he recent anti-war demonstrations have seen thousands of
Muslims across the country protest against imperialist wars
in Afghanistan and now Iraq. The anti-war movement has been
working with the Muslim community who are directly affected
by the war on terror. In the aftermath of 9/11, Islamophobic
currents have increased dramatically encouraging racist violence,
media stereotypes and the institutionally racist agenda of
David Blunkett towards Muslims and asylum seekers. Furthermore
the right wing press have sought to demonise Islam and create ‘mad
mullahs’ such as Sheikh Abu Hamza and Sheikh Faisel.
This together with racist agendas from the government towards
asylum seekers, many of whom are from Muslim countries has
greatly benefited the British National Party who now have
four council seats and are looking to increase its influence
in both local and national politics.
This situation has now seen a 16% rise in racist violence
against Britain’s black, Asian, Muslim and asylum seeker
communities. Many Muslims do feel that there is an agenda
against them and are therefore fighting back by becoming
politically active. Nevertheless it is clear that this agenda
against Muslims is part of a wider agenda against all oppressed
peoples, and is led by a universal oppressor, namely corporate
multi-nationals and the United States government.
Despite the efforts of the Stop the War Coalition to unite
all people against the war, it is surprising and indeed disturbing
to see that some elements of the anti-war movement are still
against working with Muslim groups. It is indeed shocking
to see that the left can produce its own form of racism and
Islamophobia especially considering that they are supposed
to be anti-racist. There has been a concern amongst some
left wing groups about the Stop the War Coalition’s
alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). Many
believe that the Muslim Association of Britain are an ‘Islamist’ group
and are worried about their connections to the Egyptian Muslim
It is clear that MAB may indeed have conservative views
on some issues; however to suggest that they are somehow
same as the Taleban or even fundamentalist groups such as
Al Muhajiroun, is ridiculous. This seems to be the position
of far left groups such as the Communist Party of Great Britain,
Workers Liberty and the anarchist movement. Muslims are therefore
monolithically demonised as being reactionary, patriarchal
and homophobic whereas these problems are more general aspects
of a universal capitalist system. Such prejudices amongst
self righteous radicals and indeed a predominantly white
and eurocentric leftist, Marxist and anarchist movement can
lead to left wing stereotypes which are no different to those
of the right.
The traditional Marxist and anarchist position on religion
may also be a reason why some elements of the anti-war movement
may be uncomfortable at working with religious people. Nevertheless
it does seem that many in the left have never had any problem
with working with Christian groups such as CND.
It is important that progressive left wing forces capitalise
on the rise in political consciousness of the Muslim community
and in particular the Muslim youth who flooded the streets
of East London on the day that war with Iraq began.
The Stop the War Coalition has indeed realised that the
time has come for revolutionary purist attitudes to be abandoned.
Nevertheless it does seem that whilst some in the left may
find it difficult to work with religious people, many Muslims
involved in the anti-war movement may find it uncomfortable
working with atheistic individuals and forces which are hostile
and patronising to Muslims and their religious beliefs. It
is clear that the class struggle is different in diverse
contexts and localities; therefore it can and has taken on
a black, Asian, Muslim, religious, gay or feminist identity,
and must reject any ideological purism.
For many Muslims, therefore, it is their religion which
gives them their inspiration to oppose imperialism and oppression.
The left may feel that organised religion is reactionary
but the reality reflects something different. A recent local
anti-war demonstration in Newham on the 29th March 2003 saw
over 10,000 people march along Green Street towards East
Ham to oppose the local MP’s pro-war stance. It was
through the Mosques that so many people were able to be mobilised
in support of the anti-war cause, and I believe that this
has greatly benefited the national anti-war movement. When
organising within the Muslim community the left, anti-capitalist
and anarchist movements must acknowledge and respect the
cultural and political differences.
The challenge today is therefore to find a place for Muslim
activists who cannot identify themselves entirely with the
radical left and at the same time cannot identify themselves
with Islamist groups and ideas. As progressive ideas exist
universally, Muslims must look for them within their context.
The struggle against oppression has been central to Islam
for centuries. Muslim history is replete with egalitarian
struggles, manifested both in terms of class and gender.
The anarcho-sufi Hakim Bey has often talked of the need to
find egalitarian and radical impulses within the Islamic
context, and indeed this can be used to counter leftist stereotypes
of Islamic reaction, let alone an opposition force to Islamists
who teach ignorance and bigotry. For example we can find
anti-authoritarian and revolutionary tendencies within Sufism,
the mystical dimension of Islam; many Sufi orders and Sufis
advocated and struggled for women’s equality and social
justice long before Marx and Bakunin.
Furthermore one can say that Islam’s prohibition of
interest makes economic globalisation and the exploitation
of the ‘Third World’ an impossibility. We can
also find an Islamic theology of liberation amongst the ideas
of the Iranian revolutionary Ali Shariati. In the 1960s and
1970s, Shariati expressed the view that the Quran calls upon
Muslims to fight for the liberation of the mustad’afun
fi’l ard (oppressed of the earth) against those oppressive
ruling classes who are mustakbirun (the arrogant ones). Ali
Shariati believed that a classless society would be a true
reflection of the Islamic concept of Tawhid (unity and oneness
of God) and that any division or sectarian behaviour amongst
humanity was a form of shirk (polytheism).
If a Muslim and a Marxist can agree that we must get rid
of a system which breeds the divisions of racism, nationalism,
patriarchy and exploitation, then the anti-war and indeed
the anti-capitalist struggle is clearly one struggle.