Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The importance of organising Muslims against Islamism

As I wrote in my last article, Sunday saw the English Defence League organise a demonstration against what they declared to be "Hezbollah, a Muslim Terrorist Organisation's [sic] supporters" marching through London. In fact, the march was a pro-Palestine rally for al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day. Thus, the EDL demonstrated their ignorance of global politics and that their drive to "oppose extremism" had more to do with inciting violence against Arabs than with actually challenging the ideology of militant Islam.

On the day, the planned protest failed rather spectacularly. The Times reports that the group "only mustered about 30 supporters" who were "barricaded into a small area by police, while the pro-Palestinian supporters marched past." Chants of “Muslim scum off our streets” betrayed the reality of the EDL agenda at that march.

Having dealt with the politics of the EDL on several occasions now, though, I would like to turn the focus towards those they claim their hatred is aimed at, militant Islamists.

The point of the al-Quds day march, of course, was to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinians. That, according to Orato, "pro-Israel supporters also joined [the EDL] in agitating the mass demonstration, waving Israel's flag in a moment of unusual nationalist solidarity" is an apt demonstration of how much ire this raised amongst Zionists. Palestine has always presented a problem for hard-right Israeli nationalists, the suffering of an inconvenient people getting in the way of their ambition for a Israeli expansionism.

However, it seems that English and Israeli nationalists were not the only people angered at the sight of this protest. According to eyewitnesses who posted comments on Indymedia, "loads of passerbys and iranians [sic] were booing the march." The reason being "the number of Muslims who will march today with pro-Hezbollah and pro-Hamas placards" as well as the presence of "Pro-Iranian Islamists," which is why "many Iranian communists and workers demonstrate against [the march] every year."

Certainly, this is perhaps the biggest issue with regards to Middle Eastern issues and the cause of Palestinian rights - the infiltration of Islamists. For the most part, the presence of large numbers carrying placards declaring that "we are all Hamas / Hezbollah now" can be put down to naivete. The way the situation is reported in the western media, and the alternative coverage aimed at correcting the imbalance, often leads to the impression that the conflict is black and white, between good guys and bad (whichever way you assign the roles). It should not need pointing out that reality is far more complex and nuanced.

However, there are also those who propagate similar disturbing sentiment without the cover of being naive. Consistent opponents of authoritarianism, oppression, and far-right extremism must oppose those who would use the Palestinian cause to promote Islamism as readily as they do the fascist thugs of the EDL. In order to do so, we need an awareness of how such people operate.

Perhaps the most prominent, and articulate, Islamist in Great Britain is Anjem Choudary, organiser of the now-infamous Luton protests. Self-proclaimed "Judge of the Shari'ah Court of the UK and Principal Lecturer at the London School of Shari'ah," Choudary holds to the worst elements of the Islamist ideology. He refuses to condemn the killing of innocent people on the grounds that "when we say 'innocent people' we mean 'Muslims'," and has declared that "Islam is not a religion of peace...It is a religion of submission. We need to submit to the will of Allah." The "we" in question being everyoneon the planet, whom he wishes to see subjugated under Shariah law through violent jihad.

Choudary is, however, not a cariacature. Though he lives up to the worst steretoypes of Islam offered by the European right, he does not rant and rave when expressing his views. Rather, like most prominent spokesmen of the extreme right (Islamist or otherwise), he is able to articulate his opinions extremely well. He does this by reaching out with genuine issues that people are affected by, and drawing them in by twisting these problems to suit his own warped agenda.

The most recent example of this is the "unique address" he offered to "members and affiliates of the English Defence League."

In this video, Choudary speaks clearly and coherently, intersplicing calls for "the Shariah" and "the flag of Islam to fly high over 10 Downing Street" with an appeal to "those Muslims who think they are fighting against racism and fascism" to join his cause. He then challenges "Muslims and non-Muslims" to "openly debate," insisting that Islam for the UK offers the best alternative, "socially, economically, politically, and judicially," to the "economic malaise," "the expenses scandal," and "the credit crunch." Clearly, his aim is to rally those who oppose the EDL to his cause so that "the UAF, the socialists, and the Labour Party, and the Respect party" are unable to "hijack this agenda" from him.

However, a quick examination of the ideology that Choudary and his followers holds shows that it would not stand up to close scrutiny and open debate. Outlined on the Islam4UK website, his cure for the "economic malaise" borders on the fatuous. The website declares the Islamic economic system "distinct from Capitalism and Communism," advising that it "should be studied in great detail to fully appreciate its importance to mankind." Such a sentiment is as old as the State and particularly acute within religious hierarchies, amounting to nothing more than obfuscation. The idea that any social or economic system is beyond the understanding of ordinary people and needs to be implemented by a wise elite - whether the Imams, Leninism's "Vanguard of the Proletariat," or the enlightenment's "men of best quality" - is a nonsense and the sure road to despotism.

In fact, the summary offered coers Islamic economics pretty comprehensively;
The four basic principles of the Islamic Economic System

1. All wealth belongs to Allah (SWT)

Naturally, Allah (SWT) is in charge, sovereign and supreme and the wealth belongs to Him.

[EMQ 24: 33] "And give them something yourselves out of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you."

2. The Muslims are the custodians and trustees of the wealth

Those who submit themselves to Allah (SWT) i.e. the Muslims, can only be charged with the responsibility of guarding and protecting the wealth.

[EMQ 57: 7] "Believe in Allah and His Messenger, and spend of that whereof He has made you trustees."

3. Hoarding the wealth is forbidden

Accumulating wealth is strictly forbidden and has been associated with severe punishment.
[EMQ 9: 34] "O you who believe! Verily, there are many of the (Jewish) rabbis and the (Christian) monks who devour the wealth of mankind in falsehood, and hinder (them) from the Way of Allah. And those who hoard up gold and silver, and spend it not in the Way of Allah, announce unto them a painful torment. "

4. Circulating the wealth is obligatory

With the prohibition of hoarding also comes the obligation of regular circulation of one's wealth

[EMQ 59: 7] "What Allah gave as booty (Fai') to His Messenger from the people of the townships, - it is for Allah, His Messenger, the kindred (of Messenger Muhammad), the orphans, Al-Masakin (the poor), and the wayfarer, in order that it may not become a fortune used by the rich among you."
What we have, in essence, is a theocratic - and highly simplified - form of state-socialism, and a recipe for a Soviet Union with the brutal, patriarchal, heterosexist, autocracy of Saudi Arabia. That the main critique offered of capitalism is not that it creates a vast chasm between the rich and the poor but a moralistic sentiment about "pornography, insurance, and gambling" shows how little these groups comprehend the globalised corporatist system we all live under. Equally, an explanation of socialism as a "vague principle" of "shared ownership" which "is in opposition to man's natural disposition" (unlike, apparently, surrendering all wealth to Imams such as Choudary), displays a wilful ignorance of what socialism is. Not to mention the over-simplified statement that "Communism" is "dead." But then, political complexity has never been a specialist subject of the religious authoritarian.

Such as it is, then, the ideology of Islamism is extremely vulnerable in the face of reason and rational dissection. This is why, just as with combatting fascism, the war of ideas must be fought against all irrational and authoritarian ideologies. This does not mean seeking out Islamic militants to argue with, as I very much doubt the substance behind Choudary's challenge to "open debate." What it does mean is actively engaging people and communities to show them a genuine and viable alternative to their current woes. Without the offer of such salvation, Islamism - like Fascism - loses much of its appeal. Bar a tiny and fanatical hardcore, few if any will be lured towards men like Choudary for jihad alone. The intangible world loses much of its appeal when there is a genuine way to tackle the problems of the tangible world.

At the same time, organisation and mobilisation is vital in tackling the fanatics. A community immunised from bad ideas is still vulnerable to violence and intimidation, and there need to be people willing to combat this. The Iranian communists and workers booing or protesting the al-Quds day march need to be at the heart of it, booting out the extremists and making sure that a march for Palestinian rights is just that, not a platform for Islamists. The ordinary Muslims of Luton led the way for this in May when they forcefully ran the Islamists off the streets.

By engaging with communities at a grassroots level, and organising to kick the Islamists off the streets, social activists and ordinary Muslims alike can tackle both the ideological and physical threat of militant Islam. At the same time, such organisation not only offers a useful force against thugs such as the EDL, but renders them impotent by stripping away the pretence that they are opposed only to extremism, leaving the core of violent racists isolated from those who - faced with a lack of other outlets for their concerns - might rally to their cause.

Only in this way can fascism, Islamism, and any other movement to turn the working class in on itself be destroyed and greater numbers be galvanised against the state and corporate power sectors that are really responsible for the atomisation and exploitation of society.