I gave a guest lecture in London yesterday, and whilst there picked up a copy of the Camden New Journal, and a pamphlet on LGBT liberation by Laura Miles of the Socialist Workers Party, "Pride, Politics and Protest: A Revolutionary Guide to LGBT Liberation"
An example of the difficulty some people face living the life they wish was starkly set out on p.8 of the CNJ - the suicide of West Hampstead GP Dr Nazim Mahmood. Having spent Eid with his family in Birmingham, Dr Mahmood was confronted by his mother and told he needed to be cured of his homosexuality. He subsequently committed suicide, leaving behind a male partner of 13 years.
Given the restrictions religious scriptures and religious organisations place on sexuality, one might expect the SWP's pamphlet on gay rights to critically examine the world's main religions, their attitudes to gay men and women, and the impact this has on people's lives. Instead, of 32 pages, less than 2 are devoted to religion, and most of that is taken up by criticism of the homophobia of the Russian Orthodox Church (to be condemned, but hardly the biggest issue facing people here in the UK) There is then brief comment on anti-gay laws in three countries - India, Uganda and Nigeria. Although this section does manage a passing reference to encouragement for this from 'homophobic churches' the point is qualified before it is even made
"Very often such homophobic laws and attitudes are relics of colonialism by various imperialist powers not least of course, Britain" (Miles, 2014, 15).
No explanation is forthcoming as to why former colonial powers have long since abandoned anti-gay legislation, whilst some Commonwealth nations are launching attacks anew. In this brief global summary, one might also have expected reference to Iran, probably the country with the worst record in the world for executions of gays, and one of the few to conduct forced gender re-assignment. More than 4000 homosexuals have been executed in Iran since the Islamic Revolution - a subject Laura Miles does not see fit to mention.
Instead, 'Pride, Politics and Protest' ticks many of the boxes that appear to matter these days on the 'revolutionary' left. Russell Brand's book, Revolution is praised, islamophobia and Israel's attacks on Gaza condemned, the Bolsheviks are displayed as far-sighted on the issue of gay equality, the nuclear family gets booted in a two page spread, as do the Nazis.
There are repeated references to the BNP, and sweeping references to UKIP's homophobia, without any attempt to understand the complex debates and arguments within that party on issues such as gay marriage. One could be forgiven for thinking the biggest issue facing LGBT people in Britain was whether Nigel Farage still wants to park the issue of gay marriage.
Laura Miles simply does not do complicated detail - there is no mention here of the beliefs of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, or any of the rising evangelical trends in the UK. The second biggest religion in the country - Islam - is not mentioned at all, save for the listing of gay Muslim support group Imaan under 'Useful organisations and Contact Points' - although why any person would need to contact them, given the content of this pamphlet, is a mystery.
When she was still in the SWP, Lindsey German famously argued that the issue of 'gay rights' should not become a 'shibboleth'. Ever since the Socialist Alliance in Preston discovered you could win council elections with Muslim votes, the SWP and the various splinters from it, have been on a precarious roller-coaster ride with a succession of Islamist actors. Far from being a guide to 'liberation' (whatever that means), what they lose, as Laura Miles pamphlet shows, is their critical faculties.
The Sunday Telegraph has a major piece today on a possible government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK.
Such a move was probably inevitable once it became clear one of the MB's leaders, Yusuf al-Qaradwi, was promoting the concept of a Sunni-Shia sectarian war, and encouraging any able bodied Sunni to go to Syria to take part in that conflict. We are today seeing some of the consequences of that advocacy - in the continuing number of Britons travelling to fight in Syria, the threat posed to our own citizens by those in jihadist organisations and the dangers we face from those returning from the front line in Iraq and Syria. This is not simply about terrorism - what price women's rights, community relations or concepts of democracy in a community influenced by ISIS?
Curiously Robert Mendick and Robert Verkaik's newspaper article holds back from examing the scale of the British establishment's blunders with regards to the MB. These encompass politicians, the police and academia. Mayor of London Ken Livingstone brought Yusuf al-Qaradawi to London as a man we could do business with, a Muslim theologian with the respect and ear of British Muslims. I wonder if Ken, listening to al-Qaradawi's call for violence against Shia Muslims, has now had time to reflect on the wisdom of that approach?
Then there is Bob Lambert QPM, who as head of the Metropolitian Police's Muslim Contact Unit, faciltated not only Al-Qaradwi's London sojourns, but regarded him as a bulwark against the influence of Al Qaeda. According to Lambert's memoirs, this support extended to the Commander of the Met's Special Branch. To paraphrase Brendan Behan, there is no situation so bad, the intervention of a police officer can't make it worse.
Earlier this year, I raised the question of the Muslim Brotherhood's influence in British academia. The organisation Spinwatch, with its illustrious advisory board and staffed by some prominent researchers on the British left in Prof David Miller of Bath University, Tom Griffin, Hilary Aked and also Tom Mills of the New Left Project, has been funded by the Muslim Brotherhood's Cordoba Foundation, to the tune of £10,000.
Since then, Spinwatch output has at times reflected issues of concern to the MB - a 2011 report concerning the "Cold War on Britain's Muslims" and a 2013 report exposing a pro-Israeli lobbying group, BICOM. At the 2011 Critical Terrorism Studies conference in Glasgow, Prof Miller reacted angrily to a conference panel on 'Religious Terrorism.' It was perhaps no coincidence that the papers presented in that part of the conference were not sent for peer review, and consequently did not appear in the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, where several Spinwatch writers may be found.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, Dr Lorenzo Vidino has been advising the Cabinet Office on its review of MB activities in the UK. It may also be time that a few academics began to look critically (in the true sense of the word) at what impact the Muslim Brotherhood may be having on parts of British academia.
If you want to know why community relations are poor in some parts of the UK, and negative attitudes expressed towards Islam in Britain, this is as good a place as any to start:
1986 - 2007 Activists from organisations such as the Islamic Foundation and Muslim Council of Britain produce a series of pamphlets setting out how Muslim school children living in Britain should be educated
2007 - 15/07/14 - Activists attempt to implement these strategies in some Birmingham schools
2014 - Media exposure of accusations of a Trojan Horse approach to schooling at some Birmingham state schools emerge. As well as anonymous documents (probably fake) these include accusations made by former head teachers from a range of ethnic backgrounds. The NASUWT is representing several
- Muslim community representatives, the National Union of Teachers and some left leaning journalists, dismiss the accusations, and state they are rooted in Islamophobia and racism
- Across three seperate inquiries, many of the accusations are substantiated
- 15/07/14 - Some of those involved in allegedly seeking to push Islamist agendas in Birmingham schools, resign
- 23-25/07/14 Academics and political activists in the Birmingham Muslim community complain that the Trojan Horse affair has damaged community relations. They make no mention of their own role in any damage done, and conduct no critical self analysis.
Whilst Islam struggles to bend with the times, the Christian church in England leans like a weeping willow in the breeze. As the Church of England's General Synod votes to accept female Bishops, consider the gem below from Rachel Treweek, Archdeacon of Hackney:
This is a significant moment in history and for me the overwhelming emotion was one of liberation: for me this is about stating that from now on men and women can use their gifts in the Church in whatever way they are called. This is about God-given equality.
Rachel Treweek, the i paper, 15/07/2014, p.7
The last thing changes in the Christian church this century have been about is 'God'.
What demand for an equal role for women, or changes in the status of homosexuality means is pressure from society has forced the Chuch of England to shift on positions it has held for centuries. If this desire for equality were 'God-given' one might have expected followers of the holy book to have enacted it hundreds of years ago?
Apart from a few traditionalists (i.e. most of those who actually believe the Bible) this probably does not matter. But we should not let the likes of Rachel Treweek get away with claiming these contemporary changes are consistent with her religion. They have never been before, and they are not now.
And that is a failing, not of the Chuch of England, but Christianity full stop.
There was an interesting blast from the past at the "Putting Birmingam School Kids First" public meeting on the 26th June.
Who should be amongst the concerned parents but Helen Salmon. Both Ms Salmon, and her five year old son Ben, spoke at the event.
When the Respect party split in 2007-8, in Birmingham the dispute centered on the inability of the organisation to field diverse slates of candidates. Muslim men, one of them a recent defector from the Conservative Party, predominated. Helen Salmon of the SWP objected. Salma Yaqoob inferred she was racist, and things got very nasty indeed.
As divisive and damaging as the 'Trojan Horse' affair, and the behaviour of Islamist educationalists which preceded it has been, clearly a reconciliation has occured between Helen Salmon and Salma Yaqoob, who organised the public meeting.
Is it me, or is there not something slightly sinister in seeing children giving speeches in this way? Especially as the words were almost certainly written by his mother? Where once the individual confessed to thought crime and pledged to take the correct path in future, now it seems, they get their children to accompany them............
I have submitted the letter below to the Evening Standard, which should appear in todays edition. Back in January and February the Standard's letters page, and Channel 4 News (amongst others) featured a debate on to what extent our security is threatened by the Britons who have gone to join some of the rebel factions in Syria.
That discussion featured people like Asim Qureshi of Cage arguing we have nothing to fear from those taking up arms against Assad. Others compared the Syrian fighters to those who left these shores in the 1930s to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. As delegates at the G7 conference meet in Brussels to discuss (amongst other issues) the Syrian fighters, that is a position which looks silly:
Your leading article, Syrian Blowback, is timely. Last week saw not only the arrest in France of a returning jihadi for the alleged massacre in the Brussels Jewish Museum, but Stratford resident Mohommod Nawaz's guilty plea to smuggling ammunition into Dover on his return from Syria. There have been three convictions of Britons for travelling to Syria to attend camps, with more cases pending. The debate on this Letters page and elsewhere earlier this year that foreign fighters pose no threat to their home nations now looks fatuous.
The PM is in a tricky situation. With most Britons entering the conflict via Turkey, he needs to face the reality that a significant threat to our security is facilitated by a NATO ally. Yet Cameron himself gave succour to the Syrian rebels, seeking to intervene against Assad until public opinion forced him back. If he hopes for international action against travelling jihadis, he would do well to remember we are now in the third decade of a small number of British Sunni Muslims joining Mujahideen groups, with a disastrous effect on our security and community relations. What kept him?
Paul Stott, University of East Anglia.
Last nights Evening Standard had a letter on the British fighters in Syria, by Amandla Thomas-Johnson of Cage (formerly Cage Prisoners), which ended with the words "Listening to their views should be at the heart of forming policy".
I have no idea if the Evening Standard will print my reply, but this is what I sent them:
Amandla Thomas-Johnson of Cage takes an ahistorical approach to the question of British Muslims fighting in Syria (Letters, 4 February).
Combatants from earlier jihads litter high security prisons across the world, the most recent British example being Bosnian Mujahideen 'veteran' Babar Ahmad, who in December pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in the United States. The 7/7 bombings would arguably have been impossible but for the training two of the bombers had received at the camps of 'freedom fighters' in Kashmir.
By all means lets listen to the views of the Syrian fighters, but what we have heard so far sounds little different from those seeking Islamic utopias in earlier jihads. And those did not end well - for anyone.
Paul Stott, University of East Anglia.
The Observer of 2 February 2014 contained this letter in response to Tony Blair's recent concerns that religious extremism fuels conflict:
The fact that Tony Blair is using a faith-based institution to resolve problems caused by people motivated by faith rather than reason is ironic at best.
I had the post below published today on the blog Harry's Place:
A cross post by Paul Stott
Earlier this week Harry’s Place reported on the recent meeting between President Obama and the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which was attended by a leading Muslim Brotherhood figure in Britain - Anas al-Tikriti. One thing missing from the analysis was the extent to which the Muslim Brotherhood, via al-Tikiriti’s Cordoba Foundation, has been seeking to pursue its politico-religious objectives in the United Kingdom, developing support and influence on the political left.
One route for this has been via Public Interest Investigations (PII) an organisation with two elements, Spinwatch and Powerbase. Spinwatch is a well respected website, best known for its work on the dangers of corporate lobbying, and has had some profile on the British left, via figures such as Prof David Miller, Tom Griffin, Hilary Aked and also Tom Mills of the New Left Project. Spinwatch styles itself thus:
“Spinwatch investigates the way that the public relations (PR) industry and corporate and government propaganda distort public debate and undermine democracy. The PR and lobbying industry in the UK is the second biggest in the world, worth £7.5 billion. As the go-to organisation for information on this field, we routinely track PR and lobbying firms and corporate front groups, exposing their spin and deception”
This is reinforced by the bold statement that “Our core concern is in promoting equality and protecting fundamental human and democratic rights”
Since 2010, Spinwatch has received a total of £10,000 in funding from Anas al-Tikriti’s Cordoba Foundation. I shall leave it to others to judge the extent to which the Muslim Brotherhood believes in equality, democracy and human rights, although its record in and out of power, in Egypt speaks for itself, and that is before we even consider the record of Brotherhood influenced groups in areas such as Gaza. So – what does the Cordoba Foundation gain from Spinwatch?
In 2011 Spinwatch published the hardly understated “Cold War on Britain’s Muslim’s: An Examination of Policy Exchange and The Centre for Social Cohesion” – two organisations who had long warned against Muslim Brotherhood influence in the United Kingdom. The extent to which the piper called the tune is unknown, but the advantages of getting others to defend the MB (and by implication the Cordoba Foundation) from domestic critics, and to have non-Muslims place such criticism in the ever widening category of Islamophobia, appear obvious. The document was sponsored by the Cordoba Foundation, and funded by them to the tune of £5000, with Anas al-Tikriti thanked for his generosity (p.53). The praise lavished on former Metropolitan Police Special Branch manager Bob Lambert, on the same page, has not stood the test of time well.
Last year Spinwatch stepped up to the plate again, publishing a report entitled “The British Israel Communications and Research Centre: Giving Peace a Chance?” This time the Cordoba Foundation and al-Tikriti went unmentioned, with Memo Middle East Monitor sharing the billing with Spinwatch, and providing the now standard £5000 in cash. Here the Muslim Brotherhood connection is however maintained – MEMO is led by Muslim Brotherhood supporter Daud Abdullah, and the man himself joined the report’s authors for one its launch meetings.
Spinwatch’s staff also seem to be revving up in another direction – taking on the alcohol industry. For this, David Miller has obtained funding from the European Commission, (as the declaration of interest at the bottom of this article reveals) although one can’t help thinking on this issue at least, if our masters in Brussels had not coughed up, the Muslim Brotherhood would.
In evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration Committee on 6 March 2012, Prof Miller stated of corporations:
“when corporations want to pursue changes in laws or pursue particular contracts, they adopt a whole panoply of measures, including party funding, yes, including lobbying and also including buying up ex-Ministers or civil servants as part of their strategy.”
He is 100% correct. All we need now is an organisation, some activists or even academics willing to look in the same way at the lobbying of international politico-religious organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
As the old saying goes I’m free. My concern is that Spinwatch has already been paid for.
A Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.
A quiet Christmas gave me some time to read - I have just finished Ken Livingstone's "You Can't Say That", and managed to get through an impressive pile of newspapers over the last week. Two articles struck me in the press - one because it was so poor, the other because of its weight and implications.
In the rubbish bag must go Liz Hull's Daily Mail article of 27 December, which considers a curious spin-off from the case of missing Lancashire teenager Charlene Downes. "Stalker terror of mum whose girl was 'killed by paedophiles'" tells us that Karen Downes, the mother of Charlene, has been plagued by a stalker.
Mark Bailey, a New Zealander who travelled to Blackpool after reading Mrs Downes' website, has been fined and received a restraining order after pestering Mrs Downes to leave her husband. The article then gives a general overview of the Charlene Downes case, and that those tried with her murder received a six figure sum in compensation when the jury failed to reach a verdict.
For some reason the Mail's online article has a different heading to the print version, the rather more lurid "New Zealand man stalks mother of girl who was 'murdered and turned into kebab meat' after becoming obsessed with the case" is deployed. Perhaps that was considered a little too strong for the Daily Mail's print readership!
More seriously, Liz Hull manages to tell a very partial rendition of the Downes case. There is nothing on perceived police botching or indifference, Mr and Mrs Downes' subsequent involvement with the British National Party is ignored, as is the recent Times analysis (clearly based on a Lancashire Constabulary intelligence file) of the behaviour of Robert Downes, and the suggestion he frequently introduced men he met in local pubs to his daughter, leading to sexual activity. Such an important case deserves better.
The second article which I pored over was The Times interview with Michael Palin of 28 December by Rachel Sylvester and Alice thomson (safely hidden, I fear, behind their paywall). Palin's suspicion of modern technological developments is welcome:
"I feel a little bit alarmed by the whole depersonalisation of the internet. People are friends with people they've never seen, people are walking down the street and never look up because they're on the phone. What's happening to real life in all this?"
Secondly, and the section of the interview which gained most attention, Palin points to some of the effects of increased religiosity. Comparing today to 1969, when Monty Python began:
"Religion is more difficult to talk about. I don't think we could do Life of Brian any more", he says. A parody of Islam would be even harder. "We all saw what happened to Salman Rushdie and none of us want to get into all that. It's a pity but that's the way it is. There are people out there without a a sense of humour and they're heavily armed"
And that was when I realised what was missing from Ken Livingstone's memoir. Whilst Livingstone speaks with passion about the changes London in particular has seen via immigration and multi-culturalism during his life and his political career, he makes no attempt to recognise that there may be downsides to the same process.
Whilst the politicians of the three main parties are comfortable talking about the benefits of diversity, it is neccesary sometimes to articulate what these downsides are - in this instance, cultural. In a supposed liberal democracy, one of the country's best known media personalities and comedians believes it is now harder to discuss religion, and impossible to produce certain types of comedy. This is not due to reasoned debate or critique, but fear of physical violence and, indeed murder.
And that does require serious thought and debate in 2014 - it diminishes us all.
Readers may recall the controversy earlier this year concerning the islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) who were banned from UCL after being found to be segregating men and women at a University debate.
iERA, and speakers such as Hamza Tsortsis, have been a high profile presence on many university campuses, despite being from the unreconstructed wing of British Islam. For example, visit their website and you will notice that whilst their male speakers are pictured, the female are not only listed at the end, but are faceless, existing only as blank hijabs. The perfect metaphor for the type of society iERA are seeking to create!
Following the furore at UCL, UK Universities appear to have gone away to ponder guidance on campus meetings. This has come down on allowing segregation, provided it is equal and does not disadvantage anyone. Those of us old enough to remember apartheid era South Africa may giggle at the concept of an approach which is 'seperate' but equal. You can find a link to the full guidance in this article on the UK Universities blog, where they also clarify their position.
This appears game, set and match to the Islamists, something iERA recognise. Of particular interest here is their argument that under the Equality Act 2010, UK Universities have no option but to comply with requests for seperate seating.
Some strong critical pieces have appeared about UK Universities stance, for example by Sara Khan, along (of course) with a determined silence from those on the left of the political spectrum, who once spoke so loudly against segregation on the grounds of race.
There is a petition asking Universities UK to reverse its decision. I have signed it, along with over 6000 others. You may wish to do so.
The concept of a scary primary school teacher is a difficult one to accept, but Lynn Small, Headmistress of Littleton Green Community School in Cannock, Staffordshire, certainly scares me.
Ahead of a proposed school trip to Staffordshire University as part of their religious eductation, Ms Hall wrote to the parents of the school children stating that:
"Refusal to allow your child to attend this trip will result in a Racial Discrimination note being attached to your child's education record, which will remain on this file throughout their school career."
I have no idea what a racial discrimation note is, how children as young as five may be given one, or who decides what effect such a note can have. Does it, for example, have a bearing on whether they can go to the secondary school of their choice? I do know I have read few things as scary, or as startling, since I last battled through one of the histories of Stalin's Soviet Union.
After complaints from parents, Ms Hall has withdrawn the letter and apologised. It would be nice to think Staffordshire County Council is also considering whether to withdraw her contract of employment - or do they keep a whole series of 'racial discrimination notes' against the names of young children as well?
I don't speak the language, but for those who speak Dutch, this site gives on overview of the Dutch fighters amongst the jihadis in Syria.
In the English language, this article from the Jihadology website by Pieter Van Ostaeyen tells the story of the death of one particular fighter from the Netherlands.
At the end of June the Radicalism and New Media Centre at Northampton University held a conference entitled "The Far Right in Transition".
It brought together academics, anti-fascist activists, journalists, community workers and police officers for a day of discussion and debate on the far right. I was perhaps the odd man out, as I was invited to speak about the Woolwich terrorist attack, and to put it into some historical context. You can download a podcast of all the talks here.
As part of my weekly column at The Backbencher, I have written up my observations of the day - as usual comments welcome.
Yesterdays Telegraph had a piece on east London's Abu Basir al-Tartusi, formerly of the al-Ansar Institute in Poplar, who is currently fighting the Assad regime in Syria. You can view his website here.
Duncan Gardham's Telegraph article closed with a quote from a Scotland Yard spokesman:
"Public safety is our priority and we will seek to prosecute individuals who travel overseas in support of terrorist activity in any country. We also recognise the risk that violent extremism poses for vulnerable young people in the UK and we actively engage with communities to tackle this issue".
It is never a good idea to make threats you cannot keep. Duncan Gardham states 'security sources' believe up to 50 Britons could be fighting in Syria. Does anyone believe the Crown Prosecution Service are going to prosecute 50 British Jihadis? Secondly consider the term 'terrorist activity' in that quote. It assumes that the Assad government is legitmate and that armed resistance to it is terrorism. Yet a succession of British allies appear to be directly supporting that armed resistance. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem has named, to the United Nations, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya. He also complained about other nations assisting this rebellion - including the United States and France. We could easily add Britain to this list - £5 million was given by Foreign Secretary William Hague to Syrian rebels in August. Given the 'non-lethal assistance' the British government is giving the rebels, can we really prosecute British Jihadists for going a stage further?
Secondly, it is amusing, although slightly disconcerting, when police officers adopt the language of social workers. The description of 'vulnerable young people' has always been one of the oddest, and most patronising parts of the Prevent counter-radicalisation strategy. Here, young British Muslims are treated literally like children, at risk from sinister older men who groom them for terrorism. Oddly enough in forty years of conflict in Northern Ireland, no one, on either the Republican or Loyalist side, ever seems to have been 'vulnerable'. We could say a lot of things about the people who were attending Abu Basir al-Tartusi's classes at Poplar's al-Ansar Institute. Vulnerable is not one of them.
It seems we can add the Russian Orthodox Church to the depressingly lengthy list of resurgent religions.
On Monday 1 October at 8pm Lucy Ash of Radio 4 will examine the power of the church, and its political and economic influence. If you want to know what Pussy Riot were fighting against - tune in.
Every Englishman knows that in cultural terms, what we do today, someone in Australia catches up with five to ten years later.
Earlier this week evidence emerged that this trend also applies in politico-religious terms. Here is a picture from the infamous demonstration outside Regents Park mosque in 2006 against the Danish Mohammed cartoons:
And below is a picture from the demonstration in Sydney's central business district on Sunday, against the film 'Innocence of Muslims':
The Aussies are catching up, but as on most issues, are at least six years behind us Brits........
Radio 4 have two programmes on the morning of Monday 17 September devoted to Salman Rushdie.
At 0900 he is interviewed by Andrew Marr on Start The Week, whilst that is followed at 0945 by the first of five extracts from Joseph Anton, the book covering his period in hiding from the 1989 fatwa by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
You can order Joseph Anton here. I think Rushdie has become rather likeable in recent years, losing that slightly shrill, pontificating side to his personality. I take it this is because the 1980s leftie that sleeps inside so many of us, was knocked out of him by events. Something understandable if you have millions of religious lunatics wanting to murder you, and their liberal apologists making excuses for them.
Joseph Anton is a rather different man altogether.
Salma Yaqoob's resignation from the Respect Party last night brought much nashing of the teeth.
It was genuinely painful for some, especially for a certain type of white male leftie who had given her unconditional support over the years. If a hijab could have icon status, hers would be in the corner of many a middle class living room, placed somewhat strategically above Sunday's Observer and those fading anti-war posters. To see where I am coming from on this, do look at the pained tweets last night from Eddie Truman, Tom Griffin, Dr Tad or the blogpost of Dr Eoin Clarke.
If you want to understand the dynamics of a political party or movement, studying its literature at times of crisis or split is indicative. When the Respect Party split between supporters of George Galloway and the Socialist Workers Party in 2007-8, it was noticeable that every external criticism of Respect that had been made, was seemingly adopted by one of the two wings in the split.
Suddenly Galloway-ites noticed the sinister Leninist practices of the SWP. The SWP discovered the communal tendencies of Respect - in Tower Hamlets where Chris Harman dished the dirt on the curry millionaires and Islamic Forum of Europe figures who actually ran the party, and Birmingham, where a white female SWP'er, Helen Salmon, was blocked from a council candidacy in favour of a slate of men of Pakistani heritage. One of these, Harman noted, had been in the Conservative Party just three months before.
Ultimately for all the talk of how refreshing and revolutionary Yaqoob was - here after all was a woman wearing a hijab who's party supported abortion rights (even if its MP never did) - Yaqoob was at one level a deeply Conservative figure. On the 'community leaders' critics saw as delivering block votes for Respect's Muslim candidates, she wrote:
"The single biggest reason such individuals acquire weight and influence is not wealth, it is reputation". So that's OK then. This 'revolutionary' figure took umbrage on behalf of all those maligned "It is insulting to our voters and supporters to reduce the prestige which certain individuals have, to some form of patronage or favour they dispense".
Salma Yaqoob was also quick to do that most conservative of acts - to play the race card. Helen Salmon was accused of "having a problem with Asian candidates" - the type of accusation that could be made in seconds, but that could destroy Salmon on the left. When Harman alleged businessmen in Tower Hamlets were using the practice of pocket members (men who are paid to join a party just before selection meetings, in order to vote for a particular candidate) Yaqoob responded with this extraordinary retort:
"Bangladeshi members in Tower Hamlets have already had plenty of experience of condescending white members demanding ID from them as though they were having to pass an immigration entry test".
I don't share the view that a politics minus the above is diminished or deficient.
If this is what Clarke, Griffin and Truman consider 'progressive' politics - I am glad I am on the outside looking in. More seriously, their response is an increasingly common one to Muslim political or politico-religious actors. On the one hand they receive racist abuse and threats from the likes of the English Defence League, on the other they receive its mirror opposite. The submissive, supine, uncritical support of the last century left. The pro-Livingstone wing of the Labour Party was salivating last night at the prospect that Saint Salma may be persuaded to join the Labour Party. And so it continues.
In this world, nuanced, critical responses appear impossible. I almost feel sorry for Salma Yaqoob this morning. On balance though, our politics are healthier without Respect, and they are probably healthier without her.
(The quotes in this article all came from the 2008 Socialist Resistance "Respect: Documents of the Crisis". Biased as it is towards the Galloway faction, it is essential reading.)
Inayat Bunglawara cut his political teeth in the campaign against Salman Rushdie's novel Satanic Verses.
The days of fatwa's and book burning are however long gone, at least for him. Check out this approach to Tom Holland, producer of Channel 4's recent controversial documentary on the origins of Islam.
@holland_tom Would u like to meet over lunch or dinner? Eating and meeting always nice!— Inayat Bunglawala (@inayatb) September 5, 2012
I really enjoyed the BBC comedy Citizen Khan, which had its second episode on BBC1 earlier this week.
As might be expected, the programme has created some controversy, with complaints made to the BBC, and criticism by Muslim academic Leon Moosavi. Yesterday, Birmingham University academic Chris Allen wrote a discerning piece, arguing the programme was neither racist nor Islamophobic - it just wasn't, in his opinion, very funny.
I can't remember who said it (Jerry Sadowitz?) but all comedy is at the expense of someone. That bucket of water in Laurel and Hardy, or the rolling pin in a Carry On film, eventually has to hit someone. In Citizen Khan, the bulk of the jokes hit Mr Khan himself. His pomposity, obsessive social climbing, his inability to relate to any other member of his family, his ability to blunder into embarrassing sexual misunderstandings and the fact he is manipulated with ease by the female members of his household - all whilst resolutely acting as if he is the king of the castle. These staples of comedy should be familiar to anyone who has watched a British sit-com in the last forty years. Citizen Khan may be set in Sparkhill, but remove some of the religious content and it could just as easily be the Smith family in Stockport or the Jones family in Swansea.
One thing Jerry Sadowitz certainly did say was that it is dangerous to leave certain groups of people, be they a religious or racial group, out of comedy. What does it tell us about our society if a particular group is left out of a section of our social discourse, permanently? I would not want to live in such a society, and I suspect, deep down, neither would many others.
Over 20 years ago I saw Jerry Sadowitz play Wolverhampton Polytechnic. Part of his routine concerned the ever younger family members he had been served by in his local Asian corner shop - one day he was convinced he would go in and be sold a packet of cigarettes by an embryo. For a moment the crowd hesitated (Wolves Poly was a pretty left-liberal place from 1988-91) then the audience roared with laughter. They were mature enough to realise Sadowitz was not some Bernard Manning figure solely disparaging one section of the community he knew nothing about - he was observing, in a exaggerated way, a small part of all our lives.
And that is what Citizen Khan tries to do. Leon Moosavi argues the programme reinforces stereotypes about Asians and Muslims to an non Asian audience. That remains to be seen. But if British Asian comedy writers observe humour in the Muslim community (or any other community) who are we to say they cannot articulate that?
Ultimately - if it is funny, it works. And I suspect enough people, from a range of backgrounds, will find Citizen Khan works.
I carry no brief for President Obama, but this is ludicrous, and not untypical of a strand of Islamist discourse that is very rarely comented upon. And never, in my experience, commented upon by UK academics:
A columnist on Hope Not Hate magazine, Camus' debut in Issue 1 of Hope Not Hate back in March saw him examine the rise of Marine Le Pen of the Front National, and her attempts to repackage the party founded by her fascist father. In France the rise of Islam over the past three decades has arguably been even more controversial than it has in the UK, due to French concepts of laicite - a historical form of secularism that seeks to keep religion out of the state.
Camus should be well placed to explain this to English readers, and how (allegedly) the French far-right has begun to make use of this concept for its own aims. Instead, Camus writes of Ms Le Pen:
"Unlike her father, Marine Le Pen focuses on Islam much more than the old French colonial and anti-black and anti-Arab racist stereotypes. Also she opposes Islam in the name of secularism, a very French concept that is hostile to religions having an influence on people's minds. Traditionally promoted by the Left, this has been taken up by the FN (and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and the Swiss Oskar Freysinger) as a way of promoting Islamophobia in a subtle way".
Two problems here. Firstly it is not hard to see how others will use such an analysis to contaminate secularism per se. Follow UK Islamists like Mo Ansar on Twitter, and that is already part of his game. Secondly what is Camus talking ablout when he offers the definition of secularism that he does - what else is religion for other than to influence people's minds? Is it supposed to influence people's shoulders or their feet instead?
Lets hope Camus' original meaning has been somehow lost in translation.
As the trial of Anders Breivik reaches a conclusion in Oslo, it is important that academics and analysts remember their script over the next few days.
Breivik's turn towards terrorism was influenced by racist and Islamophobic discourses. We must therefore counter these, in order to ensure no more Breivik's emerge. Jihadist actors like Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah are not influenced by discourses within Islam, and are certainly not religious actors. To counter such currents, we need to change our foreign policy and to fight racism.
As you were.
A few months ago I was briefly in possession of a small collection of what are known as Masonic Jewels - the medals of a former Freemason from the United Grand Lodge of england and a member of a similar body - the Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes.
They belonged to my former neighbour and reflect a little snatch of history - especially that of the Second World War and post-War colonial period. In a way those days never really leave us - one of the jewels is marked Cyrenica - a part of Libya that is again associated with demands for independence. The other locations - Oman, Cyprus, Iraq and Egypt all reflect RAF postings in the dog days of empire.
I post one of my pictures below, and the rest are to be seen, with my other collections of photographs, lower down the page on the right hand side.
Oh - and for all the conspiracy theorists that pass through this site - no I am not a Freemason.
I have just finished David Edmonds and John Eidinow's history of the 1972 world chess championship match in Reykjavik between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, appropriately entitled "Bobby Fischer Goes To War".
It is hard not to feel slightly disturbed by Fischer, and that is being generous. Spassky emerges as a gentleman who acquiesces to most of the challenger's demands to simply allow the game to proceed, and who should really have walked out when, 2-0 down in the match, Fischer demanded to play the vital third game in a closed room. At times it is tempting to imagine that the Soviet report which concluded Fischer was a psychopath may even have had a grain of truth.
In between the obsession with Jews, Communists and religious mania, what was in Fischer's mind? Living in Germany in the 1980s he spent time with the German grandmaster Michael Bezold, who states:
"He was obsessed with a game in the 1960s, and the question was whether or not to move the pawn to h6. This was the only question. And he said he'd been analysing this game for more than thirty years, and he couldn't figure out whether its better to play h6 or not. It was fantastic."
Anyone who has ever been fanatical about anything will either recognise themselves in that quote, or be blown away by its intensity.
Edmonds and Eidinow were able to find to assemble a remarkable series of interviews for their study, from Cold War warriors such as Henry Kissinger to Spassky himself. Perhaps not surprisingly they did not obtain one with Fischer himself, who died this year, an exile from the United States. The first in what may be a series of new biographies, by Frank Brady, is scheduled to appear early next year. Whether this work will build on Edmonds and Eidinow's research into Fischer's family background (which interestingly was both Jewish and Communist!) remains to be seen.
An interesting insight into how local government increasingly empowers religious organisations and institutions in Hackney.
On Friday I had three photocopied sheets of paper put through my letter box from Hackney Homes. These advised me I could attend a housing outreach surgery at Suleymaniye Mosque on Kingsland Road. Two hour surgeries are held on the last Friday of each month.
Why anyone on my estate would wish to use this service is hard to see. Firstly the Mosque is further away than the Neighbourhood Office, indeed you would have to walk considerably further, in the opposite direction, to reach it. Secondly an outreach surgery will not have access to the full range of staff and services that the Neighbourhood Office does, or the free telephone line to report repairs.
So what is the point? Well, in management speak such actions 'tick a box' and allow Hackney Homes to state that they are positively engaging with the community. For the mosque, which is also known as the UK Turkish Islamic Cultural Centre, it raises their profile, puts them in the Council's good books and gives them an elevated status over secular institutions in the same community. To quote from the mosques summary on the Hackney Council website:
Should Councils be reinforcing the prominence of religious institutions in their communities? Many will say not. The problems that can occur when one institution is chosen, and countless others are not, should be obvious to all. Secondly I am all for relieving sickness, distress and poverty amongst everyone, but fail to see how the advancement of Islam does this. Indeed a glance at those societies where Islam is the dominant form of governance suggests greater sickness, distress and poverty than here in the West. And that is without even going into the position of women in those societies.
Should Hackney Homes be working with an organisation that seeks the 'advancement of Islam'? It is certainly ironic that the Turkish state was predicated on the belief that progress and advancement could only come from reducing the role of religion in government, yet here in the UK the opposite process now seems to be actively encouraged!
As for myself, the last time I heard from Hackney Homes was at the end of May, when they wrote to me with regards to a housing issue I raised. They aimed to send me a proper reply by 3rd June. Over three weeks later, I'm still waiting. Perhaps they could try some outreach in my direction one Friday?