Carl Packman says over at Libcon that the left hasn’t developed an effective response to multiculturalism:
There have been very many areas of distraction where the left seem to have been weak, and it has been an almost impossible task to try and square this circle, about immigration, about Islamism and extremism, about right wing groups such as the EDL or SIOE.
Let me try and develop a response to this because I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately. But it’s worthwhile pointing out that concerns around immigration and far-right movements aren’t new. Even during the 70s and 80s the Tory right used the spectre of the National Front and BNP to say that more immigration would lead to increasing community unrest. That underpinned Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech and it has been echoed repeatedly since, though in different guises. Even now it’s fashionable on the right to say that the BNP’s growth has been entirely due to immigration, even if the evidence doesn’t hold up (it certainly didn’t in the last election).
Politically active minorities in Britain have gone through evolutionary cycles of identity politics: from ‘black unity’ to more fragmented secular Asian politics to even more fragmented religious politics by community leaders. The last paradigm is now also fading away as 9/11 starts becoming a distant memory. Of course, if a few major terrorist attacks in the UK happen then hysteria about Islamists could rise again and you could be back to people clinging to their religion to defend it.
Let me emphasise that last point again: the rise of religious communitarianism was largely a response to the hysteria against Muslims: it made them defensive of an identity they didn’t pay much attention to earlier. They had mostly ignored the religious fundos and were then damned with them by loose religious association. I talked about this evolution a few years ago in this article for The Times.
And where does the future lie? I think, in the breakdown of religious and race-based structures and a focus back to the biggest British identity politics of all: class/poverty differences.
What’s needed to respond to the point by Carl, I think, is to lay out principles that lefties should be able to agree on, that govern how issues relating to ‘diversity’ and multiculturalism’ are treated.
Free speech and neo-cons
I was at a round-table on free speech last week with the excellent writer/think Kenan Malik who made a good point: that a diverse society not only needs free speech but actually relies on that principle. It’s easy having free speech in a relatively homogeneous society because people mostly think the same. It’s diverse societies that stretch those free speech principles to breaking point because suddenly people are confronted with views they find abhorrent.
Over the last ten years a curious alliance developed between Conservatives (generally against ‘abhorrent views’ and diversity anyway) and lefties we can label as ‘neo-cons‘ in favour of restricting civil liberties and suppressing free speech.
And so they turned a blind eye to falsified evidence (in support of war), torture, extraordinary rendition, locking up ‘enemy combatants’ etc. They start looking for potential terrorists everywhere and started smearing them as Islamists and sympathisers. They wanted “hate literature” banned while simultaneously demanding that Muslims adhere to their ‘enlightened’ values of free speech.
They cried about how great civil liberties were while simultaneously calling for students to be spied on at universities in the name of national security.
That isn’t to say minorities helped their own cause. And so we need to establish some first principles: in favour of free speech, civil liberties, secularism and basic individual freedoms of religion, the right to marry who they want etc. (partly why I argued against demands for BNP / EDL marches to be banned – they go against basic principles of civil liberties).
Anyway, those are some initial thoughts. This is how you could contribute: tell me in the comments what such a list of ‘first principles’ should look like. A list of 5-10 thoughts maybe.
As discussed in my previous article ”The Music of Unity and the Politics of Division”, music can be a very powerful medium to overcome boundaries between different groups of people and convey the humanitarian message by the sheer emotional force of the music itself.
In religious terms, this is also a concept integral to Sikhism, most mainstream South Asian versions of Sufi Islam, and many devotional versions of Hinduism. The famous 13th century Persian Sufi Rumi eloquently summarised it: “Follow the music and it will show you the way”.
And so my friends, it appears that years after the Euston Manifesto was launched with promise of a new, better kind of left, the movement has whittled down to this: a mildly entertaining website in which any blotches of red and swamped by huge dollops of red-baiting. And a star spokeswoman who appears embarassingly divorced from both reason and reality, as she peddles the same old line about lefties and fundamentalists.
I recently wrote of the Sunday Times story that claimed the Met had ‘allowed Islamic protesters to throw shoes’. Watch how the story travelled around.
The article was taken up and publicised by Douglas Murray, who wrote a blog post about the story on the Telegraph’s website entitled, ‘The police encourage Muslims to throw shoes at them? Just what community relations needed’.
There will, some day, be a terrible reckoning for all of this. Perhaps it will start when thugs from another religion decide to carry out acts of violence in public and cite the Muslim precedent as their prompt. Perhaps it will happen when the police are confronted with gangs of people of no faith at all wondering why it is illegal for someone who is not a Muslim to injure police but perfectly legal if you are a Muslim who pretends to feel really strongly about something.
On Sunday, an article appeared in The Sunday Times, under the headline, “Met allows Islamic protesters to throw shoes”.
Granted a spot on the front page, the piece opened with the apparent news that “Scotland Yard has bowed to Islamic sensitivities and accepted that Muslims are entitled to throw shoes in ritual protest”.
This seemed quite an extraordinary claim – so extraordinary, in fact, that on closer examination, some cracks started to appear.
Let me start with some cliches first. Any society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable and its most hated. And According to Wikipedia: “Habeas corpus has historically been an important legal instrument safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary state action.” — in other words we are supposed to value ‘innocent before being proven guilty’. Or at least the right to a trial. Errr, not exactly.
No due process is accorded. No charges or trials are necessary. No evidence is offered, nor any opportunity for him to deny these accusations (which he has done vehemently through his family). None of that.
Now. I wasn’t going to write about this because, although it disgusted me, I’ll admit that I’m usually unwilling to criticise Obama. But what irks me is that the same people who keep going on about how important human rights for all are, have said nothing about this incident at all over here. In fact, over at Harry’s Place blog they’re crowing about it. Nick Cohen is still pretending he cares about women’s rights while saying nothing about this either.
You’d think that someone being assassinated by their government without trial would be regarded as a pretty big violation of basic human rights. Apparently it’s just not important enough. Far more important to pimp your book and tell everyone how lefties are in bed with Islamists. Hell, even Amnesty Int have said nothing about this decision. If they did, no doubt people would claim they were being leant on by Moazzam Begg et all. But that’s still pretty shabby.
Disgusting as his views are, al-Awlaki has basically been stripped off his human rights without due process. Even Bush didn’t go that far; he merely wanted to listen into the conversations of US citizens. The lesson here is simple: if you’re Muslim then the state can take away your rights and self-appointed champions of human rights won’t say anything at all. That’s how committed they are.
Here we go again. Harry’s Place has a blog post that berates Amnesty UK for ‘promoting’ the journalist Ben White. This is becoming all too typical of this row and goes to the heart of the problem. And that is – many of the people attacking Amnesty here are doing so simply because it works with people who’s politics they don’t like. And so the smearing takes place.
In this case Weissman is appalled that White wrote something he didn’t like. And so, “Amnesty UK have a right to voice their opinion on East Jerusalem, but hiring Ben White to speak for them makes no sense.” — yeah I’m sure. What he means is: I can’t believe Amnesty is working with someone I don’t like, it just goes to show how much they love Islamists blah blah froth froth.
Perhaps he could form a committee so that they could approve in advance who Amnesty should be allowed to work with. Oh wait, their mate is already trying that.
It’s not only an attempt to shut down voices he doesn’t like – but is also very hypocritical. The same Joseph Weissman (under his pseudonym Seisemic Shock, I’m assuming) earlier wrote on Harry’s Place an article promoting Patrick Sookhdeo. The very same who contributed to a book titled â€˜The Myth of Islamic Toleranceâ€™, which was put together by Robert Spencer of the notoriously bigoted Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch blogs. And yet he’s now offering advice on human rights and dodgy connections.
Instead of Bright, we get Mehdi Hasan: a man who believes that non-Muslims are â€œkafirsâ€ and like â€œcattleâ€, and who both praises and takes a face value the Supreme Leader of Iranâ€™s ersatz anti-nuclear rhetoric.
The first part of that smear has become predictable. The second part – criticising him for “praising” the Supreme leader of Iran – is even more idiotic. All Mehdi did was point to a fatwa by the Iranian leader against nuclear weapons. And even if he did “praise him” for being anti-nuclear, what the hell is wrong with that? I’d praise any nutjob who was against nukes.
And these people set themselves up as defender of human rights. The mind boggles. All they see are Islamists under every bed and won’t stop criticising Amnesty unless it stops working with any whose views they find politically inconvenient.
Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International 2001-2009, was on Woman’s Hour this morning to discuss her book The Unheard Truth – Poverty and Human Rights in which Khan ‘advocates for awareness about what she sees as the indisputable link between the title’s two components. Khan states flatly, “Poverty is the world’s worst human rights crisis.”‘. More details can be found here.
At the close of the interview Khan was asked about Gita Sahgal’s campaign against Amnesty International, specifically her claim that Amnesty has shown a gross error in judgement in those it has chosen to work with in it’s campaign to close Guantanamo. Gita Sahgal is specifically accusing Moazzam Begg of supporting the Taliban and has accused Amnesty of ignoring her complaints for years, which has led to ‘absolutely no credibility across the world in being serious about treating the equality of women and the emancipation of women seriously’.
Khan had this to say:
I hired Gita and she worked with me for six years. While I was there those concerns did not come to light. She didn’t ever express them to me so I can’t comment on her specific case or what’s happened since I left.
I’ve now got a clearer picture of what is going on with the Amnesty and Moazzam Begg saga.
And it’s easy to see why this is a campaign to Amnesty and its work. On 14th Feb the journalist who kicked this all off – Richard Kerbaj – published another article titled: Second Amnesty chief attacks Islamist links.
I do not oppose our current initiative working with Moazzam Begg in the recent European tour seeking to convince European states to receive more of the GuantÃ¡namo detainees who cannot be repatriated because of the risk of further human rights abuses.
As I told my programme staff in the internal email leaked to your paper, my concern has been that AIâ€™s campaigning has not been sufficiently clear that when we defend somebodyâ€™s right to be free from torture or unlawful detention, we do not necessarily embrace their views totally.
So will the Sunday Times and the blogs that quoted Zarifi initially issue a retraction? Fat chance. This has turned into a straightforward campaign to malign Amnesty.
Exclusive: I’ve managed to get a statement by Moazzam Begg on why he pulled out of the Amnesty event tomorrow. I’ll have more on this tomorrow.
* * * * *
It has been my pleasure to have worked closely with Amnesty since my return from Guantanamo on highlighting the cases and campaigning against the human rights abuses that have occured in the name of fighting terrorism since the outset of the ‘War on Terror.’ The relationship I have with Amnesty goes back to the years when I was incarcerated in US custody and my father was receiving immense moral and practical support from the organisation – something both he and I will never forget.
People reading political blogs generally seem to hate nuanced positions, but I’m going to try anyway. For that it’s likely I’ll get slammed by both sides but that’s fine. I need to get this out of my system.
Many of you will know the background to the Amnesty/Gita Sahgal/Moazzam Begg/Cage Prisoners saga. Well, even if you don’t, you can read on. I’ll focus on each of the main actors – none of who come out smelling of roses I think.
I’ll start by saying I have had great respect for Women Against Fundamentalism and Southall Black Sisters (who Gita was associated with). I’ve made several docs where I’ve worked extensively with women from SBS and lobbied hard when their funding was being cut.
I think Gita was right to raise concerns over Amnesty’s link with Cage Prisoners (CP), who Moazzam Begg (MB) leads, for reasons I’ll come to later. But she’s wrong on various counts:
1. Her implication is that Amnesty is being affected in its support for human rights across the Middle East by giving MB/CP a platform. There is no proof for this. If she’s only arguing that Amnesty’s reputation would be damaged, I’d argue that having a public spat did far more damage to Amnesty.
2. She has also argued that Amnesty has “never done any research on the networks developing in Britain or Europe or the US” – but that’s not their job. They don’t do counter-terrorism they do protection of human rights. And on that basis they have to argue for the rights of all people including Islamists and even white fascists.
3. I’m also unsure of what Gita is specifically accusing MB of? This is unclear. She knows that Amnesty does not have any formal links with CP or Begg. She also knows they are not consulted on for Amnesty reports. So how exactly are Amnesty being affected by them?
Ironically, non-Pakistani Muslims, especially Arab Muslims do not appear to be much concerned about the alleged sole female Al Qaeda operative bearing in mind the roots of Al Qaeda run deep within Arab societies.
I too, was initially appalled at reading the plight of the short statured woman who was allegedly kept under illegal confinement in Afghanistan for over 5 years before finally being produced in a US court of law. To everyoneâ€™s relief, she was finally put on trial in New York on terrorism related charges, including one involving an attempted shooting of a US Army guard by his own M16 rifle. She has since then been found guilty of this charge.
A reader wrote in to ask why I hadn’t mentioned this story in the Guardian last week. Coz I completely missed it! Here you go:
The report cites interviews with rightwing extremists to try to prove a link between what is published in the mainstream media and the anti-Muslim views held by extremists.
It says: “An experienced BNP activist in London explains that he believes that most BNP supporters simply followed the lead set by their favourite tabloid commentators that they read every day. When these commentators singled out Muslims as threats to security and social cohesion, he says that it was perfectly natural for BNP supporters to adopt the same thinking.” The report says the extreme right are directing their violence more against Muslims than black or Asian Britons.
It cites other cases of rightwing extremists preparing hate campaigns and of serious attacks on Muslims in Britain.
These included: “Neil Lewington, a violent extremist nationalist convicted in July 2009 of a bomb plot; Terence Gavan, a violent extremist nationalist convicted in January 2010 of manufacturing nail bombs and other explosives, firearms and weapons; a gang attack in November 2009 on Muslim students at City University; the murder in September 2009 of Muslim pensioner, Ikram Syed ul-Haq; a serious assault in August 2007 on the Imam at London Central Mosque; and an arson attack in June 2009 on Greenwich Islamic Centre.”
I wish someone spent more time documenting examples of far-right attacks in the UK because the media constantly plays them down.
Conversely, the authors make no acknowledgement of where truly false and irresponsible reporting has indeed inflamed violence against a vulnerable British minority. The way the British media reports the Middle East incites irrational hatred not just of Israel but also Jews in general. This reporting takes the form of false claims about Israelâ€™s aggressive and illegal behaviour, medieval-style blood libels that Israel deliberately kills Palestinian children, and conspiracies between Israel and America to put the worldâ€™s security at risk.
… note how she conflates Israel and Jews generally. There is of course a significant Muslim/Arab minority in Israel.
Much newsprint has been used up on the cartoon like figure of Amjed Choudhury – arguably the most recognisable British Muslim in the UK – at least since Captain Hook was imprisoned – and certainly the one they love to hate.
Oh what ‘fun’ it was as person after person, organisation after organisation queued up to put the proverbial steel toe-capped boot into him – thus proving their integrationist and ‘moderate’ credentials – organisations such as the Muslim Public Affairs Committee.
Although a view of the forum section of their website would show views more in keeping with the ‘radical’ Choudhury than those of Florence Nightingale!
What, though, are we scared about? Yes, I accept Choudhury and his like are dangerous to young minds, all too readily brainwashed by his twisted ideology, but I like to think the majority of the population possess the brain cells to see past his schoolboy ranting.
In addition to their somewhat one-dimensional outlook on life I am afraid they are also somewhat behind the times, as the Cockney Rejects, back in 1979, beat them to it with their East End Oi! anthem ‘Police Car’ – a song that contained the immortal line “Freedom? There ain’t no fucking freedom“.
I think the key to Islam4UK’s banning wasn’t the Wootton Bassett march but the Detroit attack by the Nigerian bomber. At that point, given that I4UK are the UK’s most high profile Islamist group, linked to terrorism though many of their former members, I’m betting that the Intelligence services leaned on Johnson.
Their thinking would be that they need to start being more pro-active and go through various members of al-Muhajiroun / Islam4UK and check if they’ve had contact with Yemenis or any other potential bombers.
After all, it’s very likely that many Islam4UK members are in contact with groups in the Middle East.
So proscribing the group makes it possible for the intelligence services to swoop down on, and legally find it easier to monitor members of the group. It would make it easier for them to confiscate computers or other communication devices of members to see if they’re had contact with potential terrorists.
And so even if they don’t prosecute specific people or ban them outright, banning the group at least gives the intelligence services some legal cover to do better counter-terrorism.
If you watch Newsnight from yesterday, just before the debate between Maajid Nazaaw and Anjem Choudhary, there’s an intelligence officer saying its ludicrous to think these people are normal or innocent given how closely many of their ‘former’ members have been charged with terrorism related oiffences or actually blown themselves up.
I’m almost certain this is a widely held opinion in the intelligence community. It is also likely their views forced Alan Johnson’s hand.
I’ve written an article for the Guardian pointing out why the decision to ban Islam4UK was right.
I know people are fond of saying freedom of speech is absolute, but it’s not. People don’t have the absolute right to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. This relates to people’s access to information: in crowded places they don’t know whether there is a fire, and therefore start panicking if someone shouts “fire”. This principle applies to Islam4UK, too. They continually troll the media with outrageous statements and stunts they have no intention of carrying out, or are hilariously fantastical (the pictures of how Trafalgar Square / Buckingham Palace would look under sharia law, for instance).
The public and media, not knowing much about Islam4UK, end up attaching too much importance to what this small bunch of crackpots have to say. Many also assume or want to believe that Islam4UK represents mainstream Muslim opinion. That is a failure of context and information: just like shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. Islam4UK spokesman Anjem Choudary does this repeatedly, and a sensation-hungry media keeps dancing to his tune.
Both British Muslims for Secular Democracy and Quilliam have also released statements agreeing with this.
That reminds me, did anyone watch the Newsnight fight (at 18min in) between Maajid Nawaz and Anjem Choudhary? Choudhary pointedly refused to answer almost every question put to him. A complete fraud.
The BBC website’s profile of the recently proscribed extremist group Islam4UK (also known as al-Muhajiroun) ominously states: “What is clear is that there are . . . men who have attended al-Muhajiroun events who have gone further than words.”
Omar Khyam, a Crawley resident who masterminded a plot to bomb targets in south-east England, had attended the group’s meetings; another supporter, Abu Izzadeen, was jailed for attempting to raise funds for the Iraqi mujahideen. But do such vague connections warrant the banning of the organisation, under new legislation that outlaws the “glorification” of terrorism?
From tomorrow, it will be a criminal offence to support the group, which courted public outrage earlier this month by planning a deliberately inappropriate anti-war protest in Wootton Bassett [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jan/10/islam4uk-cancels-wootton-bassett-march] — a Wiltshire town famous for honouring Britain’s fallen soldiers. Prior to Alan Johnson’s move to ban the organisation, Gordon Brown condemned the proposed march:
I don’t think there is anybody I know in this country who wishes to turn Wootton Bassett and what happens there into an undignified political event led by one or two people who’ve got malicious reasons for doing so . . . I think we should be very clear that it’s not acceptable and it would be disgusting and offensive and I don’t think there is any public support for any means by which Wootton Bassett should be abused in this way.
As much as I disagree with Islam4UK’s core beliefs, I found Brown’s play on populism to be cynical and distasteful at the time. Now, I find it worrying.
You know what annoys me? Dumb, idiotic bloggers who try to smear others by vague ‘nth degree‘ associations. Usually because they happen to be Muslims. ‘Lucy Lips’ on Harry’s Place takes a shot at Libdem PPC and Harrow Mosque imam Ajmal Masroor.
Now, I’ve met Ajmal loads of times and though I don’t always agree with everything he says, he is a thoroughly nice guy and has sound political views.
So Anjem Choudhary and Islam4UK have decided to cancel their march through Wootton Bassett. Wait, I’m shocked. No really, I expected this to happen just like their lame march through London, which they backed out of simply because some anti-Islamists showed up.
The News of the World reports that the home secretary plans to ban the group, and for reasons I outlined years ago when it applied to al-Ghuraaba, that’s fine with me.
But the question is – will the British media now wake up to the fact that Anjem Choudhary has them wrapped around his little finger, and not dance to his tune the next time he tries a publicity stunt? We’ll have to wait and see but I doubt it.
Update: 5 Muslim men who called parading troops ‘baby killers’ and ‘murderers’ were today convicted of threatening behaviour.
Munim Abdul, 28, Jalal Ahmed, 21, Yousaf Bashir, 29, Shajjadar Choudhury, 31, and Ziaur Rahman, 32, all from Luton, were convicted at Luton magistrates court today of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
I’m crying for them… really I am. Idiots. Full story.
In blaming universities for radicalised students, we risk serious damage to freedom of speech and civil liberties
Singling out universities as potential conveyor belts for terrorists is an old talking point for neocons. The most notorious example in recent times was American commentator Daniel Pipes’s project Campus Watch, which created dossiers on professors and universities that did “not meet its standard of uncritical support for the policies of George Bush and Ariel Sharon”, according to one critic. Anthony Glees, professor of security and intelligence studies at the University of Buckingham, told the Telegraph: “UCL boasts on its website that it has 8,000 staff for 22,000 students, which is an enviable staff/student ratio. What have they been doing?” Their jobs, perhaps?
There are two issues here. The first is about academic freedom of speech and civil liberties, which have been completely sidelined in the debate.
British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) is planning to hold a counter-demo if Islam4UK/Al Muhajiroun marches in Wootton Bassett:
We deplore the politicisation of Wootton Bassett by reactionary political leaders, including Nick Griffin’s attempt to hijack a homecoming service last year to promote the BNP. We equally oppose this stunt by “Islam4UK,” a group which organised a “Magnificent 19″ Conference in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 to praise the suicide murderers.
I think that the authorities are right to let Islam4UK’s demonstration go ahead, despite its unpleasant nature. But I am also heartened to see that a counter-demonstration has been organised, and not by the likes of the EDL or the BNP. Anjem Choudary’s goal is to become the face of British Islam, thus increasing communal tensions and making life worse for your average British Muslim. Demonstrating against Mr. Choudary isn’t a vote for the war, but rather a refusal to let him dominate the publicâ€™s perception of Muslims.
Anjem Choudary is one individual, not an ambassador of the Muslim community. He is a fascist preacher of hate, who once again has insulted the families of dead soldiers. As a British Muslim, I am horrified to think that my Scottish friends and neighbours would even begin to think that a lunatic like him represents the views of the wider Muslim community.
Choudary, UK Head of the now illegal organisation al-Muhajiroun, should know only too well the level of offense his proposed march in Wootton Bassett will cause, but will this be enough to stop him? Probably not. He is seeking nothing more than to maximise media attention on his extremist views and fundamentalism.