The Left should support Harry’s Place

I’ve been brewing this post for some time but was spurred to complete it by Gene on Harry’s Place.

On Harry’s Place read:

  1. British Muslim Initiative: We Resent the Evil Jew in Britain
  2. Legal Threats From Hamas/British Muslim Initiative
  3. We’re Being Sued by Hamas UK
  4. Martin Bright withdraws from Islam Expo
  5. Douglas Murray withdraws from Islam Expo
  6. Stephen Timms MP pulls out of Islam Expo
  7. Malik pulls out of Islam Expo
  8. Thanks for most of the support

Harry’s Place is a conscientious site. In the rare circumstances that its editors misreport a fact, they make this transparent. If a Harry’s Place editor insists, with evidence, that the phrase “evil Jew” or “Jewish evil” appeared, then we can be confident it appeared. Harry’s Place took a screenshot, so we know that the word for “evil” was right there next to the word for “Jew” in an Al Jazeera report of a speech by British Muslim Initiative (BMI) director Mohamed Sawalha. If a mistake on the part of the author of the Al Jazeera report, it was an extremely damaging mistake which required some serious damage limitation from Al Jazeera and the BMI. There was nothing like this – only charges of defamation which were themselves defamatory.

The British Government has rightly pursued a strategy of engaging Muslims after 9/11 but, writes Dave Rich, used the Muslim Council of Britain as the single point of contact. The MCB is like the Jewish Board of Deputies or the Anglican Synod – ie little if anything to do with most people who need to be engaged with – disaffected young people approached and groomed by Islamist extremists who preach violence. As a strategy it cuts out practically all mothers and many community groups. Now the British Government is reconsidering, particularly noting analyses of people like Martin Bright, Nick Cohen, and newcomer the Quilliam Foundation.

Outside the Muslim world Hamas operates behind front organisations – they look very nice but poking around – looking at IslamExpo Ltd’s Companies House entry for example – reveals far right affiliations of the people at the top of organisations like the British Muslim Initiative and Respect. Personally I’d rather go to Living Islam, the event organised by the Islamic Society of Britain. That Hamas peddle a warped perversion of Islam and only get into power through disaffection and filling gaps around education, health and social care, we know. The BMI doesn’t stand for most British Muslims whom I assume like most people have merely been getting on with their lives and occasionally observing with pleasure, relief or maybe pride that an organisation claiming to act as ‘British Muslim’ and with ‘Initiative’ has managed to gain so much influence in British public life. If you don’t look too hard, these organisations seem fine. I’m sure that the majority of the more politically sentient are embarrassed, disgusted and hoping Hamas UK will go away.

I predict that people who for brevity I will pigeon-hole as New Stalinists and Islamist extremists, if and when they react, will try to make us believe that the BMI-Harry’s Place dispute is about whether British Muslims have a right to participate in public life. It isn’t – it’s about whether on not British society accepts a potentially disastrous Muslim Brotherhood bid for political influence in Britain. It would be very wrong and very prejudiced to assume that ordinary Muslims were part of this phenomenon of extremism. Ordinary Muslims are not the problem. The problem is when the self-appointed leaders of organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami and Hisb-ut-Tahrir hijack Muslim political participation.

Anybody wishing to stand against this influence is obliged to tread a very fine line and Harry’s Place does so with impressive delicacy in the face of very little support. Post the 9/11 and 7/7 acts of terror committed in the name of Islam but totally unrepresentative of anything but a lunatic fringe of Islam, it has fallen to a few left-wing commentators and groups with strong democratic grounding, Harry’s Place being one, Nick Cohen, Maajid Nawaz, Ed Husain, Oona King, Norman Geras and Martin Bright, others, to hold their nerve, resist appeasement and attempt to banish the most reactionary and right-wing elements of Muslim society, which until recently have been, or still are, one of a few points of contact with the Muslim community in the UK Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, to the margins where they belong.

This effort is part of Harry’s Place’s original motivation (listen to Little Atoms interview Harry from back in 2005 for background), which was to ballast a bolting Left in danger of flipping over to the Far Right. You cannot do this without raising the alarm (and we should be alarmed) that the main political force behind Muslim Council of Britain and its spin-offs is the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Harry’s Place is not Islamophobic, it is responding to the real threat of terror in the name of Islam without ever placing responsibility for this threat at the door of ordinary Muslims. It notes that many Muslim immigrants to this country moved here in flight from the ‘pure’ ultra-conservative (i.e. based on 12th century interpretation) varieties of Islam for which organisations like the British Muslim Initiative are conduits. Harry’s place is against discrimination on grounds of religion, sex, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. It never denies the rise and real threat of Islamophobia and maintains a focus (where it considers Islam) on Islamist extremists and a clear distinction between Muslims and the Muslim Council of Britain. When Harry’s Place attracts the Islamophobes, which seems to happen quite frequently to people who expose the Islamist extremists, it disowns the racists.

If you, having looked carefully through those Harry’s Place posts which deal with this subject, could constructively suggest a better way to communicate the hugely important and difficult message that Harry’s Place does, I’d be surprised – I also have no doubt that you’d get an attentive audience if you contacted them via their site. Before you do, ask yourself whether you would feel differently if David T was Daoud T, Brett was Burayd and Gene was Ghassan.

As far as I’m concerned, in the spheres of left politics which deal with internationalism, these people and those who share their values are the Left now.

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