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Atheists, anarchists and Muslims unite

A different coalition has emerged on the streets of Britain in opposition to the Iraq war. But Adam Riaz Khan argues that the left and Muslims must learn to build on their shared anti-capitalism.

The 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 Brotherhood.

It is clear that MAB may indeed have conservative views on some issues; however to suggest that they are somehow the 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.