SWP/UAF and the Islamic Far-Right

Whitechapel Anarchist Group – Whitechapel United Against Division

“Having said that, the communities represented at the meeting were largely those of the IFE and its clients (in the Roman sense, those in receipt of the patronage the IFE controls) and sections of the authoritarian left among whom the UAF and SWP were prominent. My feeling was, heaven help us if the EDL do decide to come to Whitechapel in force, because on that day’s showing UAF would leave them with a clear field having led people away and call it a victory. The tacit support for Islamist extremists led to people opposing them being shouted down and called the vilest names. It was a travesty of debate, a victory for stitching things up.”

“The experience of seeing UAF and IFE at work led me to reassess my feelings about the UAF. Yes, they are ineffectual in opposing fascism. Yes, they parachute in to areas and then depart as quickly. But their role in stifling effective measures for community action against the likes of the EDL means they are not people to take lightly. They will resort to underhand methods to get their own way, they will prevent discussion when allowing people to speak does not suit them. I was reminded of an experience in the late 1990s when the Anti-Nazi League declared that the BNP would invade Brixton. They summoned a mobilization, and when the BNP didn’t turn up – as they had no plans to – announced victory. As then, so now. The ANL rally in the ‘90s and the UAF march now don’t symbolize victories over fascism or nationalism. They signal failures, a failure to create a structure which can resist an EDL incursion when one does occur, a failure to support those elements of the Muslim community who have no truck with the foul views espoused in their name by Islamists, a failure to engage with those parts of the Bengali community who have secular politics.”

“An emergency meeting was called on Tuesday 1st June and within a few hours of it being announced around thirty antifascists including WAG, Antifa, Freedom Bookshop, Hackney Solidarity Network and Feminist Fightback gathered in the London Action Resource Centre, once an anarchist school during the nineteen twenties, and now a hub for our activities amongst the old red brick tenement blocks behind the East London Mosque in the heart of Whitechapel. A phone campaign was ignited through mass emails and texts to encourage antifascists and locals to complain to The Troxy management for hosting speakers with a history of preaching homophobia, anti-Semitism and sexist hatred. A London wide meeting for anarchists and antifascists was proposed for a week later, while in the meantime WAG would continue gathering information on the proposed activities of all the culprits involved and produce a leaflet to mobilise people against these divisive elements.”

“The WAG Email list was on fire as the proposed flyer text was honed down to perfection, its basic premise being that we stand against both the English Defence League and the Salafi Preachers being hosted under the auspices of the UK Islamic Conference, both being outside elements intent on polarising the community and thus creating further division and subsequent strife in an already economically beleaguered area.”

The second major incident was in the build up to the 2010 elections in May when WAG helped provide security for the RMT’s street meeting in Barking against the BNP.Despite being the security, the Lefties pointed out our own members as “Nazi’s” only to be told by a respected member of United Against Fascism “well if you are white and working class you should expect people to think you are racist”, a quite racist comment if you think about it. Along with claims of being sexist it all boiled over with a drunken confrontation on a tube train with a completely outnumbered UAF left licking their wounds in a metaphorical sense. But our dealings with the authoritarian SWP and their front group UAF, was about to get stickier.

The evening of Sunday 6th June at Oxford House in Bethnal Green was to be the location; we had received an invitation from Glyn Robbins as part of United East End, to a community-planning meeting against the EDL. From the initial call out we were dubious with the usual suspects of the UAF, local councilors, and even the IFE (Islamic Forum of Europe) who had recently been exposed in a Dispatches episode for hosting controversial speakers at the East London Mosque. But despite these reservations we attended in full gusto with twelve of us turning up to the meeting early, reversing the tactic the SWP usually enact, and surprising all with an organised, articulate and diverse range of individuals. From the outset it was an obvious stitch up by the UAF, the same tactic they use across the country, an unholy alliance sold as a community united under the full control of the SWP. Weyman Bennet enlightened the room with what had already been arranged with the police, an obvious march away from where the EDL were planning to assemble, even producing all the propaganda already printed by the UAF! Local Councillors of all political persuasions got their five minutes to say how disgusted they were and how they opposed the EDL, but little promised in actual organising, the overall jist being a contradiction between evoking imagery of the Battle Of Cable Street while wanting a nice march where grandparents, children, the local vicar and Imam all walk hand in hand. The real point of contention came when we raised the issue of being opposed to the EDL and the Speakers hosted at The Troxy, resulting in us being shouted down as racist and islamaphobic by religious groups and shoulders shrugged by the Trade Unions claiming no knowledge. Having debriefed afterwards with a few comrades from the AWL (Alliance For Workers’ Liberty) it was obvious that the UAF were going to add to our problems instead of alleviating the oncoming situation.

“But the sense of optimism wasn’t to last long as we once again ventured into the lion’s den on Thursday 10that the Praxis off Bethnal Green Road with the UAF/United East End’s second meeting.”

“Set up as a large community briefing this once again proved the obvious as a UAF stitch up, the usual authoritarian tone as the self elected leadership preached to the already converted party members. Questions on the issue of the speakers at the Troxy spouting killing homosexuals in an area with rising homophobic attacks were shouted down as racist and islamaphobic.”

We had the UAF/IFE labeling us as islamophobic troublemakers, the prospect of two groups of bigots (EDL / UKIC Speakers) coming to town, and the major problem of the Police clashing with local kids.”

“The day or two of relief had now disappeared as it seemed we were once again under attack from all angles, we had the “Socialist Unity” Blog run by Galloway’s lackey Andy Newman smearing us as Islamaphobic and fascist for criticising The Troxy Speakers, plus we had gangs of kids roaming the street looking for EDL who ended up attacking some of the squatters from the Tower Hill pub a few hours after the meeting out of pure frustration.”

“The real sticking point was when we mentioned the Troxy, the reason the EDL were heading to the area. There was an eerie silence, they said it was a separate issue and we should on protest against the EDL and no one else… we argued our case but talking with the SWP is like talking to a silver spooned Tory bank manger, they just can’t listen.We left the issue before they started calling us Islamophobic.”

“The chair responded with a personal attack on WAG condemning us for taking a stance different from UAF with SWP’ers shouting that we were Islamophobic for opposing the homophobic, sexist, racist speakers at the Troxy. I’d seen all this before at Stop the War coalition meetings, UAF meetings in Essex and Respect meetings, the SWP attacking anyone stupid enough to voice different ideas to their own.”

Women Against Fundamentalism – NO TO FASCISM, NO TO FUNDAMENTALISM

“Although the left may be able to point to anti-racist and anti-homophobia campaigns they have been involved in, these are still kept separate from what they see as their ‘main’ activities. How else could they so boldly embrace an alliance with Muslim fundamentalists when they launched Stop the War? In that context, challenging homophobia was ruled off the agenda. Now the we see the same thing again in United East End.

At the United East End protest demonstration in June, a couple of WAF members gave out a leaflet headed ‘No to Fascism, No to Fundamentalism’ in Stepney Park. Most of those present were young Muslim men. I entered into friendly discussions with some of them, asking: where are all the women? and suggesting that if their girlfriends, mothers, sisters and so on had come along, the demonstration would be twice the size. Some of them seemed quite receptive.

The only opposition I came up against was from SWP members. A couple of them turned quite nasty and I was told self-righteously that this was not the time or place to discuss fundamentalism.

After the demonstration I began an email correspondence with the convenor, raising concerns about homophobia at the East London Mosque. I then went to a United East End meeting in July but there was no space at the meeting to discuss these issues.”

Gilbert Achcar – Marxism and religion – Yesterday and Today

“The British far-left has the merit of having displayed a greater openness to the Muslim populations than the French far-left. It has organised impressive mobilisations with the massive participation of people originating from Muslim immigration against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which the government of its country participated. In the anti-war movement, it even went as far as allying itself with a Muslim organisation of fundamentalist inspiration, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the British arm of the main ‘moderate’ Islamic fundamentalist movement in the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood (represented in the parliaments of some countries).

Lindsey German, a central leader of the British Socialist Workers Party and of the Respect Coalition, signed an article in The Guardian described as “wonderful” on the MAB website. Under the title “A badge of honour”, the author energetically defended the alliance with the MAB, explaining that it is an honour for her and her comrades to see the victims of Islamophobia turning towards them, with a surprising justification for the alliance.

But in choosing to ally electorally – even though in a limited way – with an Islamic fundamentalist organisation like the MAB, the British far left is serving as a stepping stone for the former organisation’s own expansion in the communities of immigrant origin, whereas it should be considered as a rival to be ideologically fought and restricted from an organisational point of view. Sooner or later this unnatural alliance will hit a stumbling block and will fly to pieces. Trotskyists will then have to confront those whom they have helped to grow for the mess of pottage of an electoral result, and it is far from sure that the results owe much to their fundamentalist partners anyhow.

All we need to do is look at the arguments used by the fundamentalists in calling for a vote for Respect (and for others, such as the Mayor of London, the left Labourite Ken Livingstone, much more opportunist than the Trotskyists in his relations with the Islamic association). Let us read the fatwa of Sheikh Haitham Al-Haddad, dated 5 June 2004 and published on the MAB website.

The venerable sheikh explains that it is obligatory for those Muslims living under the shadow of man-made law to take all the necessary steps and means to make the law of Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer, supreme and manifest in all aspects of life. If they are unable to do so, then it becomes obligatory for them to strive to minimise the evil and maximise the good. The sheikh then underlines the difference between a vote for one of a number of systems, and voting to select the best individual amongst a number of candidates within an already-established system imposed upon them and which they are unable to change within the immediate future. In conclusion, the venerable Sheikh calls on the Muslims of Great Britain, to follow the electoral instructions of the MAB and ends with this prayer: “We ask Allah to guide us to the right path and to grant victory for law of our Lord, Allah in the UK and in other parts of the world.”

WORKERS LIBERTY – As we were saying: the Muslim Association of Britain’s first public appearance

“The core organising group — “The Muslim Association” — has strong Islamic-fundamentalist links. For example, its web site links to the Pakistani fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami.

The Trafalgar Square rally started with long readings from the Koran. Although speakers such as Labour left MP Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn were on the platform, their speeches were punctuated by chants — led by an Imam who used the stage microphone — of “Allah-o-Akbar” (“God is great”).

The organisers, marshalling the crowd at the start of the march, attempted to segregate the march along male-female lines. If the march had not been so large, and consequently so difficult for those stewards to organise, the demonstration might well have set off with men at the front, and women at the back. A smaller Hyde Park march on 9 December 2001 did that — and the segregation was obeyed by the SWP and RCG, who marched that day.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) were energetic in winning Socialist Alliance support for this demonstration. Rather than supporting slogans which would contrast with the general march themes, they won agreement from the SA to carry placards saying, “Victory to the intifada! Free Palestine!”. At the Socialist Alliance Executive, SWP leader John Rees argued, “It is most important that our slogans do not appear in any way antagonistic to this march”.

On the march the SWP presented themselves as the most militant advocates of “smashing Israel”: using megaphones to announce, “No compromise with Zionism” and “Two states is no solution!” After the march a prominent SWPer wrote to the Socialist Alliance email list that this was “one of the best and most uplifting marches I’ve ever been on”.

Against the demand for “a Islamic theocracy without democracy”, even calling “for a democratic secular state” would be positive! Yet even that slogan was not raised by the SWP on the march. Nothing like it. Their priority was not to be “antagonistic”.

Some helped us argue against the organisers’ attempt to segregate the march. Some threw leaflets back at Hizb-ut Tahrir. Far from giving a lead to such people — the central ideological political role of the Marxists! — the far left tailed after obscurantist bigots.”

WORKERS LIBERTY – Fantasy opportunism and the Muslim Association

It is astonishing how the Left’s argument on the MAB has shifted since they got all wide-eyed and impressed at the size of the latter’s Palestine demonstration last year. First, they insisted the MAB were not “fundamentalist’ (‘not a political organisation”, as Mike Marqusee, then press secretary for the StWC, put it in Hackney SA). Then, when the MAB were shown to be the Muslim Brotherhood – when they openly declared it themselves! – it no longer mattered whether they were fundamentalist or not, as long as they could get people on demos.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a working class organisation – it is a quasi-fascist reactionary movement. A united front, as advocated by Trotsky in Germany, for example, is aimed at smashing people like the MAB, not allying with them. At least, even if the analogy is not quite exact, as the Brotherhood are not exactly Nazis, it has more truth in it than the opposite.

The Left has to wake up. Islamism is not our ally, either in the Middle East or on the streets of London. The inevitable consequence of pretending otherwise is to prettify the Islamists, play down the fact that we are mortal enemies. Conrad wants to avoid opportunism; but the CPGB has already revealed just how opportunist it’s prepared to be (first it denied the MAB were Islamists, then said it didn’t matter anyway).”

WORKERS LIBERTY – What is the Muslim Association of Britain?

Since September 2002, Stop the War Coalition protests have been co-sponsored by an organisation called the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). More recently, the SWP-sponsored Respect electoral coalition has worked closely with the MAB, with former MAB President Anas Altikriti heading Respect’s Yorkshire and Humberside slate for the European elections in June 2004.

The leaders of the STWC and Respect, and in particular the Socialist Workers’ Party, have gone to great lengths to portray the MAB as representative of all people of Muslim faith or even background in Britain. This is very far from the truth. The MAB is a political organisation with a very specific political agenda: a reactionary one which we should be doing everything in our power to oppose.

MAB’s website still has links to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Jamaat e-Islami, the main Islamist movement in Pakistan. It still recommends Qutb as a guide to Islamic doctrine.

Criticising the MAB is not Islamophobic or anti-Muslim; many if not most Muslims are strongly opposed to Islamism, and Muslim workers, women and left-wingers are of course the first victims of the Islamists in power. It is no coincidence that socialist, feminist and labour movement groups in Muslim countries are among the most virulent opponents of Islamism, since they are fighting against it for their lives.

As well as alienating secular and left-wing Muslims from the anti-war movement and left, the STWC/SWP alliance with the MAB also serves to alienate Jewish people, feminists and many on the left.”

WEEKLY WORKER – The left and the Muslim Association

“The reader will recall that Socialist Worker notoriously excused the imposition of the burqa upon women in the traditionally secular city of Kabul. Nor has the SWP rectified its approach. Nowhere does it criticise MAB or the islamic neo-traditionalists.”

DAVE RICH – The Barriers Come Down: Antisemitism and Coalitions of Extremes

“For Islamists and the far left – the third side of this totalitarian triangle – there has been a headlong tumble into each other’s arms. A series of anti-war rallies in 2003 – Britain’s biggest ever political demonstrations – were organised jointly by The Stop the War Coalition, which is led by Lindsey German of the Socialist Workers Party and Andrew Murray of the Communist Party of Britain, and the Muslim Association of Britain, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The apparent contradictions of socialists and Islamists forming political coalitions have been either ignored or overcome in their desire to form a broad political front. While the majority of marchers on the anti-war rallies were ordinary, non-political people for whom these doctrinal differences do not matter, the leaders of the Stop The War Coalition and the Muslim Association of Britain have had to put aside serious differences over, for instance, homosexuality and women’s rights, in order to work together.

Undeterred, the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Britain, enthused by their ability to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people to demonstrate against the war, have gone a step further and taken their new alliance to the electorate in the form of Respect, the Unity Coalition, led by George Galloway. For those on both sides of this red-green coalition, this involved the prospect of dropping policies and principles that had previously been central to their worldview. Lindsey German, when challenged on the attitude of Islamists to homosexuality, told a Socialist Workers Party conference that “I’m in favour of defending gay rights, but I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth. The same principle applies, in reverse, for the Muslim side of the coalition: clauses in Respect’s founding declaration opposing discrimination on grounds of gender, religious beliefs (or lack of them) and sexual orientation, and specifically insisting on the right to self-determination in sexual choices, represent serious compromises for the Islamist side of this alliance.

The SWP’s determination to work with the MAB revealed deep divisions on the left over how to relate to both Islam and Islamism, with which the left shares several superficial positions, while having deep doctrinal differences.”

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