What is needed is a shift in thinking on the left. Such shifts have happened before and will again.
Now that a subtle understanding of the nature of Islamism is more widespread, it is difficult to make the formerly popular case that opposition to extreme manifestations of Islamism constitutes an attack on muslims. It is generally appreciated that Islamism isn’t simply an inevitable expression of the “true” core beliefs all all right thinking muslims throughout time: pace the islamophobes and the binladenists. Instead, there are now two arguments which are being made by the more sophisticated on the far left.
– The first is that Islamism is merely a confused muslim reaction to “imperialism” and racism, and that by ending these two factors, Islamism will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions and that muslims will then attain the proper class consciousness to resist the siren calls of Islamism, from the gradualist Muslim Brotherhood to the the salafi-jihadists. Islamism is therefore portrayed, not as as the theoretically coherent theocratic, racist, and anti-democratic programme which it is, but rather as a US plot gone wrong.
– The second is a right wing isolationist position – also sometimes adopted by those who claim to be on the left – that by staying out of “muslim” quarrels, Islamism in its various forms will be kept at bay, and away from our doors.
The answer to those who make these arguments is that the cause of the growth of Islamism is not the conduct of those who oppose it. Islamism has its own dynamics, and is opportunist, using at its “recruiting sergeant” any struggle which can be cast in terms of a battle between brothers in faith and those who seek to attack them. Staying out of those conflicts over which Western voters have some control still leaves others which will in turn feature large in Islamist propaganda. Domestic battles also have their role to play: the hijab wars in France, action against racist theocratic supremacists at home, and so on feed into the “islamophobic west” thesis which the Islamists use to suggest that the only way forward is solidarity with other muslims. Even as these struggles continue, Islamists proceed in their task of re-islamising European muslim society through the creation of domestic Islamist institutions, their co-option into political processes, and so on. That this is so is reflected in the opposition of gradualist Islamists to domestic terrorism which they rightly see as disrupting their task.
We could, I suppose, also keep altogether out of those domestic struggles for pluralism, democracy, socialist and liberal values which are premised upon the belief that muslim citizens are full and equal participants in western societies. It is possible that the left will simply fail oppose Islamist calls for political and cultural separateness. If the left is silent on this issue, racists will steal the agenda and argue, with deceptive simplicity, that Islam in any form is irreconcilable with western values.
The strategy of the far left has been difficult to discern. I think that it amounts to a superstitious belief Islamism will not ultimately triumph domestically within muslim societies, because it simply isn’t able to do so. Given that this is so, it matters little that in the short and medium term it enters into formal alliance with it: so as better to destroy it and recruit its members. That at least seems to be Chris Harman’s position in The Prophet and the Proletariat.
This is what makes the position of the far left so difficult. It cannot attack its allies within Islamism, because that would give the game away. So it is much easier to align itself with the second position, that one should be “with the Islamists sometimes, with the State never”. Are they promoting an Islamist agenda? Well, only to the extent that it furthers opposition to the State. Are the aligning themselves with, or feeding the fantasies of right wing racist cultural isolationists of the Islamist and non-Islamic varieties? Naah.
They are wrong. The SWP hasn’t as far as I know suceeded in building up a significant muslim revolutionary socialist movement. Instead, it has entered into alliances with Islamist groups which it cannot even admit are alliances, while its party – RESPECT – receives its funding from racist conspiracy theorists who it cannot and so does not denounce. The beneficiaries have not been the SWP, and have been RESPECT only where it fully embraces a communalist politics.
It is the nature of that foolish alliance which contains the seeds of the SWP’s destruction. It cannot make its true case clear, because it sounds like nonsense and will win few followers, and because it emperils the alliance itself. Therefore, it is forced into adopting a right wing isolationist stance which it labours to portray as progressive.
Exposing the nature of that alliance, and focussing on what it is that Islamists say and do, is central to winning that debate. The process should an easy one. As the pseudo-left hide those alliances, their denials can be exposed as frauds. As Islamists learn to present their beliefs in forms palatable to liberals, the focus on their core political agenda becomes more intense.
This is the discussion which we are having here, and the case which we must keep on making.