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Yasmin Rehman wins secularist of the year award.

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Yasmin Rehman: Secularist of the Year.

A courageous campaigner for human rights against religious intolerance Rehman’s award should be widely welcomed.

It is fitting that she chose her acceptance speech to commend two “personal heroines” comrades Maryman Namazie and Gita Sahgal, who like herself have had to face the hostility of obscurantist bigotry, sexism and ill-judged criticism from some quarters.

It is time that all the left stands with these women.

Yasmin Rehman named Secularist of the Year 2017 (National Secular Society).

The Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year 2017 has been awarded to Yasmin Rehman, the secular campaigner for women’s rights.

Yasmin has spent much of the past two years to get the Government to recognise the dangers faced by ex-Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims from Islamic extremists. She has used her own home as a shelter for women at risk of domestic abuse.

Accepting the prize, Yasmin Rehman thanked the Society for recognising her work and said she was “incredibly humbled” to be nominated among other figures who were “personal heroines.”

She said there were two women, Maryman Namazie and Gita Sahgal, whom she couldn’t have campaigned without, and that she was “honoured” to stand beside them.

Secularism was not opposed to faith, she said, before describing how she had been shut down as ‘Islamophobic’ and “racist” despite being a Muslim herself. There is anti-Muslim sentiment in society, she said, but ‘Islamophobia’ was being used to silence and curtail speech.

Yasmin said she didn’t know if she could ever go back to Pakistan because of her work in the UK, while in the UK it was “impossible” to get funding for secularist work. She asked where women could possibly turn if they faced religiously-justified abuse. Muslim women were left with nothing but religious, sharia arbitration, while faith healing was spreading, with ill women being controlled by male relatives and religious leaders and told to pray instead of seeking medical treatment.

FGM and honour-based violence were being dismissed as “cultural”, while in fact polygamist and temporary marriages were Islamic practises, she said. There is a slippery road from this to child marriage, and there should be “no space” in the UK for these practises.

“Great powers within the community” were holding women back, and low rates of Muslim female employment could not be attributed entirely to discrimination by employers.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “I’m particularly pleased that this afternoon we have a secularist who is also a Muslim to present our prizes. She is living proof that secularism and Muslims can co-exist if given half a chance and co-founded British Muslims for Secular Democracy in 2006.”

Mr Sanderson described how secularism protected the rights of all and said it and democracy were “interdependent”.

Dr Michael Irwin kindly sponsored the £5,000 award. The award was presented by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. She said: “The thing I find interesting and frightening at the moment is when I talk to young Muslims is how little they understand what secularism means.”

She said the Society’s most important work was in explaining what secularism meant for young people, particularly Muslims, and demonstrate that secularism was not atheism.

She warned of the growth of Muslim “exceptionalism” and that “universalism needs to be promoted.”

The Society was joined at the central London lunch event by previous winners of the prize including Maryam Namazie, who was the inaugural Secularist of the Year back in 2005. Peter Tatchell, who won the prize on 2012 also attended.

Turkish parliamentarian and 2014 Secularist of the Year Safak Pavey was unable to join the Society, but sent a message to attendees: “I wish I could be with you but we have the critical referendum approaching and we are very busy with the campaign. Each and every one of your shortlisted nominees is a very distinguished members of the secular society without borders.

“I wholeheartedly thank all of them for their courageous and precious contributions in defence and support of secularism and congratulate this year’s Secularist while looking forward to work together for our shared cause.”

Mr Sanderson praised her for working in “increasingly dangerous” circumstances to resist the Islamisation of Turkey.

Other campaigners were thanked for their work and Terry singled out Dr Steven Kettell, who was shortlisted for the prize, for his “excellent response” to the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public which had advocated expanding many religious privileges. Mr Sanderson thanked Dr Kettell for pointing out the many injustices that CORAB’s recommendations would have introduced, in his “excellent” report.

Scott Moore, the founder of Let Pupils Choose, was thanked for his campaign work. He said that, as an 18 year old, he had been campaigning for his entire adult life to separate religion and state, after religion was forced on him and taught as “absolute fact” during his childhood. He said the education system in Northern Ireland “robbed” pupils of their religious freedom. “All belief systems should be treated equally, but they are not.”

He was applauded for his hard-fought campaign work and Mr Sanderson said Moore gave him “hope for the future.”

Nominee Houzan Mahmoud spoke powerfully about the important of universal rights and freedoms.

Barry Duke, editor of the Freethinker, was given a lifetime achievement award for his commitment to free speech, LGBT rights and equality and resistance to censorship in apartheid South Africa.

The Society’s volunteer of the year was named, Sven Klinge, and thanked for the many occasions on which he has photographed NSS events.

Yasmin Rehman had been nominated, “for her advocacy of a secularist approach to tackling hate crime and promoting the human rights of women. She said, “I am incredibly honoured and humbled to be included in the list of nominees for this award particularly given the work being done across the world by so many brave and courageous people fighting against the hatred and violence being perpetrated by the religious Right of many faiths.”

Yasmin Rehman is a freelance consultant and doctoral candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her area of research is polygamy and the law. She has worked for more than 20 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights. Yasmin has worked for Local Government, the Metropolitan Police Service as Director of Partnerships and Diversity (2004-08) during which time she also held the Deputy national lead for forced marriage and honour based violence. Yasmin has most recently been commissioned as founding CEO of a race equality charity in East London, followed by Transforming Rehabilitation bid and now reviewing police responses to domestic abuse for national charities. Yasmin is currently member of the Board of EVAW (End Violence Against Women Coalition), an Independent Adviser for City of London Police and a member of the Centre for Secular Space.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 18, 2017 at 5:15 pm

“Affaire Meklat” – Marcelin Deschamps, Racist, Homophobe, Anti-Semitic ‘Voice of the Banlieue.”

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Image result for affaire Mehdi Meklat

Mehdi Meklat “Voice of the Banlieue.”

Mehdi Meklat (more details here), who has written extensively  on Bondy Blog (set up to express “ la diversité ethnique and to be “la voix des quartiers”) who has contributed to France Inter and Arte, is the co-author of the books Burn Out and Minute, has been caught out.

 Meklat was promoted by French left outlets such as Les Inrockuptibles and has appeared on his cover with former Justice Minister  Christiane Taubira. The magazine presented him as the “voice of youth and the Estates, “a new generation from the banlieue.”

Following his latest promotion on the front cover of Les Inrockuptibles it has become public that he is the author of extreme racist, anti-semitic and homophobic – and just plain violent misogynistic gobshite  – on Twitter under the name of his ‘alter ego’, Deschamps (apparently a ‘funny’ play on the conceptual artist , has dominated the French media over the last week. (Affaire des tweets de Mehdi Meklat).

Le Monde devoted an Editorial to the affair (L’affaire Mehdi Meklat, révélatrice de deux sociétés qui ne se rencontrent pas. 22.2.017).

The daily noted the decline of open-minded humanist voices in the banlieue, and the growth of the ‘identitarian extreme-right, both indigenous, around the Front National,  and Islamist, in conditions of mass unemployment and social exclusion. In this instance Meklat revealed a  swelling tide of “la violence rhétorique”. It deplored the tolerance given in social media to far from “anodyne” verbal violence, which, experience showed,  can lead to more dangerous consequences.

More details: Le Monde,  Le chroniqueur Mehdi Meklat rattrapé par ses tweets haineux (21.02.17)

« Faites entrer Hitler pour tuer les juifs » (24 février 2012) ; « Je crache des glaires sur la sale gueule de Charb et tous ceux de Charlie Hebdo » (30 décembre 2012).

(Bring Hitler to kill the Jews. I gob phlegm in the dirty mug of Charb and all the Charlie Hebdo lot.)

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/0*v8Px6yFJQbVlphWg.

AS the re-tweet indicates he has a real problems with women, calling for sodomising them, amongst other vile comments.

The targets, as “Mr Hyde” Deschamps included: « les homos », « les juifs », « Charlie », « les transsexuels », « les Français », « les lesbiennes », « les femmes ».

Particularly women.

He, like many racists, homophobes and ‘left’ apologists for Islamism,  has a particular hatred of gay secularist Caroline Fourest, whom he has accused  of paedophilia.

Image result for Caroline FOurest Mehdi Meklat

Those who promoted this individual are having a hard time explaining this activity, which took place from 2011 to 2015, away.

 

 

The Fake ‘Secularism’ of Marine Le Pen.

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Image result for front national gens de couleur bougnoules

The Front National Has Changed!

Last year Marine Le Pen announced that he would ban “all religious symbols” including kippas, headscarves, veils, burqas and burkinis from public spaces if she is elected president, explaining the move as a “sacrifice” to combat Islamic extremism.”

On Thursday evening Marine le Pen was interviewed on France 2.

A full critical account of her statements is given in le Monde,  Etrangers, décret anti-immigration… Les affirmations trompeuses de Marine Le Pen dans « L’Emission politique »

But this is of special interest.

She reiterated the above commitment, extending the 2010 French law, which prohibits the full-body veil, the Burqa in public to anybody with  such ‘ostentatious’religious symbols or dress.

As many commentators have noted enforcing such legislation would invite a veritable “hunt” for those wearing religious symbols, in the front line, Muslim women wearing a variety of head scarves, veils, not to mention one religious groups that has Kippas…..

But as Jonathan Bouchet-Petersen in today’s Libération observes, (La laïcité de Marine Le Pen s’arrête aux portes de l’école, on the central issue of French secularism, the education system, the école publique, obligatoire, gratuite et laïque, Marine Le Pen strongly backed confessional private schooling. 

That is,

l’enseignement libre hors contrat, qu’elle entend largement favoriser au détriment de l’école publique. Or de quoi s’agit-il ? En premier lieu de l’enseignement catholique tendance Manif pour tous, qui se porte déjà bien, mais aussi des écoles juives, plus ou moins orthodoxes, ou bien sûr des établissements musulmans, plus ou moins salafistes.

Private education without state contracts (and controls)  which she intends to favour to the detriment of public state education. What is this? In the first instance, Catholic schooling, in the (hard line) line of the anti-Gay Marriage movement Manif pour Tous, but equally Jewish schools, more or less orthodox, and, naturally, Muslim institutions, more or less Salafist.

Some ‘secularist’.

This also raised eyebrows today  (Washington Post),

PARIS — French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has vowed to request all people with dual citizenship in France and other countries to choose only one nationality, except for Europeans and Russians.

She said this doesn’t mean foreigners would need to leave the country, explaining they can stay “as long as they respect French laws and values”.

Le Pen said she considers Russia to be part of the “Europe of nations.” In response to a specific question from a reporter on France 2 television Thursday night she said the measure would involve Israel, since it’s not a European country.

This is their Europe of Nations, give or take a degree of exaggeration:  France’s Nationalist Party Has a Plan to Break Up the Euro and Probably Start a New Financial Crisis  Jordan Weissmann (Slate),

Le Pen’s top economic adviser, Bernard Monot, outlined the plan to Bloomberg recently, and reportedly discussed it back in September with a governor from the Bank of France. The plot has three steps:

  1. Le Pen would call a meeting with the EU and ask it to replace the euro with brand-new national currencies. If it balked, France would go it alone.
  2. Le Pen would commandeer the French central bank, ending its independence.
  3. She would print “new French francs” to finance government spending.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the National Front is essentially threatening to suicide-bomb the whole EU monetary system.

At present  indications point to a Le Pen lead in the first round of the coming Presidential election, and a “Macron versus Le Pen” duel in the Second, with Macron the favourite, in the latest opinion polls, to win.

 

Les intentions de vote ne constituent pas une prévision du résultat du scrutin. Elles donnent une indication de l'état des rapports de force et des dynamiques au jour de la réalisation du sondage.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 10, 2017 at 11:52 am

Pakistan’s Missing Bloggers: Back Pakistani Protests.

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Pakistani rights activists hold images of bloggers who have disappeared, during a protest in Lahore on January 12. Photo: AFP

Pakistani Human Rights Protests for Missing Bloggers.  

The families of five missing Pakistani activists denounced what they called a “malicious” social media campaign accusing the men of blasphemy, a highly charged allegation that can have deadly consequences in Pakistan.

The five men had stood against religious intolerance and at times criticized Pakistan’s military. They all vanished within days of each other earlier this month.

No group has claimed responsibility for their abduction and security agencies have denied involvement.

Meanwhile, the blasphemy accusations against the activists have been multiplying on Facebook and Twitter, triggering a flood of threats.

More here.

Pakistanis active on social media were drawn to a poem written by Haider and published last July in Tanqeed (criticism), an e-zine he co-edits:

Right now the friends of my friends are being ‘disappeared’

Soon it will be my friends’ turn

And then mine …

When I become the file

That my father will bring to court hearings

Or the picture that my son will kiss when asked by a journalist

This sad story has yet to come to a conclusion.

Disappeared: Silencing Pakistan’s activists Al Jazeera.

Rights groups say blasphemy allegations against disappeared activists aim to silent dissent for good.

The issue of enforced disappearances is not new for Pakistan. Rights activists allege that there are thousands of people who have been “disappeared” by the state, with some allegedly killed while in custody. In December, the government’s Commission on Enforced Disappearances reported that the dead bodies of 936 missing persons had been found in Balochistan province alone since 2011.

The government denies any wrongdoing, and, in the case of the five activists currently missing, the interior ministry says it is “making every possible effort for [their] safe recovery”, according to a statement.

Now, however, these activists and citizens, as well as those calling for their release, face an even greater danger: They are being accused of blasphemy – a crime that carries a judicial death sentence and, increasingly commonly, the threat of extrajudicial murder by right-wing vigilantes.

Weaponising blasphemy’

“These [Facebook] pages … are extremely insulting to the Prophet, the Quran, Allah and Islam. They have made a joke out of this,” said Abdullah Cheema, a guest on a popular television news show on January 12. Cheema accused Goraya of running the Facebook pages in question, a charge denied by the activist’s family.

“Speaking in support of such criminals is a crime in itself,” said Cheema, while being encouraged by Orya Maqbool Jan, the show’s host and a well-known newspaper columnist.

“These blasphemers who they have captured, whoever has captured them, may Allah bless those people,” said Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a well-known Muslim leader in a sermon uploaded to YouTube on Jan 13.

“The bloggers’ disappearance is its own issue. They should definitely be produced, but no one should try and hide their crimes, and their crimes are so heinous that no one should … say that they suffered injustice,” said Aamir Liaquat, one of Pakistan’s most well-known talk show hosts on January 16.

Meanwhile, Facebook pages known for posting material in favour of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have also taken up the cry.

“The group of atheists committing blasphemy on Facebook … have been defeated,” said a recent post by Pakistan Defence, a pro-military Facebook page that has 7.5 million likes and is run by anonymous administrators.

Insulting Islam’s prophet carries the death sentence in Pakistan, while defiling the Quran carries a life sentence. Blasphemy accusations have often been used to target minorities and to settle personal scores, rights groups say. Currently, there are 40 people on death row or serving life sentences for the crime in Pakistan, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

More worryingly, at least 68 people linked to blasphemy accusations have been killed by vigilantes or mobs since 1990, according a tally maintained by Al Jazeera. They have included those accused of blasphemy, their lawyers, their relatives, judges hearing their cases and members of their communities (PDF).

“Anyone even accused of blasphemy practically carries a death sentence even if they are [released],” says Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), expressing her organisation’s “alarm” at the accusations being levelled at both the disappeared and those campaigning for their release.

Gul Bukhari, a Lahore-based rights activist, sees the campaign of accusations as aimed at silencing the campaign for the five men to be recovered.

Human Rights Watch.

The Pakistani government should urgently investigate the apparent abductions of four activists who campaign for human rights and religious freedom, Human Rights Watch said today. The four men, Salman Haider, a well-known poet and academic, and bloggers Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, and Ahmad Raza Naseer, went missing or were taken away from different cities between January 4 and January 7, 2017.

All four men were vocal critics of militant religious groups and Pakistan’s military establishment, and used the internet to disseminate their views. Their near simultaneous disappearance and the government’s shutting down of their websites and blogs raises grave concerns of government involvement. While the Pakistani interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, directed the police on January 7 to speed up efforts to locate Haider, whom the government says it is not holding, a broader effort is needed to uncover the whereabouts and well-being of all four men.

“The Pakistani government has an immediate obligation to locate the four missing human rights activists and act to ensure their safety,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The nature of these apparent abductions puts the Nawaz Sharif government on notice that it can either be part of the solution or it will be held responsible for its role in the problem.”

Written by Andrew Coates

January 26, 2017 at 11:59 am

Brexit “Demands”, People’s Assembly.

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People’s Assembly Debates Consequences of Brexit.

Before the Referendum the left advocates of a vote to leave had no words too harsh for the European Union (EU). Setting their intellectual framework Perry Anderson in 2009 asserted that it had established a “semi-catallaxy”, a “far from perfect Hayekian order”, that is a willed “spontaneous” free market far from popular control, with a “dense web of directives and often dubious prebends”. It was a “deputy empire” to the United States. The 2008 Banking crisis, austerity, tightened in the Euro-zone to mean a block on any attempts, as Greece saw, to offer alternative policies, it has become the institutional embodiment of ‘neo-liberalism’. The EU was remote not just from left politics, but from the peoples of Europe Put crudely, as Tariq Ali so often does, voting to Leave would mean giving a kick up the backside to all that. (1)

Counterfire, the principal force in the shrunken People’s Assembly, listed a version of this account. The central reasons to vote Leave were: it would strengthen the position of all those fighting austerity in Europe, especially the south; It would protect the next Labour government from challenges to reform under European law; The British, European and US ruling classes all want us to “stay”; The EU is turning into Fortress Europe; Brexit would mess up the Tories for a generation. (Five Reasons to Leave the EU. 2005)

The ‘predictions’ in this list have all been proved false.

Brexit has not strengthened any European force apart from the ‘Sovereigntist’ far right in countries such as France and Germany. The Front National now sees the assertion of national sovereignty, including protectionism, as a realistic strategy. For them it proves that the ‘nation’, the ‘people’ can assert itself against the EU.

Brexit has not ‘messed up’ the Tories who have discovered unity around their own version of Sovereigntism, bringing ‘control’ back to the ‘people’ ‘Hard Brexit’.

The American ruling class, at least the in the ungainly shape of Donald Trump, has enthusiastically welcomed Brexit.

Whether or not Parliament will be free from potential European threats to a Labour government’s plans remains to be seen: an “open” Britain will be submitted directly to the rules of the international market for the immediate future.

Fortress Europe, that is the policy of controlling settlement but allowing millions to gain refugee to the Continent, continues. Brexit has now introduced the issue of further barriers, this time against migrant labour entering Britain.

Counterfire.

Counterfire, whose Lindsey German is also a leader of the Stop the War Coalition, as well as the People’s Assembly, has made the issue of Islamophobia central to their politics. In their view the central aspect of racism in Europe today is hostility to Muslims. Their role, like that of their original group, the Socialist Workers Party, has been not only to defend – to cite Anderson again – the religious “protective shell of uprooted and vulnerable communities”. They have also seen in radical Islamism the potential seeds of ‘anti-imperialist’ revolt, in which the “struggle” would remove the outward garb of faith. (2)

There is little doubt that as Perry Anderson noted in the book cited above, Christopher Caldwell’s prediction that there would be deep conflicts over the existence of large Islamic communities in Europe would come about has been borne out. (Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. 2009) That this immigration was, “less manageable and less soluble than any that had come before it.” But was this the central aspect of what Perry Anderson called a “process of disintegration”, the result of mass immigration for economic reasons that just “happened” without popular consent? And what should the left’s response be? (3)

The progressive way is to respect diversity but to promote secularism. Counterfire and the SWP have refused to support liberal secular currents within Muslim Communities. Like the Orientalists they abhor they consider the ‘timeless’ nature of Islamic culture is a source of revolt, or reaction. For this fraction of the left, the brave individuals from a Muslim background, and the hundreds of thousands who support those who challenge the ‘conservative’ (a polite way of saying reactionary) leadership of the ‘community’ and the Salafist outriders are simply aping Western liberalism.

Yet, when the same forces are involved in the much wider alliances that include democratic groups fighting the ‘anti-imperialist’ regime of Bashir Assad, the same ‘eternal’ logic pushes a substantial number of the Stop the War Coalition’s supporters, not to say the Morning Star, to lump the lot onto the side of reaction.

Double standards barely covers this.

From Fortress Europe to British Castle.

Yet is European racism focused on prejudice against ‘Muslims’? Leaving aside the growth in anti-Semitism, Brexit has hardened hostility, hatred, towards European migrant workers. This massive fact can be heard every day in workplaces, the street, and the pub – in every social venue. This, only one aspect of the Carnival of Reaction that followed the Brexit vote, now dominates and divides debate on the left.

The suggestion that there should be a “two-tier” migration policy, access for the qualified and better off, no entry for the unskilled, is gaining ground. UNITE has proposed that workers can only be recruited amongst the already unionised or covered by collective agreements.  That “posted workers” under all forms of ‘detached’ arrangements, that is people employed under the terms and conditions that exist in their home countries, should be banned.

Of these suggestions only the latter measures up to the standard of equality. But if people are to be taken on under the same conditions, why does this not apply to recruitment?  Are only the unionised allowed employment in the UK? Perhaps, some might suggest, the unrealistic nature of the UNITE proposal is intentional Assuming that its officers are all too aware of how Agencies take on staff (not to say, reduce them to zero-hour contracts at the employers’ beck and call), one might suspect that this is a call to satisfy those with less noble concerns about the presence of migrants.

No automatic alt text available.

With these, and many other considerations in mind, this is the People’s Assembly’s latest event.

7pm, Thursday 19 January, St Pancras Church, Euston Road, NW1 2BA.

Amelia Womack – Deputy Leader, Green Party

Kevin Courtney – General Secretary, National Union of Teachers

Lindsey German – People’s Assembly 

Malia Bouattia – NUS President

Steve Turner – Assistant General Secretary, UNITE

Alex Gordon – Former President RMT.

This the blurb.

This has been a year full of surprises; the Political landscape is changing at an unprecedented rate. Our new (un-elected) Prime Minster and her cabinet clearly have no real plan. One thing is for sure, if the last 6 years are anything to go by, if the Tories are left to handle Brexit negotiations on their own we’ll see a deal that suits the bankers, the bosses and the corporations. What should we be demanding from the government that means Brexit is negotiated in the interests of the people? However you voted in the EU referendum, we need to put pressure on the Tories to ensure they don’t use Brexit as a way of increasing attacks on the majority, continuing austerity, whipping up racist divisions in our community and scapegoating immigrants.”

 

It is unlikely that those who voted to Remain are in a mood to hear lessons from those who cast their ballots for Leave. That was the act that created the conditions in which these problems were created.  From the deep-rooted hegemony of Tory Sovereigntism, to xenophobia, tricking into the left, there’s a lot more to challenge than  the  “un-elected” (?) Teresa May. “Demanding” may be fine, but having an effect requires a lot more than the politics of demonstrations and mass meetings. And what on earth is this “people” and its “interests”? Perhaps they have passed from the peoples of Europe, to The People..….

Theresa May signals UK on path to ‘ruinous’ hard Brexit  Another Europe is Possible.

Migrants not to blame for UK problems. Support the Alliance for Free Movement.

 

 

 

(1) Pages 541, 543. The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso 2009.

(2) Pages 533 537. Anderson Op cit.

(3) Page 93 Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. Can Europe be the Same with different People in it? Christopher Caldwell. Allen Lane. 2009. Page 534. Anderson op cit.

 

Fillon, Le Pen: Right wing Plague or Right-wing Cholera.

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French Far-Right Hesitates between Marine le Pen and François Fillon.

France 24 reports,

By overwhelmingly backing former prime minister François Fillon, voters in the primary held by France’s centre-right on Sunday opted for an economically liberal, socially conservative candidate whose vision for France leaves little ambiguity.

Any hope rival primary candidate Alain Juppé had of springing a surprise in the Les Républicains party run-off vote failed to come to fruition, with Fillon taking some 66.5 percent of the vote. If Fillon’s strong performance in the first round of voting could be in part attributed to voters merely wanting to shut out Nicolas Sarkozy, his landslide victory over Juppé on Sunday left little room for doubt: Fillon’s firmly right-wing platform had won the firm backing of the conservative electorate.

The “fight between one project and another”, as the more moderate, centrist Juppé had called his showdown with Fillon, had been decided. Despite attacks by Juppé between the two rounds of voting that had depicted him as both “ultra conservative” and “ultra liberal” economically, Fillon had clearly prevailed.

The Guardian columnist    comments,

The Front National leader has reason to fear the Republican candidate, whose views overlap with some of her key ideas.

..

The Front National has reason to fear Fillon. His traditionalist and socially conservative line on family values and “the Christian roots of France”, his emphasis on French national identity, “sovereignty” and “patriotism”, his hard line on immigration and Islam as well as a pro-Putin foreign agenda against “American imperialism” all overlap with some of Le Pen’s key ideas.

This could potentially see Fillon steal some of Le Pen’s most socially conservative voters, particularly rightwing elderly people, who always have a big turnout to vote but remain sceptical about the Front National.

“Fillon presents us with a strategy problem, he’s the most dangerous [candidate] for the Front National,” Marion Maréchal Le Pen, the Catholic and socially conservative Front National MP and niece of Marine Le Pen, told journalists this week.

..

Despite Fillon’s hardline rightwing stances, he is not a populist. “He’s closer to [the former British prime minister] David Cameron than [the Ukip leader] Nigel Farage,” said Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on the French far right.

This leaves Le Pen a wide margin in which to go for Fillon’s jugular as she fights a campaign centred on “the people versus the elite”. The Front National has already begun attacking Fillon as a snobbish, political has-been. It argues thatFillon, as Nicolas Sarkozy’s prime minister, was responsible for the failures of the Sarkozy era and cares more about the rich, globalised elite than the working class who have faced decades of mass unemployment.

The battle will largely focus on economic policy. Fillon has promised a “radical shock” for France with free-market reform, major cuts to public sector jobs and reducing public spending. Le Pen claims to represent the “forgotten” French underclass and has an economic line that is essentially leftwing: she is anti-globalisation and favours protectionism and state intervention. Le Pen’s campaign director, David Rachline, has called Fillon’s programme “economically insane” for wanting to slash 500,000 public sector jobs.

Le Pen’s advisers believe Fillon will struggle to appeal to the lower middle class and working class voters who are afraid of losing their jobs. The Front National has slammed Fillon as a symbol of lawless, ultra-free market, globalised capitalism. Fillon, in return, says Le Pen’s economic project is simply “a cut and paste of the extreme left”.

Some on the French far-right are already moving towards backing Fillon (Le conservatisme affiché de François Fillon séduit à l’extrême droite).

Has the French left any chance?

The Socialists continue to hover between indecision and hesitancy.

This weekend the French Communist Party (PCF)  voted to back Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Presidential bid (Finalement, les communistes soutiennent… Mélenchon. Libération). They supported his candidacy under the banner of la France insoumise  by a slim, at 53,6% for, majority. It is obvious that there was little chance of a the Communists being able to launch their own Presidential challenge. The Party announced its intention of launching their own campaign in support his proposals against austerity. They do not intend to give him ‘carte blanche’ (un blanc-seing).

This follows the decision of the other component of the (now effectively  defunct) Front de gauche, Ensemble, to back Mélenchon, Communiqué du Collectif National d’Ensemble des 19 et 20 novembre 2016)

 That Mélenchon  looks potentially capable of beating a Socialist candidate into fourth place no doubt counts in his favour – although no poll gives him a chance of getting to the run-off.

The reasons for the PCF’s reservations – shared no doubt by many in Ensemble, are not hard to find. Beginning with the personality of the Man of Destiny.

We nevertheless cite a major source of difference which, given the importance of the issue of immigration in the coming contest,  will no doubt grow in importance

 has noted (Guardian),

Despite a steady increase in Euroscepticism in France, the underlying principle of free movement of people across the EU remains broadly undisputed. Apart from in one telling area. There is growing evidence of opposition towards EU migrants and the notion of freedom in what has become known as “social dumping”. This relates to “posted workers”, employees sent by their employer to carry out a service in another EU member state on a temporary basis. Those EU workers do not integrate in the labour market in which they work.

 Hence, “social dumping”, where foreign service providers undercut local service providers because their labour standards are lower (in terms of pay and social protection). Interestingly, the most staggering attack against posted workers has come not from the far right, as one would expect, but from the radical left.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an MEP, a presidential candidate in 2012 and running again in 2017, has singled out posted workers in a speech at the European parliament last July. He declared that “posted workers took the bread out of French workers’ mouths”. Part of the French left was stunned by words that could have easily been uttered by Marine Le Pen.

Meanwhile Jean-Luc Mélenchon  has insulted yet another section of the left. He has attacked the journalist and Latin American specialist  Paulo Paranagua with a series of allegations about his political past in Argentina.  The journalist, the Presidential hopeful  raved, had been objectively Muse of the CIA – no doubt the reason he was captured and tortured for his association with armed resistance to  the 1970s military regimes of the time. Paranagua was only released from an Argentinian gaol and deported to France after an international campaign in his defence.

A protest at these slanders has been launched: “Nous n’acceptons pas de voir notre passé commun insulté par J.L. Mélenchon“. Signatures  include Alain Krivine..

Update, Post Primary Opinion Poll:

None of the left gets more than 13% in opinion polls, Fillon, 26% Marine Le Pen (24%) Emmanuel Macron – Centre (14%) et Jean-Luc Mélenchon (13%), t François Hollande9%, François Bayrou, Centre, à 6%. Ecologists Yannick Jadot and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 3% Far-left Nathalie Arthaud et Philippe Poutou 1% – poll today l’Express.

Comrade Maryam Namazie awarded the Prix de la Laïcité 2016.

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Comrade Maryam Namazie at Paris Hôtel de Ville. 

 was awarded the  2016  Prix International de la Laïcité 2016  on Wednesday (Comité Laïcité République

The Parisian ceremony, hosted by the City Hall (Hôtel de Ville),  was attended by Anne Hidalgo,  Paris Mayor, and Manuel Valls, French Prime Minister (Paris).

“Maryam Namazie, scientifique iranienne et militante de la laïcité et des droits des femmes, a reçu le Prix international pour son action sans relâche. Elle a enthousiasmé le parterre par sa verve, sa fermeté et sa vision universaliste de la laïcité, meilleure protection contre les diktats obscurantistes.” (Communiqué du Comité Laïcité République, CLR)

The Iranian scientist, and activist for human rights and feminism, Maryam Namaziereceived the International Prize in recognition of her tireless, efforts. Her eloquence, her determination, and her universalist vision of secularism – the best protection against the diktats of obscurantism – were greeted by the audience with enthusiasm.

Namazie delivered this address: In Defence of Laïcité: Our Lives Depend on it.

I am truly honoured to have been awarded the International Secularism (Laicite) Prize from the Comité Laïcité République in Paris on 2 November. The wonderful Malek Boutih won the National Prix and Étienne-Émile Baulieu the Scientific Prize for 2016.

Here is my acceptance speech in English.

The French translation, thanks to Marieme Helie Lucas is available here.

Thank you for this wonderful honour. I am so glad to have the support of so many present here, including my husband and son, as well as my Muslim parents.

We live in an age where totalitarianism is masked as divine righteousness, theocrats legitimised, dissent vilified and victims blamed for their own murder.

This is a time where “solidarity” is no longer an act of defending revolutionaries but fascists; where there is always support for Islamist projects like Sharia courts, the burqa, gender segregation, apostasy and blasphemy laws – whether de jure or de facto – but never for those who refuse to be silenced, erased and “disappeared”.

It’s a time when “progressive” all too often means protecting regressive identity politics, which homogenises entire communities and societies, and deems theocrats as the sole legitimate arbiters and gatekeepers of “community” values.

It’s a politics of betrayal – devoid of class struggle and political ideals – which sees any dissent through Islamist eyes and immediately labels it “Islamophobic” and blasphemous.

We are called “aggressive apostates”, “fundamentalist secularists”, “native informants”, “inflammatory”. We are accused of violating the “safe spaces” of Islamists on universities and even “inciting hatred”.

Don’t believe it. That is the Islamist narrative.

In the world today, it is we who are being slaughtered not the other way round.

In their world everyone dies yet we are accused of being “offensive” – as if cartoons and apostasy are worse than murder.

Islamists discriminate against, shun, flog, imprison, terrorise, abduct, and slaughter but somehow it is always the victim whose “provocation” is to blame – whether it’s Charlie Hebdo or Avijit Roy…

Laicite is not a theoretical discussion for ivory tower academics and champagne socialists. It’s a matter of life and death for many of us:
• The likes of Asia Bibi in Pakistan facing execution for blasphemy
• Young ex-Muslims (Islam’s Non Believers) in Britain facing a life-time of shunning
• The likes of Afsana Lachaux whose rights violations in a discriminatory Sharia court in the Middle East have been upheld by French courts due to bilateral agreements
• Human Rights Activist Narges Mohammadi given a 16 year prison sentence for opposing executions; Jafar Azimzadeh sentenced to 11 years for labour organising; or dual nationals used as pawns such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff as well as Siamak and Baquer Namazi in Iran
• Blogger Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for writing about religion and politics and on and on and on…

“Secularism is the solution”, is a graffiti Raif Badawi saw scrawled in a Saudi prison lavatory. Yet we are told that secularism is a neo-colonialist demand by so-called “anti-colonialists” whose worldview always coincides with the ruling elite, including in former colonies, and never the dissenters. Those “anti-fascists” who are only anti-some fascists, some of the time. Those who are “anti-racist” as long as we do not venture outside the pigeonholes that we are meant to live and be buried in; (if we dissent, though, they are at the forefront of insisting on racist cultural relativism and “different” rights for “different” people). The so-called progressives who condemn us to living lives within the confines of Islam whilst the sky has no limits for them…

They cannot begin to understand that no one needs Laicite more than those who live, struggle and die under the boot of the religious-Right.

And this includes the innumerable voting with their very feet and dying as we speak to seek refuge in secular societies, including the women, men and children of Calais, who deserve the basic human right to asylum and protection, not vilification and criminalisation.

And it includes believers. The right to religion must have a corresponding right to be free from religion to have any real meaning.

The historical battle that we are faced with today is not a clash of civilisations as the vile far-Right says in order to promote what is fundamentally white and often Christian identity politics. Rather, it’s a clash between theocrats on the one hand and secularists and universalists on the other – across real or imagined communities, borders and boundaries -and including many Muslims and migrants.

Secularism is not French or Western or Eastern; it’s universal.

It must be unequivocally and unashamedly defended against this era’s totalitarianism.

Today more than ever, we need Laicite and we need it now.

Our very lives depend on it.

Thank you.

We learn that the latest Charlie Hebdo has an account of a meeting with Namazie (“Rencontre avec Maryam Namazie, féministe iranienne et récemment récompensée du prix international de la laïcité par la Mairie de Paris.“).

In Britain comrade Maryam Namazie, of the  Worker-communist Party of Iran and  spokesperson of Fitnah- Movement for Women’s Liberation has not received the recognition that she is due.

Namazie strongly distances herself from far-right anti-Islamic groups, whom she doesn’t regard as allies, but enemies as well. At the World Atheist Conference in Dublin in 2011, referring to the far-right, she said “they are like the Islamists” and that Muslims need equal protection under the law, while she stressed the need to be able to criticise religion.

Despite these clearly expressed views she has been attacked by British obscurantists and their allies,

In September 2015, the students’ union of Warwick University briefly banned her from a forthcoming talk on campus organised by the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists’ Society because of a fear that she might “incite hatred” of the university’s Muslim students. In an interview with the Coventry Telegraphs Simon Gilbert, she was quoted as saying: “It angers me that we’re all put in a little box and that anyone who criticises Islam is labelled racist. It’s not racist, it’s a fundamental right. … The Islamic movement is a movement that slaughters people in the Middle East and Africa. It’s important for us to speak about it and criticise it.” The ban was lifted after a few days.

In December 2015 she gave a talk about blasphemy at the Goldsmiths University in London, sponsored by the university’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society. During her talk, members of the university’s Islamic Society caused a disruption by heckling and switching off her PowerPoint presentation when Namazie displayed a cartoon from the series Jesus and Mo. Namazie asked for the disruptive students to be removed, but security refused to do so.

Wikipedia. 

Glory to Maryam Namazie!