have to deal with already. This is deeply disheartening to us.

Moreover, whilst giving publicity to Tommy Robinson, this documentary will also give publicity to the reactionary Mo Ansar who will use the platform provided by you to position himself as a moderate and progressive when he is actually far from that. Mo Ansar has cultivated a media image of being benign, tolerant and “progressive” in his views, and has used the profile of an opponent of the far-Right EDL to project this image. But many secularists, liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims have been concerned at how easy it is for a social reactionary like him to gain this perception amongst parts of the Left and the media… Moreover, Mo Ansar engages with Islamist organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir and Cordoba Foundation. He also supports the Islamist coalition, Hefazat, that amongst other things seeks to execute vocal atheists in Bangladesh. The many reactionary positions of Mo Ansar has been catalogued here. A man with ties to Islamism who advises a domestic abuse victim to remain with her abuser is in no way merely a “Muslim commentator and interfaith advisor” as you call him.

Relegating important issues such as Islam, Islamism and Sharia courts to two polarising and far-Right figures ignores the complexities and does a disservice to the issues and the many dissenters who oppose both.

Clearly, your “documentary” will empower reactionaries, stifle progressive dissent, and marginalise truly progressive voices at a time when these are the voices that should be heard.

Tommy Robinson has now left the EDL and is working with the group Quilliam. We sincerely hope that he is a changed man and that in the future he will not engage in his former rhetoric or actions, nor will he apologise for or give succour to the kind of marches that were the hallmark of the EDL. We are cautious about his re-invention and must wait for proof of actions and not just words in order to ascertain whether he is indeed a changed man.

A word to the BBC: How much longer will the BBC be fixated with the apologists for Islamism and the far-Right? When will the media subject reactionaries like Ansar to as much critical scrutiny as nationalist reactionaries, and allow the voices of Muslim dissenters, secularists and ex-Muslims to be heard?

On Tweeting EDL supporters

Enemies-not-Allies-thumb“Soupy” has asked for clarification on One Law for All’s position with regards the English Defence League. I don’t see why we need to clarify every time some Tom, Dick or Soupy demands clarification but since I have promised to respond, I will do so briefly and this once.

Firstly, our position is as clear as daylight. For One Law for All, the English Defence League and far-Right are our enemies not allies. We’ve campaigned extensively against them, including opposing them at every opportunity possible. We’ve explained countless times why secularists should oppose them (see our FAQs here) and we have written an extensive report on the matter. You can also see our position being explained at a seminar we organised on the issue here.

All these years of work and our ongoing fight against the far-Right (and also the pro-Islamist Left) have apparently come to  nought because my co-spokesperson Anne Marie Waters has tweeted a couple of EDL supporters in a “friendly” manner.

Really?

First off, Anne Marie didn’t know they were EDL supporters or members. I know I don’t look at the history of people who tweet me or who I tweet back as there is simply no time to do so. Depending on what they say or the nature of their responses, I might then decide to block them or oppose them or follow them… They might then say something that makes me decide to un-follow them. It’s Twitter for goodness sake. Anne Marie can’t be held responsible for tweeting with people whose affiliations she is unaware of. Of course, now that she does know, it’s a different matter. It reminds me of a Pakistani born supporter of the Council of Ex-Muslims. When he told me he was also a member of the BNP (British National Party), I kicked him out of our organisation – no hesitation. Once you know, it becomes a different matter. Then it is no longer a question of merely continuing with our awareness raising efforts.

Yes, as campaigners, we explain and mobilise and strengthen our movement by persuading people to join us in our fight. Single issue campaigns by their very nature means working with all types of people with different points of view. But even whilst trying to build a mass movement, there are those who are not welcome. Full Stop. And the EDL and far-Right are not.

This has nothing to do with ignoring one’s racist neighbour rather than trying to persuade him to see how Islamists and Muslims are not one and the same and that the fight against Sharia is a fight against the far-Right and for equality and secularism for all – including “Muslims.” Of course, by all means, we must continue to speak to our racist or sexist neighbours until we are blue in the face and try our hardest to change their views. Anne Marie and I have gone up and down the country speaking till we are blue in the face – trying to explain these very things. But once that neighbour or the person you are tweeting joins an organised movement that spews hatred, then s/he must be held to account.

I know many EDL members will say they are not racist. To me, that is like an Islamist saying he is not anti-woman. It’s not possible. If you’re not racist or misogynist, then get the fuck out of the EDL or Islamism and then maybe we can talk.  I explain this more here. Until then, you are my enemy not ally.

This is not about restricting anyone’s free expression. Everyone is free to say anything they want and speak with anyone they want. Especially on their own time. Anne Marie and I campaign on other issues too. We also have other very strong views that go beyond the remit of our work as spokespersons for One Law for All. Nonetheless, there are some things that are fundamental to who we are and one of them is that it is impossible to fight the far-Right Islamic movement with the Christian far-Right. They are two sides of the same coin. They are thugs. They hate anyone and everyone who does not look like them or agree with them. And they don’t just disagree in the way the rest of us do. They threaten, harm and murder with impunity.

The Nazis, Norway’s Breivik and Greece’s Golden Dawn are good examples. And there are many examples of the EDL’s inhumanity and racism. They are thugs and haters just like the Islamists. It’s no wonder every neo-Nazi and fascist in a 100-mile radius flocks to them like moths to a flame. Just recently, again, Tommy Robinson, the EDL’s leader, has been exposed for threatening and intimidating behaviour. Read it here.

I know people will say that the EDL’s actions are incomparable with the Islamists but if it is so, it is only because of their differences in power. Even Islamists in Britain are incomparable with those in Iran or Saudi Arabia. They have to use rights language and double speak to make inroads whereas there they just hang people in city centres and call it justice. It is not because they are nicer here. It is because they have less access and influence. Whatever amount of power they do have, that is the degree to which they will make life hell for the population at large.

As I said, two sides of the same coin…

So Soupy: not complex for those committed to anti-racism, or anyone literate as you say.

 

I hope you are up for it

D wrote to me asking about my views on the UK Islamic Mission:

In Leeds they are setting up a centre in Moortown. The English Defence League is trying to exploit tensions about this by having a demo. I read a post from I think your forum saying that the UKIM is linked to Jamaat-e-Islami but looking at their website they seem to be just an evangelical group like the Mormans or Jehovah’s witnesses. Peddling an outdated and misogynist world view but basically within the remit of religion rather than politically linked to Jamaat. As a secular lefty I organised people to turn out against the EDL in Leeds and Bradford but this obviously is slightly more complicated because I don’t want to gloss other genuine concerns about UKIM but neither do I want to overact and take a position of neither EDL or UKIM.

I asked Gita Sahgal of Centre for Secular Space and an authority on Jamaat-e-Islami to respond. She wrote:

Please see this old Islamic Right Key Tendencies on UK Islamic Mission. The briefing is a few years old, but will be useful in determining which groups are Islamist. According to our information which was very thoroughly researched, the UK Islamic Mission is a part of the Jamaat e Islami. Fudamentalist organisations have numerous front organisations for different purposes including proselytising, collecting money for charity and so on. They all pursue the same political agenda even if it isn’t obvious.

I think it is high time that a NO to All Fascism front was established and I think it would be great to say no to EDL and to the UK IM.

D wrote back saying:

I am slightly wary of the Oppose both Fascisms stance. The EDL are proposing to go into an area with historically a high Jewish population and shout racist slogans and threaten and scare residents. If they could they would beat up Jewish and Asian people there and seek to whip up violence against the Asian community and would make no differentiation between Hizb-ut-Tahir and secular Muslims or non-Muslims who look Asian. Meanwhile the UKIM whilst having the links with Fascists in the Subcontinent and sharing their reactionary world view are obviously not threatening people on the street or anything like that. I think the main purpose of any demo would have to be against the EDL but the literature we put out should criticise UKIM but argue for the best way to oppose them is to support Muslim people and people of a Muslim background who are politically engaged against the Islamic right (like yourselves but also LGBT Muslims and some Liberal religious groups).

And here is Gita’s must read response:

Thank you for your letter on the ‘Opposing Both Fascisms’ stance. I understand that taking this stance involves a huge change in mindset and therefore it is difficult to take. It stems from seeing Muslims as powerless, ‘other’ and therefore needing support from the left, because they have no other support. It also treats ‘Muslims’ as an undifferentiated category.

If any of your assumptions were accurate, it might be possible to argue that the EDL poses the greater threat, but unfortunately not a single one of your statements is correct.
• As our material shows, the Jamaat e Islami is a global transnational movement which has organised in Britain and in many other countries. It is MUCH more powerful than the EDL and arguably as threatening on the street. Its threat is not expressed in the same ways and remains invisible to white leftists who are not affected by it. [Read more…]

Yes I dare: On the EDL

Leslie Seavor has emailed me saying:

How dare you insult the EDL on Twitter! You know nothing about it or its members.

I’m a member. I’m not far right… Just keep your moronic prejudice to yourself.

edit-Tatchell-EDL-protest-300x195

Well yes, I dare.

There is ample evidence that the English Defence League (EDL) is a far-Right racist organisation. Even if some of its members are not (and if not what are they doing there?), that doesn’t change the politics and ethos of the EDL. It’s like telling me you’e a pro-woman Islamist. Well, good for you, but that doesn’t change the realities of the Islamic movement and it does raise the question of why you remain in and defend a misogynist movement. Clearly you must agree. [Read more…]

Conspiratorial nut-jobs, Nazis and extremists

Here’s a wonderful letter I received recently from a thoughtful ex-member of the far-Right British National Party. There is a lot we can learn from Alistair Barbour in challenging the far-Right. As I have said before, when the pathetic excuse of an ‘anti-fascist’ and Post-modernist Left allies itself with Islamic fascism, it leaves the space open for the far-Right to address this issue from an inhuman and racist perspective. That’s why the work of groups like One Law for All is so important. And it will be made all the stronger with voices such as that of Alistair’s. Alistair gave me permission to publish his letter in full.

Dear Ms Namazie.

I hope you don’t mind me sending this mail through this site I am a subscriber to your blog on ‘freethought blogs.com’ and received your posting relating to the far right. I have tried to send this article to that email address also but as it says ‘no reply’ I don’t hold out much hope of you getting it through that channel. If this email can not be sent to Ms Namazie would it be possible to let me know.

I am thoroughly ashamed to admit that a few years ago I was becoming very concerned about certain things in our country that I actually joined the BNP [the far-Right British National Party]. A shameful weight that I shall carry round my neck for ever. Please allow me to explain as briefly as I can.

I had never been one for watching TV and the internet was a total unknown source for me so I had heard little bits about the BNP but very little really. I was too busy working and bringing up 2 sons on my own. Looking back now I can see the pattern of why I became political.

There was real problems with the country, political Islam being one of the them. At the time I spoke to the 3 main party’s and they just appeared to not want to face up to some very real problems that society was facing. Anyways a friend of mine asked me to come to a political meeting, a BNP meeting. I thought what the hell, it will be interesting won’t it.

Anyways to try and be as brief as possible. I know now that I was primed. I had been thought the courts for a few years. My ex-wife had taken my house and left me with 2 sons. I definitely got the best deal, two great sons who are now young men,but I think at the time the anger with the unfairness in the system was festering. My sons were now older and I suppose I maybe noticed what was going on in my country. [Read more…]