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Saturday, August 12, 2006

An unholy alliance

Lazy accusations of fascism against 'radical Islam' play into the hands of US neocons and warmongers - as Martin Bright has learned.
Salma Yaqoob
August 2, 2006 02:21 PM

Martin Bright says he feels "rather awkward" about his newfound friends. So he should: anybody who claims to be on the left and finds their arguments being championed by a bunch of warmongering neocons should pause and reflect how they got themselves in that position.

In Bright's case, the answer is simple. The ideological cover for the violent remapping of the Middle East and new imperial conquest is the language of the "war on terror" and tackling the evil of "radical Islam". All expressions of Muslim radicalism are presented as paving the way to "fascism" and terrorism. And as in the old cold war, the same scattergun, McCarthyite propaganda is applied. If Conservative and neocon commentators are feting Martin Bright, it is only because he is repeating their mantra.

Bright's main "discovery" is that the Foreign Office is engaged in a "love affair with radical Islam". The idea that the Foreign Office is appeasing radical Muslims is one of the most absurd notions he puts forward. If the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iraq war, the existence of Guántanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and the refusal to even criticise Israeli aggression are evidence of Foreign Office "courting" of Muslims, I hate to think what would happen if things became acrimonious.

The reality is that the Foreign Office does have a policy of appeasement - towards American imperialism. The events of the last few weeks have dramatically underlined this. While 150 countries called for an immediate ceasefire to end the violence in Israel and Lebanon, three countries opposed it: America, Israel and Britain. Indeed America speeded up its shipments of bombs to Israel, and bomb-laden planes were allowed to refuel in Britain. The overriding framework of British foreign policy could not be clearer.

Of course, some sections of the British state are nervous. Islamic political forces are growing in strength because they are increasingly seen as one of the few bulwarks against what is now naked imperialism and colonialism. The traditional allies of western "democracy", such as the reactionary Saudi monarchy or the repressive Egyptian regime, are rapidly losing credibility. It is little wonder that some in the Foreign Office think Britain needs a dialogue with the Islamic forces that may one day overthrow the corrupt and dictatorial regimes we have sponsored for so long.

But it beggars belief to suggest that Britain's foreign policy is defined by a "love affair" with radical Islam. The tentative attempts at dialogue are a very small carrot in comparison to the big stick of military intervention. The sponsoring of a couple of student conferences by Islamic organisations cannot obscure the fact that the central thrust of government policy remains indistinguishable from that of the White House.

Bright may shy away from the consequences of the "war on terror", but he has found himself in the camp of those promoting it. And it is the smear of fascism that makes it possible for him to justify his new alliance.

This is a repetition of the disingenuous use of language to categorise Muslims that has become common since 9/11. First, the enemy was "fanatical", then "fundamentalist" and "extremist". Now the enemy is becoming broader, and it is "radical" Islam that threatens us. And to hammer home the point, "radical Islam" is defined as "fascist".

Bright never explains what he actually means by the term. We are just left to conjure up something evil. This ploy was used in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was portrayed as the new Hitler. The fact that Nazi Germany was the second most powerful economy in the world with the capabilities to realise its expansionist ambitions, and Iraq a country broken and devastated by UN sanctions was conveniently overlooked. Also overlooked was US and British compliance with Saddam's brutality when it suited their interests. As soon as his services are dispensed with, the term "fascist" is cynically applied.

Bright's attempt to blanket all expressions of Islamic radicalism as "fascist" fits well with a project that seeks to neuter all resistance within the Muslim community to those who seek to colonise Muslim lands in the Middle East. The effect is to exorcise from Islamic political discourse the right of the oppressed in the Muslim world to wage struggle by blurring the distinction between legitimate viewpoints and illegitimate support for indiscriminate violence.

Despite his protestations, his is a profoundly Islamophobic project. And it has very dangerous implications. I cannot think of anything more guaranteed to promote the appeal of reactionary Islamism than an attempt to eradicate Muslim "radicalism" and instead promote new Muslim organisations that happily consign themselves to a narrow, spiritual, apolitical remit.

I am curious to know: where does somebody like me appear on his political compass? Like the overwhelming majority of Muslims, I view US and British interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq as occupations and support the right of people there to resist. I also happen to be proud of my Islamic identity, and I wear the hijab. I call myself a Muslim, but the label of "Islamist" (with its connotations of supporting terrorism) is frequently forced upon me.

Yet I have been on the receiving end of death threats from Islamic extremists because of my involvement with the left. I have publicly and actively condemned terrorism, whether state sponsored or committed in the name of Islam. I vociferously defend the rights of Muslim women who choose not to wear the hijab and openly tackle reactionary cultural practices within some sections of our community. I also object to any kind of totalitarian state - whether left, right or religious. I espouse a political viewpoint that strives to unite the largest number of people, whether of faith or not, around a progressive agenda.

But that cannot be enough for Bright and his new friends. Whether he likes it or not, his call for an "anti-fascist" alliance with Bush and his ideologues is directed against Muslims like me. For them, our presence is a sinister one. A straight line is drawn between British Muslims who express any kind of dissent and those who want to impose Islamic ideology and sharia law. Indeed, according to Tony Blair, Muslims like me are part of the problem because while we condemn terrorism, we encourage a "false" sense of grievance by criticising British foreign policy.

The really sinister alliance is that which Bright is now part of: those who attempt to cloak the subjugation of the Arab and Muslim world in the language of "anti-fascism". In appeasing imperialism, it is not surprising that Bright and co find their new allies are of the neocon variety.

What historically distinguishes leftwing ideas is their commitment to the poor and dispossessed, and to the fight for equality, anti-racism, anti-colonialism and national self-determination. Herein, perhaps, lies the clue to the emerging unity between sections of the left and sections of the Muslim community that are bearing the brunt of imperialism abroad in terms of brutal military intervention and at home, where justifications for such actions are sought using anti-Muslim rhetoric. In resisting imperialism, Muslims and the left are fighting a common enemy and developing their own ties of friendship forged through struggle and mutual solidarity.

Indeed, this relationship with the left has done more to engender a sense of "Britishness" among Muslims than any number of government citizenship classes. The left in Britain is not "appeasing" reactionary Islamic currents. The notion that the imposition of an "Islamic state" or "sharia law" is even one step closer because the left has made common cause with Muslims is a ridiculous fantasy. On the contrary, the creation of this progressive and democratic space is central to limiting the appeal of Islamic sectarianism to Muslims angry at our government's support for war in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Lebanon.

Imperialist powers have always had propagandists to do their dirty work for them. They should be exposed for what they are. And as one small contribution to that project, I would be more than happy to publicly debate these issues with Martin Bright any time, any place.


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