The Left

Milne gets one thing right

Marcus’s post about Seumas Milne’s Guardian piece makes a number of excellent points.

Milne is incredibly obtuse when he writes:

[F]or showing solidarity and working with Muslim organisations – whether in the anti-war movement or in campaigns against Islamophobia – leftwing groups and politicians such as the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, are now routinely damned by liberal secularists (many of whom have been keen supporters of the war in Iraq) for “betraying the enlightenment” and making common cause with “Islamofascists”, homophobes and misogynists.

Does Milne have no idea of the ideology behind the Muslim Association of Britain and its invited guest Sheikh al-Qaradawi, with whom Livingstone showed his “solidarity”?

And what does he mean by this?

It is not, and has not been, in any way necessary to compromise with social conservatism over women’s or gay rights, say, to have such an engagement; on the contrary, dialogue can change both sides in positive ways.

Both sides? In way way could an “engagement” with Islamic fundamentalists on women’s and gay rights produce a positive change of the secular Left?

But whether or not Milne means to, I think he does get one thing right:

Like nationalism, religion can face either way, playing a progressive or reactionary role.

Perhaps this makes more sense to an American than a European. But US history is full of examples of religiously-inspired people in the front lines of struggles for social justice. African-American churches and ministers (notably Martin Luther King) were at the heart of the 1960s civil rights movement. The US Catholic community includes a very active social-justice component. (A nun was among my fellow board members when I was involved with a citzen’s coalition in Missouri that lobbied for universal health care and fair utility rates.) There is even an organization for evangelical Christians interested in social-justice issues.

In other words, many religious people do take seriously the passage from Deuteronomy: “Justice, justice shall you pursue”– even when, in my opinion, they tend to an overly pacifist approach to the world’s evil.

There are progressive elements and reactionary elements in the theology and scriptures of all religions. That some adherents are more attracted to the progressive side of a religion, and others more attracted to the reactionary side, says more about the adherents than it does about the religion.

The problem for leftists like Milne is that, for all the “anti-imperialist” rhetoric of the Islamist movements with which he wishes to engage, there is, at their core, nothing progressive and everything reactionary.