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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

Un Silence Religieux. La Gauche Face au Djihadisme. Jean Birnbaum. Review Article.

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Un Silence Religieux. La Gauche Face au Djihadisme. Jean Birnbaum. Seuil 2015.

 
“Quand on voudra s’occuper utilement du bonheur des hommes, c’est par les dieux du Ciel que la réforme doit commencer.”

When we wish to carry out some useful work for human happiness, reform will have to begin with the gods in the heavens.

D’ Holbach. Système de la nature. 1777. (1)

The Brussels killings, have “nothing to do with Islam” said the Belgian Muslim on Sky News on Saturday. Amongst the disarray that follows each atrocity, the dignified quiet of mourning, there is this statement, “It has nothing to do with Islam” – Jean Birnbaum cites the official, the specialist, the columnist, and the academic in France, as across the world. Charlie Hebdo, the Hyper-Cacher, the Bataclan, and now Brussels; the slaughters in the Middle East, North Africa, Nigeria, and so many elsewheres, have nothing to do with Islam. These are, we are informed, acts of terrorism, with ‘causes’, about which the interested will find a very long, very weighty, list. But one is stubbed out: religion, left in silence. Rien-à-voirisme, that is, “nothing to with-ism” is the response. Jihadism has nothing to do with Jihad.

The massacre in Lahore leaves us enveloped in the deepest of silences, the most profound sadness. But we have to listen. Jean Birnbaum asks, by what right does anybody have to deny the religious claims of the Jihadists? If members of Daesh are ever brought to the Hague Tribunal and judged for Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity will the religious doctrines that order their lives and by which they destroy those of others, be ruled inadmissible evidence?

Birnbaum’s Un Silence Religieux is not an essay on the failings of politicians grappling with the need to avoid scapegoating religious minorities. It is not about the generous feelings of people who wish to show respect for the beliefs of Muslims. It is not against those who point out the faulty syllogisms of the hate mongers who assert that ‘all’ Muslims are Islamist Jihadist sympathisers because…they too are Muslims. It is not, to cite a daily reiteration of his point, about the BBC’s official “rien-à-voirisme” labelling the Islamic State “so-called”.

Un Silence Religieux, the Gauche Face au Djihadisme is a dissection of the French left’s failure to tackle the fact of the irruption of Islamic belief in politics and war. His charge is that the majority fail to deal with the power of religious faith, its “autonomous force” in the lives of the Jihadists, reinforced in rituals and in murder. That Islam far from being consigned to the past, is a “universalism” with its own political impact – Islamism – is hard to accept, he argues, for a French left that is incapable to taking religion seriously.

If French left-wingers, intellectuals and activists, are more likely to dismiss faith as reactionary than, say, the English-speaking left, there remain those who take the that there is a form of “rebellion” at work in Islamism, a – distorted – projection of social causes. For every reflection on the Middle East and Islamism itself, another immediately jumps out: on Europe’s Islamists, on Europe’s states, on the French Republic, and the Salafism of the housing estates. That is to follow Olivier Roy, an “Islamisation of radicalisation”, (l’islamisation de la radicalité) a ‘nihilist’ and ‘generational revolt by those uninterested in written doctrine. (Le Monde. 30.11.15). To look for the sources in the failings of the French Republic, Western foreign policy, to look everywhere but in religion, In short, to explain away the fact of faith, that “day after day” by prayer and ceremonies guides the Jihadists, animated by the “récits mythiques et les formes symboliques” that “orientent leur esprit” (Page 31).

For Birnbaum this “community of fate” is the only ideal in the world for which young people by tens of thousands are willing to risk their lives, “le combat en faveur du rétablissement du ‘califat.” (Page 186) That claim, for all the elegance, clarity and passions he puts into this landmark essay, as they say, se discute – that is, it is very very debatable.

Un Silence Religieux traces the French left’s refusal to come to terms with the force of religion in the anti-colonialist history of North Africa. The minority of the country that stood in support of the struggle for Algerian independence and against the vicious repression of the French state was also marked by a tendency to remain silent about problems posed by the nationalist movement. Above all they treated the central role of Islam as “folklore”, the result of colonial underdevelopment that would disappear in the universalism and third-world socialism of the new society.

Four years after independence, in 1966, Pierre Maillot, closely involved in the conflict and its aftermath, sent an article criticising the Algerian programme of Arabisation and Islamisation to the ‘personalist’ left journal, Esprit. They accepted its truth, but judged it “inopportune” to publish.

Readers of the (colonial) Algerian raised Camus’ condemnation of all forms of blind terrorism, and those familiar with the section of the French left that backed the FLN’s opponents, led by Messali Hadj, and the small circulation writings of those who quickly denounced the new regime’s bureaucratic and repressive turn are familiar with some of the issues. But, as Claude Lanzmann recalls, having been overwhelmed by the necessity to defend the fight for independence against French repression and torture, the majority of the anti-colonial left was not about to denounce the efforts of the independent nation to create a new society.

One result, as Birnbaum states, was that nobody singled out the project that Maillot and a few others tried in vain to signal, the “arabo-islamisme” of the majority of those fighting against the occupiers, and the FLN’s determination to make Islam the centre of national life. Those critical of the new government concentrated their fire on these issues, and the emerging bureaucracy In Socialisme ou Barbarie, Jean François Lyotard warned in 1963 immediately after independence of the economic difficulties facing an underdeveloped country and a regime empty of democratic political life which began with populist slogans, including Ben Bella’s simultaneous railing against “cosmopolitanism” and calls for an Islam freed from “superstition”. Even the anti-totalitarian Claude Lefort, warning in the same year of the dangers of One-Party rule, considered the issue of secularism and Islamism to be a diversion from the economic – agricultural – and social problems of the country. (2)

Birnbaum argues that the legacy of this stand has indelibly marked the French left. The view that Islam is a religion of the “dominated” served to explain away the dominance of religious themes in the anti-imperialist Algerian struggle, to make it seem as if it was vehicle of revolt, and to conceal the autonomous importance of religious fervour. This had a long afterlife. In the 1980s Ahmed Ben Bella, the emblematic figure of the revolution deposed by the 1965 Boumédienne coup, was inspired by the Iranian example and became a fervent Islamist. An Arab nationalist (with all the problems that creates in a country with a strong Berber minority) he came to pronounce that Islamism was the “only authentic revolt against the economic and cultural domination of the West.” (Page 96) Freed from Maghreb detention he put his ideas into action, and, within a few years, founded an Islamist party opposed to the Algerian one-party state. Bella’s former comrades on the French left – and here I am speaking from direct experience – excused the turn. Asked if there was room for atheists in his version of the Islamic society when his template theocracy murdered non-believers it was said that a follower of Das Kapital could be considered one of the People of the Book.

It is hard, however, not to consider that the attitude of the French left towards Islam, like other European lefts, has been influenced by much wider considerations. The Bolsheviks, we learn from the Socialist Workers Party, tried in their early years to win Muslims to socialism. The early Comintern responded favourably to Pan-Islamism, as an anti-imperialist force. No less an authority than J.V. Stalin, supported the fight of the Emir of Afghanistan for independence, since his struggle “weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism.” If Trotsky’s assertion that, “the rule of Islam, of the old prejudices, beliefs and customs ……these will more and more turn to dust and ashes” was not fulfilled the tradition of supporting any movement which saps imperialist power was established. It has endured. If the principle that undergirded the strategy, that all these movements were part of the era of revolutions which would produce, sooner or later, the “transition” to socialism and a communist mode of production, has become threadbare there are still many on the left, in France and across the world, who remain trapped within its premises. (3)

From Foucault to Harman.

In this respect Birnbaum offers two contrasting accounts of the relation between Islam and revolution. The first is a sympathetic (some would say, unduly so) account of Michael Foucault’s writings on the late seventies Iranian Revolution. Foucault, we learn, was struck both by the originality of this revolt, a people united in a “ collective will” without – apparently – a vanguard – and by its originality, that is, its ‘political spirituality”. He remained, Birnbaum assures us, suspicious of “power”.

At the time Maxime Rodinson discerned the potential in the clerics for the totalitarian exercise of that power in the Iranian movement. If he charged Foucault with ignorance about the ambitions already apparent in Islamism, from the Moslem Brotherhood onwards, others have questioned the ‘anti-modernist’ project itself. In a comprehensive study of these writings, Janet Afray and Kevin Anderson (Foucault and the Iranian Revolution. 2005) ask ““Did not a post-structuralist, leftist discourse, which spent all of its energy opposing the secular liberal or authoritarian modem state and its institutions, leave the door wide open to an uncritical stance toward Islamism and other socially retrogressive movements, especially when, as in Iran, they formed a pole of opposition to an authoritarian state and the global political and economic order?” (4)

Foucault was no doubt right about the importance of the Iranian Revolution and its long-lasting effects. The evidence for that legacy is there to read on the left. Alistair Crooke’s claim that “The key event that emerge from the Islamist revolution has been the freeing of thinking from its long tutelage to the tyranny of instrumentalism” may be more muted today. Judith Butler’s claim that the Burka represents a form of oppositional spirituality to the Western gaze, follows Foucault in ignoring the struggle of Iranian feminists against the veil. For Butler the March 1979 enforcement of the Muslim dress code to cries of “You will cover yourselves or be beaten” is invisible as well. Such indeed is the autonomous power of Islamist spiritual ideology. (5)

Birnbaum then delves into Chris Harman’s The Prophet and the Proletariat (1994) for a less exalted view of Islamic revolution. Harman, a leader of the “puissant” (powerful – yes….see Page 148) Socialist Workers Party recognised the importance of the Iranian revolution. A polemic against those who considered the Islamists ‘fascists’., and those who were prepared to directly align themselves with Iran against imperialism, Harman’ account, notably of the Algerian government’s own role in encouraging ‘moderate’ Islamism in the 1970s and early 1980s, indicates the realism of the text. To Harman the class character of diverse Islamist movements, in the petty bourgeoisie, amongst ‘new exploiters’, went without any fascist ambitions to attack the workers’ movement. He noted (see J.V. Stalin, above), “the destabilising effect of the movements on capital’s interests right across the Middle East.” Their main fault in this respect was not being anti-imperialist enough; their petty bourgeois utopia envisaged justice without challenging capitalism.

Harman stated, that this, “utopia” emanating from an impoverished section of the new middle class. As with any

“petty bourgeois utopia” its supporters are, in practice, faced with a choice between heroic but futile attempts to impose it in opposition to those who run existing society, or compromising with them, providing an ideological veneer to continuing oppression and exploitation. It is this that leads inevitably to splits between a radical, terrorist wing of Islamism on the one hand, and a reformist wing on the others. It is also this which leads some of the radicals to switch from using arms to try to bring about a society without “oppressors” to using them to impose “Islamic” forms of behaviour on individuals.“ (6)

In fact what Harman advocated was not a formal alliance with the Islamists ‘against the state’ but – sometimes – being on the “same side” against racism and against (see J.V. Stalin again) against imperialism. Always naturally involving discussion, and exposing the ‘contradictions” of the Islamists’ utopian ideas and trying to win them to “revolutionary socialism.” As Birnbaum observes, this was not only an “optimistic” belief, it also rests on the assumption that the “objective” course of history, the working out of economic laws, favours the socialist left. Given the SWP’s own self-belief in the creation of its party as a “tribune of the people”, is equally, Birnbaum accurately gauges, is tied to the much shakier claim that they would emerge as the principle voice and vehicle for the oppressed.

This is not the place to more than outline the collapse of this attempt to embrace the same constituency as the Islamists. Birnbaum does not cover the grotesque alliance that brought forth the shambles and shame of Respect, a party that claimed to represent ‘Muslims’, and the SWP’s work with its leader, George Galloway, now puttering around on Russia Today, railing against Europe. Nor does he cover the miasma that came from these quarters following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the British Je ne Suis pas Charlie, workshop organised by the ‘anti-racist’ movement, Unite Against Racism, from those who had barely heard of the Hebdo who knew, just knew, that they (and the Hypercacher victims?) had it coming to them. But Un Silence Religieux, well informed as ever, does cover the more limited attempts on the French left, in the shape of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) to reach out to Islam. The admirable Pierre Rousset’s comment that the NPA’s acceptance of a veiled candidate in Avignon that this was (see J.V.Stalin above) an alliance against the “main enemy” and an inability to take religion seriously. And yet, as Rousset has more recently remarked, for the veiled candidate, Ilham Moussaïd, the « le voile incarnait ce projet politique » (7)

These examples would appear to show that anything but the most transient and punctual joint-action between those engaged in politics on the basis of Islam and those engaged in politics as socialists – that is those who derive their principles from the supra-human and those who base them on the world – is bound to run aground. If the British left could oppose the invasion of Iraq in alliance with a variety of forces, including the Liberal Democrats, it is hard to see how this can endure into the Syrian conflict where even the most moderate Islamists have sympathies for …Islamists who wish to create an Islamic – moderate – state. And that is without confronting the issue of secularism in its broadest and weakest sense. No Islamist, by definition, can back the principle of freedom from religion in the running of the public sphere.

Marxism and Religion.

Are there deeper fault-lines within Marxism that have contributed to this failure to come to terms with the religious reality of Islamism? Birnbaum discusses Marx’s conjecture that faith, as an imaginary projection of social relations, will evaporate once a fully transparent, communist society is created. He spends some time on the equally speculative writings on the origin of the religious imaginary in human alienation, despair and hope for the future. The feeling that somehow, at is origin, that Christianity, and – once whispered – Islam was a form of ‘primitive communism’, or at least socialistic, views expressed with some verve by Karl Kautsky and repeated by many, from Rosa Luxemburg, to, Birnbaum discovers, Gramsci, may yet encourage a renewal of that famous “dialogue” between the left and the believers that clearly some hanker after. Knowledge of the exclusive nature of these early communities, not to mention the reign of Mohammed, do not encourage imitation amongst more than small circles. The history of utopian communities is riddled with factionalism and failure. Medieval and other apocalyptic revolts with their mass killings, and hysteria, may also be important moments of early class – peasant – class conflict – but they do not inspire modern supporters of the right not to believe.

But for Islamism that time has long passed. Birnbaum contrasts the hopes for a fully human world that animated the Spanish Internal Volunteers with the Jihadist refrain of Viva la muertre! (Page 213) The social relations that are turned upside down and projected in the visions of death that appear in the jihadist wish for the “end of the world” and a “good death” are perhaps the affair of specialists, who might trace them in Olivier Roy’s nihilism. They do not fit easily into the explanations of those who wish to uncover a Universalist society of equality – a religious utopia in Ernst Bloch’s sense – amongst those attracted to violent Islamism. What we see bears a strong resemblance to another of Foucault’s visions, a disciplinary society based on obsessive regulation of every gesture by the learned interpreters of the Qur’an, or their home-made improvised pretenders. A world in which every form of behaviour, every belief we hold in our hearts under surveillance – by the vice-regents of god – and corrected. Which is ruled by punishment, always punishment. And mortal cruelty. (8)

Birnbaum asks why the enthusiasm for Islam, which has led in the form of Daesh, to a “cruel violence” a hatred of modern Reason, in its different shapes, philosophical, Marxist, bourgeois or proletarian, inspires. The left, after the Fall of Official Communism, the triumph of capitalist economics and the predatory wars of the West, briefly came to life in the anti-, or ‘other-‘globalisation movements, which have faded. We are, in sum, confronted with not the end of the ‘grand narratives’ of the left, progress, emancipation, but at an impasse.

Shoulder to Shoulder.

In these conditions what remains? If we recognise “la force autonome de l’élan spirituel” we have made a step forward: ideology is a material practice. But is that all? The rationalist strain in Marxism, which owes something to d’Holbach, has tried to concentrate on exposing the ‘error’ of religion. Yet science, atheism, or simply rational explanation, has so far fared badly faced with ideology. Translating Reason into lived experience has always looked a formidable task. But now when a world-view so all-encompassing, enforced by a web of publishers, of ‘educational’ bodies, and Courts, state backed or not, and financed so generously by the twin arms of Islamic intolerance, Riyadh and Tehran exists how can this be confronted but by open political struggle? (9)

They are already engaged in inter-Muslim warfare. But outside, from the institutions down to the jihadist micro-powers, right up to the Islamic State itself in Syria and Iraq, another battle, ideological, and ultimately, physical, is taking place. New fault-lines are emerging. It is clear, and Birnbaum admirably contributes to the literature, that there are many in the Islamic world, including those who consider themselves good Muslims, who for love of the world and its people, promote democracy, human rights, and free-thought about religion. We are less sanguine than Birnbaum’s former teacher, and one-times supporter of the Gauche Prolétarienne, Christian Jambert, on the resources available inside Islamic philosophy that can continue to the spirit of liberty. Will they, as d’Holbach suggested, be able to reform the idea of god? Will we be able to attract widely for the secular cause of freedom? For the moment it is for us to stand shoulder to shoulder with these democrats. (10)

*******************

(1) Page 67. D’Holbach. Premières oeuvres. Les Classiques du people. 1971.
(2) Albert Camus. Chroniques algériennes. 1939 – 1958. Gallimard. 2012. Pages 498 – 591 Claude Lanzmann. Le lièvre de Patagonie. Gallimard. 2009. Page. 56. Jean-François Lyotard: L’Algérie évacuée Socialisme our Barbarie. No 34. 1963. La Politique et la Pensée de la Politique. (Les letters nouvelles. 1963) Reprinted in: Sur un colonne absente. Claude Lefort. Gallimard. 1978.
(3) Page 75. J.V. Stalin. The Foundations of Leninism. Peking. 1970. Also available here, The Foundations of Leninism  THE NATIONAL QUESTIONLeon Trotsky: Perspectives and Tasks
in the East. 1924. C:\Documents and Settings\Compaq_Owner\Desktop\Temporary\Leon Trotsky Perspectives and Tasks in the East (1924).htm.
(4) Page 136. Foucault and the Iranian Revolution.. Gender and seduction. Janet Afray and Kevin B. Anderson University of Chicago. 2005.
(5) Resistance. The Essence of the Islamist Revolution. Alastair Crooke. Pluto Press.2009. For Judith Butler the Burka, “signifies belong-ness to a community and religion, a family, an extended history of kin relations, an exercise of modesty and pride, a protection against shame, and operates as well as a veil behind which, and through which, feminine agency can and does work.”(Page 142) It is related to the fear of “decimation of Islamic culture and the extension of US cultural assumptions about how sexuality and agency ought to be organised and represented,”(Page 142). The Precarious life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence, Judith Butler. Verso 2006
(6)  Chris Harman. The Prophet and the Proletariat.
(7) Pierre Rousset. Le NPA, sept ans après : projet, réalités, interrogations. January 2016. K:\Le NPA, sept ans après _ projet, réalités, interrogations – Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières.html
(8) Michael Foucault, Discipline and Punish. Penguin, 1991.
(9) Marx et la baron d’Holbach. Denis Lecompte. PUF. 1983.
(10) On the forces sustaining and dividing the power of Islamism see: Riddles of the Book. Suleiman Mourad. New Left Review. No 86. Second series. 2014. Christian Jambert. Q’est que la philosophie islamique. Folio. 2011.

Slavoj Žižek: No “deeper understanding of ISIS terrorists” as SWP says “Bound to be a Response” to Imperialist Wars.

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 Žižek: Defends “European emancipatory legacy .”

“There should be no “deeper understanding” of the ISIS terrorists (in the sense of “their deplorable acts are nonetheless reactions to European brutal interventions”); they should be characterized as what they are: the Islamo-Fascist counterpart of the European anti-immigrant racists—the two are the two sides of the same coin. Let’s bring class struggle back—and the only way to do it is to insist on global solidarity of the exploited.”

Slavoj Zizek: In the Wake of Paris Attacks the Left Must Embrace Its Radical Western Roots.

Bang in cue the Socialist Workers Party announces,

After Paris: no to racism and imperialist wars that breed horror

There is no excuse, but there is a context for what has happened. Two and a half centuries of colonialism and imperialism have left a bitter legacy of hatred across much of the world against the West. More than 15 years of the “war on terror” have killed over a million people and driven millions more from their homes. There is bound to be a response.

They further state,

Ultimately those who died in Paris are themselves further victims of Western-backed wars and the reaction against them.

It takes some couilles to say that there is “no excuse” for murder, and then….find an excuse.

It also takes a while to wash the bad taste of this abject statement out of the mouth.

Slavoj Žižek by contrast gives genuine humanist, warm and democratic Marxist response to the Paris atrocity

This stands out:

The greatest victims of the Paris terror attacks will be refugees themselves, and the true winners, behind the platitudes in the style of je suis Paris, will be simply the partisans of total war on both sides. This is how we should really condemn the Paris killings: not just to engage in shows of anti-terrorist solidarity but to insist on the simple cui bono (for whose benefit?) question.

  He asks some hard questions:

Taking control of the refugee crisis will mean breaking leftist taboos.

For instance, the right to “free movement” should be limited, if for no other reason than the fact that it doesn’t exist among the refugees, whose freedom of movement is already dependent on their class. Thus, the criteria of acceptance and settlement have to be formulated in a clear and explicit way—whom and how many to accept, where to relocate them, etc. The art here is to find the middle road between following the desires of the refugees (taking into account their wish to move to countries where they already have relatives, etc.) and the capacities of different countries.

Another taboo we must address concerns norms and rules. It is a fact that most of the refugees come from a culture that is incompatible with Western European notions of human rights. Tolerance as a solution (mutual respect of each other’s sensitivities) obviously doesn’t work: fundamentalist Muslims find it impossible to bear our blasphemous images and reckless humor, which we consider a part of our freedoms. Western liberals, likewise, find it impossible to bear many practices of Muslim culture.

In short, things explode when members of a religious community consider the very way of life of another community as blasphemous or injurious, whether or not it constitutes a direct attack on their religion. This is the case when Muslim extremists attack gays and lesbians in the Netherlands and Germany, and it is the case when traditional French citizens view a woman covered by a burka as an attack on their French identity, which is exactly why they find it impossible to remain silent when they encounter a covered woman in their midst.

 There can be no compromise on universal human rights: the very reason we support the refugees.

Žižek suggests, reasonably in our view, this:

To curb this propensity, one has to do two things. First, formulate a minimum set of norms obligatory for everyone that includes religious freedom, protection of individual freedom against group pressure, the rights of women, etc.—without fear that such norms will appear “Eurocentric.” Second, within these limits, unconditionally insist on the tolerance of different ways of life. And if norms and communication don’t work, then the force of law should be applied in all its forms.

This is better known as secularism, or Laïcité. That is a common public framework, for the shared areas of politics and the state, that is beyond the interference of religious and sectional ideologies.  With this structure, as we argued yesterday, we should have absolute tolerance of diversity.

I will not comment further but note that comrade Žižek has the same mass line as ourselves on the following issue,

Another taboo that must be overcome involves the equation of any reference to the European emancipatory legacy to cultural imperialism and racism. In spite of the (partial) responsibility of Europe for the situation from which refugees are fleeing, the time has come to drop leftist mantras critiquing Eurocentrism.

The old postmodernist views, associated with terms such as Orientalism, have been dying for some time. What sense could they possible have when its Bangladeshi, Iranian, Kurdish, Maghrebian, South and East Asian, Arab and Africans who are in the front line of new development in universal emancipatory thought? Who has not read the writings of our comrades from these countries and been struck by their advance. 

That is, despite all the defeats, the barbarisms, Imperialism, Fascism, Stalinism, and now this….

It is as Kant said of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution,

For a phenomenon of this kind which has taken place in human history can never be forgotten, since it has revealed in human nature an aptitude and power for improvement of a kind which no politician could have thought up by examining the course of events in the past…

Contest of the Faculties. 1798.

Žižek continues, 

The next taboo worth leaving behind is that any critique of the Islamic right is an example of “Islamophobia.” Enough of this pathological fear of many Western liberal leftists who worry about being deemed guilty of Islamophobia. For example, Salman Rushdie was denounced for unnecessarily provoking Muslims and thus (partially, at least) responsible for the fatwa condemning him to death. The result of such a stance is what one can expect in such cases: The more Western liberal leftists wallow in their guilt, the more they are accused by Muslim fundamentalists of being hypocrites who try to conceal their hatred of Islam.

Tendance Coatesy has never given a toss about this worthless accusation, hurled at critics of reactionary Islamism, whether they be European or from Muslim countries. It is the secular left in the latter countries which is fighting Islamism. The only guilt the left should feel is that it is not going enough to support these beloved comrades.

This is a long article and there is a lot more to say and, sometimes disagree with – about a global evolution and the EU, not to mention a great dollop of the idiosyncratic theory of the author in the article ,  to start with. (1)

But we say this for now: chapeau comrade Žižek !

(1) Which is to say that despite finding a new best friend we remain a rationalist, an  admirer of Louis Althusser, sans Jacques Lacan, and no mate of Hegel, and even less of Alain Badiou, somebody we consider, in contrast to Cde Žižek, a Sombre oryctérope. (as Capitaine Haddock would say).

 

French Left: Parti de Gauche Refuses to Back Problematic Meeting against “Islamophobia”

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Rally against Islamophobia divides the left.

On Friday at the Bourse du Travail Saint-Denis a rally “against Islamophobia” was held with the backing of some left organisations, notably the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste and the French Communist Party.

Muslim and Islamist associations were prominent amongst its supporters. These included the Union des organisations islamiques de France (UOIF, close to the Muslim Brotherhood), le Parti des Indigènes de la République, (often described as the militant wing of post-colonial studies and associated with homophobia)  les Indivisibles, Présence musulmane (close to Islamist Tariq Ramadan) and  le Collectif enseignant pour l’abrogation de la loi de 2004 (CEAL) – that is the group which wants to abolish the secular rules on ostentatious religious signs in schools).

 Other groups, above all from the human rights and anti-racist movements, refused to take part.

 These were notably, the main French anti-racist body, the Mrap, la LDH (The League for the Rights of Man, France’s oldest anti-racist human rights group), SOS Racisme and  the Licra (The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism).

The Left Party (Parti de Gauche) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon also  refused to join. Its general coordinator, Eric Coquerel said. “The term Islamophobia has posed a problem for us for several years. It makes it difficult to distinguish between  freedom to criticise religion and racism  The text also does not cite any other form of racism. In the present context – after the terrorist atrocities – it should have had a broader appeal”.  “At the same time”, he  continued “we have problems with those signing this document. They include communitarian groups and bodies that represent Political Islam. “

Inside the same bloc, the Front de Gauche, the grouping Ensemble backed the appeal and meeting, while the Parti Communist Français maintained its support for the declaration by sent nobody to the meeting.

At the rally itself Ismahane Chouder denounced the fact that people always ask Muslims to be irreproachable on ‘antisemitism’ ‘sexism’ and ‘homophobia”. She called this demand for anti-sexism, opposition to hatred of Jews and of gays,  “Islamophobic”.

Alexander Sulzer L’Express.

For a defence of this meeting see: Grand succès du meeting contre l’islamophobie et les dérives sécuritaires (Laurent Lévy.  Ensemble).

Laurent Lévy ignores the main point of the Parti de Gauche: the questionable term “Islamophobia”. Indeed he continues with the dangerous reactionary confusion between racism and dislike/criticism of a religion.

In Libération today the radical left atheist Michel Onfray comments favourably on the Parti de Gauche’s decision and clarifies this point,

What a joy it is, finally, on the left, and in particular on the anti-liberal (economics) left, my own political side, we have begun to fight this ‘amalgam”. That is, is to lump together criticism of religion with Islamophobia” when it’s a matter of Islam, Christianophobia,  when it’s Christianity, anti-Semitism when it concerns Judaism, to the point where atheism itself becomes blasphemous. “

The writer wishes that this approach will continue, and that it will clarify the debate about religion.

“It  would distinguish those who oppose religion in the name of reason, not racism (in my case, and that of many people who do not even adopt the ‘catechism’ of the left), and those who hide their racism and xenophobia behind the rejection of religion.  One could imagine that once this distinction in the realm of ideas is made, those who do not want religion to govern our law, will be able to clearly distinguish those who dislike the Muslim religion and those who dislike those who practice it. “

Exactly.

Oppose racism against Muslims.

Criticise Islam as a religion.

Muslim Manifesto: More Right-wing Identity Politics.

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 The New Identity Politics.

After UKIP we now have another “identity” political group in the UK. (Hat-Tip: JB)

On the launch of the Muslim Manifesto, right-wing Blogger, Guido Fawkes, notes,

Sayeeda Warsi and a host of Labour MPs attended the unveiling of a ‘Muslim Manifesto’ yesterday at an event on the parliamentary estate. Did they know it was organised by an ‘Islamic extremist’ who has praised Al-Qaeda?

That is, Azad Ali.

Ali, MEND ‘Head of Community Development’, is known to readers of this Blog as an enemy of free-speech and, specifically, of Charlie Hebdo.

He appeared at the notorious Je ne Suis pas Charlie jamboree at the misnamed ‘Unite against Fascism’ conference a few weeks ago.

Claiming that our much-loved Charlie incites hate,  this is Ali’s background,

Assad Ali,

We must not call Charlie Hebdo killers ‘terrorists’, says boss” (Here)

“AZAD ALI, Islamic Forum of Europe (undercover footage): Democracy, if it means that, you know, at the expense of not implementing the sharia, of course no one agrees with that.” “Mr Ali has also threatened journalists – not Parisian cartoonists, but an undercover colleague who secretly taped his “no one agrees with democracy” quote – though there is, of course, no suggestion that he has carried out the threat or any other act of violence.” (from Here).

This is from the draft of the Manifesto, drawn up by the Institute for Muslim Community Development.

Te start with there is one good point.

The document makes clear its opposition to “Muslim-hate” and “Anti-Semitism” – that is hatred against people, not religions – something  the confused term Islamophobia mixes up.

These points stand out for less honourable reasons:

  • Introduce more robust legislation to curb media hate campaigns against Muslims.
  • Guarantee the Muslim community the opportunity to evolve independently of government social engineering programmes.
  • Acknowledge that the holy scripture of Muslims (the Qur’an) does not endorse terrorism and the murder of innocents.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate Muslim contributions to knowledge and civilization including European civilisation.
  • Recognise Muslims have a distinct ‘way of life’ (deen) which opposes any understanding of religion or faith as separate from other aspects of life
  • Promote the positive shared Abrahamic history of Moorish, Christian and Jewish culture in Europe.

I think we can guess what ‘curbs’ on free speech Ali and his cronies have in mind.

Why on earth the state and ‘Britain’ have to ‘acknowledge’ the Islamic religion in such detail, including the plea for celebrating ‘Muslim contributions to knowledge and civilisation” is beyond most people.

This pompous demand seems an Islamic version of the reactionary ‘history’ of the wonders of Britain’s past – empire, slavery and massacres included.

Why we have to endorse their interpretation of the Qur’an is even more questionable.

One cannot but fail to notice that the statement only refers to the murder of “innocents” – what happens to the ‘guilty’ is left unsaid.

In all this draft document looks to many like a plea for separate religious rights for the ‘Muslim community’ – as this group cares to define it.

There is also this, “Encourage enquiry into the effects of oversexualisation of public spaces upon young people.”

Ho hum…

Apart from anything else this reads like it’s been taken from Mary Whitehouse and the Festival of Light circa 1969.

Most people will ignore the ‘Manifesto’.

Still the voice of the Iranian dictatorship, Press TV, seems keen on it.

Important update: US far-right Conspiratorialist site Veterans Today endorses Muslim Manifesto.

The Manifesto has only one main demand, ‘ethical politics for an ethical Britain’, a fact which may be impossible to deliver, when the Prime Minister of Britain has already declared he is a Zionist and ‘will be good for Israel’ and most MPs both Conservative and Labour are members of the lobbying group, Friends of Israel.

For Muslims the main concern is what impact will the Manifesto make against a background of powerful interest groups fuelling Islamophobia through government policies and media, repeating the same tune ‘ Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims’.

All this Islamic terrorism rhetoric has achieved nothing else but more wars and conflict, making the bankers and the elite richer, while the majority suffers poverty and austerity measures, with a loss of civil liberties heading to an existence of subjugation governed by Orwellian governments.

What is Veterans Today’s agenda?

myriad claims that there was a conspiracy behind 9/11 (Israel orchestrated it, in cahoots with the American government), that the American government is a puppet (of Israel), that the Holocaust never happened or was greatly exaggerated (Jews made it up to manipulate non-Jews), and, most recently, that Julian Assange, the man behind Wikileaks, is a pawn (of Israel).

Southern Poverty Law Center.

Tomboy (film) Banned by French Catholic School.

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Not Suitable for French Catholic Students.

I am looking forward to seeing Tomboy – a French film which will be shown on BBC 4 this coming Sunday.

The more so as it has got up the nose of the increasingly hysterical French anti-gay movement Manif pour Tous.

The French site Rue 89 has this story today,

A Angers, des collèges catholiques privent leurs élèves de « Tomboy »

120 students at the catholic private school Saint-Martin d’Angers were due to watch the film on Tuesday.

But the cinema Les 400 coups had to cancel the showing, as the school refused to let their charges go and see the. The ban was the result of tressure from the  Manif pour tous, who link it to ‘gender theory’ ( la prétendue « théorie du genre ».

Two other schools have already followed this move.

Meanwhile a few years ago we see this when we Google the subject….

2008.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysia’s main body of Islamic clerics has issued an edict banning tomboys in the Muslim-majority country, ruling that girls who act like boys violate the tenets of Islam, an official said Friday.

The National Fatwa Council forbade the practice of girls behaving or dressing like boys during a meeting Thursday in northern Malaysia, said Harussani Idris Zakaria, the mufti of northern Perak state, who attended the gathering

2012.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has banned gays and tomboys from its public schools, a report on the news site Emirates 24/7 said.

There was no indication how Saudi Arabia’s religious police would detect who among the nation’s student population were gay and tomboys.

Perhaps somebody will picket the BBC.

 

Update: Campaign to ban showing Tomboy in French Schools (32,225 people have signed up): Here.

Militant Secularism, a Defence with Reference to France.

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Warsi Defends l’infâme.

‘Militant secularism’ is in the news (Here).

Apparently intolerance of religion is growing in the United Kingdom.

‘Secularisation’ has gone so far believers feel set aside, even persecuted.

Her Ladyship says they are “sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere

This is a highly amusing claim.

Is it true?

Atheists and sceptics are given a wide berth to criticise religious faith, often in high-handed ways that treat believers as if they were idiots.

But there is  widespread automatic  ‘respect’ for religious belief in the media. It is said that ”true’ religion has nothing to do with bigotry.

That is an admirable part of human culture.

There is a lot of truth in this.

The silent acts of kindness by religious people ,not to mention religious art, literature,  and the philosophical contributions of believers,  have enriched humanity.

Above all goodness, wherever it comes from,  is to be admired.

But sometimes this respect goes beyond all reasonable bounds.

This week a programme on BBC 4 was devoted to the medieval Berber Empires.  These were based on conquest, slavery and religious oppression. One wonders if the Spanish people welcomed being invaded and ruled by these figures. They are a major reason to cast doubt on the romantic picture of medieval Islamic ruled Spain, Al-Andalus, as a multi-cultural haven.  But the Lost Kingdoms of Africa  gave a “globally positive” picture of the Berber Kings.

Nor can we say that theology is an unmixed blessing

But it is not culture  or belief, which is at issue.

It is politics.

‘Faith’ communities in Britain enjoy a privileged relation to the state. There is an Established Church. The Church and other denominations already control large sections of primary and secondary education. More religious groups and cults are now seeking state funding for their ‘free’ and ‘academy’ schools. Religious bodies are increasingly taking over parts of the Welfare state (which began with the YMCA running employment schemes ). Local government has an ever-closer relationship with faith ‘communities’, that is their leaders.

It is this, the political impact of religion that  is the problem.

Secularism is not firmly rooted in this country. British political institutions have always given a special role to religious bodies. From mainstream Christian denominations, then to other religions, through ‘multiculturalism’, to bolster.

The effect has been to restore religious authority.

Against this authority secularists do not just stand for the separation of religious institutions (not beliefs or individuals) from the public political sphere.

They actively fight – that is are ‘militant’ – against those aspects of religious politics which are oppressive.

That is, homophobic, anti-women, and intolerant efforts to shape public life around religious doctrines.

Right-wing Christians have a political agenda, drawing inspiration from the USA. This ‘moral’ crusade’ ranges from a role in promoting anti-drink campaigns to topics such as abortion, gay marriage and the promotion of Christian ‘values’

Another cause for concern is the influence of Islamism. Islamism, of growing importance in many countries, has, like the right-wing Christians, sources of support and finance far beyond domestic communities.

Who can deny that these religious politics are forms of bigotry?

It is not up to non-believers to decide if they are ‘real’ forms of religion or not. It can simply be said that they are types of religion, strongly held at held, and that they should be fought.

With these forms of religious politics extending their impact secularism enters the wider left agenda.


France.

Secularism, or laïcité, is a major political issue in France.

It is not just public  ‘neutrality’ about religion.

It implies, in its more radical forms that derive from Voltaire and Socialist thinkers, an active fight against religious oppression. That is, no tolerance for the intolerant.

The Socialist Candidate, François Hollande, makes a re-assertion of laïcité  a principal plank of his electoral  platform.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Front de Gauche (FdG) also considers it central to his left republican socialism.

They each intend to reinforce a system which is very different to that of the United Kingdom.

There is no French Establish Church. Prayers do not take place in municipal or national assemblies. State education does not offer religious instruction. Public  subsidies for religion are, in theory, illegal under the 1905 Law that separated Church and State.

Yet French governments have chipped away at these principles.

Private Catholic schools receive state subsidies. There are many other subventions for religious bodies, often disguised as cultural or social  funding.

There is public subsidy of religious institutions in Alsace and Moselle, an exemption dating from the original secularism laws.

The left intends to end this.

There has been creeping adaption to Islamist demands for sexual segregation, in venues such as swimming pools and hospitals.

This the left will put a stop to.

More recently President Sarkozy has begun talking of an ‘open’ laïcité. This means adopting features of the multicultural model – bringing faith communities  into ‘social’ politics.

At the same time Sarkozy has banned the Burka in public. This goes  beyond rules prohibiting the veil in public education.

The ban been widely accepted, but the principle is far-ranging and risks drifting into doubtful areas

Now some wish to prohibit veils in pre-school education. Not only for teachers, but for mothers bringing their children to crèches.

This goes over the fine line between (rightly) banning oppressive and aggressive signs of religious identity in public education, to what is  a private matter.

There is a further element.

Debate in France on secularism is poisoned by the demands of the Front National for a ‘secularism’ that takes on clearly anti-immigrant and racist overtones – not to mention the FN’s own none to secret preference for Catholicism.

The response from the French secularist  left has been, very different to the British multiculturalist left.

On the veil, unlike the British left, the stand can be summarised by Caroline Fourest.

She said that if Islamist countries ended their laws putting non-veiled women in prison, and if Islamists stopped physically assaulting unveiled women, then we will be able to consider this a purely cultural issue.

The left defends immigrants against Sarkozy and the Front National. Unlike the mainstream British left, the FdG in France calls for giving ‘illegals’ (sans-papiers) residence rights.

But it does not neglect secularism.

Its first principle is  to defend universal rights against the oppression of religious institutions and the power they have, without democratic legitimacy.

This, more than anything else, is lacking in the British debate, now stirred up by the unelected Baroness Warsi.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm