The pro-war left gets a good fisking…

The whole piece that follows is basically a comprehensive ‘fisking’ of an article by Anthony Browne which appeared in the Sunday Times, earlier this week, and which has been held up be several pro-war blogs as a synopsis/exemplar of their position on Islamic radicalism.

All you need to knwo here, before starting to read, is that the article is reproduced in normal text, with my own commentary in italics.


ELEMENTS WITHIN the British establishment were notoriously sympathetic to Hitler. Today the Islamists enjoy similar support. In the 1930s it was Edward VIII, aristocrats and the Daily Mail; this time it is left-wing activists, The Guardian and sections of the BBC. They may not want a global theocracy, but they are like the West’s apologists for the Soviet Union — useful idiots.

Wow, what an opener. Hitler, Islam and the Soviet Union all in the first sentence – three bogeymen for the price of one – and a reference to the myth that Lenin described supposedly ‘liberal apologists’ for Bolshevism as ‘useful idiots’, something he didn’t actually say.

Browne is being rather sparing with historical detail here. Elements in the British establishment were initially sympathetic towards Hitler, but the so were elements in US establishment include Franklin D. Roosevelt who spoke admiringly of Nazi Germany on several occasions during the 1930’s, long before the downside of Nazism became apparent to the world outside Germany.

During the initial period of Nazi rule, from 1933-36, Germany was widely admired in Britain and the US for its apparent modernity, remember this was the era of the Bauhaus and the German Avant-garde, and for its rapid technological and industrial development under the Nazis – remember, even the trains ran on time and Hitler was given a great deal of initial credit from having dragged Germany off its knees following the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

By stark contrast the extent of the alleged sympathies of the BBC and the Guardian include the BBC’s insistence on the use of neutral language within its editorial policy – drawn up long before the recent attacks on London – while the Guardian’s ‘crime’ so far as can be ascertained extends only as far as their having noted that certain aspects of US/UK policy in the Middle East, notably the ongoing failure to resolve the ‘Palestinian Question’ and the 2003 invasion of Iraq have led to disaffection in the Islamic world, including amongst British Muslims, a climate in which the radical message of hard-line Islamic groups can seem more than ordinarily attractive to some.

This is a pure ‘apples and oranges’ comparison – there is no similarity at all between the sympathies held towards Nazism in the 1930’s or how those sympathies came about and the stance of either BBC or Guardian toward radical elements within Islam. Without checking, one cannot be absolutely certain, but I would venture that the BBC’s reporting on Nazi Germany during the mid-1930s would be no less, nor more, neutral in tone than their recent reporting of the terrorist attacks on London, while the 1930’s equivalent of the Guardian’s stance towards radical Islam would have been to note the connection between the inequitable settlement forced on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and the rise of Nazism in Germany.

Islamic radicals, like Hitler, cultivate support by nurturing grievances against others.

And this is unusual or unique to fascism how? Did I miss something here or did the African National Congress not cultivate support from the grievances of non-white South Africans against the system of apartheid and minority white rule?

The cultivation of support by nurturing grievances isn’t a characteristic of fascism so much as a characteristic of politics.

Islamists, like Hitler, scapegoat Jews for their problems and want to destroy them.

So what are we saying here, that anti-Semitism and fascism are synonymous? Because if we are then amongst the list of famous historical fascists you’ll find…

Richard the Lionheart – had a delegation of London Jews beaten and refused entry to his coronation ceremony – he kept the gifts, mind you!

Martin Luther – who when not nailing his thoughts on the Catholic church to cathedral doors found time to write the nattily entitled, ‘On the Jews and their lies’ – no doubt a bit of best-seller in its day.

Far too many Popes, Cardinals and other Catholic clergy to list them all, but with a special mention for Thomas Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition who favoured torture as a means on converting Jews to Christianity… and burning Jews at the stake if they found to have pretended to convert in order to avoid being tortured – bit of Catch 22 when you think about it.

Charles Dickens – creator of the character of Fagin in Oliver Twist who reflected accurately the stereotypical image of Jews which was widely held by Victorian Society.

The House of Romanov – the first pogroms against the Russian Jewry took place in Odessa in either 1821 or 1859, depending on which source you take as accurate, but really started in earnest in 1881 when, first, Russian Jews were blamed, unfairly, for the assassination of Alexander II – and then blamed, again, for the ensuing riots in 166 towns across Russia, by his successor, Alexander III. Hell, why waste a good scapegoat when you’ve got one.

All these examples pre-date the advent of fascism, which arose in Italy in the 1890’s.

The simple, historical fact is that anti-Semitism has a long and undistinguished history going back well over a millennium before the advent of fascism – and for the most part the perpetrators were Christians, not Muslims. In fact, by and large, the Jews faired far better in Islamic societies such as the Ottoman Empire where the only real penalty for being a Jew was that you paid higher taxes so long as you generally behaved yourself, played by the Ottoman’s rules and didn’t challenge their authority.

Islamists, like Hitler, decree that the punishment for homosexuality is death.

Lets no forget our own less than stellar track record on homosexuality, before we start condemning others.

Homosexuality was only legalised in the UK in the 1960’s and homosexuals were only then given parity with heterosexuals in terms of the legal age of consent in 2001 – and then only after the use of the Parliament Act to force the legislation past the House of Lords.

During the 1950’s, in Britain, homosexuality was widely regarded as a kind of psychiatric disorder which could be ‘treated’ using aversion therapy which frequently made use of ECT – electro-convulsion therapy. Less than 50 years ago, we were administering electric shocks to gay men on the entirely false premise that it could cure them of their ‘deviant’ behaviour.

Even today, the belief that homosexuality can be treated or cured remains widespread amongst fundamentalist Christians in the US, with the result that some gay teenagers are packed off to residential ‘camps’ to be ‘reorientated’ into good heterosexual Christians using a variety of psychological ‘programming’ techniques most of which were derived from interrogation techniques developed by the military and secret services.

As is the case with anti-Semitism, prejudice against homosexuality is not a characteristic that’s exclusive to either fascism or radical Islam.

Hitler divided the world into Aryans and subhuman non-Aryans, while Islamists divide the world into Muslims and sub-human infidels.

Now the comparisons are starting to get really silly.

The Nazis belief in their own racial superiority led them to the practice of eugenics in which they sought to control human evolution by breeding a pure ‘master race’ from Aryan stock while eliminating inferior racial characteristics – as found in Gypsies, Jews and Slavs – from the human gene pool.

The idea of eugenics belongs entirely to the late 19th and early 20th Century – on the political left of that era both George Bernard Shaw and H G Wells expressed an interest in eugenics at various times. In fact, the idea of eugenics could simply not have arisen before that era as it relies on an understanding and acceptance of Darwin’s ideas on evolution and natural selection.

Radical Islam neither includes, nor would it accept the concept of eugenics, based as it is on forces it believes are reserved solely to Allah. The ultimate goal of radical Islam seeks is not the creation of a racially pure Islamic master race but the conversion of everyone to Islam – the ‘perfect’ Islamic society is one which everyone is a believer irrespective of their racial/ethnic origins.

These two world views are similar only at the most superficial level.

Nazis aimed for their Thousand-Year Reich, while Islamists aim for their eternal Caliphate.

And the Jews aim for sovereignty over land they believe was given to them by God, Communists believe that one the workers gain control of the means of production the state will wither away to nothingness and Neo-liberals believe that the road to perpetual economic growth and prosperity will come via the creation of a universal free market.

Fascism, radical Islam, Zionism, Communism, Neo-Liberalism and globalisation – all of these ideological world views are related, even if, superficially, some of them may seem to have little or nothing in common with the others.

They are related because they all derived from the same common root idea – Positivism. It is from the influence of positivism that each draws it central belief that a perfect utopian society can be created via a collective act of human will and is a product of the European enlightenment.

Fascism and radical Islam share another common philosophical root, in the romantic nationalism of the mid-19th Century. From romantic nationalism each takes the belief that the perfect utopian society they are seeking to create is one based exclusively on an idealised form of their own cultural identity. Unfortunately for supporters of the radical Islam = fascism thesis, Zionism also draws the same romantic influence from the same source, therefore if one to claim that radical Islam is a fascist ideology one also has to concede the same in relation to Zionism, which rather buggers up the whole anti-Semitism hypothesis.

The Nazi party used terror to achieve power, and from London to Amsterdam, Bali to New York, Egypt to Turkey, Islamists are trying to do the same.

The Nazis used the power of mass demonstrations and the mob to achieve power, but then so did everyone from the Jacobins of the French Revolution to the Bolsheviks in Russia to the Romanian people in the overthrow of the communist Ceauşescu regime. Although non-violent, the recent ‘Orange Revolution’ in the Ukraine is yet another example of the power of popular revolt.

The methods and modus operandi of Islamic terrorist groups does not make use of mass demonstrations and the mob but of spectacular acts of violence against civilians, infrastructure and symbols of authority and power – the World Trade Centre was every much a symbol of US economic power as the Pentagon is of its military power and the White House and Capitol Hill of political authority. This is the hallmark of radical anarchism, particularly the Russian anarchism of Bakunin, and not of fascism.

The two fascisms, one racial and one religious, one beaten and the other resurgent, are evil in both their ideology and their methodology, in their supremacism, intolerance, belief in violence and threat to democracy.

The problem here should be obvious – one can only accept the idea that radical Islam is fascist if one accepts Browne’s entirely superficial set of parallels between the two ideologies, yet none of the characteristics on which he bases his assertions are unique to either – all are found to varying degrees in other ideologies and, most importantly of all, within the mainstream of western liberal democratic society

The sole defining characteristic of fascism – the one thing that sets is apart from the mainstream, although not from other revolutionary ideologies such as Bolshevism, is its use of violence, of the mob, to achieve its goals, but this is also the one area in which there is marked difference between fascism and radical Islam; radical Islam having adopted the methods of revolutionary anarchism and the use of ‘spectacular’ acts of terror rather than seek to forge a mass movement.

These are certainly two radical, extreme ideologies, but they are not the same.

How and why Browne and others have arrived at this false identity between the two is open to conjecture, however the sparsity and lack of depth of the evidence provided in support of this hypothesis one can conclude the most likely reason for this is combination of poor and extremely limited analysis, a lack of intellectual rigour and good old fashioned bias introduced as a result of Browne’s own expectation that such a identity exists – a classic case, if fact, of the evidence being selected to fit the hypothesis rather than the hypothesis being derived from an objective evaluation of the evidence.

One has to be clear, therefore, that this is propaganda dressed up as analysis – what follows shows how that propaganda is being put to use to present a distorted picture of recent events.

The London bombings revealed only to those in denial the extent to which Islamic fascism has taken root. But we have a long way to go until we reach the level of understanding in mainland Europe. With one of the smallest Muslim populations in Western Europe, just 3 per cent of the total, Britain has been able to afford a joyful multicultural optimism. Other countries, with far bigger Islamic populations, from France to Germany to the Netherlands, have had to become far more hard-headed.

Note, Browne attributes the recent terrorist attacks on London solely to the alleged rise of ‘Islamic fascism’ and therefore, by deliberate omission, excludes any possibility that US and/or UK policy in and towards the Middle East may have had any, even indirect, influence on those responsible. This implicitly supports the line that everything from unresolved conflict in Palestine, a mess which in historical terms is largely of the UK’s making, to the 2003 invasion of Iraq has no bearing whatsoever on the recent attacks despite substantial evidence, including evidence from our own security services to the contrary. The invasion of Iraq is not the cause of Islamic terrorism; it is however a cause of disaffection amongst young Muslims in Britain and, indeed, around the world, which creates fertile ground for radical Islam’s core message, that the world would be a better place in only it were wholly under Islamic rule. As such, the invasion of Iraq has, quite correctly been described as an effective ‘recruiting sergeant’ for radical Islamic groups in much the same way that the economic collapse of post-Word War I Germany under the combined weight of global recession and the inequitable terms of the Treaty of Versailles served the same function for the Nazis.

The support of Islamic fascism spans Britain’s Left. The wacko Socialist Workers Party joined forces with the Muslim Association of Britain, the democracy-despising, Shariah-law-wanting group, to form the Stop the War Coalition. The former Labour MP George Galloway created the Respect Party with the support of the MAB, and won a seat in Parliament by cultivating Muslim resentment.

Here we have the self-styled ‘decent’ left’s parallel and rather unhealthy obsession with George Galloway, RESPECT and the Socialist Worker’s Party on full display and exhibiting its full measure of sour grapes at Galloway’s election victory in Bow at the last election.

In reality this has little or nothing to do with either the current wave of Islamic terrorism, the invasion of Iraq or the fairly recent alliance between Galloway, the SWP and the Muslim Association of Britain as, first, the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and latterly as RESPECT – it is simply the latest manifestation of a long-standing fight over who should legitimately be considered the authentic ‘voice’ of socialism in the UK, a fight which reached in apogee within the Labour Party in the mid to late 1980’s, following the disastrous election defeat in 1983, which saw the party start to move back towards the centre and the purge of Militant, amongst other things.

Characterising radical Islam as ‘fascist’ plays right into the ongoing milieu of this particular dispute, given that one of the ‘absolute’ values of socialism is it opposition to fascism – an alleged alliance between an ostensible left-wing group and one which is characterised as being automatically destroys that group’s left-wing credentials and marks them out as being ‘fake’ socialists and not part of the political left at all. In terms of the long-standing rivalry between Labour and the SWP, characterising the SWP’s current allies as fascists amounts, in the minds of those who care about such things, to an absolute slam dunk victory – to everyone else its largely an irrelevance and Galloway’s continued presence in Parliament a temporary irritation at best.

When I revealed on these pages last year both the fascist views of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the fact that he was being welcomed to Britain by Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, it caused a storm that has still to abate. Mr Livingstone claims that Sheikh al-Qaradawi is a moderate — which he is, in the same way that Mussolini was.

As should be obvious by now, once you arrive erroneously at the conclusion that radical Islam is fascist in nature, then not only does this fallacy become self-reinforcing but it also becomes unnecessary to back up your assertions with evidence.

While Ken Livingstone’s description of Sheikh al-Qaradawi as a ‘moderate’ is a bit of reach, so equally is the parallel drawn by Browne with Mussolini – Livingstone’s position at least has the virtue of not being potentially libellous.

Sheikh al-Qaradawi is certainly noted for his dogmatic views and position on Islam and on the role of Qu’ran in Islamic society – but no more so than Pope John Paul II in terms of catholicism or any number of mainstream evangelical preachers in the US.

It is largely as result of his stance on two specific issues, sharia law and suicide bombing in Palestine, that he has gained a reputation not merely as reactionary conservative but, if Browne and others are to believed, as an out-and-out fascist, even though, in both cases, the reasoning is based as much on ignorance of Islam and, in particular, Islamic jurisprudence,as it is one Sheikh al-Qaradawi’s openly expressed views.

Islamic society is founded on the central role of the Qu’ran in daily life in a manner far and away beyond anything ever achieved by Christianity, even at the height of the Papacy’s power and influence. The Qu’ran is not merely a religious text in the manner of the Christian bible, it is also Islam’s constitution and its statute law, the equivalent, in single unified text, of both the Jewish Torah and Talmud – a secular interpretation of this parallel between the two religions would suggest that its likely that Jews entering or crossing the Arabian peninsula as part of the Jewish diaspora and taking their own traditions with them are likely to have had some influence on the origins of Islam.

Islamic jurisprudence is therefore to the Qu’ran what the British common law is to statute law passed, since the English Civil War, by Parliament, a highly sophisticated system of judicial precedents – the sole but significant difference being that where, in UK, stature law is subject to revision, amendment and repeal, in the Islamic world it statute law, being part of the Qu’ran, is the word of Allah as transcribed by Muhammed and therefore inviolate and not subject to change. In this the ‘debate’ between conservatives and moderates within Islam closely mirrors the general debate in the US on its constitution, wherein conservatives, by and large, see the US Constitution, and particularly the first ten amendments – Bill of Rights – as fixed in time and only to be interpreted within the intent of the ‘founding fathers’ – especially when it comes to the second amendment right to bear arms – where the more characteristic liberal view sees the constitution as being open to judicial interpretation and reinterpretation over time, i.e. ‘a living, breathing, document’.

Islam therefore, unlike Christianity, has no real tradition of religious law co-existing with, and especially being subsidiary to, secular law outside of the last sixty years or so – even what passed for secular authority in the Islamic world; the Caliphate and, later, the Ottoman Sultanate was founded on the presumed religious, rather than secular leadership of the incumbent.

To equate those who take a conservative view of Islamic law with fascism is both ignorant of the nature of Islam and of role of the Qu’ran in Islamic society and deeply insulting to all Muslims – the difference between moderate and conservative in Islamic society is a product of whether and to what extent, over more than 1400 years, Islamic jurisprudence has taken a particular strand of Islam in either a moderate or conservative direction – all Muslims take the Qu’ran to the basis of Islamic law, any differences, say between Sunni and Shi’a are a matter of how rigidly they have adhered to a literal interpretation of the Qu’ran and to refer to a recognised Islamic scholar as a fascist on such a basis is to infer that the Qu’ran, itself, is fascist.

The second key criticism of Sheikh al-Qaradawi follows directly on from the first.

Al-Qaradawi’s position on Jihad and suicide bombing – i.e. that it is permissible and within Islamic law within the context of the Israel/Palestine conflagration and in Chechnya but not as practised by Al-Qaeda in attacking targets outside the Islamic world, may seem strange, inconsistent and plain wrong to us from our exclusively western moral perspective which sees no difference between suicide bombing in any circumstances. However with Islamic law and the concept of Jihad there is a clear and distinct difference between the two.

Islamic law recognises two different types of Jihad, ‘Offensive Jihad’ – the purpose of which is to bring non-Muslim territory under Islamic control, and ‘Defensive Jihad’ – the purpose of which is to defend Islam and Islamic territory from invasion and occupation, in the sense of it being controlled, not merely by living there under Islamic rule, by non-Muslims.

At this time, ‘Offensive Jihad’, which would permit and sanction attacks on non-Muslim soil, is not an option – Islamic jurisprudence is such that an Offensive Jihad can only be declared and sanctioned by a legitimate Caliph, and since there has been no such Caliph since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire on the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1924 by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk there is no possibility of Offensive Jihad – hence Bin Laden’s repeated references to ‘eighty years’ in slating the US, the period – approximately – since the end of the last Caliphate. This proves that Bin Laden is no historian as the US played no role at all in either of the Treaties of Sevrés or Lausanne which broke up the Ottoman Empire, nor is Ataturk’s decision to finish the job entirely by declaring a secular Turkish republic and also – by logical inference, that a global Caliphate is a non-starter at the present time as well, as well as explaining why Al-Qaradawi has condemned the attacks on New York.

Al-Qaradawi’s position is, therefore, that attacks on a non-Muslim ‘enemy’ in Muslim territory – and he regards both Israel and Chechnya as Muslim territory constitute Defensive Jihad and that, in terms of Islamic law, suicide bombing in such a context is a form of resistance and therefore martyrdom. Whether you consider this to be wrong or immoral is down to you; the moral position of western societies has no bearing on Islamic law and Al-Qaradawi’s position is not at all inconsistent with Islamic law although, as is the case in any ‘common law’ society, his interpretation is open to dispute by and amongst other Islamic scholars. While we may see no difference between the different contexts in which such attacks have taken place and take the view that a suicide bombing is a suicide bombing and wrong no matter where it thappens, Islamic law and Islamic jurisprudence take a different view and make a distinction between the two.

Is this evidence of fascism? Again, I’d argue that it isn’t, it is merely the product of a different cultural perspective on a particular practice – or to put it another way we may disapprove of the practice of head-hunting that was part of the indigenous culture of Papua New Guinea until relatively recently, or of human sacrifice as was practised by the Aztecs but the fact that disapprove of such practices would not lead us to characterise either as fascists, so why take such a view of a single element of Islamic culture.

The BBC and The Guardian regularly give space to MAB to promote sanitised versions of its Islamist views. John Ware, one of the BBC’s most-respected reporters, spent years trying to make a programme on Islamic fundamentalism in Britain, but was repeatedly blocked by senior editors who feared it was too sensitive. Last month it emerged that The Guardian employed a journalist, Dilpazier Aslam, who is a member of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group that wants a global theocracy, and is described by the Home Office as “anti-Semitic, anti-Western and homophobic”. The Guardian used Dilpazier Aslam to report not just on the London bombings, but on Shabina Begum, the Luton schoolgirl who, advised by Hizb ut-Tahrir, won a court case allowing her to wear head-to-toe fundamentalist Islamic clothes.

The tale illustrates Britain’s naivety in many ways. Hizb ut-Tahrir is still legal, despite being banned in many European and Muslim countries, and despite President Musharraf of Pakistan pleading with Britain to ban it after it plotted to assassinate him. The useful idiots of the Left insisted that Ms Begum’s victory was a victory over Islamophobia, but even the Muslim Parliament of Britain gave warning that it was a “victory for fundamentalism”, bringing Shariah law one step closer.

Here Browne runs several entirely separate matters into one to support the premise that both the BBC and the Guardian are acting as ‘apologists’ for Islamic fundamentalism – note the shift in language here from ‘fascism’ to ‘fundamentalism’, again creating the impression that the two are synonymous.

To take them one at at a time, his first complaint, that both give space to Muslim Brotherhood to ‘promote sanitised versions of its Islamist views’ seems to little more than a general complaint that the BBC is not Fox News and the Guardian not The Sun or the Daily Mail – i.e. a completely specious argument.

On the blocking of efforts by John Ware to make a programme on Islamic fundamentalism on the grounds that it was ‘too sensitive’, this would suggest a significant degree of nervousness on the BBC’s part that such a documentary would be lambasted as being ‘racist’ – a far from ideal position, true, but a long way from supporting the allegation that the BBC is either acting as an ‘apologist’ for Islamic terrorism or as a ‘fascist sympathiser’ – its also an allegation which carries with it an unsavoury right-wing undercurrent itself as one can easily imagine this same argument coming from and being heavily promoted by the BNP.

Does this hint at a forming ‘alliance’ between the self-styled ‘decent’ left and our own home grown fascists? No, almost certainly not, but it does illustrate how easy it is to spin the beginnings of such an idea on the flimsiest of evidence.

In terms of the recent Aslam case, the central charges against the Guardian seem to be that it should have carried out a background check and, therefore, not employed him in the first place, that having employed him – and he apparently mad no secret of his involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, it should have sacked him before they did and that, having seen his political views and affiliations outed by Scott Burgess at the Daily Ablution, it should have moved immediately to sack him.

As regards employing Aslam in the first place, the Guardian’s line is that it didn’t ask about his political views when interviewing him for the job – and nor indeed should they have done. He was employed as a trainee journalist as as such deserved to, at interview, to be judged on his potential ability to fulfil that role. As a liberal newspaper – small ‘l’ – you would expect them to be a liberal employer and that their policy on equal opportunities in recruitment and in employment in general would go beyond the statutory minimum and include commitments to non-discrimination on grounds of political affiliation – making their decision to employ him entirely consistent with their own employment policies.

That he made no secret of his association with Hizb ut-Tahrir during employment is neither here nor there either as its clear that whatever personal/political opinions he may have expressed while ‘at the office’ were not sufficient to raise concerns over his employment. This is no different to the situation in any other workplace – colleagues may well hold personal opinions with which you vehemently disagree but so long as they do not bring those views into the workplace itself this is of no consequence to their continued employment.

As for the Guardian’s seeming tardiness in dispensing with his services, lets not forget that even is such circumstances as these, Aslam would still have had the right to due process and a fair consideration of his situation while the Guardian, as an employer, would certainly need to be cautious in approaching this matter for fear of opening the door the an employment tribunal claim on grounds of racial discrimination – for that reason alone, sacking him on the spot was not an option, the very least the Guardian would have had to do was get his signature on a non-disclosure agreement and a waiver of his rights to legal action before letting him go. As it stands, the Guardian’s own statement on his ‘resignation’ made it clear that he was given the opportunity to choose between continuing his career with them and continuing his association with Hizb ut-Tahrir and that only on choosing the latter did they take the view that his position was untenable.

The worst you can legitimately say about the Guardian in its dealings with Aslam, himself, was that it tried to be a fair employer and give him a chance to reconsider his political affiliations in light of the impact it would have on his career – it only real error of judgement was the anonymous piece of op-ed which appeared on its website, which took a side-swipe at the bloggers who’d made such an issue of Aslam’s affiliation with Hizb ut-Tahrir which shows little more than signs of a bit of churlishness on the part of author at having been worked over by what they probably regard as a ‘bunch of amateurs’ with rather questionable motives.

This is classic ‘storm in a tea-cup’ stuff and of little real significance to the overall debate.

In turning his attention to the matter of Shabina Begum’s legal fight to win the right to wear traditional Islamic dress, the chador, and Hizb ut-Tahrir’s support for this case, Browne again displays another disturbingly right-wing undercurrent in this piece. The chador is nothing more than a traditional, if very conservative, mode of Islamic dress – as much a part of Islamic culture as the wearing of the turban is to the Sikhs, yet Browne interprets this particular garment as being ‘head-to-toe fundamentalist Islamic clothes’ before going on to cite an apparent warning by the Muslim Parliament of Britain that this decision was a ‘victory for fundamentalism’ bringing Shariah Law – presumably meaning in the UK – one step closer. As a matter of simple curiosity, its worth noting that Browne does not appear of jib at the idea of Muslims having their own ‘parliament’ within the UK – an idea that some might think rather more threatening than a 15 year-old girl going to court to win the right to dress as she, and not her school, chooses.

Browne use of the suggestion that this is in some way a move towards Shariah Law in the UK is palpable nonsense. It also, in the context of its use by Browne in this particular article and in support of his thesis that radicalism within Islam constitutes a threat to British society – in my personal opinion – clearly racist. This may not be Browne’s own intention – his views, as expressed here, are clearly ill-informed and the product of a considerable degree of ignorance about Islam, but not obviously racist – but his reference to Shariah law in the context of this case clearly raises the spectre of Britain being ‘swamped’ by foreigners and foreign cultural influences to the extent that this threatens the indigenous British culture – whatever that may be in Brown’s view. As such there seems little basic difference between the position expressed here and that of Nick Griffin and others on the far-right – whether you interpret Browne’s comments as racist is a matter of personal opinion however, by appearing the Times they do serve to lend a veneer of legitimacy to those who, like the BNP, hold a view on Islam that is markedly racist – and openly fascist for that matter as well.

In France, by contrast, the government ban on wearing the hijab, or Islamic veil, in schools was widely supported by the Left. It is impossible in France for radical Islamists to dupe useful idiots into supporting a pro-hijab campaign presenting it as pro-choice, as they did in Britain — because in France, the Left knows that the Islamists believe Muslim women should be compelled to wear the hijab.

Here the Government talks about deporting extremist imams, but does nothing. In contrast, France has deported ten radical imams in the past two years, with another one deported to Algeria last week, and ten more are under police surveillance. In France, no mosque is off limits to the police. While Britain welcomes Sheikh al-Qaradawi, Germany last week deported an imam who simply supported the Muslim Brotherhood. In Bavaria alone, 14 “hate preachers” have been deported since November 2004, and a further 20 have received notifications of deportation.

The Netherlands and Denmark, worried about the growth of ghettoised Muslim communities, have promoted integration, with the Netherlands insisting that those wanting to become immigrants take a test of Dutch language and the nation’s values before they are even given a visa. Both countries have clamped down on inter-continental arranged marriages — which are thought to comprise 70 per cent of Muslim marriages there, as in Britain — on the ground that they promote the creation of separatist communities. Such measures are barely on the radar in Britain.

Taking these three paragraphs together, Browne again demonstrates his support for what is markedly a right-wing agenda on Islam, one which includes the legal suppression of aspects of Muslim culture – what he refers to erroneously as the ‘hijab’ – his reference here is to say the least confusing and further evidence of widespread ignorance surround Islam and Islamic culture. The term hijab, itself, refers specifically to the practice in Islam of dressing modestly. The garment, a headscarf and not a veil incidentally, that is colloquially referred to as a hijab is actually called, in the Qu’ran, a khimar – the traditional Islamic veil is a niqab.

Referencing the French attempt to ban the wearing of the khimar in schools places Browne, yet again, on hypocritical and ethically dubious ground. Having, by inference, castigated Islam for it perceived lack of tolerance for non-Islamic cultures he now openly supports a practice which aims to deliberately suppress an element of Islamic culture, itself demonstrative of a lack of cultural tolerance on the part of French secularism.

Browne’s proffered solutions here, banning the khimar, deporting radical imams and nationality tests before entry are mere showboating to western ignorance of and prejudice towards Islam, simplistic solutions which appear plausible but which fail to address the real issues.

The influence of radical clerics on Muslim youth is, if you can be bothered to ask, of far greater concern to Islamic communities than it is to ourselves and indicative of both generational conflict within the Muslim community in Britain and its limited success in adjusting to western society. Radical Islam is, itself, a fusion of western ideas drawn from positivism and romantic nationalism with Islam, as alien to the mainstream of Islamic society as it is to ourselves as a cause of deep distress within the Muslim community in the UK and, no doubt across Europe.

There is far more going on here than simply the likes of Abu Hamza shouting the odds outside Finsbury Park Mosque – the influence of radical Islam has led to incidents in which young Muslims have openly challenged the authority and legitimacy of moderate Imams within their own mosque, who’ve stood in front of the congregation and, quite literally, told the Imam that their teachings are entirely wrong.

Far from dealing with the problems of radical Islam, practices like the banning of khimar and what looks, from Browne’s article, to be less the promotion of integration and more the enforcement of integration in the Netherlands and Denmark by use of immigration regulations, has the effect not of addressing radicalism amongst young Muslims but of supporting and feeding it.

Radicalism, of whatever form and in whatever society, is the product of inequality and the disaffection and resentment that fosters, particularly in the young – people turn to radical solutions when they perceive moderate solutions, like democracy, to be failing to address their grievances. As socialists, we above all others, should understand this as it is fundamental to our own beliefs and our own ideology – in the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we stand on the side of the powerless or we are nothing. That is socialism, its heart and soul.

Expelling radical clerics is nothing more than an act of short term expediency, one which creates the appearance of ‘dealing with the problem’ but which achieves nothing of consequence – it merely moves the problem out of sight and, therefore, out of mind.

Socialist solutions are constructive, not destructive. Expelling the destructive influence of radical clerics is not enough, mere short-term expediency arising from a political need to placate the wider electorate. What’s really needed here is the inculcation of constructive influences within the Britain’s Muslim community, influences which would come with a new generation of religious leaders, Imams who have been brought up, educated and – probably – born in Britain and who have grown up understanding what is it to live in Britain and to bridge and mediate the conflicting demands of being both British and a Muslim.

We cannot force the Muslim community down the road of secularism, such actions breed resentment which, in turn, supports and sustain radicalism, nor can we rely on short-term fixes and political expediency of the kind Browne suggests. There are equally, if not more, counter-productive and work against us. British Muslims, and young Muslims in particular, need to find an accommodation which enables them to be both British and Muslim and comfortable with both identities, an accommodation which they can only find through Islam.

Muslim integration into British society is not a matter of Muslim adopting British values, in fact it is the adoption of certain western values which came from the European enlightenment which are the cause of our present difficulties, it is a matter of Muslims finding those British values within Islam – a process which will take time as the Islamic way of doing this is through its common law system of jurisprudence – lets remember here that British Muslims have 1400 years worth of precedents to work through.

That requires both tolerance and patience on our part – British Muslims have to find and define their own identity, we cannot do it for them, something which Browne seems not to understand.

Even post-bombing, Britain has a long way to go in its understanding of Islamic fascism. The tragedy is that we start daring to understand it only when innocent lives are lost.

In reality, a more accurate reflection of the current position is that Britain has a long way to go in its understanding of Islam – full stop.

Browne’s analysis offers little or nothing to advance such an understanding, in fact by promoting the trope of ‘Islamic Fascism’ his views work against the development of any understanding at all. Instead we are encouraged to view Islamic radicalism solely in terms of fascism and therefore as being something to be automatically opposed without any consideration of what it actually is and what significance that might have, in turn, on how we choose the address the challenges is poses to our own society.

Browne’s position is simply that “Ours is not to reason why…” and therefore both counter-productive and counter-intuitive in promoting the idea that we can oppose Islamic radicalism without understanding what it actually is we are opposing.


Browne’s argument is clearly popular amongst a particular stand of ostensibly left-wing blogs, exemplified by Harry’s Place which has identified this article as a synopsis of the main thread of their recent debates and does, indeed, do little else but endlessly promote and debate this position…

…which begs the question of why, given its clear right-wing and, in places, borderline racist undertones, has this strand of thinking become so popular amongst a part of what is, nominally, the political left?

It seems to me to be evidence of a growing crisis of identify and ideology within a part of the left which wholeheartedly supported the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, the prima facia evidence for this being their propensity to tar all opponents of this invasion as ‘apologists’, ‘appeasers’ and ‘fascist sympathisers’ irrespective of whether they have any association whatsoever with this group’s other stated enemy, Galloway, the SWP and its current allies – a case of “methinks the blogger doth protest too much…”

The collapse of the imminent threat/WMD justification for this invasion creates an ethical dilemma for those who see themselves as belonging to the political left but who supported this war – stripped of this this justification they find themselves in a position of having supported an invasion of a sovereign state which was planned and executed for a variety of reasons all of which are derived from the pursuit of US national interests as defined by a singularly and, as was demonstrated by the 2004 US election campaign, unashamedly right-wing President and his supporters and which are markedly of the political right.

This leaves them with two options. They can admit that they were wrong to support this invasion as the motives behind it, as has now become clear, are contrary to their ideological position and beliefs – in which case they also have to admit to having been conned by the Labour government they support and that they have, only recently returned to power, or then can try to manufacture a new justification for this invasion which fits in with their principles and beliefs.

As should be obvious, those most vocal in pushing this interpretation of radical Islam have taken the latter option and sought to redefine the West’s intervention in Iraq in terms of humanitarian intervention, even though this re-interpretation of the motives for the invasions emerged openly only a few short weeks before the start of the invasion and only then as it became increasingly obvious that the WMD argument was a total fallacy and in an accelerating state of collapse– Blair’s first speech promoting the ‘humanitarian intervention’ line was made the day after the presentation of the UN weapons inspectors report on Iraq to the UN, a report which comprehensively destroyed the WMD-based justification for war.

Unfortunately, the humanitarian intervention strand places regime change into the position of being a central reason for this invasion, rendering it illegal in international law – the sole definitive advice given by the Attorney General to Blair prior to the invasion was that a war predicated on regime change would be clearly illegal.

Uncomfortable as this may be on its own, its impact is further compounded by a prevailing theme of internecine political conflict on the left, the contention that your political opponents, whoever they are, are not ‘proper lefties at all’ – within the intellectual and ideological conflicts on the left there is probably no more damning insult one can level at opponents that to claim that they only ‘pretend’ to be left wing and are really Tories/liberals/fascists ‘in disguise’, which is why this insult crops up so often, particularly on the hard left where its usually accompanied by shouts of ‘class traitor’.

Naturally, being caught out supporting a war fought in the name of a palpably right-wing agenda keys right into this theme – hence we get the absurdity of the SWP claiming that those who supported the war are ‘right-wing imperialist lackeys’ while the pro-war camp claims the SWP et al are supporting and sympathising with fascism. Each is desperate to define the other as being right-wing so as to define themselves as being of the ‘true left’ by their opposition to the other.

Radical Islam must, consequently, be a fascist ideology as only characterising it as such can those on the left who supported the war sustain their own sense of the left-wing identity and principles be defining themselves in opposition to it. Terms like ‘apologist’, ‘appeaser’ and ‘fascist sympathiser’ are then trotted out to discourage close examination of their adopted position which is far too weak and full of inconsistencies to stand up to scrutiny. Moreover, there can be no let up in this line of attack – lacking any credible intellectual or ideological foundations, victory is possible only by wearing down the opposition and hoping that by constantly repeating its adopted position ad-infinitum and ad-nauseum it will eventually become the accepted truth by default and for no better reason than that people have got tired of arguing with them.

Where this leaves the Labour movement is, unfortunately, in the grip of an unstable element who propaganda is driving the policy agenda in directions which are detrimental to our own society and, in particular, to civil liberties – hence we get everything from ID cards to a range new and more authoritarian anti-terrorist legislation pushed through will little or no real debate – the desperate efforts of a few to sustain their own sense of [left-wing] identify ends up supporting and pushing ahead a distinctly illiberal, authoritarian and right-wing political agenda which would otherwise be stringently opposed.

13 thoughts on “The pro-war left gets a good fisking…

  1. I’m a big fan of your writing, and think you do a great job on them.. but I think you lost yourself a bit towards the end of this piece, which is a shame.. I’m unsure if I have read it in the past, indiciating that it might not have been clear, but I would like to read from you what you think Radical Islam actually is..

    I wish I had time to go into lots of detailed discussion.. but I dont so I wont.. however I have one thing that I feel is fair to mention:

    “The chador is …. as much a part of Islamic culture as the wearing of the turban is to the Sikhs,” – From – “The dastaar, as the Sikh turban is known, is an article of faith that has been made mandatory by the founders of Sikhism. It is not to be regarded as mere cultural paraphernalia.”

    I have read lately that there is no actual requirement for much of what is claimed as Islamic dress and appearance, and that it is not entirely necessary. More often than not the choice to distinquish oneself is a sign of a slightly more “radical” viewpoint than what could be considered the norm.

  2. This immolation of former leftists’ own beliefs stems from two long-standing trends:

    • A large section of the left have always been purely dogmatic, lacking any desire to engage with evidence or thought in any way. These are the “comprehensives and no other form of school” brigade, wrapped in shibboleths until it is all they have left.
    • Blairism. Blairism operates by sloganeering, favouring action over analysis and reasoned policy. It also incorporates a very heavy dose of corporatism, which is very definitely something that socialists ought to reject. Embracing corporatism thus requires a taste for convoluted doublethink.

    Blairism is a general rightwards move to capture wider party-political support for the Labout party. Unfortunately, labour loyalists seem to have been consumed by the idea that they must hang on to political power, by never admitting mistakes and by always reacting to popular sentiment. In doing so, they seem to have abandoned their principles, and moved to a strange kind of intuitionism where “they” decide what they want to do (the decision is made by the government, which I assume in practice means Blair), but remembering dimly that they have principles, then feel the need to paint “their” (the government’s) actions as “compassionate”, “socialist”, and “right”.

    I expect that some semblance of normal socialism can only be resumed once we return to a state where some kind of debate is acceptable within the electable left. Strangely, the mainstream publication that carries the closest thing to such debate and analysis the Financial Times.

  3. Rob:

    Radical Islam is… Radical Islam – its a modern syncretic fusion of Salafism with elements of positivism, romantic nationalism and – it terms of Al Qaeda – revolutionary anarchism.

    As such it has to be considered and understood as discrete ideology in its own right and not just lumped under the general heading of fascism.

    As a point of left-wing psychology it interesting to note that while we recognise a wide variety of subtle distinctions in left-wing thought – Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, etc – we seem not to admit to the existance of such distinctions on the far-right ever though Italian fascism and Nazism are, for example, very different in some respects.

    The parallel between the chador and the turban is entirely valid – you’re right that Islam, in general. prescribes no fixed form of dress only a requirement for modesty however this in no way diminishes the importance of the chador, niqab or khimar as a cultural/religious artifact where is worn by choice as an outward expression of individual faith.

    Differences arise only when viewed from our own perspective and from projecting our ideas and values onto Islam – this is the element of choice which should be respected. If a women chooses to wear the chador as a expression of her faith then who are we to judge? The religious and cultural significance lies in its meaning to the wearer not in an meaning we might apply to it from the outside.

  4. “I expect that some semblance of normal socialism can only be resumed once we return to a state where some kind of debate is acceptable within the electable left.”

    Absolutely, although I’d go further and say that some semblance of normal politics can only be resumed once we return to a state where rational debate is acceptable within mainstream political parties.

    The one clear consensus in politics over the last 25 years, in all the major parties, is that debate causes splits and a split party loses elections – a belief which is damaging to democracy as a whole and leads to authoritarian government.

  5. We can have debate, even across the Labour blogosphere, but I wouldn’t put too much money on it changing anything in the real world. Unless someone comes up with a bright idea…

  6. C: It doesn’t so much change my perception of the article as confirm my general unease about the author’s motives and intent which I certainly alluded to as much as I could without crossing the line into possible libel had I misread things.

    B4L: To be honest David T’s update really doesn’t improve things much as all it really does is accept the main premise of original article but reject the source because of his suspect views.

  7. Speaking as a non-socialist/non-Labour leftie (am I allowed to say that on this site?) it is good to know that there are elements of Labour that have not been completely subsumed into pro-war Labour camp. Without wishing to get into a party political debate I simply cannot understand New Labout getting into bed with Bush/Republicans on this one.

    This is a very interesting piece and although I cannot agree with you on everything (my views on the hijab/veil/covering up of women issue is that is fairly bog standard oppression and control of women via both religious and cultural means – and Islam isn’t exactly unique in that respect, although under some systems it is uniquely extreme) your analysis is nevertheless thoughtful and educated.

  8. Is it possible to be against the war, and also against fundamentalist Islam? And is it ok to say that Islamism has some ‘fascistic elements’, rather than call it fascism outright? After all, history has shown us at least once that Islamism and fascism have enough in common to co-ordinate their efforts; witness the Mufti of Palestine’s important role in the Final Solution, for example.

    I agree about the left’s tendencies to categorise a wide range of politics under ‘fascism’. However, when armed thugs are, for example, executing teachers who refuse to teach only boys at school (Afghanistan), I think, in the final analysis, that the simplification is more than countered by the highlighting of worryingly pre-modern, unenlightened modes of thought.

    PS: “The religious and cultural significance lies in its meaning to the wearer not in any meaning we apply to it from the outside”
    -Have you seen my T-shirt? It reads ‘BRITAIN IS NOT FOR ETHNICS; KEEP IT CLEAN’, and i like it because it makes me think of cleanliness and fresh air.

    Are we allowing cultural ‘sensitivity’ to slip into suspension of, well, common sense…?

  9. Is it possible to be against the war, and also against fundamentalist Islam?

    Yes, perfectly possible.

    Much of wider anti-war feeling is largely pragmatic – the realpolitik of invading Iraq was that it was a screw-up waiting to happen and everything that followed is entirely and depressingly predictable if one takes the time to look properly at the politics and history of the region.

    The West cannot fight Islamic fundamentalism from the outside – all that does is drive more people into its arms. The real fight against it has to come from within Islam, that we can legitimately support and is where our own efforts should be directed.

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