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:

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For every privilege granted to religion, others’ rights are betrayed

For anybody worried about the advance of religion on civil rights, it has been a bit of a week.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, fronted by Trevor Phillips, is intervening in the cases of Lillian Ladele, the registrar who refused to fulfil her duties with same-sex partnerships, and Gary McFarlane of Relate who wouldn’t give counselling same-sex couples. If their religion prevents them from doing this, then they have chosen a homophobic religion. I’m an ardent defender of freedom of worship, but if the law finds these people entitled to enact their prejudices in the workplace then the law is an ass.

Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society comments

“Mr Phillips should realise that by encouraging these worthless cases he is putting at risk the rights of gay people and others to live free from discrimination and injustice. For every privilege granted to religious people, someone else’s rights are diminished. The fight for equality for gays has been long and hard, and now we see this campaign putting them at risk as religious believers fight for the right to legally enforce their prejudices against LGBT people.”

And alarming news from Maryam Namazie, whose organisation the Council of Ex-Muslims – mutual support for apostates from Islam – was denied charitable status by the Charity Commission. She writes in a mail-out

In its refusal letter the Charity Commission says:  “Under English law the advancement of religion is a recognised charitable purpose and charities are afforded certain fiscal privileges by the state. The prohibition of any such financial privilege as called for in the demand made in Manifesto would require a change in law. Similarly a separation of religion from the state and legal and education system would appear to require both constitutional reform and change to the law.”

“There is something fundamentally wrong when the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain can’t get charity status but the Sharia Council legislating misogyny in its sharia courts can. And how absurd that defending secularism is not a charitable object but advancing religion is.”

Pretty disappointing then that the best inter-faith organisation I know of, Faith Matters, doesn’t seem to be engaging with secularism at all.

If I can find any, I’ll post details of any campaigns to remove charitable status from organisations advancing religion, or extend it to organisations advancing secularism.

Bonus link: One Law For All.

Update: the Pink News reports that the National Secular Society has gained permission to intervene in four cases – including those referred to above – to come before the European Court of Human Rights. And after strong criticism, the Equality and Human Rights Commission seems now unlikely to argue for reasonable adjustments for religious adherents. Sanity breaks out.

10:10 – having a bad day, going nowhere fast

10:10 inspires me, and The Guardian’s environmentalism has been one of its few redeeming features. But this:

It’s a bit like Joel Schumacher’s film Falling Down.

Bill Foster has become monomaniacal about reaching his destination. He abandons his car on the free-way and takes a direct route on foot through the most troubled part of L.A., enacting summary justice on transgressors he encounters. He’s not an unsympathetic character – just embittered to the point of violent misanthropic insanity. You know he has to die.

But while you’re relishing the carnage over at Harry’s Place or (more than likely) Spiked, keep in mind that inertia and targeted discredit are bigger forces for harm than shrill environmentalism. For those who haven’t noticed, there’s the bloodiest of wars going on between climate scientists and various agents whose interests are entrenched in greenhouse gas emissions, and in general, we-the-public are not helping.

Watch University of Plymouth Professor of Geosciences Communication Iain Stewart’s BBC series Earth: the Climate Wars. Read sociologist Anthony Giddens, listen to ethicist Clive Hamilton, and follow Open University geographer Joe Smith’s Creative Climate initiative. If organisations like 10:10 fail, we’re going down.

More on Farzad Kamangar and the political dissidents executed in Iran

Maryam Namazie is a member of the Central Committee member of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. This group is generally foresaken by British communists with the exception of the Alliance for Worker’s Liberty, because it sits uneasily with the mainstream (if I may call it that) far left’s position on Islamist Iran as resistance to Western imperialist hegemony. (Sorry no links to sources for that – soon I will lose all confidence of my readership).

Today on May 12th she posted an update on the May 9th executions:

“Four days after the heinous executions of Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam-Houli and Mehdi Eslamian, five political prisoners, by the Islamic Republic of Iran their families have still not succeeded in getting the bodies of their loved ones back for burial. The families remain in Tehran going from office to office and building to building in order to get a response. The regime is demanding that the families of the executed give guarantees that there will not be any ‘troubles’ when the bodies are released to them.

Today 12 May, the families of the executed have been standing in front of the Islamic Assembly (Majlis) from early morning. Farzad Kamangar’s lawyer and relatives have informed us that they are still waiting.

Yesterday, in Maku, Shirin’s mother and sister were arrested and subsequently released. In Tehran and in front of Tehran University where protestors had gathered the regime brought out its security in full force and in Iranian Kurdistan it has imposed an unofficial military rule.

There is news from Iranian Kurdistan that tensions have heightened there. Thousands of leaflets calling for a general strike on May 13 have been distributed in various cities. Many of the schools in which Farzad was a teacher and in villages around Kamyaran are closed.

According to the latest news from Evin prison, the executed were told of their execution the night before and immediately taken to special cells. Shirin was studying when they came for her. Other prisoners said they heard her shouting and asking for permission to call and say goodbye to her mother, which was not granted. Others in her unit waited for her until morning when the guards came to collect her things and were then told that she had been executed.

On Saturday 8 May at 4pm Farzad spoke to his family though unaware that he was to be executed early May 9.

The regime brutally executed them and now refuses to hand over their bodies. It has even issued arrest warrants for Farzad’s mother and other relatives.

The International Committee against Executions and Iran Solidarity calls on people everywhere to step up their protests against executions and the Islamic regime of Iran and join the May 13 general strike in Kurdistan and elsewhere.”

Her previous posts:

For Farsi speakers, there is a commemorative video, including interview with Farzad Kamangar’s mother, which I don’t understand.

Dissident teacher Farzad Kamangar hanged by the Iranian government

It’s been many years that the Iranian government has been targetting teacher trade unionists.

Farzad Kamangar was one of five Kurdish dissidents – Shirin Alam-Houli, Ali Heydarian, Mahdi Islamian, Farzad Kamangar, and Farhad Vakili – hanged today by the Iranian government. Iran Focus reports this as the reason:

“They were convicted of ‘Moharebeh’, or ‘waging war on God’, in 2008 for membership in opposition Kurdish groups, including PJAK, and acting against State security.”

Amnesty (from 2008):

“Farzad Kamangar, a 32 year old teacher, was arrested by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran in 2006. He was initially held incommunicado at a series of locations, including in the cities of Kermanshah, Sanandaj and Tehran, where he was tortured, including by being beaten, flogged and electrocuted. He was sentenced to death in February 2008 after conviction of “enmity against God” – a charge levelled against those accused of taking up arms against the state – apparently in connection with his alleged membership of the armed group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which carries out attacks in Turkey, after traces of explosive powder and a gun were found in a house he stayed in with his two co-accused and in a car that they had used. Farzad Kamangar denies any such membership. His trial was grossly flawed. Farzad Kamangar has been prohibited, on several occasions and for prolonged periods of time, from seeing his lawyer and family members. The two other men were also sentenced to death and to 10 years’ imprisonment, apparently for forging documents. Under Iranian law, they must serve their prison sentences before being executed. On 11 July 2008, Farzad Kamangar’s death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, his lawyer has submitted his case to a judicial review panel in an effort to have his death sentence overturned. Under Iranian law, death sentences cannot be carried out while under review. He is currently held in Reja’i Shahr Prison, in Karaj, west of Tehran.”

PJAK, the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan, is indeed in opposition to the ayatollas, and is outlawed by them. There are allegations that members carried out reprisal killings against the Iranian authorities. There are also allegations of PKK connections. However, to be held guilty of murder by association is a travesty of justice.

It’s reported that the Iranian authorities offered Shirin Alam-Houli a reprieve on condition that she publicly renounced her previous activities. Her response to that proposition culminated in her execution today.

Kamangar, political activist, teacher, social worker, human rights campaigner, died younger than me, and I feel young. His lawyer Khalil Bahramian told a radio station that he had been sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court during a five-minute, closed-door trial and denied the due process of law.

His was one of the causes taken up by trade unionists in education all over the world. It was representative of the repression enacted on these people by the Iranian regime. Tortured, deprived of food, water, and sleep, you wonder whether death may have seemed like a release.

Street Journalist has an account of the final few years of Kamangar’s life, which makes grim reading. Stroppy has a piece.

People are dying on government whim in Iran:

“Amnesty International has documented repeatedly how vaguely worded legislation is being used to silence the most active sectors of the Iranian population. Charges such as “acting against state security”, “spreading lies”,“propaganda against the system”, “creating unease in the public mind”, “insulting the holy sanctities” and “defamation of state officials” are used to target members of Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities as well as human rights and other civil society activists. Such laws and practices violate Iran’s obligations under Articles 18, 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights regarding freedom of belief, expression, assembly and association.”

Write to MPs and (given the current state of affairs) PPCs to remind them.

Rest in peace, dead activists.

Update: nothing mentioned on the benighted University and College Union Activists List, although my branch is currently supposed to go all out for an imprisoned Columbian; “No results found” for Kamangar Archer on the Iranian propaganda organ masquerading as free media, Press TV. Imagine being Iranian, being safe in Britain, having media skills, and still not speaking out against your deathly repressive government, but even accepting its lucre. Shudder.

  1. Farzad Kamangar, a 32 year old teacher, was arrested by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran in 2006. He was initially held incommunicado at a series of locations, including in the cities of Kermanshah, Sanandaj and Tehran, where he was tortured, including by being beaten, flogged and electrocuted. He was sentenced to death in February 2008 after conviction of “enmity against God” – a charge levelled against those accused of taking up arms against the state – apparently in connection with his alleged membership of the armed group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which carries out attacks in Turkey, after traces of explosive powder and a gun were found in a house he stayed in with his two co-accused and in a car that they had used. Farzad Kamangar denies any such membership. His trial was grossly flawed. Farzad Kamangar has been prohibited, on several occasions and for prolonged periods of time, from seeing his lawyer and family members. The two other men were also sentenced to death and to 10 years’ imprisonment, apparently for forging documents. Under Iranian law, they must serve their prison sentences before being executed. On 11 July 2008, Farzad Kamangar’s death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, his lawyer has submitted his case to a judicial review panel in an effort to have his death sentence overturned. Under Iranian law, death sentences cannot be carried out while under review. He is currently held in Reja’i Shahr Prison, in Karaj, west of Tehran.

Defend Gita Sahgal (from her employers, Amnesty International)

Amnesty International is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. I’m rooting for Amnesty.

I am deeply nervous about the way Amnesty is going.

They have suspended the head of their international secretariat’s gender unit Gita Sahgal, ostensibly because of this interview with The Times. Sahgal objects to Amnesty’s involvement with the apologist for terror, Moazzam Begg, in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign.

Update: Stroppyblog has Gita Sahgal’s statement. From it:

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners.”.

It makes me really angry these days that it takes centre or right journalism* to expose fundamentalist Islamism in British institutions – Guardian, Independent where were you? True to form, The Times does a bad job of exposing Begg – for them it is enough to be campaigning for the rights of suspected terrorists – as if suspected terrorists weren’t due their human rights.

More on Begg and his associates at CagePrisoners, working to present properly convicted murderers as ‘prisoners of conscience’.

One thing Begg is not is a human rights advocate. To be a human rights advocate entails universalism. Begg is simply partial to jihadis. Sahgal:

“As a former Guantanamo detainee it was legitimate to hear his experiences, but as a supporter of the Taliban it was absolutely wrong to legitimise him as a partner”.

Modernity pulls this quote from the post of Faisal’s I link to below:

“Sahgal’s accusations are based on a fundamental point of principle, which is this: It is correct for Amnesty hold human rights positions on fair trial, torture, diplomatic assurances and work against renditions and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. However, these positions should also require us to hold salafi-jihadi groups and other religious absolutists accountable. Human rights abuses of torture, for example, should not be used to justify, legitimise and finally partner with proponents of violent jihad such as Moazzam Begg.”

Amnesty has no business hosting Begg. In fact, it’s disgusting. This statement released by Amnesty’s Widney Brown is an inadequate response to the main criticism. The main criticism has nothing to do with whether terror suspects have rights – they do, and they need advocates. It has everything to do with whom Amnesty recruits for this advocacy.

Nick Cohen / Martin Bright (my emphasis):

The Sunday Times blew the lid on Amnesty International’s relationship with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners, who act as apologists for the Islamist totalitarianism. Amnesty responded by suspending Gita Sahgal, presumably because they believe she dared to speak to the press. She is the head of the gender unit at Amnesty International’s international secretariat, and has been campaigning on women’s issues for decades. She is rightly sick of the lazy alliance betweenthe supposedly liberal human rights world and the decidedly illiberal world of radical Islamists. She has therefore blown the whistle on the disgraceful arrangement between her own organisation and Begg, who has visited Downing Street as a guest of Amnesty, but refuses to condemn the Taliban.

Begg is now an integral part of an Amnesty campaign entitled Counter Terror with Justice. In an email to her colleagues at Amnesty on January 30 she wrote: “I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights.” she wrote. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

It is difficult to make a stand on these issues and keep one’s friends on the left and in the human rights community as she is now finding. She has been deeply frustrated by the way the British liberal intelligentsia gives house-room to right-wing Islamists. She was one of the first people in Britain to warn of the dangers of the politics of Jamaat-i-Islami, the south Asian blood-brothers of the Muslim Brotherhood. She was instrumental in the making of a Channel 4 documentary on alleged Bangladeshi war criminals who had found safe haven in Britain (We can’t say more or Carter-Ruck will sue us).

It is Gita Sahgal who should be the darling of the human rights establishment, not Moazzam Begg.

Like I say, Amnesty is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. But this will not stand. And it’s not entirely out of the blue. They host Chomsky, apologist for atrocities which don’t fit with his world-view. They give inexplicable prominence to Israel in their mag (which we get because we give to them, and this is why I write). I’m getting the general impression they are the latest progressive organisation subject to colonisation by the post-Left. Get it together, Amnesty. Reprieve, whom I gave a largish wodge of money last year, are implicated too. Fuck this shit.

Update: More from Faisal at The Spittoon, Stroppy, Alec, Terry Glavin, links out from Harry’s Place. Join the Facebook group whose members are trying to figure out what to do next.

Update 2: Over on Harry’s Place, Rosie‘s comment is right, I think:

“Yeah – people have been saying, “cancel your subscription” or “threaten to cancel unless Gita is re-instated”. I’m loath to do that unless I know that Amnesty is totally compromised. If 95% of what they do is what they should be doing, and 5% is monkeying around with the likes of Begg, well that’s 95% good work. You get the same about the BBC. A dim-witted, biassed programme gets made and everyone starts howling that the BBC should be carved up and the pieces handed over to Rupert Murdoch.”

Update 3: Moazzam Begg responds; Harry’s Place responds to his response. More on CagePrisoners’ mixed messages – where’s the credibility in saying you love human rights if you also promote and associate with jihadis?

Update 4: Sahgal and supporters have a site – Human Rights for All.

Update 5: Gita Sahgal on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and Newswire, 9th Feb.

*This is not about left and right. Anybody who doesn’t burn with anger at the double insult of Amnesty’s appalling choice of representative and its treatment of its employee is under a delusion. I just checked – I’m not right of centre, I’m here – still here:

University leaders’ pusillanimity in the face of religious hatred on campus

I have been over-quiet on this blog about the steady, unwelcome encroachment of political Islam (and I do not mean Muslim values) into public life, and left it to others such as Shiraz Maher, Maryam Namazie, Nick Cohen and David T, whose wages are opprobrium and inadequate support. Nevertheless, they are solid, and gaining form.

Perhaps my acquiescence is down to being an alumna of City University, London, an institution where the Islamic Society invites homophobic hater Abu Usama to speak and Acting Vice Chancellor Julius Weinberg makes things cosy for them all.

As you can gather from this Independent piece, inviting Abu Usama is the equivalent of inviting white supremacist David Duke. Sad thing is, the ‘leader’ of the place where I currently work would probably have tried to say it was none of his business either, insisted on free expression, and left the apostates and rights activists to defend themselves. What is a university leader for, again?

Oh yeah, delivering New Labour policy to academics. Nick Cohen on New Labour policy.

And Julius Weinberg, in a position like his, he’s either with gay people and apostates or against them. And if he’s not willing to stand with them, he should resign. And while we’re about it, let’s revisit the University of East London which – mocking their Stonewall Diversity Champion accolade – hosted Usama last June.

Earlier this month a researcher interviewed me about what institutions should do about campus religious conflict. I basically said the following kind of thing. Institutions should reflect the wider context back to the groups at the centre of any contentious episode. If the institution is providing premises for an event, then the institution has ultimate responsibility for the rhetoric and values pushed at that event. If an institution insists on free expression even for ideologues who would kill gay people, then it must also insist on debate. It would run contra to academic values for ideologues, if they are to be hosted, to go unopposed and undebated in a university setting. Ideologues are essentially unacademic: they are neither disinterested nor attempting balance. As such they should not have a platform to themselves. And when students host political meetings they should be responded to as adult political agents. Institutions should restate their values, in opposition to preachers of hate. They often don’t.

I didn’t go to the One Law For All rally, because I was supposed to be doing some work, as I am now. But they are probably our best hope against these bloody clerics, the totalitarian values of the people who invite them, and our capitulating leadership. Without solid, human rights-based groups like those below we will certainly polarise between the fundamentalist or hateful Islamism of Al Qaradawi and Abu Usama, and the similarly intolerant Islamophobia of Geert Wilders and Stop the Islamisation of Europe.

First and foremost, hold the centre against the fundamentalists. Don’t let it happen that we only recognise what we have once we’ve lost it. And once we have marginalised the fundamentalists, we can go back to fighting among ourselves again, just like old times.

Bonus link: Gwen Griffith-Dickson speaking at Gresham (transcript available) on countering extremism and the politics of ‘engagement’.