Thursday, 17 June 2010

The militant antifascist tradition tells us how to deal with Islamic wingnuts

On Tuesday, a march by the Royal Anglian Regiment was disrupted by Islamist protesters. A previously unheard of group called "Muslims Against Crusades" echoed the actions of the now-defunct Islam4UK, chanting "murderers, murderers," and "British troops go to hell."

This repeat performance was met with more resistance than last time. As the Evening Standard reports "about 100 men — wearing English Defence League T-shirts and shouting “scum”, “Muslim bombers off our streets” and “Allah, Allah, who the f***k is Allah” — surged out of the nearby Barking Dog pub and surrounded the Muslims." The clash ended when the Islamists were driven behind a steel barricade and eventually led away to the train station.
Just as happened in Luton, there has been a massive media outcry.

The Daily Mail led with "into the jaws of hate," describing the Islamists as "screaming hate and brandishing vile placards." The Daily Star insists that, despite no corroboration in other press reports, the group "spat at" the soldiers. The Sun called the protest "sick." Nile Gardiner, writing for the Telegraph, demands that "it’s about time that Muslim leaders in the U.K. actually took a stand and denounced en masse extremists like this, as well as pay tribute to the sacrifice of British forces fighting for the cause of liberty and freedom in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."

Before anything else, I must repeat the point I made after the Luton protests;
If this is a democracy, then the absolute right to protest anything and to say anything - even if it is offensive, ignorant, or wrong - should be a basic, universal benchmark. If it is not, then we cannot claim to be living in a democracy or to have freedom of speech.
This is not just a point of principle, but of practicality. Islamism doesn't exist because Muslims haven't been told sternly enough they're not allowed to be extremists.

It exists, like nationalism and fascism, because people lack an outlet for very real grievances or concerns. It is a reactionary movement which preys upon those concerns and twists them to suit a divisive and authoritarian agenda.

As with far-right groups like the BNP, censorship only gives them credibility. By playing the card as martyrs to free speech, suppressed by the current system, they are able to appeal to those disenfranchised by that same system. The more we try to deny their opinions a public airing or even ban them from existence, the more their message resonates with those who (for very different reasons) are fed up with the authorities doing the banning.
But if this conservative approach is doomed to failure, so too is the more liberal approach. Trying to reason with so-called "extremists" from the point of view of the dominant power structure is an exercise in futility.

Yet again, we have parallels with antifascism. People aren't drawn to the BNP because the conservative mainstream isn't offering a "moderate" form of fascist policies nor because middle-class liberals haven't shouted at them and called them "nasty" and "racist" loud enough. They are drawn to it because it offers an answer to the problems caused by the dominant political class. That this answer is fascist and built upon racist scapegoating is entirely irrelevant when there is nothing else to replace it with.

Likewise, Muslims don't turn to Islamism because they lack "moderate" forms of the bigotry and cultural imperialism that ideology offers. Nor do they do so because they haven't been told by flag-waving non-Muslims how "evil" it is and that they should "pay tribute to the sacrifice of British forces fighting for the cause of liberty and freedom in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."
The Sun quotes Muslims Against Crusdaes leader Abu Assadullah thus;
We are quite disgusted by the fact these murderers that raped our people are coming back and they are being honoured for doing something wrong. These people have been killing and raping and pillaging in Islamic countries and they should not be welcomed home. As Muslims, we wanted to make a stand.

The families of the soldiers are not the only ones with feelings. We also have feelings, our fellow Muslims are being butchered. Islam is not a violent religion but we will use violence if necessary to defend ourselves. Democracy is failing, that was clear as this year we had a hung parliament. Islam is the alternative.

People in this country are very patriotic. They support Britain even if the country has done something wrong. We want to show that there is an alternative. Sharia law would provide an alternative, it would provide balance in the UK.

People say ‘don’t take it out on the soldiers, they are just doing their jobs’. But how it when Osama Bin Laden blows up a plane or a building he is a terrorist. It is not that he is just doing his job – this is a double standard. They are both killing.
A large part of this argument is dominated by the rhetoric of the batshit crazy.

There is no serious argument for the idea that Osama bin Laden is "just doing his job." He is, after all, an ideological leader of the al-Qaeda network. This was almost certainly not a position offered in the jobs section of the Helmland Echo, and as heir to a vast oil fortune he could more than afford to not be involved in terrorism.

Soldiers, on the other hand, are working class. They have to sell their labour in order to feed and clothe themselves and their families, and it just so happens that their labour has been bought by the armed wing of the state. Are they culpable if, as individuals, they commit attrocities? Absolutely. And, as with the Bloody Sunday inquiry, they should be held accountable. But to say that they are responsible for the war itself, illegal though it may be, is utterly absurd.

But within this rhetoric are more reasonable points which deserve to be addressed. The idea that the military "are being honoured for doing something wrong" will resonate with everyone who has objections to the war.

Organisers and supporters claim that parades and events which honour "our" troops are non-political and separate from the question of whether we should have gone to war. But the idea that soldiers are "fighting for freedom" or are - by virtue of their very uniform - "heroes" is a political statement. Can one fight for freedom in an illegal war of aggression?

That stating the above will be met with instant fury by many "patriots" only emphasises Assadullah's statement that people "support Britain even if the country has done something wrong." This, too, is an area of concern for those alienated from the system or ostracised for being critical of the actions of the state. Organisations like Muslims Against Crusades appear because the only people articulating these concerns add that "Sharia law would provide an alternative, it would provide balance in the UK."

And, of course, this suits the ruling class fine. If those who do dissent are most often pulled into reactionary movements, this means that genuinely radical organisations cannot emerge to challenge the status quo. Moreover, the hatred and fear that such extremists (understandably) evoke fuels the aggressive patriotism that cements the position of those in power.

This is why opposition to Islamism should not come from the state or from "patriots." It should come from ordinary Muslims, not out of a demand for patriotic loyalty but with the support and solidarity of antifascists. Moreover, it has to be couched in the tradition of militant, working class self-defence.

If we are made to choose between the "patriotism" and "extremism," we should strongly reject both.