Black is the new Red

Natasha Walter is against the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir. There are a number of arguments she could have made which would allow me to agree that a ban would be wrong, but Walter concentrates on one argument that doesn’t do it for me – that Islamism is the new Communism:

I first met a couple of articulate women from Hizb ut-Tahrir over a year ago. Among their views on the political system the party would like to see instituted in Muslim states, they talked of its promise of a more equal society focused on distribution rather than production. “There is an alternative to capitalism,” said Ruksana Rahman. Another spokeswoman, Dr Nazreen Nawaz, told me: “The Islamic economic system would provide an answer to poverty.”

Hmmm. Islamic economics haven’t worked out terribly well in Iran judging from the condition of the sisters in these pictures.

There’s more:

As I talked to these women I realised that what they were saying echoed in certain ways what young people in the 1930s would have said about why they had turned to communism. These women were impatient about the powerlessness of their people; although those people were not the international working class but the international Muslim community. They believed that human society was perfectible, even if it was to be perfected not by following the precepts of Marx but those of Muhammad, and even if the endpoint – the Caliphate – was the dictatorship not of the proletariat but of the faithful.

It may well be the case that the reasons people choose to embrace Islamism today are similar to the reasons people chose to embrace Communism in the 1930’s but that’s not really the point is it? What’s really important to consider in any honest attempt to get to the heart of political Islam is not the ‘push’ factors of what’s wrong with society as it is but the ‘pull’ factors of what Islamism actually stands for.

I’ve compiled one of these handy ‘out’ and ‘in’ guides beloved of fashion magazines for those people – and the are still no shortage of them despite everything that’s happened over the last few years – who think Islamism is a bit like Socialism, just with a bit more praying.

Out Anti-fascism
In Strong male leaders
Out Taking up arms in defence of an elected governments
In Taking up arms to overthrow elected governments
Out Welcoming the contribution of Jewish people
In Welcoming the destruction of Jewish people
Out Women’s rights to drive, vote, give evidence and have some control over their own bodies
In Light dusting if you’re lucky…

There is an alternative to capitalism all right, but lets look at what it actually is before we get too excited about it.

David T adds:

Although I’m worried by the growth of Islamist movements in the United Kingdom (in the same way that I’m worried about the growth of other authoritarian and totalitarian political movements), what worries me more is the reaction of people who imagine themselves to be political liberals or socialists to the growth of Islamist politics.

One of the most often overlooked, and important, differences between Islamism and socialism is that socialism is a materialist doctrine and Islamism isn’t. Socialists think – or at least thought – that they’d be better at producing things that people needed than capitalists, and distributing them equitably, according to need. Islamists have a strong religiously inspired doctrine of charity, true. But they expect to produce things that people need not for any particular reason, except that God loves and favours them. Socialism is premised upon human agency and the capacity of people to change the world for the better. Islamism in most of its forms is based on trust in, and submission to, the will of God.

The SWP, as we’ve seen, doesn’t think for a moment that socialists are like the Islamists in any important sense at all. Their alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood is simply a matter of making common cause on “anti-imperialism”, and – in theory at least – an attempt to poach their members. Their relationship with the Islamists is wholly cynical. No shame in that.

But an increasing number of liberals seem to have the sort of warm fuzzy feeling about extreme manifestations of Islamism that you would only have if you subscribed no theory in particular about how the world worked or ought to work. This is trivialised debased politics, isn’t it? You get the impression that Natasha Walker came across some fresh faced, sparkly eyed Hizbies and thought:

“Oooh – idealism! Haven’t seen that for a bit! How simply darling of them!”

Let’s take this statement for example:

But Hizb ut-Tahrir, a formal party with stated goals, is more comprehensible than other bits of the Islamist movement. Since its goals are clearly political and – alongside the nasty hysteria about Zionism – have included the espousal of decent things such as women’s rights, it is also a lot more sympathetic than most manifestations of radical Islam.

Yes, well. Apart from the “nasty hysteria about Zionism”… which incidentally includes the quotation by Hizb ut Tahrir of scripture, which teaches that the final hour will not come until muslims fight jews and kill them.

What Natasha means, is that she has met some self confident women who don’t conform to her own racist stereotypes of muslim women, huddled away in some oriental seraglio. Hizb ut Tahrir’s Draft Constitution makes it very clear what Hizb ut Tahrir is planning for women. The Draft Constitution, certainly allows women limited rights to marry and work and also to vote but places the following important restrictions on them:

Article 109
Segregation of the sexes is fundamental, they should not meet together except for a need that the shar’ allows or for a purpose the shar’ allows men and women to meet for, such as trading or pilgrimage (Hajj).

Article 112
Women are not allowed to take charge of ruling, thus women cannot hold the positions of Khaleefah mu’aawin, waali, ‘aamil nor to practice any actions of ruling. She is not allowed to be a chief judge, a judge in maHkaamat ul-MuDHalim nor ameer of Jihad.

Article 114
Women are forbidden to be in private (khulwah) with any men they can marry, they are also forbidden to display their charms or to reveal their body in front of foreign men.

Article 118
The custody of children is both a right and duty of the mother, whether Muslim or not, so long as the child is in need of this care. When children, girls or boys, are no longer in need of care, they are to choose which parent they wish to live with, whether the child is male or female. If only one of the parents is Muslim, there is no choice for the child is to join the Muslim parent.

There’s more in Hizb ut Tahrir’s other publications: this is just what they would put in the Constitution if they ever took power. Now, all of this would – I accept – be a great improvement on a society which afforded women no rights at all. But Hizb ut Tahrir members in the United Kingdom live in a society in which women have formal equality. Progressives usually identify with those who seek to make that equality substantive. The Draft Constitution of Hizb ut Tahrir, by contrast, constitutes not a guarantee of women’s rights, but the establishment for an entrenched and divinely ordained basis for their denial.

Again, if any of our readers want to write to the Guardian…