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Stop the War Coalition Confusion on ‘Bombing Syria’.

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Yes, but whose Hands?

The official position of the Stop the War Coalition on UK intervention in Syria could not be clearer,

Syria, Labour party policy, and Russian intervention: Stop the War Statement. Stop the War Coalition  (StWC) 30 September 2015.

Stop the War warmly welcomes the Labour conference vote in opposition to British military intervention in Syria.  It shares the view of conference delegates that this would only risk repeating the dreadful consequences of previous such interventions in Iraq and Libya.

We believe that every possible pressure must be put on Labour MPs to support the Party’s position if and when David Cameron decides to bring the issue to the Commons for a vote.  It is vital that the strong lead given by Jeremy Corbyn in favour of peace and in opposition to western interventionism, now endorsed by conference, be supported by all Labour MPs, whether or not there is a ‘free vote’ on the matter.

Just as Stop the War has criticised US bombing, and the possibility of British intervention, in Syria, so too we cannot support Russian military action.  It remains our view, supported by long history and experience, that external interference has no part to play in resolving the problems in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East.

Only strong, sovereign and representative governments in Syria and Iraq can take the fight to Islamic State and provide a real alternative on the ground to its rule.  External powers should refrain from any direct or indirect military intervention and concentrate instead on assisting a negotiated end to the Syrian civil

They have more recently explained the reasons for this stand,

Syria: Safe Havens and No-Fly Zones

  1. The creation of safe havens or no-fly zones requires the ability to engage in military operations and to take out the enemy’s air defence systems.
  2. Military intervention would risk a military clash with Russia.
  3. Islamic State would not be threatened by a no-fly zone since it lacks an air force. The Assad government and those supporting it can be the only target of such military operations: the goal is regime change.
  4. Previous no-fly zones did not prevent attacks on minorities and endangered populations (e.g. the Iraq government’s attack on the southern March Arabs) but escalated the levels of violence.
  5. The 2011 no-fly zone in Libya helped to create a full-blown war, tens of thousands of casualties, regime change and a collapsed state.
  6. The war in Syria includes a complex combination of actors: the Assad government and Russia, IS, the US and its international and regional allies (including Saudi Arabia, the Free Syrian Army and the local al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front), as well as Kurdish groups (some of which are being attacked by Turkey).
  7. Instead of getting involved militarily in this dangerous quagmire, Britain can provide much greater help to the people of Syria by seriously focusing on humanitarian aid and on helping to facilitate peace talks.

We must expresses scepticism, bearing in mind all of the complexities in Syria involved – not to mention the re-election of the Islamist AKP party in Turkey that there is any such thing as “non-intervention” in present conditions. These forces are involved. The question is what to do with it.

One issue stands out.

If the US (and not, as Counterfire’s leader John Rees once imaginatively suggested, Venezuela) stopped  arming the Kurdish-led Democratic Forces of Syria (the YPG) – which has not had great success but remains the only barrier to the genocidal intentions of Daesh against the Kurds and their allies – where would that leave them?

But to return to the main point.

Andrew Murray is StWC chair, and a  Communist Party of Britain (CPB) member.

On the 19th of October he expressed this judgement,

The only solution to the dreadful civil war which has laid waste to Syria is a negotiated diplomatic end, says Andrew Murray.

The clear need is not for Britain to jump further into this toxic mix. It is for a negotiated diplomatic end to the dreadful civil war which has laid waste to Syria. Ultimately, only the Syrian people can determine their own future political arrangements.

But the foreign powers could assist by all ending their military interventions, open and clandestine, in Syria – ending the bombing and the arming of one side or another.

They should further promote peace by abandoning all the preconditions laid down for negotiations. Such preconditions only serve to prolong the conflict and to give either government or opposition hope that foreign military and diplomatic support could somehow lead to all-out victory.

On the CPB’s site he has added this, (no date),

Our bipartisan armchair strategists are obviously riled by Russia’s escalating military involvement in Syria.  But it is a fact.  What form of military intervention could now be undertaken which would not lead to a clash with Russia they do not say.  Even the head of MI6 has acknowledged that “no-fly zones” are no longer a possibility, unless the NATO powers are prepared to countenance conflict with Moscow.


This is the CPB’s view, expressed on the 14th of October.

In a statement today Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths said:

The Communist Party maintains its opposition to US, NATO and British military intervention in Syria. Whatever the pretext – whether to defeat the barbaric ISIS or to rescue civilian populations – the real aim is clear: to strengthen the anti-Assad terrorist forces (Islamic fundamentalists who have largely displaced the Free Syrian Army ‘moderate opposition’), create areas in which these forces can operate freely (in the guise of ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’) and ultimately to partition Syria and replace the Assad regime with a compliant puppet one.

Russian military forces are now attacking all the anti-Assad terrorists, including Isis, at the invitation of the Damascus government – which has every right to issue such an invitation as the internationally recognised political authority in Syria.

  • Is Andrew Murray saying that his comrades should change their opinion that Russia has “every right” to bomb in Syria?
  • Or is he indicating to the StWC that Vladimir Putin is effectively helping their call for the UK not to get involved?

There is also this, adding to the confused fog;

It is the fashion to show deference to Seamus Milne, such is the man’s elevation, beyond the dreams of say, a mere Malcolm Tucker.

But perhaps on the basis of his expertise on Russia, he can inform us of what’s really going on: A real counterweight to US power is a global necessity. 

Iron grip: Jeremy Corbyn's pro-Kremlin aide Seumas Milne pictured shaking hands with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a propaganda summit in Sochi last year



Written by Andrew Coates

November 4, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Socialist Workers Party Denounces Feminism in London Debate on Fundamentalism for “Islamophobic Stereotypes.”

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Not for Feminists says SWP.

Last weekend this was a panel held during the Feminism in London Conference.

Unlikely Allies: Religious Fundamentalism and the British State.

This session will overturn many long held perceptions about the British state. In its fight against extremism too many institutions have got into bed with fundamentalists and actively promote their narratives. A growing coalition of  secular, left and minority women’s organisations has successfully challenged them Two cases to be discussed are successful campaigns against Universities UK policies permitting gender segregation and the Law Society’s attempt to promote ‘sharia -compliant wills’. These campaigns are part of a global solidarity movement to defend free speech against fundamentalists of all stripes and are seldom reported in the left and liberal press. This session is your chance to hear the left, feminist case for a solidarity movement against fundamentalism and for secularism.  Organised by One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters and the Centre for Secular Space.

With Maryam Namazie, Pragna Patel, Gita Sahgal and Houzan Mahmoud, chaired by Yasmin Rehman.

This is what Socialist Worker had to say on the event – Judith Orr.

Unfortunately the panel and discussion in a session on “fundamentalism” was dominated by Islamophobic stereotypes of Muslims with only a minority of dissenting voices.

There is no mystery why the SWP would dislike a panel featuring comrade Maryam Namazie, whose right to speak at Warwick University as an Iranian humanist and Marxist on a left-wing and secularist critique of Islam and Islamism, was not conspicuously defended by the group.

Nor that comrades Pragna Patel, Gita Saghal, some of the most widely admired grass-roots feminists in the land, who have spent several decades (since 1979) defending women’s rights in Southall Black Sisters, and, (founded 1989), have been part of the inspiring Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF), would raise their hackles.

Here is WAF’s statement,

Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF) was formed in 1989 to challenge the rise of fundamentalism in all religions. Our members include women from many backgrounds and from across the world.

In Britain in recent years fundamentalism has increased its influence in all religions. This has been encouraged by government moves to define complex and diverse communities solely according to ‘faith’, with public funds increasingly being handed out to religious bodies to provide services to ‘their’ communities on behalf of local and central government. WAF believes that this increases the power of religious leaders to discriminate against women and other groups and to exclude or silence dissidents within their own communities.

We believe that public funds should be administered by accountable, democratically elected representatives and not by religious leaders. Only secular institutions with no religious agenda can begin to bring about equality for people of all religions or none.

Houzan Mahmoud would have not found favour either. She is a Kurdish women rights and anti-war activist born in Iraq. She was  the Co-founder of Iraqi Women’s Rights Coalition. She has led an international campaign against Sharia Law and oppression of women in Iraq

 Yasmin Rehman is a secularist Muslim, associated with the Muslim Institute.

For me the Muslim Institute is a beacon of light in what can only be described as a rather depressing landscape for many of us. It is that increasingly rare space for its members to debate, be critical, explore and learn in an open, respectful and most importantly safe space to discuss issues relating to Islam, Muslims and the world at large. It is also a testament to the Institute that it shares its work openly with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I am deeply grateful to all at the Institute for allowing me to be a part of this work and to share in their work.

It must have been deeply galling for the SWP to have to listen to Iranian women, Kurdish women, women with a heritage from the Sub-continent, and critical – free-thinking –  Muslim women.

True secularism is an alliance of these disparate voices – including believers –  for a free public domain.

The contributions of these admirable women to introducing to British public life  – often parochial and inclined to deference to religious figures of all kinds, particularly the part of the left the SWP, and groups originating in their tradition, such as Counterfire,  represents –  are to be welcomed.

Do we need to be reminded that all societies in which the Sharia ‘law’ and Islamism have an influence, let alone are principles of the state, and  political power, are riddled with oppression? That women are amongst the chief victims?

Women’s rights in Iran: Exiled activist reveals how her fight for equality is attracting male support

Heretic, whore, CIA operative – Masih Alinejad has been called all these things, and worse, by the Iranian authorities. What is her crime? Campaigning for equal rights for women in her home country.

Now Ms Alinejad, 39, who was born in the small village of Ghomikola in the north of Iran but was forced into exile and lives in New York, has launched a campaign to get Iranian men to take up the fight in solidarity with their wives.

Growing up, Ms Alinejad would quietly question why she didn’t enjoy the same rights as her brother; but when she began to speak out and criticise her country’s MPs, she was thrown into prison, aged 19 and pregnant.

Upon her release she continued to aggravate the authorities through her work as an investigative journalist before moving to the UK in 2009, and then to the US where she lives with her son, 18, and husband. There, she presents a weekly programme, Tablet, on Voice of America’s Persian language channel which examines issues affecting young Iranians.

Affectionately referred to by her supporters as “Ghomikola Eagle” – a nickname supplied by her husband – the activist has inspired thousands of women to remove their hijabs, thanks to her “My Stealthy Freedom” campaign which she launched last year. The project encourages women to take “stealthy” photographs of themselves without their head covering and send them to Ms Alinejad to post on her Facebook page, which has almost a million followers.

No doubt Masih Alinejad is also full of “Islamophobic stereotypes.”

Written by Andrew Coates

October 31, 2015 at 11:45 am

Is Labour Changing its position to back Military Action in Syria?

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Fighters Against the Genociders of Daesh.

Corbyn signals Labour could back military action in Syria without UN support.

(Hat-tip: PW)

Patrick Wintour. Guardian.

Jeremy Corbyn has signalled for the first time that Labour could support forms of military action in Syria without UN support if Russia blocks a security council resolution.

Taking a more flexible approach to UK military involvement in the Syrian civil war, the new statement urges David Cameron to try again to win support for a new UN resolution allowing military action, and affirms that the party supports the creation of safe zones within Syria to protect Syrians who have had to flee their homes.

In an article in the Guardian on Monday, Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary, rejected the idea of safe havens when proposed by Jo Cox, one of the backbenchers trying to assemble a broader Labour policy on Syria that does not just wait to react to government proposals.

The new positions, an attempt to assert a collective shadow cabinet policy, are laid out in a new article on Comment is Free by the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, and follow a meeting on Tuesday morning between Benn, Corbyn, the shadow lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, the shadow attorney general, Catherine McKinnell, the shadow defence secretary, Maria Eagle, and the shadow chief whip, Rosie Winterton.

In a bid to underline this as the agreed Labour leadership position, Corbyn issued a brief statement, saying: “I met with shadow cabinet colleagues today and Hilary Benn is setting out the position today.”

The new stance, taking into account the unexpected Russian air campaign in Syria in defence of Assad, is also significant since it is the Labour policy with which the prime minister will have to work if he is to build a clear consensus in the Commons for further UK military action as part of a wider diplomatic plan.

At present, Cameron is looking for at least 35 Labour MPs to give cast iron guarantees to vote with him on military action, but Downing Street may feel engaging with Benn’s broader strategy offers a superior route to winning broad Commons agreement for a new approach in Syria.

More has just been published.

Labour could support military action in Syria without UN authorisation.


Hilary Benn has suggested Labour could now support using British military personnel in Syria if Russia blocks a security council resolution.

Labour is shifting its stance and could support military action in Syria without the approval of the United Nations, the shadow foreign secretary has said.

During Labour’s conference in Brighton earlier this month, delegates voted to only support strikes in Syria if there was “clear and unambiguous” UN authorisation.

But in an article for the Guardian, which has been endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn, Hilary Benn has suggested Labour could now support using British military personnel in Syria if Russia blocks a security council resolution.

Mr Benn writes: “On the question of airstrikes against Isil/Daesh in Syria, it should now be possible to get agreement on a UN security council chapter VII resolution given that four of the five permanent members – the USA, France, Britain and Russia – are already taking military action against Isil/Daesh in Iraq or Syria or in both countries.”

Russia would most likely veto a UN resolution, as the Russian president continues to defend its own bombing campaign in Syria and his support for Bashar al-Assad.

He adds: “Of course, we know that any resolution may be vetoed, and in those circumstances we would need to look at the position again.”

Mr Corbyn has backed the change in position, saying: “I met with shadow cabinet colleagues today and Hilary Benn is setting out the position today.”

This marks a huge shift for Mr Corbyn, who has repeatedly outlined his opposition to military action in Syria.

During the leadership contest Mr Corbyn said could not think of “any circumstances” in which he would back the deployment of British troops in Syria.

Speaking in September, he said: “The issue would be we bomb, we kill people, we wouldn’t destroy or defeat ISIS, we probably make the situation considerably worse.

“If that doesn’t work the question is would you put boots on the ground? I don’t think so.”

Number 10 have said there are no plans for an “imminent” vote on Syria, but David Cameron has said he would push for a vote on air strikes in Syria without the Labour leader’s backing.

Mr Benn said: “We have a responsibility to protect people, but in Syria, no one has taken responsibility and no one has been protected. It is the great humanitarian crisis of our age and one of our greatest tests too.

“The way we take any decision will matter a great deal. MPs and others may disagree about what the right thing to do is, but we must never forget that we have a responsibility both to help the Syrian people and protect British citizens.

“Deciding to intervene militarily in another country is one of the most serious decisions parliament can make, but equally, nobody should be in any doubt that inaction is also a decision that will have consequences in Syria.”

It is unclear how British intervention will help the people of Syria.

But with the US and Russia actively involved in the battles, not to mention France, Iran, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, nobody can claim that the country is a normal sovereign state which will be the fresh target of new interference.

Whether or how Labour is changing its stand, given that Guardian Political Editor Patrick Wintour is as much a political ‘player’ (and not for Jeremy Corbyn) as a journalist, is not certain.

Our own position remains, for all its apparent idealism, to stand behind the UNITE Labour Party policy in support of a UN sanctioned attack on Daesh.

If that fails, as these reports indicate, given the immense seriousness of what is at stake, we hope the Labour Shadow Cabinet reaches a reasonable settlement based on the need to destroy the genociders of Daesh and not the Conservative government’s plans, which include concessions to almost as bad Islamists funded by the Saudis and other reactionaries. Another concern is support for Turkish manoeuvres in the region – Erdoğan has shown himself an enemy of democracy.

We would like to see recognition and support for the Kurdish-led Democratic Forces of Syria, which says that it is is a “force for all Syrians, joining Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs and others groups. The Democratic Forces of Syria includes the YPG, various Arab groups including Jaysh al-Thuwwar (Army of Rebels), and an Assyrian Christian group.

A Kurdish militia in northern Syria has joined forces with Arab rebels, and their new alliance has been promised fresh weapon supplies by the United States for an assault on Islamic State forces in Raqqa, a spokesman said on Monday.

The alliance calling itself the Democratic Forces of Syria includes the Kurdish YPG militia and Syrian Arab groups, some of which fought alongside it in a campaign that drove Islamic State from wide areas of northern Syria earlier this year.


We are well aware of all the problems and the complexities of the terrible conditions in Syria.

But support for those democratic groups fighting Daesh is a priority.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 14, 2015 at 11:56 am

There’s something misguided about ‘Concerns’ for Muslims when people try to silence Iranian critics of Islamism.

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The Sharpest ‘Injuries’  –  Words. 

The Guardian Opinion desk Editor David Shariatmadari commented yesterday on the case of Warwick University Students’ Union attempting to ban Maryam Namazie, from addressing a meeting of its Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society.

There’s nothing misguided about the left’s concern for Muslims. David Shariatmadari.

He comments,

Namazie’s supporters two things were very clear: first, this was a direct attack on free speech; second, lefties were once again siding with religious conservatives because of a misguided belief that Muslims, as a minority group, should be protected at any cost.

Shariatmadari starts poorly,

First – was the move to block Namazie’s appearance really an attack on free speech? She should certainly be at liberty to express herself within the law. The Guardian has in the past published her work. But does the withdrawal of an invitation really amount to censorship? Her words have not been banned, the state has not gagged her. Is Namazie’s capacity to share her ideas diminished if she doesn’t appear in front of 50-odd students? After all, she can still tweet and blog, as she showed over the weekend. If anything, the whole episode has increased her audience.

So, Warwick University SU’s decision was small beer.

The state has not banned her.

Namazie, can still speak. She can write, go on Facebook, she can tweet.  She can mumble to the wind.

No need for secularist uproar.

“All we’re really seeing is one student body’s messy weighing up of which values it wants to endorse, and which it wants to reject – and exercising its own right of free expression to make that choice.”

But until the SU reversed the decision she could not address the Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society. That is the province of the SU who can decide, or not decide, if her speech is acceptable to them.

And they – as he indicates, have some reason to be wary, then they can tell their student members what they can and cannot listen to.

Shariatmadari makes clear there were reasons for the Students’ Union to be worried.

That leads us to a second point: what motivated those who didn’t want the event to go ahead? Were they really “kowtowing to Islamists”? Namazie is often described as a secularist, championing enlightenment values and defending the rights of women against conservative religious ideology. These are positions that most progressives would find it easy to get behind. But the way Namazie articulates her arguments might give them pause.

Indeed, he continues, the Guardians of what or what not Warwick students should be allowed to hear at their meetings, were right to pause.

At the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in 2011, she set out her stall as an equal-opportunity critic of religious belief. “In my opinion, all religion is bad for you. Religion should come with a health warning, like cigarettes: religion kills.”

However, she does regard Islam as a special case. She believes it is defined by the concept of “inquisition”. She contrasts it with Christianity, arguing that “a religion that has been reined in by the Enlightenment is very different from one that is spearheading an inquisition.” This would seem to hold out some hope for the “Reformation” of Islam. (Personally I feel that the analogy with 16th-century Europe is flawed. It misrepresents the nature of hierarchy in Islam, as well as being anachronistic.) And yet at the same time, Namazie denies the possibility of change and evolution.

She says that “under an inquisition things like ‘Islamic feminism’, ‘liberal interpretations of Islam’ – these are all in quotes for me – ‘Islamic reformism’ … are impossible. A personal religion is impossible under an inquisition.”

One might at this point note that comrade Namazie is Iranian ( Shariatmadari is proud to signal in his own background, that “My 90-something uncle, whom I’ve met three times, was a religious nationalist politician in Iran, but I was brought up in a secular household.).

Perhaps he has also met modern Iranian secularists. Perhaps he has heard about the censorship, the religious ‘legality’ of Iran, the repression, the torture, the gaol sentences for Namazie’s comrades, and the deaths of the beloved martyrs for secularism and the left, under the Islamist theocracy.

No. Shariatmadari goes to what he considers is the quick.

So, at a stroke, she denies the agency of all would-be Muslim reformers, Muslim feminists in particular. She undermines those imams and scholars who do preach a liberal, open version of Islam. She appears to think that Muslims with non-judgmental views about sex and sexuality are kidding themselves. In fact, she speaks as though she would actually like to shut down debate in these areas. At one point she quotes the Iranian political activist Mansoor Hekmat: “This is the religion of death.”

Hekmat is the author of many works on Marxism and Islamism, which have had a deep impact on the international left (see Wikipedia). He was the founder of the Iranian Worker Communist party.

This the article referred to, by comrade Hekmat said about Islamism, in fuller form, and not the Guardian’s abbreviated version.

Islam and De-Islamisation

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.

What does this imply for free speech?

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.

Given the action of Daesh, shown last night on Channel Four News training children to slaughter, one can’t help feeling that comrade Hekmat had a point – whatever we think about the details of the politics of the Workers-Communist Parties.

What kind of “respect” should we show these Islamists?

Freedom of speech does not mean deference or pandering to the intolerable.

By contrast, this is what Shariatmadari considers important.

What might lead people to decide they’d rather not give a platform to such rhetoric? Recognising the pressure British Muslims are under – surveilled by the state, victims of verbal abuse, vandalism and arson – could it be that some students felt welcoming a person who believes Islam is incompatible with modern life would be wrong?

He consdiers that many would not wish to live in a society ruled by Islamic values – glossing over the fact that even many moderate Muslims believe in some version of Shariah ‘law’ which by its very principle is a discriminatory – against Women, against non-believers – and is the rule of God, not of Democracy.

No, this is what matters,

However, the fact remains: at this historical moment, in this country, Muslims are subject to greater demonisation than almost anyone else. Absolutists may not like it, but this power imbalance must enter into the calculation.

So an Iranian woman whose views on Islamism stem from the experience of actually existing Islamic counties, contributes to those who wish to “insult and injure” Moslems.

How does this enter the calculation of the “power balance”?

He notices that,

We are lucky to live in a pluralist democracy, with freedom of choice in politics and religion. These are things we should cherish, but they are not in any serious danger. Were they really threatened – by the emergence of a theocracy, by the drafting of racist or misogynist laws – the left would oppose that with every sinew. I hope that more citizens in Muslim-majority countries can one day enjoy the level of political and social freedom that we do, and I support the men and women who try to bring that about.

But in the meantime it’s okay to call a halt to those who wish to insult “injure” (with no doubt the shparest of weapons – words), Islam.

Earlier this year Shariatmadari expressed great concern about the word “terrorism”.

Modern “terrorism” has the peculiar property that it relies on its enemies to grant it victory – and why not have a special word for that? Why not use it to describe the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which, in my view, fall into that category?

But the word itself casts a shadow of fear. Politicians deploy it to justify illiberal measures. The panic it evokes ramps up prejudice against minorities. It is even used to win support for wars. Wielded carefully, “terrorist” could still make sense, à la Fromkin. Used to frighten, cajole or slander, it’s one of the most toxic words of our times.

No doubt he will feel equal concern at those of the description of Iran, and all states whose ‘laws’ are based on the Shariah as  theocratic monsters.

No doubt he will point to liberal elements in their regimes and the need for careful language.

And no doubt he will wince at those of us who call Daesh genociders.

Tough: that’s freedom of speech. 

Stop the War Coalition Confusion on the Labour Motion to Back UN authorised Bombing of Islamic State.

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Stop the War Coalition: No intervention against Daesh.

First the bald assertion.

The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) notes that the Labour Party voted against British intervention in Syria, in present conditions.

Stop the War warmly welcomes the Labour conference vote in opposition to British military intervention in Syria.  It shares the view of conference delegates that this would only risk repeating the dreadful consequences of previous such interventions in Iraq and Libya.

We believe that every possible pressure must be put on Labour MPs to support the Party’s position if and when David Cameron decides to bring the issue to the Commons for a vote.  It is vital that the strong lead given by Jeremy Corbyn in favour of peace and in opposition to western interventionism, now endorsed by conference, be supported by all Labour MPs, whether or not there is a ‘free vote’ on the matter.

Just as Stop the War has criticised US bombing, and the possibility of British intervention, in Syria, so too we cannot support Russian military action.  It remains our view, supported by long history and experience, that external interference has no part to play in resolving the problems in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East.

Only strong, sovereign and representative governments in Syria and Iraq can take the fight to Islamic State and provide a real alternative on the ground to its rule.  External powers should refrain from any direct or indirect military intervention and concentrate instead on assisting a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war, which would be a step in that direction.

Stop the War Coalition.

Next, this is what the motion says,

Conference believes the Parliamentary Labour Party should oppose any such extension unless the following conditions are met:

  1. Clear and unambiguous authorisation for such a bombing campaign from the United Nations;
  2. A comprehensive European Union-wide plan is in place to provide humanitarian assistance to the increased number of refugees that even more widespread bombing can be expected to lead to;
  3. Such bombing is exclusively directed at military targets directly associated with ‘Islamic State’ and is not aimed at securing regime change in Syria, noting that if the bombing campaign advocated by the British government in 2013 had not been blocked by the PLP under Ed Miliband’s leadership,  ‘Islamic State’ forces might now be in control of far more Syrian territory, including Damascus.
  4. Any military action is subordinated to international diplomatic efforts, including the main regional powers, to bring the Syrian civil war to an end, since only a broadly-based and sovereign Syrian government can ultimately retake territory currently controlled by ‘Islamic State’.

The motion is clearly opposed to British intervention, off its own back, in Syria.

But it equally gives forthright backing for bombing if given the go-ahead by the UN.

It therefore is the case that delegates did not vote against all intervention in Syria.

Finally, what does the StWC think of UN authorised bombing?

Here is their answer:

With or without UN agreement, bombing Syria by Russia or UK should be opposed. Lindsey German

Stop the War would oppose UK military intervention with or without a UN resolution (look at the consequences of UN authorised wars in Afghanistan and Libya).

Here is German’s organisation, Counterfire, publishing the StWC’s plans on the strategy to follow:

A plan of action: stopping the bombing of Syria

The main task must be to extend the enthusiasm and energy generated by his campaigning over the past months into every local community, workplace and college.

The more people are actively engaged in the campaign to stop the drive to war in Syria, and in the anti-austerity movement, the more we will be defending Jeremy Corbyn under such relentless attack.

How can we do this?

For the anti-war movement, we need to get onto the streets in every area and onto campuses with leaflets, petitions, posters, badges, etc, drawing people into an ever-widening network of activists for peace.

We need to re-invigorate local anti-war groups and start new groups where none exist. While organising locally, the untimate focus will be on parliament and the need to break the consensus that always takes Britain into disastrous wars on the coat tails of the United States.

In 2013, mass pressure on MPs, coupled with the memory of Tony Blair’s catastrophic war on Iraq, delivered an unprecedented defeat for the government, as David Cameron tried to bounce parliament into supporting the bombing of Syria’s Assad regime.

Now Cameron hope that by switching the target to ISIS, he can reverse that defeat and take the UK into yet another pointless war that will serve no purpose, other than to create more death and chao, and drive more refugees to flee the war zone.

We need to implement immediately a comprehensive lobbying of MPs…


A plan of action: the anti-austerity movement

Stop the War has always contrasted the vast government expenditure on the military and weapons of mass destruction, and the draconian austerity cuts to public and welfare services. Billions are spent on the UK war machine at the same time that brutal cuts in benefits are driving some desperate victims to suicide.

The protests at the Conservative Party conference from 3 October will help shape the political landscape over the next months. Tens of thousands will be protesting there, not just on the opening day – 4 October – but for the whole week. The anti-war message needs to be heard loud and clear by the movement, by the media and by the politicians.

Time is tight — the flashpoints are imminent, and we need to act now.

Within a few days of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader over 120 new members joined Stop the War Coalition, an indication that the movements that underpinned his victory are recognised as central to defending him.

The stakes are high. With enough pressure from below, David Cameron’s government’s plan to bomb Syria can be defeated for a second time, which would be a long term humiliation for the warmongers.

We also need a big campaign and protest over the scandalous delay in publishing the Iraq war inquiry report, blocked it appears by those — like Tony Blair and Jack Straw — likely to be criticised by Chilcot. With Jeremy Corbyn declaring that Tony Blair should be held to account for alleged war crimes, there is a real prospect that Blair could be driven out of public life once and for all.

Next year parliament will vote on the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons system, at a projected cost of over £100billion. The Campaign for Nuclear disarmament is already mounting a concerted campaign to get MPs to vote against. A huge protest movement before parliament votes will intensify that pressure.

The moment a vote on bombing Syria is announced, Stop the War will call a protest, but the success, the scale, and the impact of that protest depends on what we all do in the next few weeks. Its up to us.

It would seem that the StWC has not the slightest strategy for confronting Deash.

It is unlikely that many will heed this call for ‘revolutionary defeatism’: concentrating their energies on the defeat of British imperialism.

In the process they intend to use the anti-austerity movement to moblise against core parts of Labour and UNITE policy on Syria.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 1, 2015 at 11:19 am

Warwick Students’ Union Backs Down from Denying Free Speech to Maryam Namazie.

with 6 comments

NSS welcomes Warwick Student Union’s decision to allow Maryam Namazie to speak

Posted: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 09:40

The National Secular Society has welcomed Warwick Student Union’s decision to host secular campaigner Maryam Namazie. The Union reversed their ban on her speaking following huge public pressure.

Ms Namazie had been blocked from speaking at a Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society event after the Student Union said the ex-Muslim campaigner could ‘insult’ religion. The SU were also concerned that Namazie, an NSS honorary associate who campaigns for human rights and equality, could ‘incite hatred’.

Informing Ms Namazie of their initial decision to block her, the SU wrote: “There a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus. This is in contravention of our external speaker policy”.

In a frank apology on their website, the SU admitted they had “failed, and failed badly in this case” and promised to “act immediately to examine how that happened, and to it put it right”.

NSS executive director Keith Porteous Wood commented: “We welcome the Student Union’s change of heart and hope their ‘continued commitment to free speech’ is reflected in actions as well as words. Freedom of expression is under growing threat, particularly when it involves discussions surrounding Islam. Every act of appeasement to those intent on closing down debate encourages self-censorship and depletes this freedom further.

“Freedom of expression is not only a pre-requisite for resolving challenging problems but for the functioning of democracy itself.

“The Student Union’s decision has saved it and the University from an escalation of this unfortunate situation and potentially even a legal challenge further down the line.

“While this case has ended in the right outcome, we still have grave concerns about an external speaker policy which says guests on campus must ‘avoid insulting other faiths’. This is extremely broad and open to a wide variety of interpretations, and therefore extremely restrictive to freedom of speech.

“Universities have a legal duty to defend freedom of expression and in our view certain Student Union policies may be working in direct conflict with that duty. This is an issue we hope to discuss with the NUS in the coming weeks.”

Statement from the Students’ Union:

Warwick SU has a process for assessing any potential risks or legal issues associated with any external speaker, and it is now very clear to us that in this case that process has not been followed.  Speaker invitations that may involve such issues are routinely considered by the SU President, who will also take advice from senior SU staff. This did not happen on this occasion. Neither the SU President, nor senior SU staff, were consulted as they should have been. This is a significant error for which there can be no excuse.  There is a great deal that we now must put right, and these are the first steps that we are putting into place:

1) The proper process has now been followed, as it should have been in the first place. The application by the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society for Warwick Students’ Union to host Maryam Namazie as an external speaker has now been considered and approved.

2) The SU is now seeking to meet promptly with the leadership of the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to make the necessary arrangements for the event to take place in the format they have requested.

3) Warwick SU will issue an unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie for this egregious and highly regrettable error.

4) Our process as to how we assess requests to host external speakers is very clear. However, it is also equally clear that how this process is communicated and understood by everyone in the SU who needs to be aware of it has failed, and failed badly in this case. We need to act immediately to examine how that happened, and to it put it right, and we will.

We want to assure everyone of Warwick Students’ Union’s continued commitment to free speech. We also want to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who has expressed concern, or disappointment, or who has been hurt by this significant error and, as we said above, we will be issuing a full and unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie.


This is welcome news.

That there remains a difficulty that will continue in other venues can be seen from the reaction of some ‘leftists’ who tried to cast doubt on Maryam Namazie’s politics – as if that were the criterion to give or to deny people free speech.

There is little doubt that the malevolent legacy of the kind of approach advocated by the former site Islamophobia Watch and its Master, Bob Pitt, who took it upon himself to wage war on left-wing opponents of Islamism, can be felt at work here.

To this way of thinking strong criticism of Islam, and above all, attacks on the politics based on the Qu’ran, are intrinsically Islamophobic.

Whether we agree with the Hekmartists’ (Mansoor Hekmat (منصور حکمت; June 4, 1951 – July 4, 2002) political practice, or their detailed ideas, or not, there is little doubt that Islamism is a major problem.

The views of people who have direct experience of it as a tyrannical ideology of states like Iran (Namazie’s country of origin), are of great importance.

In this respect secularism is just a matter of defending free-speech and the freedom of the state from rule by one faith: it is a call for material liberty. 

Furthermore this is not just something happening far away:  The ex-Muslim Britons who are persecuted for being atheists  28 September 2015 BBC.

An investigation for the BBC has found evidence of young people suffering threats, intimidation, being ostracised by their communities and, in some cases, encountering serious physical abuse when they told their families they were no longer Muslims.

There are also local councils that seem to have little awareness of the issue or any policy on how to protect these vulnerable young people.

There are no official statistics on apostasy in British Islam, and only a few academic studies based on a tiny handful of individual cases.

But growing numbers of ex-Muslims are sharing their experiences on online forums. Coming out as a non-believer at an age when young people of all backgrounds can rebel over relationships and cultural expectations means it’s often hard to identify religion as a factor.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 28, 2015 at 10:56 am

Warwick University Student Union Bans Feminist, Marxist, Secularist Maryam Namazie.

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Comrade Maryam: Banned for being a Feminist, Secularist and Marxist. 

A prominent secularist and activist has been barred from speaking at a student union event due to fears her speech would “incite hatred” against Muslim students.

Reports the Independent.

Maryam Namazie had been booked by the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists (WASH) group to speak about secularism to Warwick University’s Student Union on 28 October.

However, the group was notified last month that Ms Namazie’s speech had been cancelled. The decision has led campaigners to raise concerns about student bodies across the UK thwarting freedom of speech on their campuses.

The union said that “after researching both [Ms Namazie] and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised. We have a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus”.

Articles written by Ms Namazie indicated she was “highly inflammatory” and “could incite hatred on campus”, according to the union.

Ms Namazie, who fled Iran with her family in 1980 after the revolution, said she was likely to have spoken about apostasy, blasphemy and nudity in the age of Isis. She told The Independent she was “angry” her talk had been blocked.

“They’re basically labelling me a racist and an extremist for speaking out against Islam and Islamism,” she said.

“If people like me who fled an Islamist regime can’t speak out about my opposition to the far-right Islamic movement, if I can’t criticise Islam… that leaves very [few] options for me as a dissenter because the only thing I have is my freedom of expression.

“If anyone is inciting hatred, it’s the Islamists who are threatening people like me just for deciding we want to be atheist, just because we don’t want to toe the line.”

Ms Namazie, who considers herself an anti-racist campaigner, added: “To try to censor me, does a double disservice to those people who are dissenting by denying people like me the only opportunity we have to speak.”

This really sticks in the craw:

Isaac Leigh, president of Warwick Student Union said: “The initial decision was made for the right of Muslim students not to feel intimidated or discriminated against on their university campus… rather than in the interest of suppressing free speech.”

“A final decision on this issue will be reached by the most senior members of the Student Union in coming days,” he said.

Ms Namazie hoped her talk would be rescheduled.

Comrade Namazie is respected not just in secularist and human rights circles but widely on the international left.

As editor for the Worker-communist Review, Maryam Namazie is a Central Committee member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran. She advocates ideas inspired by Workerist Communism, especially those of the Iranian theorist Mansoor Hekmat.

She is strongly feminist.

Maryam Namazie is also the spokesperson of Fitnah- Movement for Women’s Liberation, a protest movement which is, according to their website, “demanding freedom, equality, and secularism and calling for an end to misogynist cultural, religious and moral laws and customs, compulsory veiling, sex apartheid, sex trafficking, and violence against women.”

According to Namazie, the name of the movement comes from ahadith, or a saying from Islamic prophet Muhammad, which in her opinion portrays women as a source of harm and affliction. She explains that even though the term is generally perceived as negative, the fact that women who are called fitnah are those who “are disobedient, who transgress the norms, who refuse, who resist, who revolt, who won’t submit” makes it suited for a women’s liberation movement.She has explained that the creation of the movement was sparked by contemporary movements and revolutions around the world, especially those in the Middle East and North Africa, although she emphasizes Fitnah has global relevance.

It is not hard to see that an uppity Iranian feminist secularist and Marxist might indeed offend religious bigots.

In this light one can only describe the decision of Warwick University Student Union – my own former student union – as a deep deep stain.

Comrade Marayam’s own Blog: here.

More in the Guardian.

Petition: Allow Maryam Namazie to speak at The University of Warwick.

More from the comrades at Shiraz here.

Benjamin David (President of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists) has published a response on the student union’s website.

Dear supporters

As President of WASH, I feel that it is important that I comment about the recent controversy regarding the decision taken by The University of Warwick’s Student Union to prohibit Maryam Namazie from speaking on campus. For those unfamiliar with Maryam, she is a secularist, a human-rights campaigner, and leader of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain – as well as being a friend of mine.

After submitting a guest-speaker application to the SU, I received the following response explaining their decision to bar Maryam:

…after researching both her and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised. We have a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus.

There a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus. This is in contravention of our external speaker policy:

*must not incite hatred, violence or call for the breaking of the law

*are not permitted to encourage, glorify or promote any acts of terrorism including individuals, groups or organisations that support such acts

*must not spread hatred and intolerance in the community and thus aid in disrupting social and community harmony

*must seek to avoid insulting other faiths or groups, within a framework of positive debate and challenge

*are not permitted to raise or gather funds for any external organisation or cause without express permission of the trustees.

In addition to this, there are concerns that if we place conditions on her attendance (such as making it a member only event and having security in attendance, asking for a transcript of what she intends to say, recording the speech) she will refuse to abide by these terms as she did for Trinity College Dublin:


As a student of the University, I must confess that I cannot but help feel an element of embarrassment – as well as feeling that my society has been vitiated in light of the encroachment on the strong secular and free-speech principles that the society espouses. We have appealed the decision and we will submit a further post detailing the outcome in due course. The restriction of free-thought and non-violent free-speech is the most dangerous of all subversions, a subversion that is only amplified in light of the fact that Maryam has always campaigned against violence and discrimination and has done so passionately for many years – something that should have been taken on board when the SU’s assessment was made. Maryam often describes the true facts concerning her own experiences and those of people she works with in relation to radical forms of Islam – not all forms of Islam, just those pernicious, radical strands of the religion – things that most peaceful Muslims would also condemn. I must profess that if those facts are an incitement of hatred – which I most definitely believe they are not – then the solution is to change the way people are treated in certain faith communities, not to insist Maryam lie about her life through censorship. As Maryam stated in her blog:

“The Student Union seems to lack an understanding of the difference between criticising religion, an idea, or a far-Right political movement on the one hand and attacking and inciting hate against people on the other. Inciting hatred is what the Islamists do; I and my organisation challenge them and defend the rights of ex-Muslims, Muslims and others to dissent.”

And, what is more:

“The Student Union position is of course nothing new. It is the predominant post-modernist “Left” point of view that conflates Islam, Muslims and Islamists, homogenises the “Muslim community”, thinks believers are one and the same as the religious-Right and sides with the Islamist narrative against its many dissenters […]This type of politics denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ justifies the suppression of women’s rights, freedoms and equality under the guise of respect for other ‘cultures’ imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the religious-Right. In this type of politics, the oppressor is victim, the oppressed are perpetrators of “hatred”, and any criticism is racist.”

The infringement of free-speech is becoming insidiously ubiquitous, and many universities, including The University of Warwick, are circumventing the freedom of speech in pursuit of inoffensive, sanitary narratives. As many of those at Warwick University know, few universities have sullied its free-speech as much as our university has. Spiked-Online’s ‘University Free-Speech Rankings‘ recently imputed the university with their infamous red-ranking, stating that:

“The University of Warwick and Warwick Students’ Union collectively create a hostile environment for free speech. The university, which has received an Amber ranking, restricts material that is ‘likely to cause offence’. The students’ union, which has received a Red ranking, has instituted bans on the Sun and theDaily Star, launched a campaign to have ‘offensive’ wallpaper in a local bar removed and banned ‘prejudiced’ entertainers from performing in the union. Due to the severity of the students’ union’s actions, the institution’s overall ranking is Red” 

I believe that we at the University of Warwick need to come together, as secularists, as students, revering the intellectual suffusion of ideas and dialectics, to construct a truly formidable voice of opposition for the sake of those beloved principles that we promote. Lest we forget: “censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship” – George Bernard Shaw

Benjamin David

(President of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists).

Written by Andrew Coates

September 26, 2015 at 11:16 am