Posts Tagged ‘Secularism’
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.
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.
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…..
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.
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 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.
- Le Pen would commandeer the French central bank, ending its independence.
- 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
Nice Beach By-Laws on “bonnes mœurs et de la laïcité”.
«L’instrumentalisation communautariste du corps des femmes est odieuse. C’est un affichage militant, mais quand on est l’objet d’une provocation, mieux vaut ne pas se précipiter dedans […] La masse des musulmans est excédée par une histoire qui les ridiculise. Valls a eu tort d’en rajouter. »
The ‘communitarian’ * exploitation of women’s bodies is vile. It’s a militant badge, but even so when we are the target of a provocation the best thing to do is not to get involved…The majority of Muslims are frustrated by this row, which makes them look ridiculous. Valls (Prime Minister) is wrong to add to it.
Il ressort de cette interview que JLM, ne condamne ni les maires qui ont pris ces arrêtés, ni Manuel Valls qui les a soutenus, ni la droite sarkoziste qui a orchestré cette campagne, ni le gouvernement qui laisse faire (3), mais des femmes accusées d’instrumentaliser leur propre corps ou de l’être par leurs maris, pères, cousins… Bref la fameuse COMMUNAUTE.
It is apparent in this interview that JLM neither condemns the Mayors who have instituted these by-laws, nor Manuel Valls (Prime Minister) who backs them, nor the (ex-President) Sarkozy’s right-wing which has orchestrated the campaign, nor the the government which has allowed this to happen, but the women involved, who have used their own bodies, or have been ‘used’ by their husbands, their fathers, their cousins…to put it simply, the famous “community”.
Le burkini est le fruit d’une offensive religieuse salafiste qui ne concerne qu’une partie de l’islam […] La question politique à résoudre reste celle du combat des femmes pour accéder librement à l’espace public.
The burkini is the product of a Salafist religious offensive which only affects a part of Islam….There still remains the political issue of women’s struggle for free access to the public sphere.
Michelle Guerci points out that the Burkini is in fact a relatively new phenomenon, which would itself be prohibited under the rule of severe Wahhabist codes.
Now it is the case that the CCIF (Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France), at the head of the campaign to defend the Burkini has been accused of being a front for Islamists, by no less than the Canard enchaîné “CCIF : « Des islamistes qui avancent mosquée » (Le Canard enchaîné, 17 août 2016)“.
So-called ‘anti-racists’ in the UK, who have never lifted a finger against the actions of the religious police in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere, who institute even more serve religious laws are apparently preparing protests against the ban. “Anti-racists in France and Britain are preparing to protest against the “burkini ban” imposed in 18 localities in France.” reports Socialist Worker.
But the involvement of the morally tainted forces does not make the ban right.
We can only agree with Guerci in saying that, apart from the distasteful political opportunism, nationalism and straight-forward bullying involved police enforced laws on this level of personal conduct are the opposite of the secularist fight against Islamist racism.
As one of Valls’s Ministers, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem (Education), has said (only to have her comments brushed aside by the Prime Minister), the moves have “ libéraient la parole raciste” – opened the floodgates of racism.
L’Humanité meanwhile publishes this statement by Osez le féminisme !
They comment that the affair is the product of a series of manoeuvres.
Une double manipulation est donc à l’oeuvre, qui stigmatise les femmes voilées. Manipulation des fabricants de vêtements de mode dite “pudique”, qui se frottent les mains, mais aussi de ceux pour qui le voile devrait être obligatoire pour les femmes musulmanes. Mais aussi manipulation de ces édiles locaux (dont certains visiblement en manque de notoriété), qui, à défaut de faire des politiques sociales aptes à endiguer l’exclusion que vivent certains et certaines (l’exclusion sociale étant une trappe vers un repli sur soi communautaire), préfèrent s’attaquer à une catégorie de femmes, livrées à la vindicte raciste.
A twofold manipulation is at work which stigmatises veiled women. A manipulation by the manufacturers of “modest” clothing, busy rubbing their hands, and also by those who consider that veiling should be compulsory for Muslim woman. But it’s equally a manipulation by certain local elected figures (many of whom visibly seek public notoriety), who instead of offering social policies that help end the social isolation in which some women live (the trap of social exclusion which feeds inward looking communities) prefer to attack a category of women and leave them at the mercy of racism.
See also: Stop state Islamophobia! No to the burkini ban (Nouveau parti anticapitaliste).
…il ne s’agit pas de défendre un signe religieux réactionnaire, le burkini, mais simplement de dénoncer la campagne politique menée par la droite et une partie de la gauche, campagne qui occulte les vrais problèmes des exploités et des exploitées en France aujourd’hui.
Defending a reactionary religious sign, the burkini, is not the issue. The point is to denounce a political campaign launched by the right, and a section of the left, a campaign which obscures the real problems of those exploited in France today.
Le racisme, sous toutes ses formes, est le problème et la responsabilité de la majorité des « Français » titulaires d’une carte d’identité, électeurs du Front national, des Républicains ou des partis de la gauche xénophobe, pas celui d’une minorité obscurantiste de croyantes et de croyants. C’est contre ce racisme des dominants qu’il faut lutter, et de ces causes économiques, sociales et culturelles profondes qu’il faut discuter, pas de « tenues de plage » ou « tenues de ville » portées par telle ou telle minorité religieuse !
Racism, in all its forms, is the responsibility of the majority of the French, those with an identity card, Front National voters, Republicans and parties of the xenophobic left, not that of a minority of obscurantist believers. We have to fight against the racism of the dominant and discuss its fundamental economic, social and cultural causes, not the beach or urban dress codes of religious minorities.
* “Communautariste “: in this context “communitarian” is a highly ideologically charged French concept (more than just a word). It can refer loosely to withdrawal into religious, ethnic or cultural identity, More critically it shades into the accusation of near ‘communalism’, the defence of separate social worlds at odds with one another. There is, for ‘ultra republicans’ and a strain of ‘left soveriegntists’ the implication that ‘multiculturalism’, which promotes/tolerates such separate identities is opposed to ‘republican’ unity.
“Employé dans un sens plutôt péjoratif, le terme communautarisme désigne une forme d’ethnocentrisme ou de sociocentrisme qui donne à la communauté (ethnique, religieuse, culturelle, sociale, politique, mystique, sportive…) une valeur plus importante qu’à l’individu, avec une tendance au repli sur soi.“
Nazimuddin Samad: Murdered for Criticising Islam.
The Dhaka Tribune reports.
Student on hitlist killed by militants Mohammad Jamil Khan
Killers were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ while hacking the Gonojagoron Moncho activist
A masters student of Jagannath University was killed by suspected Islamist militants in Old Dhaka’s Sutrapur area last night.
Nazimuddin Samad, 28, was a student of the law department’s evening batch.
He was attacked at Ekrampur intersection around 8:30pm by three assailants while walking to his home in Gendaria with another youth after completing classes at the university near Bahadur Shah Park.
The youth accompanying the victim has remained traceless since the incident, police said.
Nazim is the son of Shamshul Haque from Bianibazar area of Sylhet. He was the information and research secretary of Sylhet district unit Bangabandhu Jatiya Jubo Parishad. He was also an activist of Gonojagoron Moncho’s Sylhet wing.
His friends said that Nazim used to campaign for secularism on Facebook and was critical of radical Islamists. A day before the murder, he expressed concerns over the country’s law and order in a Facebook post.
Police said that the killers who came on a motorcycle first intercepted them and then attacked Nazim with machetes. At one point, he fell on the street and then the attackers shot him to confirm death before leaving the place.
Businessmen of the area closed the shops immediately after hearing the gunshots.
During the murder, the killers were chanting “Allahu Akbar,” police said quoting locals.
Visiting the spot, the Dhaka Tribune reporter found the crime scene cordoned by the law enforcers and all the shops closed. Police recovered a bullet shell from the spot.
Nurul Amin, assistant commissioner of Sutrapur division, told the Dhaka Tribune that police went to the spot on information and found the body in a pool of blood. They were confirmed about his identity by the ID found in his pocket. Later, the police informed the university authorities and sent the body to hospital.
Doctors at Sir Salimullah Medical College Hospital declared him dead at 9pm.
AC Nurul further said that it is clear that the assailants kept an eye on Nazim’s activities for long and were aware of his way back home. “We are investigating the case sincerely to know the motive of the murder,” he added.
JnU Proctor Nur Mohammad said that Nazim got admitted to the university two months ago. “We have informed his family about the murder and are taking detail information about him,” he said.
Shamir Chandra Sutradhar, inspector (investigation) of Sutrapur police station, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Even though the spot was crowded at the time of the murder, they are not sharing any information with the police.
“However, we are trying to identify the assailants by talking to the shopkeepers and residents of the area.”
Comrade Samad’s background is described here:
Samad, a student of Jagannath University, used to write frequently against religious extremism. He had written “I have no religion” on his Facebook profile under religious views. In some of his recent posts, Samad had supported a petition to remove Islam as Bangladesh’s state religion, according to the New York Times.
“Evolution is a scientific truth. Religion and race are invention of the savage and uncivil people,” he reportedly wrote on Facebook. However, about a month back, Samad deactivated his Facebook account at the request of his family.
According to the Times, Samad’s Facebook page identified him as a member of the Shahbag movement, which seeks punishment for Bangladeshis who fought for Pakistan during the 1971 war for independence.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union has published these moving reflections,
Tributes and alarmed messages are flooding in on Nazimuddin’s personal Facebook page, where he regularly posted atheist and feminist criticism of Islam. He was critical both of the Islamist political parties, and against the failings of the current government. Shortly before he was killed, he wrote a post implying that the ruling Awami League party would fall if it did not make swift changes, writing (in Bengali): “The situation of the country, deterioration of law and order in the country, speak that maybe you cannot stay long in power.”
In earlier posts, Nazimuddin responded to a cleric’s violent speech against women which referenced the Quran, contrasting the speech with the claim that “Islam is the highest honor given to women!” He asked for justice for a girl known as Tonu, who had been raped and killed in the military area of ‘Cantoment’, Comilla.
Nazimuddin recently criticised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s support for madrassa (Islamic schools), which are increasingly associated with Islamist radicalism and militancy in the country. Nazimuddin had also shared posts from Washiqur Rahman Babu who was killed last year in a similar attack, carried out by two madrassa students who claimed they were acting on orders from someone associated with their Islamic schools.
In another post, he proposed a satirical strategy to overcome the aggressive push toward Islamism in the country, writing: “Please let’s have Sharia Law for just five years in Bangladesh. Rule the country with Medina Law. I guarantee you, after this 5 years, no Muslim of Bangladesh will ask for Islamic law! The loss and damage we will have after five years, it will take 1400 years to restore us to a modern country.”
Nurul Amin, assistant commissioner of Sutrapur division police, is reported as saying that the assailants must have kept an eye on Nazim’s activities ahead of the attack, and were aware of his route home. “We are investigating the case sincerely to know the motive of the murder,” he said.
President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Andrew Copson, commented tonight:
“It is clear from Nazimuddin’s Facebook posts and protest activity that he was a politically and socially engaged young man. He offered criticisms of certain radical religious figures and doctrines, thoughts of a kind that many people, not just atheists and humanists but also many religious people, express all over the world, every day.
“Every time a thoughtful and honest person like Nazimuddin is hacked or gunned down, apparently for doing nothing more than speaking their minds on secularist, political and religious topics, we and others will make a point of finding out what he said, what he did, what he wrote about, and sharing it. It will be seen by more people than ever would have seen it before. And we will remember his name and the growing list of names of those who were singled out and killed, by small-minded, hateful extremists who appear to think that words can be killed. They cannot.”
We mourn deeply this death, and extend love to all Nazimuddin’s family and friends.
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 QUESTION. Leon 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.