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Pitt v Matgamna

A few days ago, I attended a remarkable public debate, between Bob Pitt of Islamophobia Watch, and Sean Matgamna of Workers’ Liberty. Bob Pitt, you know. Sean Matgamna is that rare beast: the founder of a Trotskyite group who is not a middle class Jew.

The debate was entitled “Islam, Islamophobia, Islamism: what should the left say?”. I had hoped that either Sean or Bob would have written it up, but as yet they have not done so. I did not take notes, so what follows is an account merely of the few points that struck me during the event. It is an impression of what was said, rather than a transcript – I understand that one will shortly be available.

First of all, Sacha Ismail should be complimented for his gentle but authoritative chairmanship. Sean was avuncular and engaging. Bob was confident, articulate and a model of straightforwardness and honesty. I heckled a little bit of course, as did Faisal of The Spittoon, and we were properly put in our places by Sacha.

The event was entertaining. Bob Pitt deserves great credit for entering what he must have known was something of a lion’s den. The majority of the attendees at the event were Workers’ Liberty. Bob was definitely playing against the home team. The questions were almost uniformly hostile, but Bob Pitt answered them amiably, with a rather mild mannered tone of bemusement characterising his polite rebuttals of each accusation levied at him. One questioner recalled a meeting with Bob Pitt at his bookshop, where – so his interlocutor claimed – he was joyful about 9/11. Not so, retorted Bob. Or, so another audience member claimed, he had opposed NATO’s intervention in the Balkans. Bob was at pains to stress that he was not ever a Milosovic supporter, and regarded the notion that he was a socialist who should be defended as an absurd one.

Bob Pitt delivered the sort of defence of his politics that you would expect him to provide. He sees himself as engaged in a battle against Islamophobia and imperialism – which quite possibly to him, are one in the same phenomenon – in which the progressive Left and the institutions of the Islamist parties are natural allies. From that starting point, he goes on to attack not only the far Right, but also those on the Left who he regards as pushing an Islamophobic agenda. His chief villains, therefore, are Women Against Fundamentalism and Maryam Namazie, the Iranian communist. He thinks that they’re crazy.

We were also treated to a defence of Qaradawi’s position on wife-beating.

I asked Bob Pitt whether he would support Jamaat-e-Islami were he in South Asia. His reply surprised me, for its candour. In his view, Jamaat-e-Islami is a nasty Right wing party with nothing to offer. Were he in Bangladesh, he would support the Awami League, for all its flaws. However, in the United Kingdom, it was absurd to imagine that their politics would triumph. Context shapes politics, and in this country, they reflect their role in the struggle against Islamophobia, racism and imperialism.

Faisal – and another questioner – asked about how a party could be supported which had played such a dismal role, and committed many hideous war crimes, during the Bangladeshi War of Independence. Bob batted the questions away. This was ancient history – young people in the East End of London did not care about this stuff any more, which was why the Jamaati organisations had done so well.

I congratulated Bob Pitt on his honest and full answer. In fact, I’d suspected he would say something like this – some time ago we ran a piece on by Migsuk, who had been told a similar thing in a pub by Bob Pitt. However, to hear him say it in front of an audience of about 60 people was impressive.

I also pointed out that were somebody to provide the assessment of the Islamic Forum Europe that he delivered, he would put it straight up on Islamophobia Watch, accompanied by jeers and catcalls. I offered Bob a guest post on Harry’s Place.

It was a fun evening. The beer was particularly good. I also met David Osler, who is one of my blogging heroes, along with Stroppybird.  Oooh and Janine Booth, who I haven’t seen since I was 20. I think she used to have a pony. Or perhaps that was a SSiNer called Michelle Carlisle. I can’t remember.

But, at the same time, it was curiously depressing. I think that Bob Pitt has gone terribly wrong. This is why.

Bob Pitt is a surprisingly parochial man for an international socialist. Given that he is fixed very firmly on the Middle East, and works closely with South Asian clerical fascist political parties, he seems strangely unconcerned by a simple reality of globalisation. Politics in London resonates throughout the world.

Look at institutions such as Viva Palestina. Its purpose is to create a global coalition in support of Hamas. It snakes its way throughout the Orient, to just such an end. Blogs and activists travel across the world, usually in less than a day. Student ISOCs are treated to lectures by the worst of the jihadist fascists, who need only log into Skype to address the faithful. Just look at the Saghal-Begg-Amnesty saga, and tell me: which one country is that about. The United Kingdom? Afghanistan? Chechnya?

The boost that Jamaat-e-Islami gets in Britain is delivered to the parties in South Asia. Surely Bob Pitt must know this. You can’t separate support for these parties in the United Kingdom from support for them ‘back home’.

Ah no, says Bob. At work, one of his colleages is Jonathan Hoffman, who is active in Zionist politics. He would most certainly work with him, against the BNP.

But actually, that’s not true. Bob Pitt would certainly oppose the BNP.  But he is just as certain to run a piece on the BNP supporting Zionists, and or suggesting that an anti-racist organisation is to be shunned for “Zionist tendencies”. In any case, Bob Pitt devotes most of his time to the public defence of Islamist politics. Until tonight, I have never heard him express opposition to them.

I cannot work out if Bob Pitt is stupidly overconfident, or simply an impotent voyeur. Perhaps he thinks that the triumph of socialism is so natural, that Islamist coup will inevitably give way to a workers’ state: so he need not worry about whether Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood come to power in the Middle East. Or perhaps he just so desires the defeat of imperialism and “the West”, that he is prepared to stand limply by, while revolutionaries who are motivated by divine will, not socialist reason, fight the battles that his defeated ideology can not. I cannot tell.

Either way, it is a tragic vista.