Friday, April 07, 2006

AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE, STANDING UP FOR DEMOCRACY AND A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED FISKING

A couple of good things have appeared on Cif in the past few days. Firstly, David T of Harry's Place makes his Cif debut highlighting the alliances between the far Left and the Islamist right:
The Socialists Workers' party is currently in a semi-formal alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain and with other extreme rightwing Islamist groupings. The Muslim Association of Britain is closely aligned with the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood: a gradualist political movement which seeks to establish a state governed by religious law. The Muslim Association of Britain has published an article by its spokesman - and my fellow blogger - Azzam Tamimi, setting the basis, in religious law, for punishing apostasy. One of its other spokesmen, Osama Saeed, has recently had an article published in the Guardian, supporting the revival of the Caliphate.

I won't consider the nature of this religious-political movement at length in this post, as my primary focus is the nature of the alliance which the Socialist Workers' party has made with Islamist politics. However, we can say this for sure about the Muslim Association of Britain's politics: they are not progressives by any stretch of the imagination.

The Socialist Workers' party, although the largest Trotskyite faction in the United Kingdom, certainly does not represent the whole of "the Left", which as Brian points out is a broad church. It does, however, punch above its weight: in part because of its ability to put itself at the heart of any campaign with which it is involved. It is the driving force behind both the Stop the War Coalition and the Respect Coalition, the two most visible manifestations of leftwing politics of the last few years. In both these organisations, the Socialist Workers' party has formed a close alliance with rightwing and reactionary Islamist politics.

...

There are three things which worry me about the Socialist Workers' party's approach: and indeed the position of those parts of the left which seek to pursue a similar strategy. The first is that parts of the left have been forced into an absurd and overblown defence of the Islamist politics which they should be criticising, and to which they should be providing an alternative. The second is that the alliance with Islamist politics has resulted in the acceptance of the essentialist religious categories that both racists and Islamists seek to force upon Muslims. As Amartya Sen points out:
To focus just on the grand religious classification is not only to miss other significant concerns and ideas that move people. It also has the effect of generally magnifying the voice of religious authority.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the romance between the left and Islamist politics is bound to come to an end, sooner or later. When it does, how quickly will love turn to hate?
The "unholy alliance" between the SWP and extreme Islamists has been well documented on the pages of Harry's Place and other blogs. Hopefully this article will raise awareness of the issue to those less blog-savvy folk who rely on media outlets such as the Guardian, a paper that frequently sees fit not to mention the hardline Islamist connections of it's commentators.

Of course, there are some who are less keen that these connections be highlighted and I see David T has already been accused of Islamophobia. That didn't take long.

Meanwhile, yesterday saw Timothy Garton Ash publish a particularly nice piece entitled: "To criticise capitalism don't try to defend the dregs of Soviet socialism." Firstly, he attacks those who claim that the Ukrainian Orange Revolution has come to naught and are apparently "lost for words" at the result of the latest elections.
James Harkin argued in a column last Saturday that many of the (unnamed) "western commentators" who had been "curiously dewy-eyed" about Ukraine's orange revolution in 2004 are "lost for words" now that the party of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich "has triumphed" in the recent parliamentary elections. Well, certainly not me. Why on earth should I, who rejoiced with the people in Kiev's independence square, be lost for words now? The orange revolution was not about giving power to any particular party. It was about using "people power" to give people the chance to choose their own government in a free and fair election. That's what Ukraine has just done. One British election monitor from the European parliament said he thought the voting procedures used by the Ukrainians this time round were superior to those in Britain.

Roughly one in three Ukrainian voters, mainly in the more Russian-oriented east of the country, chose Yanukovich. That's about 10% less than he probably got in the rigged presidential election of 2004 that sparked the orange revolution. The so-called orange vote was split between the now feuding leaders of the orange revolution, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, but their combined vote exceeded that for Yanukovich. Voters, except in the pro-western western end of the country, punished Yushchenko for disappointed hopes, economic mess, continued widespread corruption, dealing badly with the Russian gas squeeze at the beginning of the year, and falling out with Yulia. Fair on some counts, less so on others. But the essential point remains: the people could choose in a free and fair election. They can bring an old rogue back, if they want; then they can chuck him out again. It's democracy, stupid.
Quite right. But I can't help feeling that James Harkin was using a straw-man argument as I've yet to meet someone who was passionate about the Orange Revolution but is now tounge-tied.

He then makes a good point about the farcical Belarussian election, an issue that seems to have been allowed to slip by the wayside.
All I propose today is that the Belarussians should be able to answer that question themselves, without fear, in a free and fair election. If they then freely choose to bring an old rogue back, as one in three Ukrainian voters have just done, that's their choice and their perfect right. But if you think that's what has just happened in Belarus - where the BBC reports that more than 150 opposition supporters have been thrown into prison - you really do need your head examined.

It's fair and vital for people on the left to criticise western double standards, the human consequences of neoliberal shock therapy, social inequality and current US foreign policy, but that should not lead anyone into weaselly apologetics for the authoritarian dregs of Soviet socialism. Surely the first concern of anyone on the democratic left today should be for those peaceful protesters now banged up in Lukashenko's jails. Wanting the people to have the chance to choose their own government is not a rightwing thing. It's simply the right thing.
I can't believe that he's having to spell this out. But there we are.

These two articles certainly made up for this piece of histrionic cobblers from Hannah Pool. Scott Burgess, very much on form at the moment, gave it the thorough Fisking it richly deserved:
In what looks like a bid to enter the crowded but rewarding grievance sector, Guardian fashion columnist Hannah Pool takes to the pages of today's G2 to discuss something of much greater import than whether "groomed eyebrows are back". We are, it seems, seeing the renewal of an insidious combination of racism and sexism that profoundly affects Ms. Pool's sisters-in-colour, regardless of their eyebrows' state.

"It's open season on black women", the headline warns - indeed, the situation is now so bad that, today, "it is doubly hard to be a black woman". Rosa Parks would undoubtedly sympathise with Ms. Pool's difficulties.

For Ms. Pool, the gravity of the current crisis is illustrated by the "tone" of recent press coverage surrounding four specific individuals who've been victimised by this new racexist climate. They are:
  • A Big Brother star

  • An "educational entrepreneur" given a BBC television programme

  • A fabulously wealthy supermodel

  • The US Secretary of State
A closer look at these cases reveals the true extent of the bigotry that lies at the heart of the white-dominated media of Britain, whose treatment of each "smacks of ignorance and inequality".

Zimbabwean ex-nurse and current asylum-seeker Makosi Musambasi, indebted to the tune of £55,000, told a sympathetic Sunday tabloid that she's had to resort to prostitution, and of "feeling suicidal since" (Ms. Pool reports, poignantly, that "the story was written by one Alice Walker, which just made it seem even more troubling, to me at least").

For Ms. Pool, the problem lies not with Ms. Musambasi's behaviour, but with the press treatment since this revelation, as "commentators have queued up" to make the racially offensive suggestion that, rather than blaming Big Brother for ruining her life, she should herself accept some of the responsibility for her situation.

The particularly disgusting case that Ms. Pool emphasises is from the Mirror's Sue Carroll, who leads the queue with a 123-word item - one tenth of her March 29 gossip column. Ms. Pool is righteously incensed by 6 of those words, which reflect a clearly racist response to Ms. Musambasi's troubles. Answering the claim of the latter that "[Big Brother] totally ruined my life" Ms. Carroll replies, unforgivably:
No, Makosi, you did that yourself.
Ms. Carroll's heartless response completely ignores the fact that Ms. Musambasi was compelled by evil slavers to participate, and to reap the publicity and financial rewards which followed.

As for the shameful queue of commentators, a search of Google news reveals the extent to which British bigots have lined up to castigate the helpless former nurse. The tawdry efforts of these vultures consist of ... 3 sentences in the influential Hackney Gazette and 5 sentences in the Sun.

Whether the 5 full articles from Zimbabwean outlets count as equally "smacking of ignorance and inequality"; is a question left to the reader.
Worth a read and you'll find a couple of other great articles from the past few weeks on his blog too.

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