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, ultra–nationalist 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”.