Wednesday, December 06, 2006

(un)Comradely criticism

A few days ago a bloke who had given himself the moniker 'Modernity' turned up, as if from another dimension, in the comments boxes of this august blog with wild stories of strangely-acronymed far left groups and sinister Muslims bent on destroying Western civilisation and Britain's anti-war movement, in that order. Modernity was a refugee from a thread on Dave Osler's blog which had begun as an attempt at constructive dialogue between some of the fifty-seven varieties of (ex)Trotskyism, and ended up as a squabble about the difference between the words 'Islamophobia' and Islamophile'.

Modernity, who has his own blog here, is one of a number of Western lefties who are uncertain about how to relate to the Islamic organisations which are a fixture of many progressive campaigns - think anti-war, pro-Palestine, refugees' rights - today.

Muslims have been called 'the Jews of the age of the War on Terror', because of the way they have been scapegoated by the Western media, demonised by unscrupulous politicians, and attacked by white racist groups in the long years since 9/11 and the beginning of George Bush's neo-crusade. It is natural and healthy that many on the left feel sympathy for the Muslim community, and want to make common cause with it.

Modernity, though, believes - and he is not alone - that the left has begun to sell out some of its principles in order to make friends with the leaders of various Muslim organisations. Modernity is particularly scathing about the Socialist Workers Party, which is Britain's largest far left group, because of its relationship with the conservative Muslim Association of Britain, an organisation which doesn't have a lot of time for arguments about a woman's right to choose or the glories of trade unionism.

While the opponents of uncritical rapproachement with religious politics have a point, they don't seem to be making it very well. The method of Modernity and some of his co-thinkers in Britain seems to be withdrawal from activist politics* and the excoriation of 'Islamofascism and its fellow-travellers' from the sidelines. For reasons which escape Modernity, I don't think these methods will bear fruit. Here are some (tidied up) comments I made during the debate on Dave Osler's blog:

You cannot change the minds of others unless you engage with them in a comradely spirit. The way to influence the views of people on the left you disagree with is to work with them in campaigns around issues that unite you, and combine your joint work with constructive criticism. Unless they come from a basic sense of comradeship, criticisms will simply bounce off their targets.

By making it seem like you care more about the behaviour of their small and embattled group than the war criminals in Washington and London you only alienate the angry young people attracted to politics out of an honest desire to oppose war and racism. If anything, your obsessive criticism will reinforce the attitudes you want to oppose.

In the anti-war movement of 2001-2004 I worked closely with Stalinists and Maoists, as well as social democrats, various types of Christians, Islamists, and greenies as part of the Anti Imperialist Colaition and later the Direct Anti War Action group. I had disagreements of various sorts with all these people, but we were generally able to work constructively because we recognised that we were on the same side against the forces which have brought such a catastrophe to the Middle East. And it was an education for me to see that the people who held pro-Stalin and Islamist views were not monsters, but honest activists who for various reasons rooted in the history of the last fifty years had adopted some false viewpoints.

There were numerous occasions when those of us on the secular left were able to challenge some of the tenets of Islamist politics, because we had formed a comradely relationship with Islamists opposed to war and racism. For instance, after the second attack on Fallujah and a number of brutal Israeli assassinations in Gaza we established a series of pickets of the local US consulate. For a week or so we were getting hundreds of people, mostly from the Arab community, outside the consulate at night.

We always had a policy of an open mike at protests, and we would pro-actively encourage people new to the protests we organised to come forward and speak. After a couple of nights we were able to get women speaking on the open mike - I thought this was a very interesting development, given the low-profile role that women had played at some other events in which Islamist groups had participated.

At the same time as we tried to get women to speak on the open mike, some of us handed out literature which advanced a secular, socialist approach to the crises in Palestine and Iraq - literature that discussed the history of the secular left in Iraq, the inheritance of the secular 1958 anti-imperialist revolution in Iraq, and the contribution made today in Iraq by the Worker Communist Party, which opposes both religious fundamentalism and imperialist occupation.

Later some of us organised a day school where we held a debate called 'Socialism vs Islamism: which is the best way to defeat imperialism?' during which we took on some female supporters of Islamism. But we were only able to draw people like this into debate because we had first formed some sort of comradeship with them by campaigning together against the imperialist wars that were bringing such misery to their homelands.

Maybe you should think about getting involved in one of the organisations in your community that opposes war and racism? That way you might be able to win the respect of some of the people you want to influence.

*And yes, before those of you who know me shout 'Hypocrite!', let me concede: I'm doing bugger all in the field of activism at the moment. After I knock off this PhD...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Mao's advice also - the broad front. There are things to be learnt from Islamic revolutionaries an othes - I think the Isalmic focres of revolution (nationlalist) will be most strong for some time in Iraq -it won matter if they want a Moslem state - so be it - fudamentalist or not.

We have no right to push our ideas of 'freedom' 'democracy' etc and in many cases women prefer the old ways. Many Moslems rightly see that the Western feredom of women is at the cost of them enaging in pornography and at the cost of a degenerate, even fetid, society - can learn a lot from Moslem ideas. Marxism and all the socialisms amd other isms are getting a bit outworn.

Te so called "advanced" nations suffer from high suicide rates / violent crime and enormous corruption. Marxism is pusingit uphisll - Idoutanyof theisms wilhelp anyone - i thnk thepeoelof Iraq will sortitout in the long run - the US wil lose.

The Hezbolaj showed an exhilerating example - the Israelis coudlnt even take Lebanon - a huge contrast to 1967 - the Hezbollah won - they are the true revolutionaries in that area..we need to supply them with more rockets. With time Israel will collapse.

1:46 am  

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