Sunday, October 23, 2005
Maryam Namazie 2
One woman's war Maryam Namazie personifies the gulf between liberal apologists and those who really want equality Nick CohenSunday October 16, 2005The Observer
A week ago, at a reception in one of London's dowdier hotels, Maryam Namazie received a cheque and a certificate stating that she was Secularist of the Year 2005. The audience from the National Secular Society cheered, but no one else noticed.
At first glance, the wider indifference wasn't surprising. Everyone is presenting everyone else with prizes these days - even journalists get them. If coverage was given to all award winners, there would be no space left in the papers for news. On top of that, secularism is still an eccentric cause. Despite the privileges of the established churches, this is one of the most irreligious countries on Earth. The bishops have power but no influence, and the notion that you need a tough-minded movement to combat religious influence still feels quaint.
Like republicanism, secularism is an ideal which can enthuse the few while leaving the many cold.
The rise of the Christian right in the United States and the Islamic right everywhere, of faith schools and religious censorship is breaking down complacency. The 7 July bombings should have blown it to pieces. But the Ealing comedy caricature of a kind vicar, who may be a bit silly but remains intrinsically decent, is still most people's picture of the religious in England, not least because there is truth in it. (It's a different matter in Northern Ireland and on the west coast of Scotland, for obvious reasons.)
For all that, Maryam Namazie's obscurity remains baffling. She ought to be a liberal poster girl. Her life has been that of a feminist militant who fights the oppression of women wherever she finds it. She was born in Tehran, but had to flee with her family when the Iranian revolution brought the mullahs to power. After graduating in America, she went to work with the poor in the Sudan. When the Islamists seized control, she established an underground human rights network. Her cover was blown and she had to run once again. She's been a full-time campaigner for the rights of the Iranian diaspora, helping refugees across the world and banging on to anyone who will listen about the vileness of its treatment of women.
When an Iranian judge hanged a 16-year-old girl for having sex outside marriage - I mean literally hanged her; he put the noose round her neck himself - Namazie organised global protests. Her best rhetorical weapon is her description of the obsessiveness of theocracy. The law in Iran not only allows women to be stoned, she says, but it specifies the size of the stones to be used; they mustn't be too small in case it takes too long to kill her and the mob gets bored; but mustn't be too big either, in case she is dispatched immediately and the mob is denied the sado-sexual pleasure of seeing her suffer.
She's media-friendly and literate, not least because she runs the London-based International TV English whose programmes have a large following in the Middle East. Yet one of the most important feminists from the developing world has never been on Woman's Hour. I searched our huge cuttings database and could find only one mention of her in the national press over the past 10 years. Right-thinking, left-leaning people have backed away from Maryam Namazie because she is just as willing to tackle their tolerance of oppression as the oppressors themselves.
It was the decision of broad-minded politicians in Ottawa to allow Sharia courts in Canada which did it for her. They said if they were not established, the Muslim minority would be marginalised and to say otherwise was racism pure and simple.
After years of hearing this postmodern twaddle, Namazie flipped. Why was it, she asked, that supposed liberals always give 'precedence to cultural and religious norms, however reactionary, over the human being and her rights'? Why was it that they always pretended that other cultures were sealed boxes without conflicts of their own and took 'the most reactionary segment of that community' as representative of the belief and culture of the whole.
In a ringing passage, which should be pinned to the noticeboards of every cultural studies faculty and Whitehall ministry, she declared that the problem with cultural relativism was that it endorsed the racism of low expectations.
'It promotes tolerance and respect for so-called minority opinions and beliefs, rather than respect for human beings. Human beings are worthy of the highest respect, but not all opinions and beliefs are worthy of respect and tolerance. There are some who believe in fascism, white supremacy, the inferiority of women. Must they be respected?'
Richard J Evans, professor of modern history at Cambridge, pointed out in Defence of History that if you take the relativist position to its conclusion and believe there's no such thing as truth and all cultures are equally valid, you have no weapons to fight the Holocaust denier or Ku Klux Klansmen.
Namazie is on the right side of the great intellectual struggle of our time between incompatible versions of liberalism. One follows the fine and necessary principle of tolerance, but ends up having to tolerate the oppression of women, say, or gays in foreign cultures while opposing misogyny and homophobia in its own. (Or 'liberalism for the liberals and cannibalism for the cannibals!' as philosopher Martin Hollis elegantly described the hypocrisy of the manoeuvre.) The alternative is to support universal human rights and believe that if the oppression of women is wrong, it is wrong everywhere.
The gulf between the two is unbridgeable. Although the argument is rarely put as baldly as I made it above, you can see it breaking out everywhere across the liberal-left. Trade union leaders stormed out of the anti-war movement when they discovered its leadership had nothing to say about the trade unionists who were demanding workers' rights in Iraq and being tortured and murdered by the 'insurgents' for their presumption.
Former supporters of Ken Livingstone reacted first with bewilderment and then steady contempt when he betrayed Arab liberals and embraced the Islamic religious right. The government's plans to ban the incitement of religious hatred have created an opposition which spans left and right and whose members have found they have more in common with each other than with people on 'their side'.
As Namazie knows, the dispute can't stay in the background for much longer. There's an almighty smash-up coming and not before time.
Bob Pitt Watch - From Workers' Liberty
Submitted on 21 October, 2005 - 17:15. Solidarity 3/82, 20 October 2005 The Left
By Andy Hilton Boycotters are back
It looks as if the “boycott Israel" crowd have recovered sufficiently from their defeat in the Association of University Teachers (AUT) to come back for another stab. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine are bringing Dr Nabeel Kassis, president of Birzeit University in the West Bank, to speak in Britain on the case for a boycott of Israeli universities. The tour comprises three meetings, at Sussex, LSE and Birmingham, between the 23 and 25 of October.
None of these meetings is sponsored by a branch of the other further and higher education union, NATFHE. But it’s NATFHE where a renewed boycott campaign will probably focus its energies. Time for principled socialists, who support Palestinian liberation and academic freedom but oppose demonising Israel, to get mobilised…
Bob Pitt watch
Former Workers Revolutionary Party member and now editor of What Next, Bob Pitt, is a very industrious bloke. He single-handedly runs a website called “Islamophobia Watch” in which he pours vituperative criticism, mainly on people of a Muslim background who dare to criticise their religion of birth or its cultural practises.
The spectacle of a white, middle-aged, middle-class male denouncing Muslims and ex-Muslims (many of them women) who speak out against homophobia and misogyny inside the Muslim community as “racists” is very bizarre.
Pitt reached a new low recently when he began linking to articles from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC). On the MPAC web-forums, senior moderators (and therefore presumably people who are relatively prominent within MPAC itself) did nothing to stop — and in fact joined in with — a discussion about the appropriate method for killing gay rights activist Peter Tatchell. And these are the forces Pitt backs against socialists from the Muslim world.
Bob’s recent achievements also include backing the Iranian ruling-class in its homophobic execution of two gay youths, supporting right-wing clerics in Canada in their attempts to get religious law officially incorporated into the legal system in Muslim communities and defending as “progressive” the ultra-rich and ultra-right wing cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.
Bob thinks he is defending the Muslim community against racism. In reality, all he is doing is defending the bourgeoisie and its ideas within the Muslim community against working-class militants. There’s a name for people who do that…
Viva Maryam Namazie
One of Pitt’s favourite targets is Maryam Namazie of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, who was recently awarded the National Secular Society’s “Secularist of the Year” award. The NSS are not socialists but they’re definitely on the right side against the type of people who tried to have Jerry Springer The Opera axed or those who successfully shut down the play Bezhti in Birmingham.
They also understand that opposing anti-Muslim racism doesn’t mean defending religious ideas or lining up with the most reactionary elements within the Muslim community and Muslim world. Which is presumably why they’ve given Maryam their award. Naturally, Bob was outraged. But (or rather therefore‚) Looking Left is pretty pleased. Congratulations, comrade!
Charity, not solidarity!
Our pals over at Weekly Worker have helpfully brought to our attention another step on the SWP’s journey to becoming irredeemable middle-class liberals. In the wake of the Pakistani earthquake, those on the left with a clue about class called for donations to working-class activists and socialists in Pakistan.
We know that aid given through big NGOs can often find its way into the hands of bureaucrats and government functionaries, but aid given directly to grassroots campaigners will be distributed and used democratically and under workers‚ control. The SWP, sadly, doesn’t share this perspective, and has been out collecting for Islamic Relief, which is essentially the Muslim equivalent of Christian Aid (i.e. a big, bourgeois charity with lots of religious strings attached).
According to WW, SWP member and Respect councillor Michael Lavalette has called an emergency meeting with local mosques and “leaders from the Pakistani community” to discuss what Respect can do to aid the relief effort in Pakistan, Kashmir, India and Afghanistan.
The SWP’s perspective is clear: not solidarity with Pakistan’s workers‚ movement and revolutionary socialists, but philanthropy channelled through the (right-wing, bourgeois) “community leadership.”
In the latest issue of Socialist Worker, there’s an article by Loretta Napoleoni, author of a new book on the life of Musab al-Zarqawi. Napoleoni has written extensively in the past, in not very approving terms, about jihadi terror organisaitons. But this is not a a good article.
Maybe someone in the SWP subbing department got to squeeze out any subtlety in Napoleoni’s article, but this amounts to a largely uncritical account of the life of Musab Al-Zarqawi, the top dog in al Queda in Iraq. “Al-Zarqawi is the ultimate product of al Qaedism, the new anti-imperialist ideology which has risen from the ashes of al Qaeda.”
It goes on: “Al-Zarqawi’s journey to becoming an international leader of terror took place in prison. Torture and solitary confinement boosted his determination to challenge authority.”
It may be true that Al Zarqawi was tortured in prison, but what conclusion does Napoleoni draw from this? That Al Zarqawi is not responsible for his actions?
At the end the article is more honest: “Right from the beginning he was determined to drive a wedge between Sunnis and Shias to prevent them from uniting in a national front. At the same time he became fully committed to the fight against the US. Thus his struggle was conducted from the beginning on two fronts — one against the Shia and one against coalition forces.”
For Socialist Worker at least (we don’t know about Napoleoni) the tough question that flows from this is neither asked nor answered: how can someone whose explicit aim is sectarian warfare against a majority community possibly build a movement of national liberation that unites Iraqis across sectarian lines?
The real myth is the idea that “anti-imperialists” who only oppose imperialism in the name of theocracy, clerical-fascism and racist religious sectarianism can bring anything but further misery and chaos to the people of Iraq.