This is a cross-post from Though Cowards Flinch
Last night, my LRC comrade and friend Simon, of Latte Labour (from here I will refer to him as LL) penned a criticism on his blog of my piece on why anti-fascists must fill the political vacuum that the EDL aims to exploit.
The piece is very convincing, and you can read it here, as well as remind yourself of the fantastic, yet worrying, Muslim Ray Guns video, and a number of original images.
LL starts his piece with a quote from Labour councillor David Adley who tweeted the following re Peter Tatchell: “”stop far right Islamists” is completely missing the point of today’s demo. Where were the “far right Islamists” today?”
The point here about an absent enemy is clearly not the crux of LL’s argument, even though he begins with this quote – but rather that it seems inappropriate to mention far right Islamism on the day where many gathered to support Muslims against the EDL. LL develops other themes, some of which I pick up here.
I want to start with a quote, around a 1/3 of the way down the piece which reads:
Carl himself quotes the East London Mosque as saying that the event of concern was the doing of an ‘external hirer’. One wonders what has happened in church halls over the years. And here, I think, is part of what is going on. There is a basic failure to understand the function of a mosque as a fairly fluid community space.
I’m so glad LL picked up on this point, because as it happens one other point of disagreement we have has regard to platforms for fascists. I, for example, will allow far right opinions to be published in the comments thread of my blog if, and only if, they are challenged – either by myself, or by a reader. I don’t take ad hominem argument very seriously, but I do take fascist ideology seriously, and am prepared to challenge it. LL on the other hand has made it clear that spokespeople from the British National Party, for example, should have no platform at any level, lest we take their ideas seriously. For me, taken to its furthest logical extension (a total ban of these ideas being made public in any way) is not only, itself, totalitarian, but would drive it underground and make it harder to track.
The reason I raise this is because Anwar al-Awlaki was allowed to speak first of all – and it has been found true that he was not moderate before his arrest in Yemen in 2006 – and also unopposed and unchallenged via video link to mosque-goers. I contend that had it been Nick Griffin speaking at a church hall for example, the noise would have been ferocious, but not only that – the vicar of the church would not have heard the last of it; giving voice to a fascist, how dare they (and rightly so – no matter the subject on which Griffin, hypothetically, was allowed to speak).
This hypothetical church also has a duty to be a “fluid community space”, but allowing free terrain to a person with demonstrably dangerous ideas is beyond reasonableness. It would be absurd not to expect the East London Mosque (ELM) to abide by these same principles.
Further still, the spokesperson for the ELM at the time did not come out to blame al-Awlaki’s presence as the work of an “external hirer” – instead took responsibility and then implied they had no idea al-Awlaki was as dangerous as he is – an unlikely story.
LL notes at this stage that the details here may not be important – which I contend they very much are – but does say, on giving me the benefit of the doubt (though, there is no doubt?) that it would be “wrong to push the point in tandem with an anti-fascist mobilisation”. It is here that we reach the meat of what LL is saying, and here we come to understand a basic design flaw in the Left’s analysis of the far right.
The English Defence League are dangerous for one reason alone: they are growing in number and with that comes the threat of attacks on innocent people and the prospect of vigilantism – with it a return of violent fascist street gangs, roaming the streets picking on people, probably at random, for their religion and a number of other varying factors (have we not also seen the worrying pictures published by Hope Not Hate of the EDL members carrying armed weaponry – are these people who are against extremism?). They are not, we should remind ourselves, a threat because the convincing and difficult set of ideas they hold.
To be sure, the EDL is largely politically immature. A pertinent question, I think, here is to ask is a political group the sum of its parts or the sum of its party line? If the latter, then is the party line what they tell us, the public, it is, or is it what they tell themselves internally? If the former, then at best the EDL is a group of agitators who have sought to wind up what they perceive as the Muslim enemy with petite tactics (Israel flags, pig masks, songs such as “Muhammed is a paedo”) and street presence (of which one must include the almost inevitable escalation to violence, racism and general threat).
I hope that we all, especially on the Left (which is my tribe), can agree on this analysis of the EDL. In which case, if we can, why are we not honest about our opposition to all forms of extremism, not just the extremism they represent. After all, when the right or far right accuse the Left of being soft on far right Islamism, to the point where we often team up with it (Moazzam Begg is someone who is on record as being unable to discount his own support for the Taliban, their disgusting pursuits and ideologies – who only oppose al-Qaeda on issues surrounding national strategy. But in spite of that is given free terrain, even today – by the human rights organisation Amnesty International [for the Rights based Liberal ticket] and by the Socialist Workers’ Party at their Marxism Festival [for the Trostkyite far Left ticket], for example) there is some truth in that. We don’t exist only to appease the EDL, obviously, but it makes no sense for this truth to be present in their rhetoric. How many, for example, while writing articles and blogs from a Leftist perspective on how vile the EDL are, will be writing about the homophobic threats Peter Tatchell received on that day – on the side of the road supposedly representing enlightened thinking, unlike across the road where the pinheaded thugs lay, pissed – for even daring to hold a banner suggesting Muslims and Gays unite against a fascist mob?
So, to the challenge of whether it is appropriate or not, my answer is unequivocally: yes. One of the interesting things about the EDL, and neo-fascist, anti-Islamic rhetoric today, is that much of it professes to being tolerant of homosexuality and homosexuals. The EDL even has a gay division of sorts. But Peter Tatchell sees very well what cynical ploy is going on here, and has acted on it. He recognises that at heart the EDL is a “clash of civilisations” organisation that thinks Muslims and Islam is, at its very core, backward. Tatchell refutes this. His aim is to work with the Muslim community, particularly with the gay Muslim community, against the extremism they experience from both sides. Not only are they Muslim-bashed by the EDL, they are gay-bashed by homophobes in their own community, who use Islam as a weapon against them, and not a tool of peace, which it was intended for. Tatchell is standing on the side of those Muslims for whom coming out has meant not only neglect but torment and backlash – it could not have been more appropriate for him to demonstrate who exactly it was he was bellowing against that day, because it shows up the lack of nuance in the EDL’s message, and it is altogether concrete who and what he stands against, lest the Left be confused.
We, as the Left, are against the extremism from all angles, and Tatchell’s placard that day was not simply a message that confronted the aggressors across the road, but provided a box around the ears for the Left, some of whom don’t feel it necessary to challenge hard right thinking of those to whom they give victim statuses. If that isn’t patronising, paternalist, dangerous and, ironically, rather neo-colonialist, then I don’t know what is.
We could come back another day to hold a smaller protest about the Islamist far right (and we should, in the spirit of this – which Peter Tatchell was only one who even bothered to reply to) or we could allow Tatchell to protest in the capacity in which he is known, against extremists on both sides, and from whom Muslims suffer severely.
For LL to say, as he does, that Tatchell’s “words will do absolutely nothing for gay Muslims” is dangerously to forget how much ignoring it, or pushing it to one side, will do – undoubtedly, were Tatchell to stage a protest condemning homophobia in the Muslim community, he would still receive abuse from the Left on the grounds that it is inappropriate while there are still imperfections in the power balance between Muslims and non-Muslims (just one proof of why the Left must readdress its own opposition to far right Islamism). Indeed, as Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate himself once said: “We oppose the racism and Islamophobia of the EDL just as we oppose the religious bigotry and antisemitism of the MAC.” Was he being inappropriate?