Racism of low expectations

Still pondering the implications of the near miss with gender segregation on university campuses.

In his 1950 book Psychoanalysis and Religion, Erich Fromm made the following distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religions which, though I can’t see where religion ends and politics starts, seems right to me:

“Man’s [sic] aim in humanistic religion is to achieve the greatest strength, not the greatest powerlessness; virtue is self-realization, not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one’s own thought and feeling, not assent to propositions on credit of the proposer. The prevailing mood is that of joy, while the prevailing mood in authoritarian religion is that of sorrow or guilt.

“Inasmuch as humanistic religions are theistic, God is a symbol of man’s own powers which he tries to realize in his life, and is not a symbol of force or domination, having power over man.

“Illustrations of humanistic religions are early Buddhism, Taoism, the teachings of Isaiah, Jesus, Socrates, Spinoza, certain trends in the Jewish and Christian religions (particularly mysticism), the religion of Reason in the French Revolution. It is evident from these that the distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religion cuts across the distinction between theistic and non-theistic, and between religions in the narrow sense of the word and philosophical systems of religious character.”

I read that David Edwards (incidentally co-founder of Media Lens – a site I distrust because it views establishment media as corrupt propaganda by definition, irrespective of quality, principles and governance) developed this further in his book ‘Free to be Human. Intellectual Self-Defence in an Age of Illusions‘ as the idea of ‘power religions’ and their mind chains,

“Power religion, unlike true religious endeavour, has nothing at all do with the search for fundamental, adequate answers to human life, but is purely a means of justifying, enforcing and facilitating the exercise of power. Power religion does not consist in a particular set of beliefs, but in a set of functions supporting power. Because these functions remain essentially constant, we discover close similarities between versions of power religion widely separated by historical time, geography and superficial appearance. The differences between these beliefs represent a sort of superficial clothing over an essentially identical framework of underlying function.”

Religious authoritarianism enforces practices in the name of religion. Examples are the strict subjugation and exclusion of women (Saudi Arabia), outlawing abortion (Republic of Ireland, USA, ongoing attempts in the UK), state-enforced child bearing (Ceausescu’s Hungary), restricting the education of women (most conservative religions).

There are plenty of practices associated with power religions that mainstream UK commentators are prepared to publicly condemn, criticise or satirise. The most striking thing about these practices is that they tend to be from the dominant culture. Richard Herring’s Christ on a Bike show, which contains extensive material on the Pope and the Catholic Church met with some offended and wounded reactions to which he responded without compromise and in similar vein as before,

“A lot of things that Christians say annoy me (for example the Pope saying people should not use condoms in AIDS infested areas) but I believe they have the right to say them. The point of the routine is that it is a bit much for the Pope to tell us what to do with [our] sperm when some of his priests are having sex with kids – maybe it’s a priority to sort that out first.”

and although he has some material on Islam he points out,

“It’s harder as a non-Muslim to “mock” Islam and obviously it’s a different thing to concentrate on a minority religion, who are already the subject of prejudice and opprobrium (whatever that is)”.

This makes good sense and I am continually reassured by evidence that I live in a country where scruples about minority sensitivities have considerable influence. But, for the same reasons, it’s also tricky to criticise anything done in the name of a minority religion. This has led to the current situation, where many (most?) of the people who don’t pull their punches on authoritarian practices associated with minority religions are either open or crypto racists, the most organised of whom support the English Defence League, the British National Party, or their respective fragments.

The opinion that political left has ducked its responsibility is strengthening. A couple of months ago when campaigner against female genital mutilation Leyla Hussein took a sounding of cultural eggshells in Northampton by asking shoppers to sign a petition in favour the practice, she was appalled by her success. Signatories were prepared to support misogynistic violence against adolescent girls in order to express their ‘cultural sensitivity’. Another example, incompletely documented in some of my earlier posts, is the recent Universities UK recommendation that higher education institutions consent to segregation by gender if demanded by a presenter. The ensuing debate drew out the view – shared by a number of intellectuals including politicians and feminists as well as activists for an Islamic state – that to be worried about segregation is to be Islamophobic. For others – who themselves often face opprobrious charges of racism – this reaction confirmed their existing belief that there’s a thin spot where non-racist campaigns against religious authoritarianism should be, and in their place is the racism of low expectations.

Which finally brings me to legal scholar Karima Bennoune’s recent book ‘Your fatwa does not apply here. Untold stories from the fight against Muslim fundamentalism’. The first review I read, by Julia Droeber, sociologist at An Najah University, Palestine, approached the book cautiously in the knowledge that its subject could make it attractive to political inclinations that are unfavourable to Muslims. However, her fears were quickly allayed:

“Bennoune admits that she is walking a tight-rope. She is painfully aware that right-wing elements in the West may use this book as a pretext for further discrimination against Muslims at home and abroad. However, she says that she  felt compelled to document these accounts for two reasons: her fight for global human rights and her disappointment with the too-complacent view of allegedly “moderate” Islamists by the political Left in the West. To a large extent it is the tolerant and secular interpretations of Islam the protagonists of this book are trying to promote as they contest attempts by fundamentalists to place restrictions on their day-to-day lives, and Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here was prompted by the lack of attention paid in the West to those struggles.”

Droeber continues,

“… she takes issue with the view that Muslims and Muslim fundamentalists are victims (of the “War on Terror”, for example) and criticises governments for their reactions (or lack of reaction) to fundamentalist violence and its consequences for people’s everyday lives, for instance in Palestine.

“The final chapter’s title summarises the book’s message “Raise your voice while singing is still possible.”

Good advice – plenty more here.

Update

Gender segregation on campus – “taken over” by the far right?

Bob From Brockley has a recent piece on Mandela as a mirror. It’s about how disparate movements can opportunistically hitch up to a campaign, a cause, or sometimes a person. To add another example, we have Southall Black Sisters invoking Mandela’s anti-apartheid struggle at an event protesting gender segregation, and then we get Spiked with a piece on the hyperbole of calling segregation ‘apartheid’ and the event explodes into a kaleidoscope of different angles on angles on angles. This here is mine, but on gender segregation, Sally Feldman and Laurie Penny.

Last week mainstream politicians finally found their voice and came out against religious gender segregation on campus. Predictably this functioned as a bright green go light to anti-establishment types. Here’s Times Higher columnist Sally Feldman’s weak satire on the opponents of gender segregation. I couldn’t have guessed the piece would end up defending the platforming hate preachers at the University of Westminster where she works – Haitham ‘apes and pigs’ al-Haddad and gender segregation in the same article – wow. She’s more worried about the calibre of the opponents of misogyny, antisemitism and homophobia than she’s worried about the views themselves. So, for the record, al-Haddad does preach hatred. And Sally Feldman should know that events that are carefully convened to ensure hateful views are likely be countered by other invited speakers tend to escape the kind of alarmed response she objects to – mainly because they are obviously ‘championing free speech’, rather than simply connecting haters with free premises and audiences and leaving it to the objects of their hatred to do the hard work of speaking against them.

How did we get here from gender segregation? Maybe the quality of the objections to gender segregation – the passion, the outrage, the hyperbolic exchanges – reminded Sally Feldman of the upset about al-Haddad and reminded her of her University of Westminster agenda. That’s my best guess. It’s also the most charitable account.

Which brings me to Laurie Penny’s recent Guardian piece, ‘This isn’t feminism. It’s Islamophobia‘. It’s about the pressure she has come under from ‘white men’ to condemn gender segregation. At its crux,

“…demanding that feminists of every race and faith drop all our campaigns and stand against “radical Islam” sounds more and more like white patriarchy trying to make excuses for itself: “If you think we’re bad, just look at these guys.””

But at the bottom you’ll find a note, ‘This article was amended to draw attention to the fact that many Muslim and Asian women were involved in the “gender segregation” protests.’ This amendment only came about because Twitter users like the Ex-Muslims Forum, Lejla Kuric, Alya, Ophelia Benson, One Law For All, Sarah Brown and others civilly alerted her to Asian and Muslim feminists defending secular space and pointed out the stark inaccuracy of claiming that the protest on December 10th was led by right wing men. By mid morning Laurie Penny had recognised the problem and was making efforts to correct it.

Which is typically big of her but I was interested in what had happened, which is this. A self-styled feminist found the ‘white patriarchy’ so much more interesting than all the feminists of Muslim or Asian background that she completely omitted them from consideration. In this she is no better than most of the other reporters party to the silencing of non-white voices, as This Is The End puts it. Or as Lejla puts it, “White western feminist ignore us and dismiss our struggle”. Or as Alya puts it, “The very idea that this debate has been “taken over” by the far right is both naive and insulting”. As such Laurie Penny gives us a classic example of reductio ad absurdum filtering an event through an existing agenda. It’s also a particularly self-absorbed piece; the poor feminist is not the woman affected by gender segregation – it’s Laurie Penny herself beset by ‘white men’ asking her to condemn something. This is a maddening change of subject.

A united front is needed to fight religious authoritarians on campus. They are not yet strong but they would like to be and they have a small foothold already. So congratulations any ‘white men’ of any political stripe who based your arguments against gender segregation on feminist principles and not culturally racist ones. Sadly for me I think it may be true that you are mostly to the political centre and right – but you got it right this time. Please carry on doing it, as often as possible, and don’t be put off by people telling you you’re the wrong sex or colour.

Finally, Laurie Penny is right that there is certainly anti-Muslim sentiment lurking within the debate about gender segregation, as Soupy explains – people with these views are also subtly changing the subject to further their own agenda.

On immigration, hit the nasty party where it hurts

The migration fairy story:

“Once upon a time, a poor woodcutter, of no great skill, decided go in search of work. He left behind his family and his home in the forest, with promises that he would one day return with wealth and comfort. ‘Here, food is scarce and life is hard’, he told his wife, ‘but I have heard tell of other places where there are chances for a man like me to make my fortune’. After much hardship and long days of travel, he reached the edge of the forest where he found the borders of a wealthy kingdom. There he found his way barred by guards. ‘Who are you and why do you seek to enter?’ they asked. ‘Please let me in’, he replied, ‘I am a poor man, but I work hard. I promise through my labour I will make your kingdom even greater and richer than it already is’. The guards agreed to let him in saying that they would give him five years and a day to prove his worth. So the poor man entered and worked hard, digging, scrubbing, and labouring for the Kings’ subjects. And the longer he stayed the more his affection for the kingdom and its people grew. After five years and one day, the guards acknowledged he had proved his worth and welcomed him as a true subject of the kingdom. ‘But may I ask for one thing more?’ said the man. ‘I have a wife and children at home. They are poor and have nothing. If you value all I have done, would you permit them to come to your kingdom and make their life with me?’ And the guards, being wise and fair, and recognizing his endeavours agreed. His family, overjoyed when he sent for them, came at once, and they all lived happily ever after.”

Anti-Raids Network 'know your rights' poster

Anti-Raids Network ‘know your rights’ poster

Further to my previous post on the anti-immigrant Go Home campaign, news of civil-liberty-defying spot checks on immigration status (these aren’t new and I’m not sure if they’re intensifying – but they are now newsworthy in the light of the government’s Go Home campaign against migrants). Dark-skinned people in particular have been subjected to stop-and-checks by Border Agency officials on the transport system. Southall Black Sisters (a domestic abuse support network) have reported that police summoned to crime scenes have taken the opportunity to conduct inappropriate checks of immigration. British Transport Police are inviting the Border Agency along. And then there are the vans with the pictures of handcuffs on them and the phrase, Go Home. There is no convincing defence of that. Always worth reading, Rafael Behr gets better and better:

“This is an old problem. Not everyone who wants less immigration is a racist but every racist wants less immigration. So it is hard to craft a message for the concerned non-racist without earning unwanted nods of approval from the racist. Hard. Not impossible. Clarity of intent is vital. The vans fail this test because they are unlikely to have a discernible impact on numbers, while certain to reinforce the impression that the nation is overrun with illicit foreigners. The government accepts the view of many voters that Britain is full to the brim with people who don’t deserve to be here. That assertion doesn’t always recognise a difference between legal and illegal status, nor between economic migration and political asylum. For the Home Office to drive around brandishing a pair of handcuffs is to abet the suspicion that there is something generically illegitimate about being foreign-born in the UK.”

David Cameron has given the campaign his continued approval. His election strategist Lynton Crosby once viewed it as a promising political wedge – but now reportedly believes it gave UKIP a leg up. Some commentators have observed that the alarmed publicity about the Go Home campaign will confound analysis of whether it is ‘working’. I’m not sure which indicators of success the government is using – that seems to be the fundamental question. In their absence, I’m assuming the proof of the pudding with votes – a swing from UKIP to the Conservatives in elections, set against a reduction in voters of migrant background who vote Conservative. Is that reasonable, if crude?

But what about the government’s short-term decision about whether to carry on along this tack? Will it be numbers of voluntary repatriations, or will pollsters will tell them? A YouGov poll for The Sun (pdf) found that 31% of respondents thought the campaign racist, with 39% considering it in poor taste but necessary. As far as I can see, that’s without the pollsters showing them the handcuff imagery, telling them about the National Front resonance, or pointing out that the boroughs targeted have a certain ethnic profile.

Constrast that with the reaction of local politicians of all political stripes. Here in the pilot boroughs we know that this initiative will kill support for the Conservatives in the local elections. That’s why it is a good idea for prominent Conservatives working at a local level to join the general condemnation as they have (though I’m sure they’re genuinely incensed too).

Another thing the YouGov pollsters omitted to mention was that the Home Office Twitter feed is trying to pass off arrests of suspected undocumented migrants as success of their war on illegal immigration. David Allen Green pointed out that  “For the @ukhomeoffice to say those arrested are already #immigrationoffenders is to prejudge their cases and possibly contempt”. Several commentators have noted that the Home Office neglects to mention how many they subsequently released. I think the approach the Home Office is taking is simply dreadful – the Twitter feed is exclusively anti-immigration, as if the Home Office had no other function. And I feel worried because they do actually think we’re prejudiced enough to maintain our own ignorance about what is going on here, and not ask too many questions.

What about the junior coalition partner in government? The Liberal Democrats don’t seem to have been consulted either and I don’t know of any defending the campaign – Vince Cable’s verdict: “stupid and offensive”, I’ve heard that Clegg disapproves. He apparently called it ‘not clever’ or something mild like that. Lib Dem activist Caron Lindsay is stronger:

“They’re not just trolling us, they are trying to toxify us. If they can get our voters thinking that we have abandoned our belief in civil liberties, then that’s a job well done for them … Nick’s done quite well in the past few days saying what sorts of things need to happen on immigration, like exit checks and spoken out against these god awful vans. However, the language he’s using is still a little too “crackdown” rather than “fairness” for me. When things like the vans or the tube station checks happen, every liberal collectively retches. However, you’ll get a part of the electorate, and some of them might vote for us, feeling in some way reassured that something is being done. We talk of the importance of policing by consent. What happens if a good proportion of people consent to policing of others by intimidation? For me, it’s back to first principles every time. We’re liberals, and we don’t agree with that sort of thing.”

She points to advice from politics.co.uk editor Ian Dunt (who seems to have been reading Anti-Raids Network advice) on what to do if you are stopped. Of course, it would be a lucky undocumented migrant who got to read a blog, but perhaps some potential witnesses and advocates… He quotes the UK Border Agency’s own guidance for its officials and points out that it stipulates a high standard.

“Before seeking to question someone, an IO [immigration officer] will need to have information in his possession which suggests that the person may be of immigration interest (that is there are doubts about that person’s leave status). The information in the IO’s possession should be sufficient to constitute a reasonable suspicion that that particular person may be an immigration offender. Any IO stopping and questioning an individual will need to be in a position to justify the reasons why they considered that threshold to be satisfied in that particular case. Any questioning must be consensual. The paragraph 2 power to examine does not include a power to compel someone to stop or to require someone to comply with that examination. Should a person seek to exercise their right not to answer questions and leave, there is no power to arrest that person purely on suspicion of committing an immigration offence.”

That is pretty conclusive: speculative checks of the kind we have seen on the transport system this week are illegal. It looks as if the Home Office has broken British law – which justifies UKIP calling the activity un-British. If you’re not worried by the hostile environment for legal and illegal immigrants alike, hopefully you find the attacks on civil liberties more of a problem. Today, immigrants. Tomorrow, any other group the government calculates could earn them votes. The next day, goodbye democracy.

So in short we have a campaign which targets darker skinned people with accents, fomenting mistrust between them and more established communities, which the government reckons speaks for itself – “Tough on immigration!” – without their having to communicate how they identify success – arrests of “suspected #immigrationoffenders” are supposed to suffice. So, objecting to this campaign is not about whether or not it’s racist to impose limits on immigration – it’s about resisting government attempts to flout civil liberties and conduct an aggressive campaign within these borders, exclusively for political reasons rather than because it works.

What can be done?

  • Prospective Conservative voters, don’t vote Conservative – and mention the Go Home campaign when you tell them why you didn’t. Or failing that, criticise them in public – they’ll probably take it more seriously from their own (good for you, Derek Laud).
  • Be prepared to be an advocate if you witness a spot check – see the Anti-Raids Network.
  • Unite is making legal objections.
  • Labour Peer Lord Lipsey referred the posters to the Advertising Standards Authority.
  • According to The Independent, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is examining the campaign for “unlawful discrimination”.
  • There are some petitions to sign, including this one from RAMFEL.
  • The campaign needs close scrutiny, and to be discussed with friends and family.
  • We need to sufficiently educate ourselves about migration to recognise when politicians and sections of the media try to divert us with tough talk and publicity stunts. Us and Them, a new book by Bridget Anderson quoted at the top, looks helpful here. Her colleague from COMPAS Ben Gidley has a good piece in The Conversation on assessing the real impact of migration. We need evidence, impact assessments and – for pity’s sake – a little efficiency once in a while.
  • Have a laugh – follow the #immigrationoffenders hashtag on Twitter. David Scheider calls the Home Office campaign a “preliminary rounds of the UK Hunger Games”.
  • We need to demand fairness, for example targeting employers – there’s at least one group of likely Conservative voters which probably has its head down right now.
  • And incidentally, an important kind of fairness is global prosperity where nobody is driven from their place of origin by lack of livelihood. In desperate circumstances, people’s choices narrow to nothing. How about that side of things?
A revised Go Home van

A revised Go Home van

Have you seen this van in Redbridge?

You work when there’s work to be had. You can’t afford a new outfit for your brother’s wedding – let alone a present. Let alone a stag do. You’re angry and two things make you even angrier. One is people on benefits who look like they shouldn’t be. Another is people who don’t come from this country who live 5 to a room, work for their uncles, price your employer out of the market and you out of a job.

The Conservative-led coalition government is pretty sure you’ll fall into line behind their latest initiative.

Exacerbating community relations, by van

Exacerbating community relations, by van

The initiative is led by Mark Harper, Minister of State for Immigration and Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean – he’s @mark_j_harper on Twitter. The Government says:

“Over the next week, two vans will be driven around Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge and will show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their area. They will also show a text number that migrants can message to arrange their return.”

Sometimes I’m afraid of the Conservatives and this is one of those times. Why would migrants abandon everything that is familiar, make a long, arduous and often treacherous journey to the UK only to then live in frankly dreadful conditions and work without rights or proper pay? Because they have nothing to lose where they were before. Perhaps their lives were under threat back home. Perhaps there was no work and no social security. Perhaps there was a war, or a mafia.

Make no mistake, you would do the same. That’s not to say that you have to put up with the situation. Like everybody else I want a working NHS and working public services – and those things depend on maintaining the proportion of taxpayers to service users. But nevertheless, you would do the same – and you would deserve compassion and assistance. Not for your neighbours to start associating you with images of handcuffs.

The trouble for me is that these poor, desperate people, who have moved here to become poor, lonely, exploited, desperate people, are the last people who should be targeted by the government. They are being treated as culprits when in fact they are victims. In some ways they are being treated as vermin to be cleared away.

The first question is, who is profiting from these people? Who is selling – and buying – goods and services at a price so low that the people working to deliver them cannot be paid a decent wage? Who is transporting the migrants, who is employing them, who are their slum landlords? These are the ones who need to be brought into line with the law. And if they keep within the law and there is still a problem, then the next question to ask is, why do migrants feel it would be better to nearly destitute themselves in Britain rather than remain where they were born? And then you will discover stories which make your heart heavy, which bring out the generosity of spirit that this government has given up on. And you will realise why the International Development budget exists.

It may well be that these vans form only part of wider government initiatives to make it hard for undocumented migrants to set up home here. As it is, though, these vans are on the streets of Redbridge and other London boroughs and they are the only part of the action that most people will ever see or hear about. And the message these vans are sending out is potentially a very damaging one. They make it seem as if the people who are here without permission are culprits and criminals who need to be taken away in handcuffs. The mixed message of the handcuffs and the “Let us help you” will bring out the worst fears of most migrants, I’d imagine – because my hunch is that the picture will speak louder than the words. And for the rest of us, whose right to be here isn’t under question, what are we supposed to think? To me, this is somewhere further along the line to official incitement against migrants than this country has seen for a long time.

This government thinks it is appropriate to try to gain support by turning us against some of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. I think the Conservatives are trying to make fools of us.

Preliminary thoughts about what to do next:

  • Ramfel (Refugee and Migrant Forum for East London – their Facebook page seems to be most recently updated) is concerned with community relations. If you spot the van, contact them so that they can take action to monitor the repercussions, and counter any misinformation about illegal immigrants. If you don’t use Facebook, then try info@ramfel.org.uk – there you can also offer help leafleting.
  • Write you your MP
  • Write to Mark Harper.
  • As usual keep your criticism sharp and grounded, don’t rant, don’t exaggerate, don’t insult our public servants, and don’t forget that there is a massive fight for the scraps at the bottom of this society which is ripe for exploitation. Just make the best arguments possible.

Updates

  • The Twitter hashtag (shared with a bunch of random stuff) is #GoHome
  • The leader of Brent Council has made short statement of protest.
  • More from him on the BBC.
  • And here’s a video of Minister Mark Harper misrepresenting undocumented migration as a kind of anti-social petty crime, cut with shots of that nasty van.
  • @The_UK_Migrant points or that this new policy is likely to amount to stop and search.
  • Why shouldn’t London be less like Operation Wetback and more like New York?
  • Even the Daily Mail – bastion of anti-immigration sentiment – thinks the Go Home vans are ridiculous.
  • PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants – is a good resource.
  • Nigel Farage is crowing about the Go Home Vans, rightly assuming that this is the Conservative response to the UKIP threat. When he then proceeds to call the campaign ‘nasty’ he fails to grasp the irony of this recognition.
  • It’s Saturday night and via Barkingside21 on Twitter I know of two reported sightings. Just two, in Kilburn and Willesden Green. Not a very busy or comprehensive tour, then. Perhaps the Go Home Van is feeling a little outlandish? Good.
  • The campaign has united leaders from all parties on Redbridge Council. They have sent Teresa May a unanimous message. It goes: 1) not about us without us and 2) fuck off with your rabble rousing.

Unite Against Fascism

I write this because my trade union branch has diverted some of the branch funds to Unite Against Fascism. I feel Unite Against Fascism is an affront to its own name, and consequently that I should repair for my inadvertent complicity. I can say that I did speak during the debate of that motion but my trade union branch tends to attract a like-minded attendance at meetings and the outcome was not what it should have been.

Wrongs perpetrated against Britain’s Muslims have dramatically increased since poor Lee Rigby’s murderers invoked Islam as justification for their Woolwich atrocity. Support for their actions was virtually non-existent – although it’s worth pointing out that the disgusted British Muslim majority had to fight for British media attention. So, among other things, Woolwich has revealed a strengthening of social cohesion – for example, since the notorious YouGov poll of British Muslims conducted for the politically-right Telegraph after the London bombings of July 2005, which revealed worryingly high levels of support. However, the Faith Matters’ initiative Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) has recorded a newsworthy increase in attacks on Muslim people and property since Woolwich (it’s worth mentioning that questions about the credibility of Tell MAMA are to be expected for any group trying to raise the issue of racism – some criticisms will have their roots in reflex denial, others will have racist motivations, and others will be valid; that said, Tell MAMA isn’t yet very good at reporting its data). It’s clear that the British nationalist far right has moved swiftly to exploit the Woolwich outrage by blaming Muslims, organising intimidatory marches and – the criminal among them – attacking Muslim people and property.

When street activity is intended to, or has the effect of, intimidating people in minority groups, it’s commendable to take to the streets in solidarity. Unite Against Fascism has so far both convened and dominated street-based counter-protest against the British nationalist far right. However, on balance and for the following reasons, I think that Unite Against Fascism does far more harm than good. I’d also say it’s over-focused on the gratifications of street protest. The University of Northamptonshire and Demos both identify the EDL has a highly Web-enabled movement, but the UAF has neglected to organise against the far right on the Web.

UAF members are known for provoking and getting involved in charged, antagonistic exchanges on the street. As such, UAF contributes to what Roger Eatwell calls ‘cumulative extremism’ and Paul Jackson calls ‘tit for tat radicalisation’,

“‘Tit for tat’ radicalisation emerges when two radicalised perspectives
discover antagonistic features within each other’s ideology and actions,
leading to an escalation of radicalisation within two or more groups.”

The EDL was formed in response to an Al Muhajiroun rally in Luton in 2009. Clearly anti-facist organisations need to interfere with this reciprocal relationship between jihadis and the British nationalist far right – UAF does the opposite and actually feeds the division.

But by far the worst aspect of Unite Against Facism is its betrayal of its own name. UAF welcomes support from jihadis (militant fundamentalist Muslim totalitarians who comprise a tiny proportion of Muslims as a whole), and this has made it impossible for it to oppose fascism, racism and bigotry which is endemic to jihadism, particularly against Jewishness, women, homosexuality and Muslims who disagree with them. Critics of UAF on this count include Sunny Hundal, who wrote,

“…left-wing groups don’t mobilise against these religious extremists as they do against the far-right. Anti-fascists who happily march against the BNP or EDL rarely show that level of commitment against Anjem Choudhary’s group. Why? There even seems to be a reticence to admit that the EDL feeds off Muslim extremists …”

and Peter Tatchell (former – perhaps continued – supporter) who wrote,

“UAF commendably opposes the BNP and EDL but it is silent about Islamist fascists who promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and sectarian attacks on non-extremist Muslims.”

UAF’s Vice Chair Azad Ali is a terrible choice – the opposite of appropriate for an anti-racist organisation. He opposes democracy if it prevents the implementation of sharia law in Britain. He also lost a libel case against the DM for calling him “a hardline Islamic extremist who supports the killing of British and American soldiers in Iraq by fellow Muslims as justified”.

Unsurprisingly, the UAF’s problems with analysing facism aren’t limited to blind-eye-turning. According to those who study them (see the aforementioned Demos and Northampton reports) the EDL is not fascist but populist far right. This is important because unless UAF is committed to an impartial analysis of the changing far right in Britain, we need to recognise that it has no chance of identifying effective opposition to fascism.

As well as undermining the ‘against facism’ part of its name, it also tramples the ‘unite’ bit. In case there’s any doubt by this stage, UAF is not a democratic organisation and has made it very hard for individuals and groups to influence its decision-making unless they are politically aligned. So, it becomes clear that UAF’s programme is not after all anti-fascist. It feels its own political ends are best served by leaving some fascists to go about their business.

Consequently UAF has no answers to social division along ethnic and religious lines. This is intolerable to me and I find the argument that these ills are outweighed by UAF’s contribution to street protest entirely unacceptable. I can only imagine the disorientation experienced by young people who come into UAF’s orbit and find a definition of anti-racism distorted beyond recognition.

I can’t bring myself to turn out under a Unite Against Fascism banner and I will be conscientiously avoiding its events. I’ll continue to support all genuinely anti-racist organisations, including  Hope Not Hate.

Update

Although I’m not capably keeping up with with commentary at the moment, there’s plenty more to say about this, including:

Welcomed visitors – Mahmoud Sarsak and Ian Henshall

Two pieces of bad news.

Unite (the ‘union’) have decided that welcoming ‘noble member’ of Islamic Jihad Mahmoud Sarsak (who is therefore, we may assume, women-repressing, gay-hating and murderously intolerant as well as Jew-hating) is a good way to stick two fingers up at Israel. Len McCluskey, Unite’s Secretary General, blesses their general thrust on this. Verdict: Unite has gone over, is lost in nasty and futile ideological territory, and therefore members should either leave or get very involved and marginalise the deranged ideologues. But they should definitely not just sit there feeding them subs. They’re spending members’ subs on jihadis, it seems. It’s worth noticing that Islamic Jihad and the jihadi murderers of that poor man Lee Rigby have a lot in common. This is a recent statement from an Islamic Jihad leader on the prospect of the Jews Nasser expelled returning to Egypt:

“We shall fight them vigorously if they return, especially the Egyptian-Israeli Jews,” said Mohamed Abou Samra, the leading figure in the Islamic Jihad movement. “Islamic Sharia says they deserve to be killed.”

“They will destroy the economy and foment sedition,” he said. “Their return will be over our dead bodies.”

And this extreme, murderous character, not to mention the standard antisemitism, is a very important thing to recognise about Islamic Jihad and any of its ‘noble members’. Unite has sunk so low that it cares very little about it.

And in my manor or thereabouts Alistair Kleebauer reports in the Ilford Recorder – without comment! – that  Ian Henshall will be welcomed into Woodford Green’s Village Bookshop. Ian Henshall has surrendered all reason to conspiracy beliefs about September 11th. He’s like this. Conspiracy beliefs are psycho-social phenomena which deserve a close look, but anything more that is a mistake. For example, hosting them in your bookshop.

I think of these two unwanted visitations as related – they’re both products of the kind of political dismay and disorientation which leads to desperate gropings for a neat cause and a quick fix. The particular reason I’m fretting is that those two have really weird and not at all warm views about Jews. I’m almost certainly understating. And yet they’re welcome.

HT @welshbeard and Richard at Engage.

Let’s criticise David Ward, but not the way he likes his criticism of Israel

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Commemorating the Holocaust (for younger readers, this is the Nazi attempt to exterminate European Jewry along with others they regarded as impure) Liberal Democrat David Ward, MP for Bradford East, says that those who have been brutalised and dispossessed by the Holocaust should learn a special lesson.

The Holocaust was one of the worst examples in history of man’s inhumanity to man. When faced with examples of atrocious behaviour, we must learn from them. It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated.

Just a few words on why this is facile and insidious. If you think a bunch of troublesome people have themselves been brutalised then the precise thing not to do is wag your finger chiding “You of all people should know better”. There are of course many different lessons one could learn from being brutalised – one might be to arm yourself to the teeth and lash out at the first sign of repeat. And if we’re going to psychologise, then psychologise properly. Why is it that so many people who “treat others badly” come from troubled, traumatised or abusive backgrounds? Should we treat the ones who don’t more leniently? Of course not.

Predictably David Ward is supported by antisemitic campaigners such as Gilad Atzmon, who celebrates the alarm of Jews with “The time is ripe for us to say what we see, think and feel”. I won’t help his search ranking by providing a link but encourage you to find him yourself.  Atzmon is just a man, but because he is so constant in his hatred of Israel and Jews we can view his support as a reliable litmus test for antisemitism. He has even turned the Savile scandal to his cause.

David Ward has earned this hopefully unwelcome support, so let’s criticise him along with his new mate Gilad Atzmon, his Lib Dem supporter Mark Valladeressee Sarah AB on Engage – and all the others along the spectrum of bad reasoning to outright Jew hatred.

And I don’t mean the kind of ‘criticism’ David Ward favours when it comes to Israel. I wouldn’t describe that as criticism at all, but as a prejudiced double-standard demonising partisan campaign.

I mean straightforward criticism of his callous perversion and diminishment of the Holocaust – because if we fail to note and object to such moves, before too long it will be open season on the Jews again.

And let’s think back further than the Holocaust. How about central Europe between the World Wars – a time building to the attempted eradication of European Jewry. There’s a good, little-known book I’ve been reading about the Prague Circle – it’s called In and Out and it’s by Leon Yudkin. He describes the appeal of Nietzschian rhetoric of strength and vigour among threatened Jews of interwar Prague (p57). I was surprised to learn that this style was adopted by a young Martin Buber who later became better known as a supporter of a binationalist Jewish-Arab state. This was a minority position and one he reached in the 1920s, before the Holocaust. Others of his contemporaries took very different but no less cogent lessons from antisemitism.

Update – David Icke supports Ward’s original statements. Icke’s strategy is to embolden people who make antisemitic comments to stand by them, and to paint those who apologise as enthralled to an evil entity he refers to as Rothschild Zionists. Icke writes, “Jelly fish-shaking, Israel arse-licking, Rothschild Zionist-owned Liberal Democrats condemn one of their own MPs for simply speaking the truth – and they have done it before”. Again, I’m not helping Icke up the Google ladder (I note that while I’m tiptoeing around the antisemites by not linking to them, Icke doesn’t even mention Ward by name) you can find the piece on his site, 26th January, illustrated by a ridiculous cartoon of an elephant on its knees in somebody’s sitting room, blindfolded with an Israeli flag and sporting a red Star of David on one of its ears. Were I myself susceptible to baseless conspiracy beliefs I’d  probably be wondering whether Icke actually works for Mossad. But I’m not.

Update 2: Mark Gardner’s CST post on Ward.