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Socialist Worker, “The appalling stabbing of novelist Salman Rushdie in New York is certain to unleash a renewed tide of Islamophobia, whatever the details of his attacker. This reaction has to be opposed.”

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SWP: Opposing ‘Islamophobia’.

Don’t let right exploit Salman Rushdie stabbing to whip up Islamophobia.

Charlie Kimber. Socialist Worker.

“The appalling stabbing of novelist Salman Rushdie in New York is certain to unleash a renewed tide of Islamophobia, whatever the details of his attacker. This reaction has to be opposed.”

The National Secretary of the SWP discusses the Satanic Verses (1988).

It includes a Prophet Muhammad-like figure who is depicted as lecherous, unscrupulous and a false prophet. Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie and all those associated with the book to be put to death for blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed. 

Many millions of Muslims across the world saw the book as a conscious slur just as the tide of anti-Muslim hatred worldwide was growing.

The book was also published at a time when Ayatollah Khomeini was consolidating his power through the murder of political opponents from the left.

The 1988 executions of Iranian political prisoners were state-sponsored executions of political prisoners across Iran, starting on 19 July 1988 and continuing for approximately five months. The majority of those killed were supporters of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, although supporters of other leftist factions, including the Fedaian and the Tudeh Party of Iran (Communist Party), were executed as well.

Laws were passed that encouraged polygamy, made it impossible for women to divorce men, and treated adultery as the highest form of criminal offense. Women were compelled to wear veils and the image of Western women was carefully reconstructed as a symbol of impiety. Morality and modesty were perceived as fundamental womanly traits that needed state protection, and concepts of individual gender rights were relegated to women’s social rights as ordained in Islam. Shortly after his accession as supreme leader in February 1979, Khomeini imposed capital punishment on homesxuals. Between February and March, sixteen Iranians were executed due to offenses related to sexual violations.[Khomeini also created the “Revolutionary Tribunals”.

According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, Khomeini encouraged the clerical courts to continue implementing their version of the Shari’a. As part of the campaign to “cleanse” the society,[172] these courts executed over 100 drug addicts, prostitutes, homosexuals, rapists, and adulterers on the charge of “sowing corruption on earth.” According to author Arno Schmitt, “Khomeini asserted that ‘homosexuals’ had to be exterminated because they were parasites and corruptors of the nation by spreading the ‘stain of wickedness.'”Being transgender was designated by Khomeini as a sickness that was able to be cured through surgery.

With such experiences in mind the exiled Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat (1951 – 2002) described Islamism in 1999 as follows,

Islam and De-Islamisation

Interview with Negah publication, January 1999.

Mansoor Hekmat: I realise that the interests of some require that they rescue Islam (as much as possible) from the wrath of those who have witnessed the indescribable atrocities of or been victimised by Islamists. I also realise that the extent of these atrocities and holocausts is such that even some Islamists themselves do not want to take responsibility for them. So it is natural that the debate on ‘true Islam’ vis-à-vis ‘practical Islam’ is broached over and over again. These justifications, however, are foolish from my point of view (that of a communist and atheist) and from the points of views of those of us who have seen or been the victims of Islam’s crimes. They are foolish for those of us who are living through a colossal social, political and intellectual struggle with this beast.

The doctrinal and Koranic foundations of Islam, the development of Islam’s history, and the political identity and affiliation of Islam and Islamists in the battle between reaction and freedom in our era are too obvious to allow the debate on the various interpretations of Islam and the existence or likelihood of other interpretations to be taken seriously. Even if the debate were in the future and on other planets where the most basic rights and affections of humanity were not violated.

In my opinion, it shows the utmost contempt for the science and social intelligence of our times if every excuse and justification that Islamists fling into society whilst retreating is scientifically analysed and dissected… In Islam, be it true or untrue, the individual has no rights or dignity. In Islam, the woman is a slave. In Islam, the child is on par with animals. In Islam, freethinking is a sin deserving of punishment. Music is corrupt. Sex without permission and religious certification, is the greatest of sins. This is the religion of death. In reality, all religions are such but most religions have been restrained by freethinking and freedom-loving humanity over hundreds of years. This one was never restrained or controlled. With every move, it brings abominations and misery.

Moreover, in my opinion, defending the existence of Islam under the guise of respect for people’s beliefs is hypocritical and lacks credence. There are various beliefs amongst people. The question is not about respecting people’s beliefs but about which are worthy of respect. In any case, no matter what anyone says, everyone is choosing beliefs that are to their liking. Those who reject a criticism of Islam under the guise of respecting people’s beliefs are only expressing their own political and moral preferences, full stop. They choose Islam as a belief worthy of respect and package their own beliefs as the ‘people’s beliefs’ only in order to provide ‘populist’ legitimisation for their own choices.

I will not respect any superstition or the suppression of rights, even if all the people of the world do so. Of course I know it is the right of all to believe in whatever they want. But there is a fundamental difference between respecting the freedom of opinion of individuals and respecting the opinions they hold. We are not sitting in judgement of the world; we are players and participants in it. Each of us are party to this historical, worldwide struggle, which in my opinion, from the beginning of time until now has been over the freedom and equality of human beings. I will not respect the superstitions that I am fighting against and under the grip of which human beings are suffering.

In the UK Feminist left-wingers protested against all forms of fundementalism:

This is what a supporter of many of Hekmat’s ideas says on the attack:

The SWP chief continues,

“Rushdie said he wasn’t attacking Muslims and his novel was a work of fiction. That didn’t stop opposition to the book becoming the focus for many Muslims in Britain. They faced mass job losses and brutal racism from a Tory government that had been waging class war for ten years. 

In the absence of a strong and united working class movement after the defeat of the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5, anger at Rushdie became a convenient but misplaced target. “

But it was never enough just to defend Rushdie. The “Rushdie affair” was used by sections of the right and liberals to step up a myth of  irrational and violent Muslims who were a threat to Western “civilisation”. They bayed for them to be repulsed by a battery of new laws in Europe and war abroad.

The offensive against Muslims in 1989 was a foretaste of what would be stepped up even more  during the War on Terror after 9/11

It is, most people will say, a pretty big jump to ignore reaction to the calls to kill Rushdie and censor public criticism of Islam, and by extension, Islamism, and opposition on the wider left to the forces of Islamist reaction which began during the Rushdie affair to the War on Terror. To unleash a polemic going all the way from liberals, conservatives, the slaughter of the Twin Towers, an “offensive against Muslims”, is, as Ian F says, not just “truly bizarre”, it also “totally misreads the nature and pull of reactionary Islamism.”

Kimber notes that others also found a target, misplaced or not,

That wasn’t what Rushdie wanted. In his last interview before he went into hiding, he told Socialist Worker, “In England, the most reactionary elements within the Asian community have fed stereotypes present in the most reactionary elements within white society.

“So it’s no pleasure to me to be supported by the Sun when it’s referring to Asians as rats. I’m not on the Sun’s side in that. I’d sooner be with the rats.”

Influential sections of the right sympathised with those who wanted to shut Rushdie up. They didn’t like an anti-imperialist, even if he was now targeted by Muslims. 

Kimber tempers his account of Rushdie,

In subsequent years Rushdie was a long way from anti-imperialism. He supported the 1999 Nato bombing of Yugoslavia and the US-led invasion in Afghanistan. However, he didn’t line up with the B52 liberals’ wholehearted backing for the British and US war in Iraq. He later said veils worn by Muslim women “suck” as they were a symbol of the “limitation of women”. Rushdie was certainly safe enough to be knighted in 2007 under the Tony Blair warmongers’ government.

Socialist Worker consistently argued, “No to censorship, no to racism”. In February 1989 its front page defended Rushdie’s right to criticise religion. But it also defended “the right of everyone to practise their religion “ and for Asians to “be defended against sickening racist intolerance”. 

“As the right gears up for a wave of Islamophobia, it’s crucial that this socialist message from 1989 rings out clearly again.”


Islamophobia, rather than anti-Muslim prejudice, mixes fear, dislike, and – in some hands – criticism of a religion with prejudice and discrimination against people who have the different strands of faiths of Islam. More importantly it leaves little space for opposition to Islamism, political Islam. Left us not forget the recent genocide by one of these forces, Daesh, in Syria and Iraq, nor the tyranny of the Taliban. One branch of Islamism is in power in the dictatorial Islamic Republic of Iran, a regime, with a regional reach which extends into Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, which has inspired people to attack Salman Rushdie. In all those cases it is impossible to find an example of, as SWP theorist Chris Harman put it, of conditions where “we do find ourselves on the same side as the Islamists.” where “our job is to argue strongly with them, to challenge them. ” (The Prophet and the Proletariat 1994) The Islamists, jihadists, Boko Haram, genocidal proto-state movements like ISIS, or the present mass murdering IS-Sinai, IS-Libya, IS-Sahel, ISWAP, IS Central Africa Province (ISCAP), IS-Mozambique, and IS-Somalia, or reactionary Islamist republic of Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah, are the mortal enemies of the left.

“The alleged attacker’s social media accounts show that he is sympathetic to extremist Shia causes and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to NBC.” (Guardian) “However, it is not confirmed that Matar was motivated by the long threat to Rushdie’s life, with Eugene Staniszewski, a major in the New York state police, saying Friday there was “no indication of a motive at this time” “Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian armed group in Lebanon, told Reuters it didn’t know anything about Matar.” Reuters states, “Iran’s hardline newspapers praise Salman Rushdie’s attacker.”

Here is what Salman Rushdie said to Socialist Worker in 1989.

Socialist Worker’s 1989 interview with Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses.

Why have there been such massive protests against your novel Satanic Verses?

I’m surprised by the world wide effect it’s had. People would have expected a novel to stir things up in the days when it was the central form through which society discussed itself.

For a while now TV, cinema and even the theatre have been that, but no longer the novel. Therefore, when you’re writing a novel you resist thinking the work is going to make a lot of international noise.

There have been novels before that have attempted to deal with issues in Islamic culture and to dramatise them in ways that are unorthodox in the theological sense. A lot of these novels have come in for trouble from the guardians of orthodoxy.

It probably hasn’t happened before in English and that’s what gives it the international stage.

A lot of the things I studied would not be available to writers in the Muslim world because many studies of Islam by non-Islamic scholars (by which I don’t mean anti-Islamic) are banned.

I knew the mullahs wouldn’t like it but then I’m not particularly fond of what the mullahs have been doing in the Muslim world.

My family lived in Pakistan during the Zia period and what has been going on there in the name of Islamicisation is absolutely appalling.

It’s quite clear to me that the kind of Islam that developed historically in the Indian subcontinent is very unlike the kind of Islam being pushed out from the Arab states and Iran.

The dominant strain of Islam in India was most closely connected to Buddhism and Hinduism. It was Sufistic and as a result was very tolerant and broad minded.

It was certainly the very reverse of doctrinaire hardline ideology. It’s interesting that when Zia was pushing Islamicisation in Pakistan he closed down a lot of the old Sufi shrines because that strain of Islam was not the one he wanted to support.

In the same way the groups inside the Mojahedin that Zia was supporting were the most zealot Muslim groups of all. The mullahs, generals and politicians who supported them have been a terrible force for evil throughout the Muslim world in my view.

Is there a sense in which you would expect the political opposition to have more impact now?

In each country where this furore has arisen it’s acquired a particular local character – so what’s happened in England is very different to what happened in, for example, India or South Africa.

In England, the most reactionary elements within the Asian community have fed stereotypes present in the most reactionary elements within white society.

So it’s no pleasure to me to be supported by the Sun when it’s referring to Asians as rats. I’m not on the Sun’s side in that. I’d sooner be with the rats.

The organisers of this protest have legitimised the existing racist rhetoric and have given it a way of getting headlines again.

That has been created not by my book but by the response to it. And that is very sad.

Do you think the ban in India is also a result of what’s been happening in Indian politics? And do you think it would have occurred during Indira Gandhi’s time?

Probably not. The ban is obviously an aspect of various political negotiations going on between the government and various Muslim political groupings.

For example, people in Tamil Nadu are discussing political coalition with Muslim political parties and the banning of Satanic Verses may have been an element of the agreement between the parties.

For example, in the north opponents of my book were organising a march on the Babri-Masjid Janmabhoomi shrine. One week after the government announced the banning of my book the organisers cancelled the march.

In India the issue wasn’t the book at all, it was simply a political tool through which certain Muslim politicians flexed their muscles. That’s why I hope that of all the countries where the book has been banned it will be lifted in India.

This may not be soon, but I do believe that in India the ban will not be permanent in the way that it will for example in Saudi Arabia.

Why are you so optimistic about India and not about the Middle Eastern countries?

India is not a specifically Muslim country.

It has a secular tradition which may be in retreat at the moment but is nevertheless there.

Also there has been a public outcry in India about the banning of the book.

You were invited to South Africa recently. Which organisation invited you?

I was invited by the Weekly Mail newspaper before any of the fuss began. The invitation was in collaboration with the Congress of South African Writers who wanted me to speak on censorship.

Then I was told not to go as there were to be massive protests about my book and that this was exactly what the government wanted. I was told my visit would be used as a way to divide the opposition to apartheid.

After people changed their minds and I was told to come again, certain Muslims managed to persuade the government to ban the book. It became 300 percent more important for me to go.

The level of menaces then became higher and higher. Some kind of pressure was put on the Indian writers and a split developed in the South African Writers Congress. As a result the congress decided it could no longer support my invitation. So the Weekly Mail was obliged to withdraw the invitation.

It was a victory for them and a defeat for us.

Some people in South Africa have since said to me that it showed them the sorts of conflicts there will be in South Africa after the revolution.

Were you disappointed at the response from the British left to the ban?

I can understand there are MPs with large numbers of Muslim votes to protect who find it necessary to speak on behalf of those votes.

I think people like Max Madden may one day feel ashamed of themselves, but they probably won’t.

A number of Labour MPs on the left initially allied themselves with the opposition but are now trying to pretend they didn’t. That’s good. One should allow people a way of retreating.

I think on the left there has been a considerable level of support. For example, on the night the WH Smith ban was announced many people, including Tony Benn, signed a petition against the banning.

Has there been any response from Roy Hattersley or Neil Kinnock?

There’s been good support from Mark Fisher, the Shadow Arts Minister, and from Michael Foot.

I’ve heard that Hattersley has been in opposition to the censorship call. I haven’t seen it myself – I’ve just heard it. Kinnock hasn’t said a word.

Yet even Tories have spoken out against it. Kenneth Baker has even written an article on it. If the Tories are doing that it seems very sad that the Labour leadership is staying so silent.

What’s worst about it is that the Tories have been able to look like the more liberal of the two parties.

Do you think that Labour MPs have joined the protests because they believe that if you attack the culture of the oppressed you join forces with the oppressor?

That’s certainly part of the argument. It is almost a racist argument because it’s based on the assumption that you take the most backward aspect of a culture and say that’s the culture.

Anything that is progressive is regarded as Westernised and dismissed. In every Muslim country there is a battle by some sections against the veil, arranged marriages, etc. Why do we have to accept this in London?

If people like Max Madden were to find out a bit more about it before he pronounced on it, he would find that there are radical and conservative forces in black culture, Asian culture and Muslim culture.

There’s a kind of rhetoric among anti-racists that says black people can’t be racists. If you come from India or Pakistan that’s an absurd remark. There is communal hatred, colour prejudice and politics that you can only describe as racist.

Would you classify yourself as an atheist or anti-religious?

Yes, broadly speaking I am an atheist. As a writer I have a problem about that. The world that is my subject to write about is religious.

If you are to do justice to the world and the people that inhabit it you can’t do it from a straight forwardly atheist position.

If you are writing about a world in which people believe in god then you have to give that view some status.

Your novel portrays young Asians in this country in a sympathetic and realistic light. And a strand of optimism runs through it. Why?

I’ve always been accused of writing pessimistic novels.

The possibilities of renewal and change in society are at least as great as the dangers of racism and the damage that can happen as a result of migration.

I wanted to write about both. I didn’t want to write some absurd thing about how great it was to come here to a better life. But I thought it would also be false to write an entirely bleak novel about migration.

It’s important to say in a work of art that it’s also possible for things to improve.


Update: French radical Left, Ensemble ! (4 MPs part of the NUPES alliance).

Soutien à Salman Rushdie

The assassination attempt against Salman Rushdie is yet another manifestation of the consequences of the intolerance of Islamic fundamentalism.

As such, it must be condemned.

TOGETHER ! therefore condemns this act and reaffirms its support for Salman Rushdie in his fight for freedom of thought and expression, which is inseparable from the democratic demands that are the basis of our struggles for emancipation.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 14, 2022 at 12:17 pm

8 Responses

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  1. The despicable, shameful, capitulation of the SWP before Islamism, must be continually exposed, denounced and thrown back in the faces of these scum-bags.

    Jim Denham

    August 14, 2022 at 4:27 pm

    • And put in practice during the early StWC and Respect years,

      “Since September 2002, Stop the War Coalition protests have been co-sponsored by an organisation called the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). More recently, the SWP-sponsored Respect electoral coalition has worked closely with the MAB, with former MAB President Anas Altikriti heading Respect’s Yorkshire and Humberside slate for the European elections in June 2004.

      The leaders of the STWC and Respect, and in particular the Socialist Workers’ Party, have gone to great lengths to portray the MAB as representative of all people of Muslim faith or even background in Britain. This is very far from the truth. The MAB is a political organisation with a very specific political agenda: a reactionary one which we should be doing everything in our power to oppose.

      In MAB’s Inspire newspaper, produced for the 28 September 2002 anti-war demonstration, an article on the MAB’s “Historical Roots and Background” links it explicitly to the Islamist tradition of the Muslim Brotherhood.

      The Society of Muslim Brothers is a political current founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna. Today it claims more than 70 international affiliations, with branches in Sudan (where it remains linked to the brutal military regime), Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.

      Its aim has always been for Shari’a law, rather than any democratic consensus or accountability, to regulate society.”

      What is the Muslim Association of Britain?
      Sacha Ismail. 2007.


      Andrew Coates

      August 14, 2022 at 4:48 pm

    • It blew up in the SWP’s faces though with the Respect split where you had recent SWP muslim members who became councillors in East London crossing over to the Lib Dems (i think one may have become a Tory).
      Now the SWP are back to being active in StWC they are working alongside Campists (including people involved in the Pro CCP No Cold War group). The inherent contradictions will cause more eruptions.


      August 14, 2022 at 7:57 pm

  2. Andrew Coates

    August 14, 2022 at 4:52 pm

  3. If “right-wing” has twisted into a new meaning since 1914, it is “mystical autocracy.” So the word as Orwell used it applies equally to NSDAP Germany, Franco as caudillo, Duce-Papal fascism, Florida, Hungary and all of the force-initiating satrapies of myrmidons of Mohammed. One scans headlines for news of the entire area around Mecca transformed into Trinitite just as Wells’ Time Machine found future Russia a plain of glass.


    August 15, 2022 at 1:25 am

  4. I didn’t write this – but wish I had (it’s from a private email exchange):

    Kimber’ view [in SW] of the attack on Rushdie shows the venality of SW at every turn. That is attempts to do this while facing both ways shows its studied hypocrisy. That one of these faces is only window dressing for the other shows SW’s utter political degeneracy.
    Let’s start with the headline, “Don’t let right exploit Salman Rushdie stabbing to whip up Islamophobia”. That is a fair enough point to make, but it is a secondary point. The point is that (what can only be assumed to be) a reactionary religious bigot has attempted to kill a writer with whom they disagree. The headline should be to defend free speech, and to oppose clerical fascism.

    Charlie Kimber, by the way, has clearly not only not read the Satanic Verses, but not read the news reports – he states Rushdie was stabbed at the end of a literary event, having perhaps sat through Rushdie speaking and, having listened, decided to murder him. But no, he was attacked at the start of the event, as he took the stage. Other errors are more interesting. Kimber states that Rushdie grew up in India and then moved to Britain. This is not quite the case. Rushdie’s (Cambridge educated) father was sacked from the India Civil Service when Rushdie was still young, and the family moved to the UK, when Rushdie went to Rugby school from the age of 13. Kimber then does to say that Rushdie “was well known for his criticism of colonialism and Western imperialism. And for siding with black and Asian people who faced racism in Britain.” This is a somewhat simplistic summary of Rushdie’s politics (he opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but certainly not in terms that the SWP would have recognised Fight the good fight and certainly would not have accepted the uncritical use of Islamophobia undifferentiated from racism as displayed by Kimber). What Kimber’s trying to do here is not criticise the motives of Rushdie’s assassin, but to say that Rushdie is the wrong target because his politics, as highlighted, are similar to those of the SW. (On perhaps, were similar in 1989, Kimber goes on to imply that the Rushdie who wrote the Satanic Verses went off the political rails later, by supporting NATO action in Kosovo, and son on).

    Kimber’s awful politics are worse than this. “In the absence of a strong and united working class movement after the defeat of the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5, anger at Rushdie became a convenient but misplaced target.” It is important to understand what this does not say. It does not say that the attack on the Satanic Verses was a right wing political project based on the most reactionary element in Islamic religious/political thought. For sure, these were able to take root because of the defeat of the working class and the failure of the labour movement to combat the racism of some Northern towns, but this is not the point that Kimber is making. He is saying that, as the SWP have been saying since the early 2000s, that Islamist idea are a form of anti-racist, anti-imperialist with which they can ally. The point heat Kimber appears to be making, is that it is “misplaced” anger to stab Rushdie for writing the Satanic Verses, although not perhaps if directed at his politics since then.

    This is a calibrated and very unpleasant piece of political duplicity.

    Jim Denham

    August 15, 2022 at 1:54 pm

    • Salman Rushdie: Iran blames writer and supporters for stabbing

      …on Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani – giving the country’s first official reaction – said Tehran “categorically” denied any link, adding “no-one has the right to accuse the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

      However, he said freedom of speech did not justify Mr Rushdie insulting religion in his writing.

      “In this attack, we do not consider anyone other than Salman Rushdie and his supporters worthy of blame and even condemnation,” the spokesman said during his weekly press conference in Tehran.

      “By insulting the sacred matters of Islam and crossing the red lines of more than 1.5 billion Muslims and all followers of the divine religions, Salman Rushdie has exposed himself to the anger and rage of the people.”


      Andrew Coates

      August 15, 2022 at 3:58 pm

  5. Can’t argue with most of this, but I do think Kimber is right to point out that there was more Islamophilia on the Right back then (as he implies when mentioning the establishment figures who didn’t back Rushdie) – entirely the result of the fact that, a third of a century ago, people in those positions were still mostly wholly pre-rock in their cultural roots, origins and groundings, so more inclined to fellow feeling with the conservative Islamic view of modern culture, whereas today they are wholly steeped in rock music and other aspects of contemporary culture so the entire context is different.

    Interesting stance from the time all things considered: “I don’t really believe in evil anyway. I believe in error. I mean, if somebody killed poor Salman Rushdie, it would be an erroneous, misguided act, a perverted form of religion but not cold-blooded deliberate evil for evil’s sake” – Monica Dickens talking to John Ezard in the Guardian, 23rd May 1989


    August 19, 2022 at 12:16 am

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