Monthly Archives: August 2015

Corbyn’s supporters should be honest 

The charge levelled by many at Jeremy Corbyn is not that he is anti-Semitic. He himself has said little to draw that damning conclusion. The charge levelled, with evidence increasing by the day, is that he endorses anti-Semites and attends events organised by anti-Semites. The charge levelled, therefore, is that he views anti-semitism as insufficiently worrisome, and, at times, views anti-Semites as even praiseworthy – particularly anti-Semites who hide under the cover of anti-Zionism. This is dangerous in itself. Racism, even when couched in terms that may draw your ideological sympathy, merits outright condemnation. Nothing else. This is especially true if your raison d’être is social justice and equality. Instead, opposition to Israeli policies – not in itself anti-Semitic, and at times morally justified – has blinded some people to clear expressions of bigotry. Corbyn suffers from this disabling myopia to a remarkable degree. 

Those who defend Corbyn rely on two arguments: firstly, that guilt by association – attending the same event as anti-Semites – is an insufficient base on which to build an argument. Secondly, that opposition to Israeli policies doesn’t entail anti-semitism, and consequently those that criticise Corbyn are doing so from a position of bad faith; out of a wish to shield Israel from legitimate criticism or part of a general right-wing agenda. Both arguments are strawmen that rely on a misapprehension of most people’s motives and inattention to their arguments. 

Owen Jones – perhaps the most staunch defender of Corbyn in the mainstream media – contends that guilt by association is a fallacious way of critiquing a political figure. I agree. But in his defence of Corbyn, he argues: 

having spent his life attending more meetings and protests than virtually any other MP, he will have encountered and met countless people. I can’t remember people I’ve shared platforms with and met (which has led to many embarrassing moments in my case) and the idea an MP like Corbyn juggling his constituency and campaigning work and meeting the number of people he does will remember is pushing human capabilities to an extreme degree.

The problem, though, is the main charge levelled at Corbyn isn’t who he associates with; the main charge is who he endorses and publicly supports. Jones also argues: 

And here is the problem facing Jeremy Corbyn. If he knew somebody had anti-Semitic views or indulged Holocaust denial, he would find their views utterly repulsive.

That may be the case. But when he called Hamas “a group dedicated to bringing about long term peace and social justice and political justice”, was that an expression of ignorance on his part? Is he ignorant of the Hamas charter which calls for the destruction of Israel and the extirpation of her Jewish citizens? Perhaps he is ignorant of their suicide bombings and deployment of human shields – the pinnacle of suicidal martyrdom. Or rather, is their propagation of anti-Semitic canards, such as the protocols of elders of Zion, too discrete for his busy political gaze, too hidden under their righteous objective to end the occupation? (The occupation, not of the West Bank and Gaza, incidentally, but of the whole of Israel.) 

He called them “a group dedicated to bringing about peace and social justice”. This is not an expression of diplomacy, a conciliatory measure to advance the peace process. This is an endorsement of a fascist theocratic group that supports everything a progressive should hate and hates everything a progressive should support.  

He similarly extended this endorsement to Hezbollah. Whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, similarly seeks the massacre of Jewish citizens. Corbyn doesn’t engage with diplomacy towards ‘unsavoury characters’; he endorses fascists who share with him a hostility to western foreign policy and her allies. Guilt by association? No. What we have instead is guilt by affirmation. 

The suggestion of guilt by association is used more explicitly, though, to defend the rallies that Corbyn attends. In August 2012 – and a few times since then – Corbyn spoke at an Al Quds day rally. The rally was created by the Iranian regime in opposition to Israel’s existence. Shouts of “Death to Jews” are routinely proclaimed. The banner of Ayatollah Khomeini is proudly displayed. Someone who is apparently dedicated to peace was attending a rally of hatred – where revolutionary violence and virulent anti-semitism is the main and not a side dish. 

Note who else also spoke at that event. Neturei Karta – an extremist Jewish sect that views the holocaust as divinely mandated – were introduced as “the true Jews”. Stephen Sizer – a reverend that believes Israel was behind 9/11 – was similarly greeted with praise before he spoke. Also invited to speak was Sheikh Bahmanpour, a Shia cleric that believes Israel should be the destroyed and replaced by a shariah state. 

What unites all these guests, what common thread is evident from them? Support for Palestinian rights? Perhaps. Would you, though, allow your support for Palestinian rights to be corrupted by attending events that demonise Jews? In other words, would your support for Palestinian extend to legitimising those who hate Jews? If not, Corbyn’s attendance of these rallies deserve to be viewed for what they patently are: legitimising people who hate Jews in the purported service of a progressive goal. 

But to criticise Corbyn for attending this rally is guilt by association, so argue his defenders. How could he have known Al Quds day features anti-Semites? Corbyn’s defenders assume that the event just happens to have anti-Semites, as an unfortunate but unintended consequence of pro-Palestinian politics. This is spectacularly wrong: The wish to destroy Israel is animated by hostility to Jews and a wish to subordinate them to suffering and fear. It is not a specific political dispute; it is blanket bigotry.

Imagine If you decided to speak at a rally organised by neo-nazis, with pictures of David Duke displayed proudly, and with a significant chunk of your fellow speakers sharing the neo-nazi ideology. Is to scrutinise you an example of guilt by association? Should we assume, as a politician of some 3 decades and a man dedicated to peace, you’re extremely ignorant of the anti-semitism at the core of neo-nazism? Corbyn’s defenders will now say the analogy I’m offering is hyperbolic. 

For the claim of hyperbole to hold water you’d have to believe that calling for the mass murder of Jews, viewing the holocaust as a hoax, viewing the elders of Zion as real, and inviting to your event an assortment of well honed anti-Semites, has no significant similarity with neo-nazi anti-semitism?
 

Even if they concede there is some significant similarity, they’ll argue that Corbyn’s main focus is pro-Palestinian politics and not the anti-semitism of the people who organised the event, and certainly not the anti-semitism of people who were invited. This will be conceding Corbyn knew about the anti-semitism, and views it as insufficiently worrisome. Would you, as a supporter of a party with a rich history of social justice and advocacy for equality, want to elect a man who thinks anti-semitism under the cover of anti-Zionism is justified? Or who can’t identify it when it’s in close proximity? Many would, alas, and it proves that many on the left don’t view anti-semitism as badly as they view other forms of racism. Jews – sorry, Zionists – are assumed to be privileged, and this privilege means they’re never the victims; only and always the victimiser.
 

A Zionist that screams anti-semitism at Corbyn is a Zionist that wants to protect the oppressive state of Israel. A Zionist that worries about someone who is enabling and legitimising the oldest hatred in our civilisation should shut the fuck up and think instead about austerity and our support for Saudi Arabia. This is what is being suggested. And it has flowered into such a foul spectacle that the word “Zionist” is spat out with the same malice that traditionally underpinned the use of the word of “Jew”: to denote a group allegedly dedicated to treachery and division. 

The second defence of Corbyn is that criticism of him comes from a position of bad faith. It is argued that Zionists and people with an explicit right wing agenda conflate legitimate criticism of Israeli policy with hostility towards Jews. They allegedly support this conflation because they blindly support the interests of western power. A recent article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown offers the clearest attempt at this argument. Alibhai-Brown argues

 Just as pernicious is the way Zionists use the charge of anti-Semitism to block probes into Israel’s oppressive practices, its weaponry, and its influence in Western parliaments. Some public intellectuals and politicians – who should have some understanding of nuance – have become propagandists for Israel, be the country’s actions right or wrong.

 Most people critical of Corbyn don’t think criticism of Israel entails anti-semitism. Most people who are critical of Corbyn don’t even suppose Corbyn is personally anti-Semitic. The argument advanced against Corbyn is clear: it’s inappropriate to have as leader of the opposition party in a western democracy someone who endorses racists. This is not to do directly with Israeli policies. Endorsing Raed Salah – proponent of the blood libel, and someone who thinks Jews were behind 9/11 – should be viewed for what it is: an endorsement of a racist ideologue. It should not be viewed exclusively through the lens of Palestinian rights.

 If someone called Nick Griffin “an honoured citizen”, and attended a conference that celebrated him, how far would you go to listen to the political context provided as justification before you call “bullshit”?

The implication obvious from this is that racism should concern only if it is perpetrated by those who are the oppressors. White westerners – and now Jews – are the oppressors; Palestinians, and Muslims more generally, are the oppressed. The oppressed cannot be racist. Any expression of alleged bigotry by the oppressed is an expression of a legitimate political grievance. Attempts to scrutinise such expressions must therefore come from a position of bad faith. Ergo, if Salah is racist, but he also hates the occupation, Corbyn’s endorsement of him is an endorsement of a legitimate political grievance. Bigotry is the burden only of the white westerner and its Zionist accomplice. 

This argument is shoddy because it infantilises one group to excuse the hatred of another. We should view Palestinians as humans: this entails viewing them as capable of religious prejudice that should merit the opprobrium of leftists, usually the most sensitive to accusations of prejudice. This also entails holding Corbyn to account for doing the exact opposite. In indulging anti-Semitic reactionaries, from Hamas to Hezbollah and Raed Salah, in his effusive support of them, he is treating bigotry not as bigotry and, by doing that, he is betraying the dignity of Palestinians and the trust of Jews.  

The argument that criticism of Corbyn comes from a position of bad faith fails to account for the fact that the people Corbyn supports don’t hate Israel but Jews – a distinction which, for them, is meaningless anyway. It fails to account for the fact that it is not just Blairites, neocons, and neoliberals who worry about a potential political leader palling with racists. People who think anti-semitism is worrisome in itself worry too – and so they should, for it is a matter of principle first and foremost. 

What it irritates me most is the dishonesty with which Corbyn’s apologists have defended his links to racism. The charge is he endorses and willingly attends events organised by anti-Semites, not that he merely and accidentally associates with them. This charge is supported by evidence of him saying positive things about racists and attending events organised by groups ideologically committed to racism. Corbyn’s supporters should be honest: they should concede Corbyn supports anti-Semites. But they should then concede, that to them, this support doesn’t matter. They should be honest and concede that anti-semitism under the cover of anti-Zionism doesn’t matter to them, and is secondary to opposing austerity and opposing western foreign policy. 

Let them then concede that parts of the left are now morally bankrupt on the issue of racism. They should admit that they’re diminishing the values they pretend to espouse. Let them concede all of that, and support the MP from Islington with a candid heart – but not, in reality, with an anti-racist one. 

Secularists shouldn’t support anti-Muslim bigots.

In the process of editing this blog, it came to my attention that the Mohammed exhibition has been cancelled . I don’t know the reason why, but if it was due to external pressure and or overt coercion then that would be a shame. I didn’t support the exhibition because I think the main speakers are unsupportable, but their right to host the exhibition should be paramount and free from coercion or any external pressure. So bear in mind that I had written this piece without knowledge of the cancellation of the event. I think some of the general points I make are still salient though.

Part 1 – Principles

Perhaps the most stinging attack that is levelled at left wing people who side with Islamists is the accusation of hypocrisy: as progressives ostensibly dedicated to advancement of individual liberty and human rights, it is hypocritical to work with those who support the antithesis of these principles. This reasoning justified the angry response against Amnesty International for their alliance with CAGE; it also explains why, for example, Islamist apologist groups like the NUS have faced considerable opprobrium from some quarters. It is a straightforward appeal to moral integrity.  

Of course it is sensible to work with those who, although they disagree here and there, broadly share the same vision as you. This does not, however, entail working with people whose vision and agenda are wholly different. To fight one form of intolerance by accommodating those who carry with them extreme intolerance of their own is to empty your fight of moral integrity – all you have is righteous indignation; your principles have been irrevocably polluted. This is the argument levelled at left-wing people who side with Islamists, and this argument is correct in principle. 

So it is curious, then, to witness a parallel phenomenon taking place. The Lawyers’ Secular Society – a group created to support and advance secular principles – is supporting an event organised by an online magazine called Vive Charlie. The event is a Mohammed cartoon drawing exhibition organised by Vive Charlie in concert with former parliamentary candidate for UKIP and head of ShariaWatch, Anne Marie Waters. The event and exhibition has a goal: to demonstrate implacable opposition to Islamic blasphemy codes, and the ideology of political Islam that fosters it. 

Or is it Islam itself that they’re opposed to? Or is it, in fact, Muslims? 

For the main guests invited to speak at the exhibition, the distinction between the three are entirely dissolved: Paul Weston, head of Liberty GB, wants Muslims to be banned from public office; Geert Wilders, Dutch politician, holds that Muslim immigration poses an existential threat to European society, and wants to ban the building of mosques. So you have secularists – whose remit includes promotion of equality and opposition to discrimination – supporting a conference whose main speakers hold discriminatory and bigoted views; in other words, you have a demonstration of hypocrisy and a betrayal of principle. You have a case, therefore, analogous to the alliance between “progressives” and Islamists.

To expand on the analogy further, take the example of CAGE. A group of Bath academics have written an article for OpenDemocracy which said it is important to work with CAGE – an Islamist lobby group – because they share with the academics an opposition to the governments counter-extremism measures. They argue:

Islamophobia needs to be understood as centrally related to the interests of the British state, and the practices of the security apparatus in particular. This is why Cage’s work is so important and why it should be defended.

So the obstacle faced by CAGE, their alleged victimhood at the hands of the British state, means we have to support them – irrespective of other comsiderations, such as principle. This reasoning, that our support of something should be dictated by how it is treated by our enemies, is similarly acceded to by secularists who support anti-Muslim bigots: those who draw the prophet and risk the wrath of Islamists deserve not just support for their right to do so, but support for the exhibition itself. Morality is shaped by ever-changing circumstance, rather than being derived from a general set of principles. (I’m not making a direct moral equivalence between the British government and Islamists here. Rather, I seek to highlight that is improper to subordinate your moral principles to considerations of who is most oppressed at a particular time.)

It’s important to note a distinction here – between supporting their right to host the event, and supporting the event’s agenda. Supporting the right to blaspheme Islamic precepts is axiomatic: it is essential for any self-regarding liberal society that no idea or doctrine is beyond scrutiny, and no taboo beyond the scope of satire. Those who say otherwise, and buttress their objections with reference to the alleged oppression of Muslims in the west, undermine the beating heart of a free society. It is just as important for Muslims as non-Muslims that blasphemy codes be abolished. The abolishment of blasphemy codes will constitute a leap to modernity, whereby dissenting Muslim voices are at liberty to challenge the core taboos of their faith without coercion or fear. It will constitute a liberal ideal.  

So I support the right to blaspheme, irrespective of those who do the blaspheming, because the ideal sustained by blaspheming – that no idea goes unchallenged, and dogma remains enclosed – is important to a liberal society. My support for this right does not, however, entail supporting the agenda and beliefs of whoever chooses to exercise it. I support, for example, the right for writers to publish books, irrespective of the books’ content, because I believe the right to artistic or intellectual liberty to be an essential one for any culturally vibrant society. This does not entail support for the content of a specific novel published or for the message advanced by a specific polemic. 

I support the right to host the exhibition, because such rights are axiomatic; I do not, however, support the agenda of the exhibition, because the main speakers hold racist views, and view Muslims as a threat rather than Islamists – a distinction which, for bigots, is meaningless anyway. 

 It’s also important to note that whilst being a conventional racist is not as morally objectionable as being a racist who supports medieval punishments, being a racist still carries with it an attitude towards fellow humans that should concern secularists for its own sake. 

Another distinction to lay out, therefore, is between someone who supports theocracy – straightforwardly anathema to the principles of secularism – and someone who is “merely” a racist. A theocrat embodies the antithesis of secular principles, but does a racist? Being a secularist means you believe certain belief systems shouldn’t have monopoly on state legislation. Implicit in this is the view that religious people and non-religious people should be treated equally; so a secularist supports equality and tolerance. Therefore, a secularist, animated by the value of equality, should oppose racism for the same reason he or she opposes Islamism: both breed intolerance. 

 The conventional racist in this instance breeds intolerance of the brown person or the Muslim; the Islamist breeds intolerance of the degenerate kuffar. Both, therefore, are contrary to the values fostered by secularism – the values of treating each person as an individual deserving of equal dignity, and scrutinising only ideas and doctrine. Supporting the agenda of an event headlined by either racists and Islamists should consequently run contrary to the values of a secularist. 

For secularists who are insufficiently hostile to Islamism, to argue that you shouldn’t associate with Islamists is to scaremonger about Muslims and undermine Muslim political activists. For secularists on the other side of the ideological spectrum, hostility to an alliance between secularists and bigots is a cowardly demonstration of political correctness. For both, secularism is a means to an end rather than an end itself. 

Part 2 – Lawyer Secular Society and Vive Charlie.  

A prominent member of the Lawyers Secular Society, Charlie Klendijan, blogged about the reasons why the group had decided to support the Mohammed exhibition. He argues for the principle of solidarity. The debilitating nature of the threat posed by Islamist violence means that whoever draws the prophet, and thereby challenges Islamic blasphemy law, deserves the moral support of secularists – irrespective of other considerations. Klendijan argues:  

Supporting from the sidelines by remarking banally, backside-coveringly and while subtly slipping in a dagger that “Everyone has the right to free speech, even bigots” is simply not good enough. It’s weak. Deep down, I suspect those who trot out this stock phrase know they’re being weak.   

 The best way to support an event like this; the best way to show the LSS is truly committed to free speech; and the best way to show solidarity with those who have been killed and who continue to risk their lives, is to publicly associate ourselves with the event and to speak there in a spirit of solidarity with the other speakers.

“A spirit of solidarity” is a powerful phrase. It captures something now distinctly lacking in progressive politics: solidarity with those who stand against a totalitarian doctrine held – inconveniently – by people whom the left assume to be innately victims. “Spirit of solidarity” is a powerful phrase because it captures that important value and it renders it elegantly. But solidarity with whom, exactly? Does this mean, then, that the ultimate worldview of whoever contests Islamic blasphemy code has no bearing in forging alliances with that person – if you happen, in that instance, to share the same specific goal. Does this mean, then, that progressives working with Islamists are morally legitimate in their alliance if the progressives share with the Islamist the same goal?  

Klendijan argues specific viewpoints are irrelevant. He argues that the threat of Islamism looms larger than the squabbles and disputes one may have with Weston and Wilders. He argues thus:   

Individual views towards Wilders and Weston will differ but in the context of this event those views are irrelevant, for this reason: we mustn’t create a “hierarchy of victims” of blasphemy codes where Charlie Hebdo are at the top but others, for whatever reason, are at the bottom. 

It is correct that we mustn’t create a hierarchy of victims, all victims of Islamist terror uniformly deserve our support. But I’m not sure how refusing to endorse an exhibition headlined by racists will make the speakers any less deserving of our sympathy if they’re attacked by armed Islamists. Isn’t supporting the right to do something – a necessary precondition for any committed Liberal, and one desecrated by armed violence – and supporting the agenda of something being conflated? If to refrain from supporting an agenda implies that I think the people expressing that agenda deserves to die, then anything threatened by murderous ideologues deserves not just the support for the right of that thing, but also support for the thing itself. This is a dangerous elision. It would, for example, entail endorsing the event if BNP members and more explicit Neo-Nazis headlined as main speakers. It would essentially mean being obliged to endorse something because circumstances out of your hand dictates you do so – not very liberal. It would mean transforming Voltaire’s apocryphal dictum from “I may detest what you say but I’ll defend to death your right to say it”, to “I’ll defend to death your right to say something which means I endorse that thing itself”. 

This is not very liberal from Klendijan. And not very secular either. Because secularism means opposition to racists as well as Islamist ideologues, and supporting an event headlined by either constitutes a betrayal of secular principles – even if that event is threatened. Yes, supporting the right to host that event should be unwavering, and this unwavering support should stiffen in the face of Islamic fascism. But supporting the right to something is not the same as endorsing that thing, unless, perhaps, that thing isn’t headlined by racists but people with eccentric views on immigration. For this is how Klendijan presents Wilders and Weston:  

Wilders and Weston are considered controversial perhaps primarily because they have strong views on immigration. Immigration discussions are not possible without “racism” accusations – think making an omelette without breaking eggs.

 This is a clunky attempt at euphemism by Klendjian. Wilders and Weston view Muslims as a demographic threat to European society, and neither distinguish between doctrines and people – the very definition of bigotry. 

Weston is an advocate of the white genocide theory: he believes that the demographic rise of non-white people in Europe threatens the existence of white people, the result of which would be a civil war. His constituency and support are “native” white Europeans, terrified by the prospects of brown faces infiltrating European society. In his words:  

.So it’s not going to work, cultural nationalism is not going to work, which is a great shame because at one stage it perhaps could have done. But the numbers are now so great we now have to look at the only viable option on the table, which is to remove Islam from Britain.

In other words, he supports repatriation and discrimination. And this is his further view on immigration:

What is a dreadful, awful thing to happen is for the white English to be reduced to a minority in their own country – which is something that they were never asked about – in the face of people who are implacably hostile to us. This is, I believe, – and this is something the Left wants to happen, this is what they [are] deliberately engineering – I believe this is the greatest racial crime that has ever been committed in the history of mankind. And asking people to go back to their own countries as an alternative to fulfilling this racial crime of reducing us – the indigenous us – to a minority in our own country … there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking people to go home. There is absolutely everything wrong with doing this awful racial crime to the white English.

In other words, he is a racist – and I don’t use the term lightly. His supporters will, doubtless, accuse me of political correctness. But if political correctness means identifying racist people as racist, then I’m enthusiastically, passionately, unapologetically politically correct.  

Wilders also supports discrimination. He supports trying to stop the building of mosques, a clear infringement on religious liberty exclusively against Muslims. He also supports halting immigration from Islamic countries, which suggests he views Muslims as a threatening mass. 

Weston and Wilders, alongside Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, are the lodestars of the counter jihad movement. A movement animated not by concern about particular Islamic doctrines, and its manifestation in the form of Islamism, but by hostility to Muslims – expressed through hyperbole, conspiracy theories and open demonisation. It is important for avowed secularists to morally oppose them because secularism means freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion, and the counter jihadist movement is clearly against freedom of religion for Muslims, endorsing the exclusion of their citizenship in the west, and consequently their entitlement to equal rights. 

The event itself is organised by two products of the counter jihad movement: Sharia Watch and Vive Charlie. Vive Charlie is a magazine journal conceived in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks – where 10 cartoonists (and 2 guards) were murdered for the purported crime of blasphemy. The journal exists as a tribute to the bravery of a magazine which, initially threatened by intolerant ideologues, continued to draw the prophet and, after losing 9 of its staff, still continued to draw the prophet – warmly, humanely and compassionately, with the words “all is forgiven” attached to the issue following the attack. In short, they faced the consequences of religious fascism and didn’t capitulate. The raison d’être of Vive Charlie, like Charlie Hebdo, is iconoclastic: viciously satirising Islamic precepts and the taboo that demonstrably accompanies it. Unlike Charlie Hebdo, though, who were explicitly anti-racist, and came from a tradition that welcomed ethnic diversity but despised toxic doctrines, Vive Charlie is polluted by a propensity to produce racism. The values that inform Charlie Hebdo, the warm humanism and cheerful, indiscriminate irreverence, is markedly different from the values that inform Vive Charlie – which is a repository for cultural chauvinism and anti-immigrant sentiment.  

For example, In a recent issue cover, they portrayed a group of migrants as swarms and insects, being hosed down by Boris Johnson – in effect, dehumanising them. 

NoisyKaffir, one of the founders of Vive Charlie, contends in a tweet that: 
 

Secularists that accuse other secularists of being islamophobic forget that even moderate Muslims believe every word of the Qur’an.

Forgetting the word “Islamophobic” for one second, he is effectively encouraging his followers to distrust Muslims who claim to be moderate. He is fomenting distrust and suspicion. 

Similarly, JihadistJoe, another founder of the journal, is renowned for recycling anti-Muslim cartoons. For example, when referring to Syrian civil war in a tweet, he says

In a battle between Muslims, there is no good side. 

He has also directly compared Muslims to Nazis. (Not Islamists, but Muslims). 

So Vive Charlie comes from individuals who recycle and propagate anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant bigotry. This should concern anyone who finds such sentiments objectionable. It should concern any well-meaning and principled secularist. 

The right of Vive Charlie to pursue their objectives and agenda is paramount, especially when they are faced by those who would shut them down. And those who would shut the event down similarly deserve our scrutiny, for they too are betraying, in a sense, not just liberal values, but the concept of Muslims as autonomous and mature beings. We should subject HopeNotHate to scrutiny. 

HopeNotHate is an anti-racist group that recently wrote a report decrying, not just the agenda of the exhibition, but also their very right to hold it. They argued that the exhibition would incite Muslim violence and spark the first flickering of a civil war – endangering and potentially undermining social cohesion. This sounds scary. It isn’t, however, true. And what follows from it isn’t a liberal proposition either; in fact, it’s the antithesis of liberalism in almost every sense. HopeNotHate posits in the report

We believe that the authorities have to prevent the cartoon exhibition from taking place in Central London because it is clearly an attempt to provoke a violent reaction and divide communities.

This argument rests on two premises: that the exhibition will provoke violence; and that Muslims are provoked into violence by offensive cartoons. To view Muslims as a group incapable of witnessing offence without recourse to violence is to view Muslims contemptuously. This reasoning rests on a denigration of Muslim autonomy. Muslims are the noble savage, recast in contemporary multicultural Britain, whose sensitivities must trump the freedom of wider society – and also the freedom of Muslims themselves, as stated earlier, to challenge and scrutinise aspects of their own faith and culture. HopeNotHate are presenting the progressive case for de facto blasphemy law. 

It homogenises Muslims into a mass of grievance-mongers, dangerously coinciding with the vision presented by anti-Muslim bigots. But a more elementary problem is this: freedom of expression involves the freedom to say and host things that may offend other people. HopeNotHate argue, “this is not a case of free speech but incitement”. But when you try to ban something, and your justification is based – through the conceit of incitement – on not offending certain groups, it is evidently a freedom of speech issue. If you arrest a person without a warrant, it becomes a law and order issue; if you ban something without compelling justification – that is to say, because it offends people – it becomes a freedom of speech issue. 

I fear the debate may polarise irrevocably. If it continues to widen, the options are equally bleak. Either you become an anti-Muslim bigot or you become apologist for political Islam. It is critical that such a situation doesn’t materialise. For that, people who believe it is wrong to subject people to bigotry and it is wrong to impose religious doctrines on society should plainly say so. 

I endorse the right of the exhibition to be hosted. And if the exhibition is attacked, no one is responsible but the attackers themselves. I don’t endorse the exhibition itself because I can’t subordinate my opposition to racism for an end-goal. Principles are important, too; and certain principles should be fairly unshakeable, such as the principle to morally oppose intolerance. The guests are racist, and I think racism is immoral. Therefore, I can’t endorse the exhibition. 

Progressives allying with theocrats again 

Nothing illustrates the alliance between the far left and the religious far-right more lucidly than the work of two university of Bath academics: Tom Mills and David Miller, both of whom, in concert with Bath researcher Narzanin Massoumi, wrote an apologia of CAGE for OpenDemocracy, denouncing those who are critical of the group. 

The article is a tsunami of misinformation, misrepresentation, euphemism and hysteria. When it isn’t demonising progressive individuals like Gita Sahgal, or progressive groups like the council of ex-Muslims, it identifies CAGE as a human rights group and presents Haitham al Haddad as a misunderstood conservative cleric.   

In a manner like this:

 There is no doubt that Haddad expresses a conservative strand of Islam, in particular on the appropriateness of punishment fitting the crime (Hudud) and on questions of sexuality. It is not clear, though, that the other views attributed to him are accurately rendered. Much of the substance of the question from Neil appears to be based on a report from the Council of Ex Muslims, an organisation close to the ‘new atheist’ movement which enjoys the ‘generous support’ of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, amongst other benefactors. Their 2014 report Evangelising Hate: Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), was drawn to Andrew Neil’s attention on Twitter in advance of the programme.

There is something so rotten about supposedly left-wing people siding with theocrats against secularists. It’s a betrayal of values. It’s not merely a disfigurement of moral clarity, but an inversion. The demon presented here is a group that believes, without equivocation, individuals should be free to leave the religion of their birth and free to criticise the ideas imbibed through their culture – a secular ideal. Whereas the innocent in this battle, the defamed and misunderstood “conservative” cleric, is a man who believes that to be born into Islam is to be chained by Islam; and those that escape, even discreetly, deserve the most severe punishment – the death penalty. If a person believed to be a Christian is to be chained by Christianity, and to escape is to deserve death, the term “conservative” would not suffice. This is a totalitarian ideology: compliance is murderously enforced, and dissent is savagely curtailed. 

So why does Asim Qureshi, research director of a “human rights” group, endorse an individual who supports the antithesis of human rights? And why are self-identified progressives euphemising this man and his beliefs? Not just that, why are the authors of this article so keen to euphemise Asim Qureshi’s convoluted defence of hudud punishments on Russia Today, and his refusal to condemn in principle the stoning of adulterers on This Week. Pathetically, they attached the term “right-wing” to Andrew Neil, as though that term itself constitutes an argument against the legitimacy of his questions. (“You’re a Tory? How dare you even scrutinise someone who condones medieval and totalitarian beliefs”). 

Even more pathetic is their demonisation of Gita Sahgal. Sahgal, former head of the gender unit at Amnesty international, objected to the organisations open alliance with CAGE. Her objection was a matter of principle: it was improper for an organisation explicitly dedicated to the advancement of human rights to align itself with a group whose interests serviced terrorists and fascist clerics. 

In her words

The issue is not about Moazzam Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Contrast the moral clarity displayed by Ms Sahgal with the moral diarrhoea produced by the authors of the piece: 

Gita Sahgal was suspended and later forced to resign from Amnesty, becoming something of a cause célèbre for neoconservatives, the pro-war left and similar Islamophobic groupings. She and her supporters then wrote a number of articles attacking both her former employer and Moazzam Begg.

These “groupings” are not specified you notice. This isn’t even a good attempt at guilt by association. One fact that is conveniently omitted, and bears repeating, is that Sahgal opposed the Iraq war. (Though I don’t see how support for the war would undermine one’s argument against an Islamist advocacy group). She was also – and is – opposed to torture and rendition. What distinguishes Sahgal from Mills, Miller and Massoumi is that while the Bath academics are all too willing to indulge the Islamic far right in their opposition to western folly, Sahgal’s opposition to torture and CAGE proceed from the same principle: impartial support for human rights. 

Not content with making insinuations about neocons and Islamophobes, the authors of the piece also objected to Sahgal calling Abdullah Azzam, a jihadist operative, a fascist – a fastidious semantic dispute if I ever saw one! They claimed:  

This is a remarkably inflammatory passage and the sort of political rhetoric that has for the most part been limited to the more extreme fringes of the Zionist and Counterjihad movements. But let us assume that the analogy is meant to be taken seriously. In what sense is Abdullah Azzam comparable to Hitler? Mein Kampf is a racist, genocidal, ultranationalist tract and the movement its author led was committed to territorial expansion, colonialism and ethnic cleansing. Can the same be said of the writings of Azzam or any other seminal figure in the various political movements conventionally referred to as ‘Islamist’ or ‘jihadist’?

 (Notice how, like little pavlovian anti-zionists, the mention of anything fiendish triggers the response: “Zionist”). 

Islamism is a totalitarian doctrine that believes in the decadence of democracy and the degeneracy of plural societies. In its expressly violent form – jihadism – it seeks to immediately transform a society by enforcing regressive Islamic precepts on every facet of human life: from what we can eat and do, to what we can say and whom we can fuck. Fortunately, the authors descriptions of this ideology graduates from “conservative” to “highly reactionary”. But this still doesn’t suffice. For the analogy to another totalitarian doctrine is an apposite one.

Take Sayyid Qutb – arch ideologue of Islamism who, in 1950, wrote a book entitled “Our struggle against the Jews”, which detailed the perfidy of Jewish influence and corruption. He posits:  

...any source of division, anyone who undermines the relationship between Muslims and their faith is by definition a Jew

 

Here is Mr Qutb again, this time on Islam as a political ideology:  

When Islaam makes it declaration for the liberation of mankind on earth, so that they may only serve God alone, those who usurp God’s authority try to silence it. They will never tolerate it or leave it in peace. Islaam will not sit idle either. It will move to deprive them of their power so that people can be freed of their shackles. This is the permanent state of affairs which necessitates the continuity of jihaad until all submission is made to God alone.

Qutb is not an insignificant figure. He is widely considered to be the father of Islamism and a chief inspiration for Al Qeada. As evidenced above, he was an unabashed racist. Not only that, he also believed in the capacity of revolutionary violence to create a utopia – what he termed offensive jihad; he believed that the Muslim world was in a state of jahiliyaa – ignorance and decay, for which the only solution was revolutionary violence and the consequent absolute submission to political Islam. 

So, here we have the chief ideologue of Islamism, and his beliefs are: racist – especially towards Jews; supportive of revolutionary violence for utopian ends; against democracy, and believes freedom can only be attained through total submission to a system that enforces what is permissible and kills for what is impermissible. 

Would it suffice to call this ideology “conservative”? Or even “highly reactionary”. Stalinism and fascism both contained anti-semitism (though, admittedly, one far more than the other), the thirst for revolutionary violence as a way to achieve utopia, and the rejection of every western value – a seething nihilism, totally at odds with modernity. “Conservative” wouldn’t do. Islamism shares with fascism and Stalinism the seeds of totalitarianism and its thirst for nihilistic violence. 

And even if he wasn’t exactly “fascist”, Azzam still abided to a totalitarian ideology; and even if he didn’t actually commit genocide, Begg selling those books in a store should be greatly worrisome in itself – is any abhorrence below the act of genocide now acceptable by progressives? (Let’s not forget that the most vile contemporary expression of Islamism – the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant – is attempting to exterminate the ancient minorities of the Middle East). 

So Mills, Millers and Massoumi’s critique of Sahgal amounts to nothing more than shoddy guilt by association and an ill-informed attack on terminology. The article is rotten; but it’s also staggeringly incompetent. 

Let’s not forget that their suggestion that Quilliam is presently being funded by the government is untrue, or their lack of research – as academics! – in blithely dismissing the council of ex-Muslims’ report on Haddad. What’s most striking, once again, is progressive people demonising progressive dissidents of a different cultural background in the service of excusing the religious far right – a group who, with sufficiently lower melanin, would face uniform opprobrium in civil society. The first victims of the religious far right are feminist Muslims, secular Muslims, gay Muslims, and those who reject Islam altogether. To fetishise Muslim victimhood and grievance for political capital, and to define Muslim victimhood as an essential trait, is to conceal the oppressors that victimise the truest dissidents in our society: those who want to be free from traditionalist cultural mores. 

I’m sick and tired of articles like these – reproducing the same trite nonsense. Excusing the same sort of people, even in the face of evidence. Deploying the same tortured reasoning to sidestep their open betrayal of universal values. I hope they are consigned to writing stupid and silly defences of clerical fascists and their viewpoint doesn’t contaminate wider society. I’ve been encouraged by the response to the article so far. I hope that continues. 

For a more detailed read on the link between Islamism and other totalitarian ideologies, I highly recommend Paul Berman’s “Terror and Liberalism”.