Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

The Guardian: Everything that’s wrong with the Liberal Stand on Islamism.

with 9 comments

Islamism: Discipline and Punish. 

To much of the world the British daily, the Guardian is the best known English-language paper of the liberal-left.

It is important to emphasise the word ‘liberal’ (the Guardian advocated voting for the Liberal Democrats at the last election).

But the hyphen attaching the word to the ‘left’ is indissoluble.

Guardian writers, above all in the Comment in Free Section, shows the limits of what this left believes in.

The section, (run between 2001 and 2007 by former Communist Party of Great Britain member ), are, in the majority, consensus believers in a number of liberal values.

The present editor,  has stated that “Queer theory informs my politics and journalism – and made me understand Robert, my childhood alter ego.” (Here)

Some of the principles these people stand for are admirable, such as freedom of speech, promotion of diversity, human rights, gender equality, social equality, and tolerance.

Their advocacy of liberty extends to letting a range of people expressing their opinions in the paper who have very different interpretations of these ideas.

But they are heavily modified when it comes to one political and cultural  issue, the nature of Islamism.

A couple of days ago the daily published an article by George Monbiot, Why stop at Isis when we could bomb the whole Muslim world?

The author, who has previously compared European recruits to the genociders of ISIS to volunteers who defended the Spanish Republic, argues,

“Humanitarian arguments, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East.”

Let’s bomb the Muslim world – all of it – to save the lives of its people. Surely this is the only consistent moral course? Why stop at Islamic State (Isis), when the Syrian government has murdered and tortured so many? This, after all, was last year’s moral imperative. What’s changed?

Nothing, according to Monbiot, the latest US-led bombing will all end in disaster, killing, and destruction by the “destroying angels of the west”. He ends his article with the observation that politicians “scatter bombs like fairy dust.”

Monbiot now deigns to mention that the group amongst the Syrian rebels, which he compared to the Spanish Republican democrats – Isis – has its faults, “the agenda and practices of Isis are disgusting. It murders and tortures, terrorises and threatens. As Obama says, it is a “network of death”(14).

But it’s one of many networks of death.

Worse still, a western crusade appears to be exactly what it wants.

So it’s just one of many. And attacking them would make them worse.

Monbiot then fails to mention any form of physical military reaction to Isis that he could support.

Sound the alarm, run to the hills, the world is about to be flattened!

We can’t do anything at all!

Today the Guardian publishes Seamus Milne.

He begins well,

Theresa May devoted over three quarters of her speech in Birmingham to Muslims and the threat of a catch-all “Islamist extremism”.

Drawing on the tricks of Tony Blair’s invasion-prone government and Thatcher’s failed campaign against the IRA, she promised yet more anti-terror laws: this time to ban nonviolent “extremists” from television and protests, and to proscribe groups with no links to terrorism.

The package amounts to a straightforward attack on freedom of speech and democracy – in the name of the “functioning of democracy”. It would alienate Muslims from mainstream politics still further and create a new, all-purpose collection of thought crimes, allowing the authorities to ban views or activities they deem likely to cause “alarm” or “distress”.

Milne is now a defender of free speech.

He would have done well at this point to oppose something he once backed, to make causing offence to religious faiths a crime. (1)

But he doesn’t.

And, in the wider news, perhaps I missed this bit,

The justifications were straight out of the Blair playbook too: from May’s insistence that we are at war with an “ideology” and that “they” hate our values rather than our violent interventions in the Muslim world – to the claim that Isis could develop weapons of mass destruction to attack us“within a few hours’ flying time of our country”.

Yes I did miss that one, because it’s from the far-right Daily Express’s spin on the May speech….

I suppose Islamic State’s tortures, rapes, genocide and the threat to hundreds of thousands of Kurds would have merited a mention from anybody with genuine left-wing feeling.

In a sense they do get mentioned,

Like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya before it, the bombing has been sold as a response to a humanitarian catastrophe and imminent threat but already shows every sign of spreading the terror it is supposed to stop. Mission creep is already upon us, as Cameron softens the public up to join the US campaign in Syria. As in the past, the war is projected to last years, has been launched against our own mutant creation, and is fanning reverse sectarian cleansing on the ground. Revenge terror attacks at home are once again seen as almost certain.

Ah, “sold as a response to a humanitarian catastrophe”.

What Milne’s views on this catastrophe are, part from the fact that they have been “sold”,  remain in decent obscurity.

One thing sticks out: no mention of the need to back the Kurdish and other fighters on the ground battling Islamic State/Isis!

But the prize for feeble-minded analysis of Islamism must go to a piece by .

Speaking of how people treat recruits to the genociders in Australia he laments a “sudden terror panic“.  Loewenstein uses a Muslim interlocutor to express the dismay.:

“There’s a lack of context, lack of spirituality and understanding, combined with impatience. Many Isis fighters are newly converted, newly pious … these men have grown a beard in three months and they don’t give Islam time to be understood.”

He is tired of having to defend his religion against bigots who take these instant Islamists to be the authentic representation of Islam.

“Keyboard warriors often ask: “Where is the universal Muslim condemnation of terror acts?” We’re distancing ourselves, so why do you keep asking? People just aren’t listening.”

“It’s been the same narrative of apology for decades and we’re sick of it. It’s like the probation the media is trying to grant me. I want to stand back, it’s got nothing to do with me and it’s nothing to do with Islam. I don’t need to come out and prove my innocence.”

Indeed, it is remarkable that those who trumpet their religious belief, in Islam and the Qu’ran, should be called to express disapproval of those who trumpet their religious belief in Islam and the Qu’ran – Isis.

As he continues in the vein we weary.

But there is some truth in this, though “dis-empowered” – an expression now confined to ageing social workers – is not perhaps the right word.

The pressure on the Australian Muslim community is immense, a feeling of being outsiders, exacerbated by a message that they’re different and under suspicion. Many Muslim women in particular feel disempowered and not trusted by the wider, white majority. Islamophobia is now unofficial government policy and some media’s central world-view

Muslims have ample reason to be sceptical towards government and intelligence services; real journalists would investigate why. Sadly, most in the media are failing in their basic duty to question.

Islamophobia is an ageing and muddled term as well: it tries to conflate opposition to islamism with prejudice, and offers no way to distinguish them.

This will not help clear up what ‘Islam’ is.

“Islam isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Samir says. His religion, just like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and others, is complex, contradictory and open to various interpretations – but figuring that out can’t be done in an instant.

I will,  as will most readers, give up at this point….

Why does this matter?

We could say that a paper that publishes Richard Seymour is a fun journal, a good laugh, and that nobody takes the ideology in these articles seriously.

But what is striking is that not a single Guardian commentator has come close to analysing Islamism in any depth whatsoever.

That is a extreme-right-wing ideology, with a very material institutional basis, support in the pious Muslim bourgeoisie, and wider roots in the class structures of many Middle Eastern countries.

There are Marxist and other political studies which go into this in depth (Maxime RodinsonGilbert Achcar the latter’s sole contribution to the Guardian on the topic relates to ‘Holocaust denial’).

Or the rich critique of Islamism, democratic, socialist and secular,  offered by  the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan groups such as the Worker Communist parties (Mansoor Hekmat)  and other left individuals and organisations  in the Moslem world.

We could, for those interested in ‘Gender and Queer’ studies, also look at Michael Foucault’s concept of ‘micro-powers’ – intimate oppressive apparatuses that create a religious prison, in para-states and actual states.

Foucault’s Discipline and Punish  is perhaps a good starting point to the operation of the Sharia, along with Nietzsche The Genealogy of Morals. (2)

We could look at its (or rather), since Islamism is a plural formation, their patriarchal roots, and its creation of sexual apartheid.

We might even mention that every single form of Islamism is viciously oppressive towards gays.

That it is anti-democratic and ‘communitarian’ on the template of 1930s ‘organic’ far-right.

We might even consider that its religion is a load of utter cack.

But nobody in the Guardian’s comment articles says that.



(1) “But for 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. The pitch of these denunciations has been heightened further by the government’s plan to introduce a new criminal offence of incitement to religious hatred. This measure would extend to the most vulnerable community in the country the very modest protection already offered by race hate legislation to black people, Jews, Sikhs and all religious communities in Northern Ireland. It is not a new blasphemy law; it would not lead to a ban on Monty Python’s Life of Brian film; or rule out jokes about Ayatollah Khomeini’s contact lenses; or cover ridicule or attacks on any religion (unlike the broader Australian legislation) – but would only outlaw incitement of hatred against people because of their faith.” Guardian. December 2004

This bill was thrown up precisely because it was a new “blasphemy law”. Does Milne back its return?

(2) I am all too aware of Foucault’s morally cretinous welcome to Khomeini, What are the Iranians Dreaming About (1978). More relevant to Isis is  the way their beheadings of hostages could be compared to the violent and chaotic public torture of Robert-François Damiens analysed in Discipline and Punish (1975).


9 Responses

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  1. As you mention Nietzsche it is mildly ironic that the distinguished translator of Nietzsche R.J. Hollingdale worked for many years at the Guardian as a sub.

    Can imagine his snorts of derision at having to read the like of Monbiot, Bunting and Milne?.

    As I haven’t recommended it again to anyone yet today can I point you to section III of Thomas Frank’s great 1994 essay Dark Age on ‘the culture of forgetting’.


    The underlying issue with all these people is that they operate in a world of social amnesia where selectively remembering just 11 years back to the Gulf War is the closest they can approach to a historical sense – whereas understanding Islamism requires you to actually do some work on The Prophet, his companions, the origins of the Quran and Hadith, the foundation and division of the Caliphate etc, etc, etc…

  2. There is a wealth of material there Roger.

    Of older books Maxime Rodinson’s Islam and Capitalism and Mahomet, were where I began.

    This is interesting.


    This is useful on the details,

    Why I Am Not a Muslim, Ibn Warraq.


    There are of course thousands of texts to read.

    Andrew Coates

    October 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm

  3. You write: ¨We could look at its (or rather), since Islamism is a plural formation, their patriarchal roots, and its creation of sexual apartheid.

    We might even mention that every single form of Islamism is viciously oppressive towards gays.

    That it is anti-democratic and ‘communitarian’ on the template of 1930s ‘organic’ far-right.

    We might even consider that its religion is a load of utter cack.”

    Why that last sentence about Isslam – not Islamism, but Islam! – ‘a load of utter cack’?? It ‘s not about Islamism, it s about Islam as such. And it applies equally to Christianity. Your characterization of Islamism as an extreme right wing movement – a characterization I agree with – does not need this sneer at Islam. It makes it easier to see attacks on Islamism – which is necessery political crtiticism -as only part of an attack against islam – which stokes prejudice, and makes the use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ less absurd that you may want readers to think. Sad and counterproductive fort what you are, I suppose, trying to achieve. Raising awareness about Islamism as a form of reaction is not helped this way. On the contrary.

    peter storm

    October 2, 2014 at 3:46 pm

  4. Yes I wrote it about Islam.

    Islamism is a complex social phenomenon and the politics and implications of the ‘disciplinary machine’ of the Caliphates it aims to create are subjects for detailed research and debate.

    But, as an atheist I would be amiss not to point out that that as a religion, it is cack.

    To take a central belief, in Hell, all varieties of Islam (find me one that interprets the Qur’an to mean otherwise) say that some people will end up in this imaginary place.

    Any religion with this idea, and the afterlife, is cack, infantile cack.

    It is a claim that stretches credulity beyond even the claim that there is a something called ‘god’.

    There was one famous person who is said to have come back from the dead to tell us about it.

    But reports of his sighting are strongly contested.

    Andrew Coates

    October 2, 2014 at 4:10 pm

  5. You have to watch in particular the so called “Anti Hate” orgs trying to push through Blasphemy laws under the guise of “Countering Hate” against any incompatible belief that a minority might have.

    Also an Anti Hate Org in particular is trying to propagate Dawah by trying to stifle legally and smearingly anyone who raises objections to certain beliefs and practices.

    They’re trying to do away with Section 29 Paragraph J of the 2006 Religious and Race act all in attempt to make their particular diaspora immune to any such scrutiny and criticism.

    Oh so obvious & the biggest allowers of this are the Left surprise surprise…


    October 2, 2014 at 5:19 pm

  6. Slightly different poindt, but what do people think about the view that teh West should have left Gaddafi and Saddam in place as they kept a lid on things? Only today a friend of mine (who is the epitome of the Labour Left) was explaining to me that all this chaos is our ie the West’s fault. Surely HIstory happens and one has to deal with it, apportioning culpability (for something like that) is a waste of time; it’s just what happened, it’s what happens next that is important. Also, being raised in an English tradition, I can’t help but feel that people should be responsible for their own actions, although I know that some more exotic cultures don’t take that view.

    Sue R

    October 2, 2014 at 8:36 pm

  7. Excellent fisking! Keep up the good work, comrade!

    Jim Denham

    October 3, 2014 at 8:28 am

  8. “I can’t help but feel that people should be responsible for their own actions, although I know that some more exotic cultures don’t take that view”
    I take it you’re referring to your beloved Israeli government, which is constantly assuring us that it takes no responsibility for any of its actions, especially when it comes to the killing and maiming of Palestinian children (or “little mites” as you sneeringly refer to them). The assertion that English people have a special or even unique ability to take responsibility for their actions would be greeted with amazement in most corners of the world, not least the one I come from, though I suppose it’s no weirder than Coates’s claim that he has no problem with religion providing it doesn’t involve belief in God or an afterlife. I guess Denham is just glad that there are people out there who make him look sane and rational. .

    puss wallgreen

    October 3, 2014 at 5:12 pm

  9. “But, as an atheist I would be amiss not to point out that that as a religion, it is cack” Yes. Fine. I can even agree. But that does not specifically apply to Islam. It has nothing to do with what is so reactionary in Islamism as a political current, and it distracts from your – otherwise sensible and useful – arguments about that current. It makes you sound, at that specific point, prejudiced agains Moslems (which I believe you are NOT). You do not strengthen your argument that way. You weaken it, and you make it easier for opponents to evade the point you try to make.

    Besides, one can have “cack” religious belief, and stil be progressive. As a Baptist. Martin Luther King probably believed in an afterlife as well. He probably believed in the return of that manfrom the dead that you mention. That does not change his contribution to social justice.

    If we TRULY want to separate religion from public life, as secularists should, we should keep the discussion about a religion as such separate from the discussion of political ideologies and movements, unless a connection between the religion as such and a specific movement can be demonstrated.

    peter storm

    October 4, 2014 at 4:24 am

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