I’ve just been having a chat with – well, I say ‘chat with’, but really it was more of a ‘monologue at’ – a friend, about the rise of the BNP, and of anti-Muslim bigotry. I put into a few paragraphs, what I think needs to be done, and I thought I’d share them here.
I think that what is needed is an antifascist campaign that combines fighting the neo Nazi far right with the Islamist far right. I’m convinced that this is the only way to defeat both.
Part of the reason – not the only one – that the BNP has risen is that the cordon sanitaire that surrounded far Right thought has been fatally compromised by the accommodation between the far Left and the Islamist far Right. Organisations which say pretty outrageous and extreme things have got op eds in the Guardian and have cultivated links with Labour (and LibDem and occasionally Tory) MPs. This allows the BNP to say: “We’re the only ones who are standing up for *you*”. Both groups share a common racist hatred of Jews – including Holocaust denial – but yet the Islamists have been given a pass on this by large sections of the Left. That lowers the bar as to what constitute acceptable political discourse. As the BNP pursues its ‘thug in a suit’ rebranding strategy, it actually allows them to pose as the ‘less extreme’ of the two.
At the same time, the dead hand of the SWP/SA’s Unite Against Fascism, and its fratricidal war against the only effective anti-fascist campaign, Searchlight, has weakened the struggle against the BNP. Not only have they done little but put on self-aggrandising pop concerts: the involvement in the campaign of these groups that were the actual patrons on Islamist fascist groups has undermined their rhetorical effectiveness, as well as chased away a large number of people who might otherwise want to join together in the campaign against the BNP. Unite Against Fascism has actually had representatives of far Right Islamist groups speaking on their platforms. How can the anti-Islamist Muslims whose work is so vital, and who have the ability to confound the white far Right as well, hope to join with Unite Against Fascism, when its constituent members include the likes of Dr Abdul Bari, a former President of the Jamaat-e-Islami aligned Islamic Forum Europe?
The SWP/SA lot, and their camp followers, have also managed to stultify the campaign against Islamism, by concentrating their fire on critics of Islamism, who they brand “Zionists” and “Islamophobes”. This is precisely the smear that UAF has peddled about Searchlight. That has made it very difficult, on the centre Left, to oppose Islamism effectively. Searchlight is a case in point. It “gets it” as far as the Islamist far Right, but has concluded, no doubt, that the game is not worth the candle. Better to concentrate on the BNP, which at least won’t result in UAF deciding that you, rather than the BNP, are ‘public enemy number one’.
The abdication of the centre Left, in the fight against Islamism, has meant that – apart from us, Martin Bright, John Ware and Nick Cohen – much of the struggle has been left to the centre-Right press: which as often as not, has cocked it up by fussing about bans on piggybanks, or stupidly defaming Inayat Bunglawala.
The effect of all this has been further to confuse anti-Islamism with anti-Muslim bigotry: for the simple reason that some of those running those stories *are* anti-Muslim bigots. And this, of course, has increased anti-Muslim bigotry, while making it even more difficult to take on the Islamist far Right.
That, in turn is a big win for the BNP, the Islamists, the far Left: indeed, everybody for everybody but the moderates.
And the moderates are already pretty marginalised. We don’t have a political base. We should be looking to groups like Demos or Liberty. However, Demos co-organised a conference with Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood front, the British Muslim Initiative, and Liberty has hosted speakers from the same group. It also has the disgraced pro-Jihadist, Azad Ali on its National Council.
You might have noticed that there was a pretty facile mini spat about this between Nick Cohen and Sunder Katawala the week before last about precisely this problem. If truth be told, the Fabian Society has not been at all bad on this issue: but it should be noted that they “marked the anniversary of 7/7 in 2006 with a major event on the issues of creating a positive British Muslim identity” to which they invited … the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood aligned Islamist group, FOSIS. The simple truth, however, is that there is no solution to the present problem, without the central involvement of groups like the Fabian Society. This doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t criticise our friends and comrades on the centre-Left when they get it wrong. To attack Nick for doing so was pretty damn poor. But to write off the whole of the centre-Left as a dead loss – which I don’t think Nick would do – would be tantamount to an admission of defeat.
The way to turn this around is simple. To cut through the Gordion Knot, we need a centrist anti-fascist campaign, that takes on both the BNP and the Islamists.