Fucking a pig, fucking the country

25 Sep

By now you must have heard the allegations concerning David Cameron in the so called ‘Piggate’ scandal. I can’t say I’m surprised at all at this event and have a certain amount of glee at the fact that in 100, 200 years, this will be his legacy. The only thing he is remembered for. Imagine the humiliation he is going through right now. Whether it’s bombing Libya, supplying arms to jihadists, carrying out extra judicial killings, carrying out attacks on workers and unions, imposing further limits on the right to strike, stirring up racism, carrying out extra judicial killings, attacking the right to protest, driving disabled people to kill themselves and presiding over a huge transfer of wealth from poor to rich it’s not often we get to laugh at anything this guy does. There’s a good chance that without bestialising his way into elite Oxford clubs he wouldn’t have got to be prime minister anyway. So let’s enjoy it and enjoy the spectacle of the Tory party and their wealthy backers tearing each other apart. I hope he is sitting in a room crying himself to sleep.

On the other hand I do hope it raises more awareness of the despicable way farm animals are all too often treated. Being used by that overprivileged tosser as a sperm receptacle simply adds insult to injury after a life which is often spent in pain, in overcrowded, unnatural conditions where pigs often have their tails and other body parts cut off for their own safety. Now we can add being sexual playthings for elitist toffs to a list of things that can now happen to farm animals which are already seen as little more than inanimate objects. You would think that an animal that gave its life to be on our plate should be treated with a bit more dignity.

His behaviour helped facilitate a culture where animals can be treated with disgusting cruelty for our amusement, and helped cement the bonds between him and other members of the elite establishment. As of course do rituals such as burning a £50 note in front of a homeless person. All part of binding the group together with shared secrets, which they believe will never come out, and getting its members to overcome and openly mock any moral boundaries they may have had, as have similar rituals by fraternities in the US. This is a man that described looters at the London riots as part of a ‘broken and sick’ society, that’s seen fit to lecture us about ‘British values’ and how we have been too tolerant as a country, ‘as long as you obey the law we will leave you alone.’ This creep fucked a pig and he has posed for the last five years as a moral arbiter. The last few months’ political events have been an absolute gift to the far right and reactionaries of all kinds in the UK and across the world.

Of course fucking a dead pig isn’t the worst thing he has done but it is telling that whatever opinion you may have the majority of people don’t seem remotely surprised.

Stop the ‘White Man March’ in Liverpool next Saturday

9 Aug

Statement by AFN:

On Saturday 15th August, neo-Nazis will attempt to march through Liverpool. The so-called “White Man March” – this time on its second outing – is organised primarily by members of neo-Nazi youth group National Action. It is supported by neo-Nazi groups from across Europe.

In March this year, the first “White Man March” took place in Newcastle. Around 100 neo-Nazis marched through the city before burning gay, communist and Israeli flags, screaming “Hitler was right” and sieg-heiling at counter-protestors. Although small compared to other far right protests, this was the largest and most explicit neo-Nazi march to take place in the UK since the eighties.

These events have been organised by people from an alliance of neo-Nazi groups. In Newcastle National Action were joined on the streets by the British Movement, Creativity Alliance, Misanthropic Division and National Rebirth of Poland. We expect the EDL splinter group North West Infidels to join this march. They have been responsible for attacks on picket lines, anti-fascists and Irish republican marches in Liverpool.

National Action members openly praise Hitler, trade anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and talk about their genocidal fantasies. Liverpool resident and National Action member Garron Helm was jailed for sending anti-Semitic abuse to MP Luciana Berger.

While some far-right groups have tried to moderate their public face, National Action revel in their blatant Nazism. These groups are growing as other parts of the far right collapse. Although they are nearly all tiny by themselves, the numbers they can bring out for the “White Man March” are worrying.

Liverpool, as a city with a proud left-wing tradition, has been chosen to demonstrate the “strength” of the neo-Nazi movement. We expect to see more than the 100 they brought to Newcastle and if we want to stop their growth they must be opposed. In 2013 we saw 5000 people march against fascist Nick Griffin and we need to draw on the city’s anti-fascist roots when the “White Man March” comes to town.

History has shown that Nazis need to be confronted head on, so they don’t have the space to spread their racist bile and grow in size and confidence. Given the chance, they will attack workers’ organisations, ethnic minorities, LGBT people and anyone else they perceive as their enemy. We are calling on anti-fascists across the North West to stand with the people of Liverpool in opposing these Nazi thugs.

They shall not pass!

Voting Tory…with no illusions.

12 May

So the election result is in and the Tories have won, with David Cameron back in for a second term. They only have a very small majority on only 331 seats, which is less than that of John Major’s majority in 1992. Despite the first-past-the-post electoral system meaning that they won a majority on 37% of the vote, the Tories nonetheless secured 41% of the electorate who voted in England and Wales, or around 11 million people, two million more than Labour. In Scotland, an even bigger shock occurred. The collapse of Scottish Labour and the obliteration of the Liberal Democrats led to the SNP taking almost every seat except for one Labour, one Tory and one Lib Dem MP, a gain of 50 seats. Under Jim Murphy, who has only been leader a few months, Scottish Labour suffered the worst defeat in its history.

In the 48 hours or so following the election the reaction of most of the left (including myself), and a great many Tories themselves, was disbelief and horrified amazement. The Tories had only an 8% chance of gaining a majority and the polls were apparently neck and neck apart from a couple of “outliers“, which were ignored in favour of the more “likely” option of a hung parliament. One man who had bet £30,000 on an outright Tory victory had to be paid £210,000 by bookies. Now that the shock has subsided serious questions have to be asked why this happened. After all, the last Tory/Lib Dem government “seemed” so unpopular. The reaction of many with leftist and liberal sympathies, particularly in the Labour and Green party, resembled those described in the infamous quote, who believe that the working class has failed the left, rather than the other way round.

Yet this piece will argue that rather than English voters being any more right wing than those in Scotland, this Tory majority is rather than a victory for the right and the “common sense” of the Tories, primarily a defeat for Labour and to a lesser extent other parties on the electoral left. This election was not about the Tories winning but Labour losing. Faced with a choice of two neo-liberal parties, one of which started the ATOS work capability assessments, began the war in Iraq and started a vicious attack on civil liberties, began workfare schemes and began a series of disastrous privatisations, such as PFI and academy schools, many people voted for what they thought was the “least worst” option. Some ‘shy Tories’ were in fact lifelong Labour supporters who found themselves unable to vote for Miliband’s party. When the opposition is a pale imitation of the real thing, offering a nearly identical ‘plan’, why not choose the real thing instead? In other words they voted Tory with no illusions. 

Labour are in disarray, much like the Tories in 2001 and 2005. They seem to switch between complaining against the effects of ‘Tory cuts’ and claiming that they will be tougher on benefits than the Tory party depending what day of the week it is. The welfare “reforms” embarked on by the coalition government between 2010 and 2015 built on and accelerated those already introduced by Labour. Some criticisms of Ed Miliband relate to the idea that he did “too little” to challenge the “Tory narrative” on the disabled and benefit claimants. Yet Gordon Brown campaigned in the last election on the idea that there should be “no life on the dole“. The Labour government claimed it wanted to “transform” the welfare state for the 21st Century, and in the most recent election proposed to withdraw benefits for six months for people who refused to take a job. While foodbanks exploded under the current administration, they began to increase under the last Labour government from around 2009 onwards.

The Lib Dems, who tried to be all things to all people and the ‘protest vote’ for people on the left and right dissatisfied with the big two, entered a coalition with the Tories and challenged almost none of their policies while in office. During election debates I attended, the Lib Dem candidate insisted that despite all evidence to the contrary she was a ‘left wing choice’ and the only candidate that could prevent a Tory win. In the neighbouring seat, voters received leaflets from Lib Dems claiming the Tories could not win so they should vote for the Lib Dems against Labour. This behaviour has led to their near extinction as a political force. Voters who agreed with them voted Tory, whereas those who didn’t voted Labour, UKIP, Green or not at all. The extent to which they have merely become a ‘brand’ with no substance, purely dedicated to election-winning and failing miserably at it, is shown by the fact that some of their former campaigners are flogging ‘political campaigning masterclasses‘, presumably to anyone who wants them.

Faced with two parties, both of whom share the same set of neoliberal, pro-austerity assumptions, it is little surprise that some people picked the one that seemed to know what it was doing, rather than the one that didn’t. Pointing to Thatcher as a reason not to vote Tory has little credibility outside, and increasingly inside, those areas where her policies had the most disastrous impact. Banners saying ‘The Bitch is Dead’ are hardly going to inspire many young women voting for the first time in areas like Nuneaton, a former Labour seat taken by the Tories in 2010; they are more likely to decide hard left politics is not for them. The pandering of some leftists to right-wing homophobic and racist prejudice regarding Chuka Umuna, the Blairite Labour candidate, rather than attacking him on his views, is further evidence of this degeneration.

Her rule is a fading memory, something which cannot be said for the last Labour government. Many young people have a similar visceral dislike of Labour as previous generations do of the Tories. Thirteen years of Labour rule failed to reverse the economic decline in their former heartlands; far from being ‘lazy‘, former Labour voters increasingly opt for UKIP or stay at home altogether. A growing number have switched to the Tories, having seen a slight improvement in their personal finances over the last five years. When one man was asked why he was voting Tory, the reply was ‘because I work’.

So what do the Tories offer people? To read leftist social media you might assume that the sole reason people vote Tory is because of fear of the Scots, greed, snobbery and hatred of people on benefits. Otherwise, they’re just ‘thick’ and ‘haven’t read the manifesto properly’. Yet the Tory manifesto contains no mention of gleefully robbing people of their benefits. Instead the Tory message is that of trying to appeal to people who want to ‘get on’ and earn a living. The Scottish Tory election broadcast, for example, shows Ruth Davidson discussing her working class background and saying that the Conservatives want to help people who want to make it in life and have a better standard of living for their family. The Tories claim that they want to give people ‘a hand up rather than a hand out’ and help people to improve their situation themselves, rather than relying on the state. Like it or not, this is a very powerful message. These views are not simply held by Tories. The party appears to offer economic stability and a degree of hope for the future. This can be very appealing for those full time workers who are not on benefits but are struggling to get by. The day following the election, a friend’s boyfriend who works on a building site told me that most of his workmates had voted Tory because there had been more work in the five years since they had been in power.

During the last government, spending cuts were largely introduced within the first two years, with an increase in spending shortly before the election. In what the OBR chief Robert Chote called a financial ‘rollercoaster ride‘, the next administration will follow the same pattern, giving the impression the economy is in recovery, despite the social disaster their policies and those of their Blairite predecessors helped create. The Tories have also pledged to offer 30 hours of free childcare every week, help to build 200,000 houses and even create ‘full employment’; these are issues which Labour and the far left have campaigned on for years. They claim they want to support people who can’t work, which is interesting news for those such as the man with terminal cancer who was declared fit for work following an ATOS interview, or the million people now using foodbanks. The impact of welfare policy, workfare programmes, sanctions and the like by Tory and Labour governments fall disproportionately on people who do not vote at all, and are often not even on the electoral register. The rise and fall of different governments does nothing to reverse the decline in their quality of life. Berating such people for their failure to vote and their cynicism about all forms of politics is utterly missing the point.

It has become very easy for people to ignore the effects of neoliberal policies on their fellow citizens, and forget they are happening at all. If you are not personally affected by £12 billion of welfare cuts, it is likely it simply will not mean anything to you. Richer and poorer people live in different areas, even shop at opposite ends of the street. It is possible for people in rural Surrey, whatever their political leanings, to live their lives completely unaware of the problems afflicting towns such as Boston in the North of England, where the economy is dependent on unskilled labour, mostly Eastern Europeans, many of whom are working below the minimum wage. Many voters in prosperous, safe Tory seats chose the Conservatives not out of hatred for claimants and the poor, but because the effects of their policies are, for now, largely an abstraction for them and they picked the party they most trusted. Non-Tory voters in these areas often have a broadly similar outlook and experiences.

Many Tory supporters reacted with genuine confusion to the feelings of left-wing family and friends over the election result. One commenter at politicalbetting.com wrote that his left wing friends and family were ‘devastated’ and ‘in real anguish’ and that if Ed Miliband was prime minister, he would be annoyed, but ‘wouldn’t slit my wrists over it.’ One polling sites such as Yougov and social media like Facebook and Twitter, Labour supporters berated Tory voters for being thick, uneducated, uncaring, and brainwashed by the Mail and Telegraph. One commenter on Yougov vowed to carry on supporting the vulnerable through ‘charitable means‘ and attacked what appeared to be working class Tory supporters for not caring about anyone else except themselves. This sentiment was by no means confined to the activist left; nor was the view that the Scots were responsible for Labour’s disastrous result in England. One woman told me that she ‘couldn’t help feeling really pissed off with Scottish people because they didn’t vote Labour’. Others laid the blame at Ed Miliband for being ‘nerdy’ and a ‘weirdo’.

Yet Labour’s problems go far deeper than the charisma of their leader. Most of their seats are now concentrated in London, Wales or the North of England. Their electoral support in northern seats is falling away, with many voters in these areas staying at home. Labour leadership candidates and front benchers are now largely drawn from upper-middle class social strata in London, with as much experience of the policies they claim to oppose as their Tory counterparts, or officials such as Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, tainted by their links to the last Labour government. The election result in Scotland was the culmination of a process that has been taking place since the Blair years and devolution. It was thought that devolution would satisfy Scottish demands for greater autonomy, but the development of a separate Scottish political culture, public services and legal system has produced the opposite effect.

Scottish Labour campaigned alongside the Tories against independence. Jim Murphy, unpopular with the public and most Labour activists, only took the job as Labour leader because nobody else wanted it. Following Labour’s worst ever Scottish defeat, during which he lost his seat, Murphy initially refused to resign, despite most of the party and several affiliated unions calling him to do so. He won a vote of no confidence by three votes, including his own and that of a Labour peer drafted in to support him, but later announced he would resign the following month. The Scottish TUC is taking pains to disassociate itself from Labour, pointing out that only 10 out of its 38 unions affiliate to it.

The Tories are doing even worse in Scotland. The party took a dismal 14.1% of the vote there, the worst result in any election. In the 1955 election, the party was more popular in Scotland than in England, but it is now a ‘moribund force‘ and had lost most of its support well before the rise of Thatcherism. The SNP, while most of its activists are on the centre-left, draws some of its support from higher-income voters and people who may otherwise form part of the support base of the Conservative party. Two percent of the Scottish population are now SNP members, making it a mass party and giving it the kind of support that English parties can only dream of. Many Tory voters have switched to Labour because they know their party has little hope of gaining any seats and Labour’s policies are more palatable than those of the SNP. To some extent this hides the crisis in the Scottish Labour party, which has had five different leaders in the last eight years. In John Harris’s video of the Scottish election, one of the only Labour voters explains he’s voting for them ‘because I’m a conservative.’

Cameron’s anti-Scottish scare tactics and the proposals to effectively freeze Scottish MPs out of the government by forbidding them from matters affecting England, ensures the UK government and the Tories suffer a further loss of legitimacy in Scotland. There are calls within Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives to distance themselves from Cameron and Westminster. Another referendum is likely within the next ten to fifteen years and this time the answer may be yes. It is difficult to see how Scotland can remain long-term in the UK with no representation in the government and the Tories’ ‘English Votes for English Laws’ proposal. The Tories have almost no popular legitimacy in Scotland, having fought a campaign in England on stirring up fear of the SNP, identified with ‘the Scots’ in general. The Tories referred to rule by the SNP as ‘rule by foreigners’ – Scotland is now a ‘foreign country’.

This election was a disaster for the Labour party; it was even more so for the far left. Since the election, most of the far-left criticism of the Labour party revolves around the idea that Labour is too right wing. According to this view if Labour was to adopt policies advocated by the Trotskyist left, such as nationalisation of major industries, an end to benefit sanctions and austerity, and a substantial increase in the minimum wage, they would have won the election. The failure of the party to do this led them to electoral doom. This argument was put in the starkest terms by the International Marxist Tendency, the group formerly led by Ted Grant, who split from the CWI after Militant’s ‘open turn’ and chose to remain in Labour. They stated:

Only by taking over the commanding heights of the economy – the banks, insurance companies and major monopolies – can we democratically plan the economy in the interests of working people. On this basis, we can provide well-paid jobs, decent housing and free education for our children. The resources would be there to massively raise living standards and eliminate capitalist austerity. British people are crying out for a radical programme. If such a programme was put forward it would win a landslide everywhere.

The problem with this is that there is no evidence whatsoever that this programme would ‘win a landslide everywhere’. The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, led by the CWI, proposed an almost identical programme and got less than 37,000 votes, with no deposits saved. The Green party, who stood on an anti-austerity platform and succeeded in gaining far-left supporters, only managed to elect one MP. They did gain a million votes and were the most successful of the ‘left of Labour’ options. In Coventry, the former Militant MP Dave Nellist, a long standing councillor, lost his deposit. In the 1983 election, such a programme was put forward by the Labour party, which then lost disastrously. Nationalisation is not socialism; like austerity, it is a project to save capitalism. Putting these resources in the hands of the state does not mean that they are in the hands of working people. Chinese and Russian nationalised corporations behave in exactly the same way as any other corporation. The nationalisation of the banks in the UK was not a step towards socialism.

The disastrous Railtrack privatisation showed that when it is necessary the British state can bring services back ‘in house’ where necessary without changing its fundamental character. Even private corporations such as ATOS are operating under directives from the state and are serving that state in its need to reduce spending and reduce its debt. Nationalising these functions would not alter what they are designed to do and would not change the fact they are a brutal attack on the working class. Privatisation does not mean that services formerly provided directly by the state are outside its control; they can, as in the case of ATOS work capability assessments, be awarded to a different company, renationalised or be ordered to ‘improve’. In practice this means to fulfil the state’s overall goal of reducing welfare spending in order to clear its deficit, but more ‘effectively’. The fear of ‘becoming like Greece’ proved enough for some people to vote Tory. These fears cannot simply be dismissed; at the end of the 1980s the French state under Mitterrand tried to implement a similar programme; within six months it was forced to reverse and introduce spending cuts.

The post war settlement which TUSC and other leftist groups advocate a return to existed under conditions which are no longer possible today. We are no longer in a position where such a project can save capitalism, or is even viable for any length of time. Countries such as Sweden and Finland are dismantling their own social democratic settlements, beginning with disenfranchised, vulnerable sections of the population such as migrant workers and long-term benefit claimants. This can be shown by the fact that in Greece under Syriza, ‘lighter‘ austerity is continuing, with increasing spending being paid for by simply not paying government providers, ensuring that the country’s overall debt ratio is maintained.

While the CWI and other Trotskyists criticise Syriza for choosing to ‘save capitalism from itself’ rather than implement their nationalisation schemes, they do not offer any explanation for why their proposals would work where everyone else has failed, or how exactly nationalisation could ‘transition’ the country to socialism. Even accepting their assumptions that regimes like that of the USSR are not capitalist, there is no reason to think that nationalisation of the top companies would lead to nationalisation of the rest of the economy. Yet too many on the far left look to a revival of the post war settlement of 1945 as a model for the future. When I was a member of the CWI, we would explain to people that we wanted TUSC to be ‘like Old Labour but better’ – another ‘workers’ party’ for Trotskyists to be expelled from, only it would somehow be different because of its ‘Marxist core‘.

The idea that with a different leadership and a slightly different structure, another party – which doesn’t even have the community infrastructure such as Labour Clubs or anything like the trade union presence that party still has – could manage to overturn decades of neoliberalism, is naive in the extreme. It amounts to a ‘great man theory’ that suggests that with a different leadership, the Labour Party, or perhaps even the Tories, could be turned into a vehicle for Marxist revolution. It is the same logic that leads ‘lifelong socialists’ to campaign for the Lib Dems in the hope the Tories and their economic logic can be kept at bay. Even worse, the failure of these parts of the left to properly analyse the class struggle in 2015 and instead look back to a mythical past means that their views are turned into a religion that can never be questioned. The reduction of other parts of the left to policing online indiscretions in the same way as over zealous HR professionals or focusing on nostalgic hobby horses underlines their irrelevancy. One cannot blame workers for not knowing the basics of Marxist theory, when so much effort has been expended into ensuring that theory belongs to an academic elite.

Over two thirds of workers are no longer in trade unions. Temporary and insecure work has been a feature of the British economy for years – what are temping agencies for? It is difficult for many workers to sympathise with what appear to be well-paid public sector workers on secure contracts, when they themselves work for far worse pay and conditions; unionised workers are far more likely to belong to professional occupations and only 15% of workers earning below £250 a week are union members. Temporary workers frequently find the improved pay and security of permanent staff a huge source of resentment. Furthermore, when left-wing parties are seemingly focused on unions and unionised workers to the exclusion of everything else, and write off any possible militancy outside the unions, this essentially says to the majority of the workforce that they are irrelevant. There is little attempt by the electoral left to look outside the unions or even to recruit agency and private sector workers to them, despite lip service being paid to that idea. The Tory party, with its emphasis on benefiting people who work hard, and its achievable-sounding promises, has even begun to appear an attractive option to some.

The grassroots base of both the Labour party and the Tories has been hollowed out by neoliberalism. The Tory party once had as much of a base in some communities as the Labour party did, through churches, community groups and conservative clubs. In some areas these clubs still exist, though they are usually just places to get cheap drinks rather than ‘promoting conservatism’. In Scotland, the phenomenal growth of the SNP to 2% of the population has gone some way to reverse the decline of mass parties, although the popular bases of the Conservatives and Labour have all but collapsed there. Hoping that the Labour party can be ‘pushed to the left’ by simply changing its leadership or that another party on exactly the same lines can come and take its place is a waste of time. Demanding a minimum wage a couple of pounds above that of the main parties is not going to work. Some new thinking is needed.

Delusion and reality – Israel’s PR machine

19 Mar

Let’s try an experiment. What happens if you read an article written by an Israeli state apologist and replace Israel with ISIS? Imagine one day you read something like this:

What is it with the UN’s treatment of ISIS? I am not referring simply to Shafiq Anwar’s superb essay in the current issue of this journal regarding the UN’s age-old antipathy toward the world’s only real Islamic State. I’m suggesting the UN’s single-minded attacks on IS have of late intensified and grown even worse. Yes, it’s possible.

On November 14th, for example, the United Nations General Assembly adopted nine resolutions condemning ISIS —and none condemning any other nation. Two of these denunciations of ISIS are remarkable because they refer to their alleged maltreatment of the Kurds, specifically the occupation of the strategically important Kurdish territory that was taken by ISIS in 2014 —after it was attacked by regional powers and coalition forces. Since that time the territory has been the subject of repeated coalition air strikes, the main issue being, Caliph Ibrahim pointed out in June 2014, that the Kurds maintain warm relations with the UK and the US, and cooperate with Iran, all of them committed to Dawlah’s extermination.

Of course we could argue forever about who should have Mosul, although personally I’m of the opinion that if you want to keep your nation intact, you probably shouldn’t start a war with ISIS. And if you want to improve your chances of reclamation, it makes sense to resist funneling weapons to PKK terrorists. But the idea that the UN musters 159 votes to condemn ISIS’s decision “to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration” on the area, and fails at the same time to mention that being a Christian in Mosul is about a million times better than finding yourself, say, in a village outside Damascus, where just months ago 1,400 people were gassed to death by their own president—well, let’s just say the General Assembly is probably being a bit one-sided here.

In fact, on November 14th, that same group of impassioned countries passed other curious resolutions stuffed with suggestions on how to improve ISIS. Among them: “The right of all persons displaced” as a result of the War to return to that nation, a move that would effectively end ISIS’s existence. Unmentioned in all of these resolutions upholding the rights of Shiites, as Abdullah al Britani of Dabiq magazine writes, are any Shiite attacks on ISIS mujihadeen. Among them: the axe murder of a Sunni in the Erbil Valley, a deed that the two suspects captured called “a gift to the Shiite people and prisoners, in honor of Imam Ali.” 

Do I think ISIS’s taking of captives and burning people to death is a smart or ethical move? No I don’t. There’s a lot to criticize these days about Dawlah. But nine anti-IS UN resolutions in one day, many of them—let’s face it—specious, unworkable, and offensive? I think that’s worse. A lot worse.

Or this:

What I find remarkable is that if you have an agenda, facts are the enemy of truth. In this case, the YPG’s agenda is disguised — the end goal is the elimination of the Islamic State — and its underlying ideology is hidden, often mixing vitriolic rhetoric against IS with Islamophobic imagery and stereotypes.

Why do the leading activists of the movement focus their ire on the only state in the world implementing the laws of the Prophet (PBUH) other than because of obsessive hatred? Why are some well-meaning people who care about peace and are frustrated by the status quo drawn into a movement that harbors such antagonism toward IS and Muslims?

Although the situation is not perfect, I feel very comfortable in stating that civil and political rights under Islamic State fare much better than in North Korea, Yemen or Nigeria, and I could name countless other examples. Yet IS is the only country to be vilified with a concerted, well-organized campaign across the globe.

Reading these words would hopefully make most people sick. Yet both of the above articles were written about Israel, a state which is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. A new report by the UN is said to group IDF troops among the worst violators of children’s rights, next to groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram and the Taliban, despite pressure by Israel and its supporters to shelve it. Last year, the IDF killed the largest number of Palestinians since the 1967 war. Since 1948, Israel has enjoyed near impunity, and while there are signs that the US ‘special relationship’ with the country is coming under severe strain, it is unlikely to end in the near future. Apologists for Israeli state violence and racism, hard pressed to find anything palatable to the general public in the actions of the so-called ‘Jewish state’, are increasingly forced to fall back on ‘whataboutery‘ such as decrying the evils of the Syrian state and Iran, insisting that Israel is a ‘liberal democracy‘, or simply calling their opponents racist.

With ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu encouraging Likud supporters to vote by declaring that ‘Arabs are advancing on the polling stations in droves,’ the blockade of Gaza and the deaths of 2220 Palestinians last summer, and the religious fanatics and groups of fascist thugs who terrorise Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli apologists have to resort to desperate tactics. Jews who have suffered from antisemitic abuse are increasingly used as ‘human shields’ by propagandists whose only concern is to make the state of Israel look less bad than it is. Incidents of anti-semitism are seized upon and used as evidence that Europe is not safe for Jews and that they should move to Israel. Israel sees thousands of people move abroad every year; in an effort to contain the ‘demographic threat’ from the ‘Arabs’, religious agencies have persuaded Peruvian villagers that they are really Jewish and to move to settlements on the West Bank. Israeli propaganda thus simultaneously seeks to convince Jews outside Israel that the Palestinians are so murderous that this justifies its extreme use of force, and that Israel is safer for Jews than any other country in the world. Unsurprisingly, this is becoming difficult.

One new survey shows that Israel is the second most unpopular country in Britain apart from North Korea. Supporters of even the most extreme far-right Israeli politics claim that Israel is a ‘liberal democracy’ that should be treated as other ‘liberal democracies’ are. Any suggestion that Israel is not in this category is a sign that it is being ‘singled out‘, despite the fact that were David Cameron to say that Tories should vote because black people are voting in record numbers it would be the end of his career, rather than getting back in with a majority. No other ‘liberal democracy’ has a network of roads which only followers of one religion are allowed to drive on, or buses which are reserved for followers of that religion only. Likewise, the idea that Israel is being ‘singled out’ for consumer boycotts misses the point that because of its usefulness as a US ally, no action has ever been taken against it and the resolutions passed by the UN have been toothless. Members of the IDF have never been held accountable in an international court of law, despite the fact that many of their actions in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank are defined as illegal under the Geneva Convention.

This is changing. Following Netanyahu’s announcement that he would never allow a Palestinian state and his racist fearmongering over the election, the US hinted that it may no longer support Israel at the UN with its veto. While many of Obama’s other actions make it clear this is currently just talk, the shift in rhetoric shows the extent to which Israel’s leadership is beginning to be seen as a liability. In particular, Bibi’s obsession with Iran, a country which the US has cooperated with during attacks on Islamic State, and his rejection of the two-state solution, only to backtrack on it days later, have provoked the Obama administration to make public criticisms which used to be unimaginable. The US abstained rather than argue against a UN resolution on settlement building on Monday 23rd March and recently appointed Rob Malley as an adviser. Obama’s campaign team had cut ties with him in the 2008 election due to his contacts with Hamas. The UK government now insists that produce from settlements must be labelled, a policy shared with the rest of the EU.

While the idea of BDS (boycott divestment and sanctions) seemed unlikely to gain support outside the left and Muslim countries when it was first proposed in 2005, it is now causing widespread panic in the Israeli political elite. As Ghada Kharmi points out, the reaction has been “little short of hysterical”. BDS initiatives have come almost entirely from civil society and yet have succeeded in influencing EU policy towards settlement goods. Action by workers, especially in the US and South Africa, has prevented Israeli cargo ships from unloading. Completely unable to refute the boycotters’ arguments, smear tactics such as accusing BDS supporters of antisemitism are used, despite the fact many BDS supporters are Jewish, like myself. Organisations set up to fight antisemitism increasingly target those critical of Israel. The Community Security Trust, which provides security at synagogues and Jewish events and records antisemitic incidents, threw Jewish activists out of a ‘We Believe in Israel‘ conference for distributing leaflets attacking the country’s policies.

Unfortunately, these accusations of antisemitism are not always baseless. Critiques of the ‘zionist lobby’ which present it as a force hostile to the American or British ‘national interest’ are often little more than conspiracy theories. I personally witnessed anti-semitic slogans being chanted on one demo during Operation Cast Lead. On another demo I saw a group dressed in black, holding black flags and chanting ‘Allah Akbar’. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign does not push an ideological line on its members and does not exert much central control on local branches. This means that those with antisemitic ideas are able to join and in some cases gain positions on branch committees. The difficulty in policing demonstrations, and the role of organisations such as the Stop the War Coalition of courting hardline Islamists and labelling criticism of them as islamophobic, has meant that antisemites have often found the pro-Palestinian movement a ‘safe space’.

As the economic crisis has worsened, antisemitic sentiment has increased in wider society and is more openly expressed. This has coincided with an increasing public awareness of Israeli atrocities, criticism of foreign policy and the growth of the BDS campaign. Support for BDS or a one state solution where Israelis and Palestinians share power does not make a person antisemitic. The presence of antisemites in anti-Israeli organisations is not a justification for Israeli state policy. This argument is akin to saying that since islamophobes have joined pro-Kurdish organisations, any criticism of ISIS is islamophobic. But the growth of antisemitism creates an environment where young Jews can find anti-Israel sentiments and campaigns extremely threatening. The far right usually use the word ‘zionist’ when talking about Jews, in order to lend their views respectability and pretend they are talking about Israel. Inability to recognise antisemitic discourse (‘zionists’ controlling the banks and media), unwillingness to believe accusations and political opportunism and cowardice have led to anti-Jewish sentiment becoming tolerated in certain parts of the left and the pro-Palestinian movement.

This in turn has enabled the Israeli state and allied institutions to spread their own hate and paranoia far more effectively. When an antisemitic incident takes place, such as the recent terrorist attack in a Paris supermarket, or statistics showing an increase in antisemitism are released, Israeli leaders and propagandists rarely miss an opportunity to announce that Europe is no longer safe for Jews and that Jews no longer belong there. Mainstream Diaspora Jewish organisations do not challenge Israeli state policy or the idea that BDS and similar campaigns are antisemitic in any meaningful way. Limmud, a cross community organisation which holds conferences promoting Jewish culture and encourages young people to learn about their faith, gives a platform to religious settlers while forbidding presentations by speakers who support BDS. Even liberal synagogues promote religious seminaries in Israel and organisations such as Birthright, which provide free trips there for Jews between the ages of 18 and 27. These trips aim to provide young people with a sugarcoated view of Israel. They foster a connection with the land and a sense of Jewish heritage while pushing the Israeli government’s version of events. People are encouraged to think about ‘making aliyah’ – ie to move there. Last year the Movement for Reform Judaism arranged for a Reform and Liberal-only Birthright tour around Israel.

The tourist industry is a major weapon in Israel’s strategy to maintain support among diaspora Jews. All tour guides must complete a course with the Israeli government with a heavy focus on zionist ideology. Tourist attractions are designed to create a connection with the land of Israel and the Jewish people, while retelling, for example, biblical stories of heroic battles as though they reflect the current situation of Israel. In the City of David in East Jerusalem, walkways and footpaths are positioned in such a way that tourists do not even get to see any Palestinians, who are presented merely as a vaguely threatening presence; tourists are encouraged not to interact with them in any way. The Israeli state and quasi-official institutions such as the Jewish National Fund, which presents villages destroyed in the Nakba of 1948 as ancient biblical ruins, exploit the idealism and religious identity of Jews in an insidious way. The Jewish kingdoms of the mythical past are portrayed as being revived in modern day Israel, and modern day Israel is depicted as having to face the “threats” of thousands of years ago. Archaeological digs are used to confirm the “truth” of biblical stories and at the same time to destroy evidence of a long-established Palestinian presence, legitimising the current situation of the Palestinians.

In many synagogues a prayer for the IDF is recited in Saturday morning services. Even the Reform movement in this country has added verses celebrating the IDF and the ‘pioneers’ of early zionism to parts of its liturgy. Religious education for young children and teenagers is politicised and again here, the lessons of thousands of years ago are said to apply to the Israel of today. Most Jewish denominations have their own youth movements such as RSY Netzer which hold summer camps and tours around Israel, and often subsidise people who otherwise cannot go. Jews are thus pushed into identification with the zionist state and feel reluctant to criticise it. Those who criticise checkpoints, the West Bank wall and the bombing and siege of Gaza, which has left its people largely unable to rebuild their homes after last summer, are said to be ‘calling for the murder of Jews‘ because these policies prevent Hamas from firing their flimsy homemade rockets into Israel. Zionists also invoke the religious taboo against publically criticising another Jew. Little in Jewish religious tradition supports using a trapped population, where over half are under 16, as a weapons testing ground, or allowing settlers to annex land simply because they say it is given to them by God.

This polarisation makes it easier for far-right nationalists and propagandists to depict opposition to Israel as antisemitic; so many practicing Jews have such a deep connection with the country. It becomes harder to be openly anti-zionist within the Jewish community. People who oppose Israeli actions often drop out and are unable to participate in communal life. Those who do join groups such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians frequently have little or no connection with the Jewish community. One rabbi who criticised Israel during last year’s attack on Gaza had his house attacked on repeated occasions, as well as an attempt to blow up his car. This creates a polarisation within the community and more importantly, between Jews and non-Jews. However, while most Jews may not feel comfortable with BDS or even criticising Israel, many do not want to actively support it either. A recent statement from the Movement for Reform Judaism’s chief rabbi following Bibi’s reelection pointed out that many people express a wish to ‘disengage’ from Israel and zionism. The scenes of Israeli settlers haranguing Palestinian farmers to let them take over their land, or Leiberman, Israel’s foreign minister, stating that ‘disloyal’ Arabs should be beheaded, are now impossible to ignore or explain away. Organisations such as Yachad and J Street were founded as ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ initiatives critical of government policies. Yet they do not propose any alternative strategy to BDS, which the Israeli state has poured huge resources into trying to oppose; one pro-Israeli activist despaired over the fact there seems to be no other strategy to force the regime to change its ways.

Military ‘rabbis’ in the IDF instructed soldiers last summer and during Cast Lead that Palestinians were a modern day ‘Amalek’ – a nation that God ordered to be wiped out, and mainstream publications produce articles about when genocide is ‘permissible’ under Jewish law. One rabbi even implied that rape is permissible during wartime. As I showed at the start of this piece it is possible to quote verbatim from pro-Israeli arguments to support ISIS simply by changing the names around. There are clear parallels with the way that Islamic State and the extreme right both employ a strategy of polarisation based on religion and culture. The rhetoric and actions of Israeli state institutions attempt to make being Jewish synonymous with support for zionism. Messianic ideas about how it has brought the ‘redemption‘ about, the recruitment of fighters from overseas to the IDF and the insistence that Israel ‘is a state for all Jews’ are reminiscent of al-Baghdadi’s calls to ‘flock, oh Muslims, to your state’. Israel is said to be a ‘moral beacon to the world‘ and Israeli propaganda repeats the message that the IDF is the ‘world’s most moral army’, which practices ‘purity of arms’. One rabbi claims that the real ‘innocent people‘ in the Gaza conflict are IDF soldiers. Such statements encourage the worst kind of bloodthirsty fanaticism; they justify extreme violence for a religious, ‘ethical’ purpose, and in that respect the justifications for such brutality are no different to those used by Islamic State.

The election of Netanyahu showed that a significant portion of the Israeli public support extreme right politics. However, the racialisation of the public discourse inside Israel, the state’s increasingly bloody and more frequent massacres in Gaza and the use of religion to justify the murder of civilians means that ‘soft’ Jewish support in the Diaspora either falls away or becomes hardened and radicalised. Israel is increasingly turning to the European and American extreme right as a source of support. In one counter-demo against the BDS boycott of Ahava in London, leading members of the Zionist Federation were photographed talking with members of the EDL. The Zionist Federation is affiliated to the World Zionist Congress, which is a semi-official arm of the Israeli government. Strangely, they appear unconcerned about the fact many EDL members are former or current neo-Nazis. A significant source of political and material support for far-right settler organisations also comes from Christian fundamentalists, many of whom are openly antisemitic. Zionist activism has become a refuge for fascist thugs; the far-right Jewish Defence League have attacked PSC members at a film festival.

Like the Russian government and its ‘Putinbots‘, Israeli ‘hasbara’ relies on people who are paid to write about how the country is ‘misunderstood’. Alan Johnson, who sits on the board of Engage, a website that describes itself as being against left-wing antisemitism, is a member of BICOM, which lobbies for Israel in parliament and is funded by its government. Its left-wing credentials are undermined by its members’ harassment of trade unions who have voted in favour of BDS and the long-running series of legal actions against UCU which it has supported. The blog Harry’s Place, which Johnson and other BICOM members contribute to, claims to be on the left but recently ran a piece explaining why the writer voted for Likud. In the US, zionist activists on one university campus adopted the language of ‘intersectionality’ and liberal identity politics to try to force a Palestinian student, Sumayyah Din, to apologise for the word ‘Dintifada‘ in her election campaign, claiming it was ‘triggering and traumatising’.

Despite his later backtracking and frantic attempts by various apologists to show his words were misinterpreted, Netanyahu’s statement about never allowing a Palestinian state has dealt a huge blow to Israel’s image which it will struggle to recover from, if it recovers at all. It is a nail in the coffin of liberal support for zionism. BDS has won significant victories in both influencing the public understanding of Israel and Palestine and forcing corporations and governments to alter their dealings with the country. Under the Obama administration, relations between the US and Israel have sharply deteriorated, although not enough to stop weapons shipments during the most recent Gaza ‘war’. However, Jewish community organisations have become entangled with the Israeli state to such a degree that accusations of antisemitism directed at the entire BDS movement have credibility with many Jews. Under pressure from their congregations some Jewish denominations are beginning to make long-overdue criticisms of Israel, but the situation is one these institutions have often at best ignored and at worst actively colluded in.

On a personal note I find the politicisation of my religion to support a disgusting, murderous regime deeply distressing and I am far from the only one. After Operation Protective Edge last summer I made the decision never to buy anything from Israel again. As more Jews become disaffected and disidentified with Israel, the pro-Palestinian movement must repudiate and expose antisemites within its own ranks. At the same time we must not be intimidated by dubious accusations from bodies which claim to represent Jews but serve the interests of the Israeli state. The hatred and paranoia which the Israeli state seeks to create must be resisted. BDS is the only strategy that has a chance of ending the brutal occupation and racism of the regime.

I am a reluctant supporter of BDS

14 Mar

I never wanted to support BDS (Boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel) and I have always been critical  of and furious at the Palestinian solidarity movement’s frequent tolerance of antisemitism. I personally witnessed antisemitism and open salafists shouting Islamist slogans and carrying black flags on anti-Israel marches. I heard unchallenged antisemitism by PSC supporters. I dropped out of any pro-Palestinian activism when I joined the Socialist Party and took a fairly apathetic and indifferent attitude to Palestine. The fact that the left has often seemed to be preoccupied with this issue to the exclusion of everything else I think is a symptom of its failure and collapse. I am especially critical of the way which Jews are expected in certain circles to denounce Israel’s actions in some sort of flagellation session as if they were responsible for what the ruling class of Israel does. And the fact that some people act like we live in a world where antisemitism no longer exists whereas I can assure you that it does. A lot of this antisemitism is disguised as opposition to zionism or the Israeli lobby.

So why do I support BDS? Well all the criticisms of this movement are criticisms of pro Palestinian leftist and liberal politics. They are not endorsements of the Israeli state and its supporters in the west. Supporters of this state cannot use criticisms of pro Palestinian politics on the Western left to justify or minimise its actions. Last year in Operation Protective Edge almost three thousand Palestinians were killed. Israel continues to maintain a brutal siege on Gaza and strangle its economy. The countless atrocities which this state has committed against the Palestinian population have been documented in great detail and are not necessary to go into here. Most recently, Israeli state TV admitted there were no rockets fired from schools last year in Gaza. I don’t claim to know what works but the Israeli government expends a great effort trying to fight BDS and delegitimisation campaigns. Anti-BDS campaigners seem to have no alternative and often seem to deflect any kind of criticism of Israel, no matter how mild, by smearing the person who makes it or trying to get them to dilute it with ‘whataboutery’. The two state solution looks unrealistic at this point and the threat of a widespread boycott and resulting unrest within Israel seems about the only thing that will get the Israeli government to change its behaviour in any way. I don’t know what other alternative there is. I think it’s dishonest to say that trying to put pressure on corporations not to deal with a state and making the decision not to buy anything from that state means that you ignore all the world’s other atrocities. Despite the criticisms I have there don’t seem to be good arguments to oppose it.

Personal analysis and that so I haven’t gone into much detail and not gonna cite sources, just some thoughts.

Protected: Terf Wars redux

26 Feb

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making sense of ISIS (II)

22 Feb

Modern islamophobia often takes the form of assumptions that Islam is a uniquely violent religion and therefore Muslims themselves are uniquely violent. It is claimed by islamophobes that the Quran and Sunnah, rather than social, economic and psychological factors, is the cause of jihadist ideology. But violent exhortations to kill unbelievers, misogynistic diatribes and laws which encourage the segregation of believers from the ‘infidel’ occur in most religious texts.

Several prophetic books in the bible describe the Jewish people as like a ‘whore’ or a ‘disobedient wife’ and devote great detail to how it will be ‘defiled’. All religions teach about the theory of a ‘just war’ to ‘defend the faith’. In Thailand and Burma, Buddhist fundamentalists have murdered Muslims with government support in the name of holy war. Christian militias in the Central African Republic have burned, raped and decapitated Muslims as part of a gruesome civil conflict. In one recent interview a French hostage claimed that ISIS torturers did not have copies of the Quran, and nor did they want to encourage the hostages to read it.

What is unique about jihadism is not the fact that Islam is an especially intolerant religion. Many Muslims are motivated by their beliefs and faith in God to help others and create a decent society. What is unique about it is the extent to which jihadi ideas have gained a global appeal thanks to worldwide communications, migration and the catastrophic and short-sighted policies of western governments which enabled these networks to grow and created the conditions for them to gain a mass following. These were assisted by the deliberate policies of states such as Saudi Arabia as well as non-state organisations.

The idea of a worldwide movement of workers to defeat capital has always been regarded as intrinsic to the socialist project. The abolition of nationalism and withering away of the nation state has been regarded as an inherently progressive project. Yet dreams of a borderless world ushering in the end of capitalism and a communist utopia so far seem to be misplaced. The rise of technology and mass communications, coupled with the phenomenon of mass migration and trade, created ideal conditions for the growth of reactionary ideologies with a global base.

For example, the so-called ‘counter-jihad’ movement, which claims to be defending ‘western civilisation’ against Muslim barbarians, has enabled European far-righters to forge links with Zionists, Hindu nationalists and African militias in a common islamophobic ‘struggle.’ Even Nazism has had to rebrand itself as ‘white nationalism’ and promote ideas of the ‘white race’ which is threatened worldwide by Jews and immigration. The notion of ‘white pride worldwide’ has replaced German racial superiority for today’s Nazis.

Jihadism is arguably one of the most successful of these deterritorialised reactionary movements.Since 9/11 it has seared itself into worldwide consciousness. It kills around five thousand people every month, the overwhelming majority Muslim civilians in poor countries. It appeals to the religious identity of the ‘ummah’ in order to promote the concept of a global apocalyptic struggle between Muslims and everyone else. So it is a kind of ‘Muslim nationalism’ which has grown due to global media and the increasing sense of a common experience worldwide. The Afghanistan and Bosnian conflicts, taking place in a time when images could be quickly seen around the world, fuelled the rise of jihadism. Unprecedented numbers of fighters from overseas participated in these conflicts and were ignored and given ideological and financial support by western states, all too happy for assistance against the Soviet Union and later the Serbs.

The sight of helpless people slaughtered by Serb nationalists in Bosnia motivated many to fight from overseas. While the majority were not convinced jihadists for a significant number their experiences cemented beliefs in religious warfare. The international links made between fighters were to be significant in the growth of global jihadi networks. These networks were largely ignored by western security services as they fitted with foreign policy objectives. Margaret Thatcher gave a speech praising mujihadeen fighters in 1981 and there is even footage of her joining in the ‘takbir‘.

Jihadis from everywhere in the world participated in what was seen as one front in a global battleground. Yet when they returned home they were usually ignored because it was assumed they had no motive for waging jihad anywhere else. But the Gulf war and the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as the inaction of the west during atrocities like Srebrenica, fuelled the growing sympathy for religious warfare against non-Muslim countries and America in particular. Osama bin Laden, for example, was enraged at the Saudi state allowing its territory to be used as a base for US troops.

Incidents like the Salman Rushdie affair and later, the horrific scenes in Bosnia in the 1990s meant that such views were able to gain a wider following in the west. People with experience of jihad overseas returned to their native countries and were able to inform their friends and families of their views and show them videos of what had happened, and purchase largely unregulated material by jihadi preachers. They were able to put across their ideas by talking to people that they knew. The spread of the internet and global telecommunications meant they could stay in contact with other ‘mujihadeen’ in a way unimaginable previously.

The attacks on the World Trade Centre on 9/11 changed the political climate in western countries irrevocably. Whereas western islamophobia had usually taken the form of prejudices about immigration, this changed on 9/11. The sight of the planes crashing into the towers and the murder of almost three thousand people in the world’s richest country on a single day meant that to many Islam itself could be deemed as a threat. Islamophobic views and far right rhetoric began to grow in acceptability. Despite the denials of politicians that the ‘war on terror’ was a war on Islam their actions appeared to many Muslims – and non-Muslims – to show otherwise. As one man put it in a BBC documentary last year, many Muslims feel ‘under the microscope‘.

The illegal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were justified by the concept of security. The ‘war on terror’ led to people being held without charge in Guantanamo and other sites operating in dubious legal terrain. Vladimir Putin began his presidency by conducting a horrific war in Chechnya and installing Ramzan Kadyrov, a corrupt, brutal warlord as its leader. Arab regimes close to western allies used the excuse of terrorism for vicious attacks on dissent; the Saudi government has even equated atheism with terrorism.

Saudi Arabia has been promoting its form of hardline salafism across the world for decades as a form of ‘soft power‘ to build influence in Muslim communities overseas. Saudi government agencies have exported material promoting antisemitic, anti-Shia, and hardline fundamentalist views to mosques and religious schools in the UK, US and other countries. Some Saudi-funded schools in the UK were shut down when they were found to teach extremist material. Its brand of sharia law mandates punishments similar to ISIS, such as public beheadings, flogging and amputations.  It is officially forbidden to practice another religion in Saudi Arabia and the death penalty is in force for apostacy.

While the case for the Saudi state’s role in jihadism can be overstated, it has contributed to the growth of such movements with discrimination against Shia Muslims, repeated sectarian statements by state-funded religious figures and the government’s promotion of fundamentalism overseas. With the help of Saudi Arabian foreign policy, a fundamentalist form of Islam has assumed a position of prominence in countries like the UK which it did not previously have. Salafist doctrine is used as justification for destroying many of Islam’s holiest sites and historical heritage – many of them particularly sacred to Shia – and replacing them with monuments to capital. Religious police interfere with the prayers of Muslims on Hajj pilgrimages to ensure they are worshipping ‘properly’.

As the Saudi state is a useful ally in the Middle East – it is the UK’s biggest arms customer – these excesses have been largely ignored. When King Abdullah died the flag was flown half mast on British government buildings. Yet the Saudi regime is also a source of rage for jihadis angry at its repression of anti government groups and selective accommodation with non-Muslim allies. ISIS sharply criticise the Saudi Arabian authorities for relaxing sex segregation and promoting scholarships to ‘infidel’ countries for Saudi students.

In the UK a repressive state apparatus has been used against Muslims and other parts of the community, with people being arrested for talking about riots on Facebook, or for writing poems online. Yet the current and previous British governments have encouraged the growth of religious fundamentalism. Faith schools and the outsourcing of social services to religious organisations encourage sectarianism and unchallenged hardline religious views. Schools are able to impose rules such as compulsory modest dress codes. Beth Dins in Haredi Jewish communities and shariah courts, which deal with divorce and inheritance rights, have emerged as a parallel legal system. Many using them are unaware of their rights under secular law.

Religious groups’ increasing role in providing social welfare such as support for homeless people or assistance for people living in poverty means that they become hard to challenge, since they fulfil needs which are not met by the state or by “secular” community organisations. They fill a vacuum left by the collapse of community organisations and often appear to be pure and non corruptible. In Coventry, the contract for homeless services was awarded to the Salvation Army, which discriminates against LGBT people and believes homosexual activity is a sin. In London and Manchester, Haredi Jews have their own ‘faith based’ police service, the shomrim.

The authorities guiding these groups often oppose community engagement with the secular world or anything that could cause ‘dirty linen’ to be aired in public. A Channel 4 documentary showed Haredi Jewish victims of child abuse being instructed not to tell the police as it was allegedly a sin to inform gentile authorities on other Jews. Religious leaders are able to bolster their own power by promoting fear of the outside world. These parallel structures are given state approval. They provide a way for the state to cut provisions and take responsibility out of its hands.

The role of charities and ‘faith based’ outreach groups in recruiting people for religious warfare should not be understated. In 2011, the Charity Commission said that the most deadly problem it faced was the use of charity funds for Islamist extremism. The Muslim community is far from alone here. Young Hindu boys attending HSS youth camps are told that Christians have a ‘secret conspiracy’ to ‘destroy Hindu history’ and that Islam is the worst religion in the world. The neo-Nazi far right have used their charitable status to set up ‘English community groups’ which promote burning down mosques.

Some charities and religious groups encourage immigration to Israel and membership of its military, which last summer killed over 2500 people in fifty days, the overwhelming majority civilians. There are countless agencies offering programmes that aim to create a sense of loyalty to Israel. The popular ‘Birthright’ trips aim to foster young Jews’ loyalty to Israel by allowing young people to travel there for free. The Israeli military have held ‘question and answer’ sessions at synagogues for those wishing to fight for the IDF.

State and political party encouragement for ‘community leaders’ and an increased drive towards religious segregation in education and social provision, and a largely unregulated sector of private religious schools, has created a fertile ground for religious fundamentalism to flourish. Politicians are often able to use endorsements by religious leaders in order to get votes. Religious fundamentalists are thus able to gain important positions in mosques, churches and other institutions. Support to ‘soft’ Islamists such as those in the Muslim Council of Britain, toleration of practices such as gender discrimination in family law if it is religiously based, are paradoxically coupled with islamophobic dog whistle attacks by politicians. As the state has no legitimacy this means that religious figures are able to develop their own. As Egerton writes, almost all those involved in jihadi terrorist plots in the west had prior contact with fundamentalist preachers. According to one study, two preachers are followed by 60% of foreign ISIS members using social media accounts.

The recent massacre by jihadis of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris has been used by the French government  as an excuse to clamp down on anti government criticism. The idea of laicite (secularism) is applied unequally, with many French public schools holding Masses and serving fish on Fridays. Churches built before 1905 have access to state funds, whereas mosques do not. Children and parents in France will soon have to sign a pledge to support its so-called secularism. This ‘secularism’ is used against some religions, but not others, such as Catholicism. In the name of supposedly promoting free speech and ‘western values’, European states such as France resemble their counterparts in the Muslim world for whom religion is a weapon of state control. 

In Muslim countries, punishments for blasphemy go hand in hand with insulting government policy. In Morocco, you can be jailed for insulting Islam, insulting the king, and for saying that occupied Western Sahara is not part of Morocco. Other Muslim states have used Islamist gangs to break strikes and terrorise workers’ movements.

In Azerbaijan, the fight against “terrorism” has taken on an ethnic dimension with the majority of government raids against “salafis” taking place against minority groups in the north of the country. They are far from the only ones. In Burma, violent islamophobia, promoted by Buddhist organisations with the complicity and support of the state, is combined with the aggressive enforcement of blasphemy laws In the UK people who have bought Charlie Hebdo magazines have had their details taken down by police. There are growing calls for blasphemy laws based on ‘civility‘ to Prophet Mohammed and other sacred figures.

The parameters of acceptable political debate are becoming increasingly narrowly defined across Europe with restrictions on free speech covering an ever widening range of subjects. This is not purely driven by the state but increasingly lobbying and activist groups trying to silence people they disagree with and corporations silencing criticism by workers. The recent proposals to ban antisemites (but not islamophobes) from social media will not persuade people convinced of a Jewish conspiracy that it does not exist. They will do the exact opposite.

Meanwhile stories such as the firebombing of a synagogue going unpunished because the attackers want to “raise awareness of Gaza” only feed resentment among non-Muslim populations. The far right are increasingly perceived to be the only ones willing to discuss these issues. Many young Muslims also report that due to fear or lack of knowledge, these issues are not discussed in mosques at all. Imams and others often have few ideas of the issues affecting young people and may be little help to someone already speaking to jihadis. These developments coupled with the rise of religious fundamentalism and state violence create a dangerous atmosphere, polarising public opinion based on religious identification and alienating people from each other.

Government austerity measures in the UK, increasing prices and falling living standards have particularly affected women and members of minority communities. The number of women murdered by their partners has sharply risen. Last year 19 police forces reported a rise in homophobic attacks. Despite the advances made such as gay marriage and improved employment rights, there are increasingly few places for gay people to socialise, especially outside London, and employment protections are rendered meaningless for many with the introduction of fees for tribunals.

As people from a particular ‘community’ are lumped together it makes dissent within that community harder. ‘Apostates’ and those who take progressive stances on creationism, women, LGBT issues and the actions of particular states are increasingly pressured to keep their mouth shut. Shia Muslims in the UK often go to Sunni mosques when there is no Shia mosque available, but this is rapidly becoming more difficult. This is not helped by hypocritical calls for ‘integration’ and attacks from outside the religious community. It is not helped by the devastating results of western foreign policy towards the iddle east, which are apparent to all and can be viewed instantly online.

Muslims have often borne the brunt of austerity measures in the UK and Europe. They are more likely than any other group to be out of work or in low-paid jobs. They are more likely to be in substandard housing. This situation has worsened in the last ten years. A third of social housing tenants, for example, say their standard of living has worsened in the last two years. Prisons in the west have also been breeding grounds for ‘gangster jihadis’, many of whom were not originally from Muslim backgrounds. Rather than a period of regular Muslim belief before being radicalised, people are converting directly to jihadi ideology. Many are attracted by the discipline and routine of this lifestyle and the sense of global community it offers.

Disaffected young people who do not identify with their parents’ culture, which is often perceived as old fashioned, patriarchal and restrictive, or the ‘values’ of the state may turn instead to religiously based ideas. This serves to cause increased fractures of society on religious and sectarian lines, particularly when ‘charities’ and states such as Saudi Arabia – or Israel – use their influence within minority communities to promulgate their views. At the same time the fact that religion, so heavily promoted in ‘faith based’ initiatives is coopted by the state is not lost on those who turn to fundamentalists who sell out less easily.

Much has been made of the fact that ISIS were so violent that they were kicked out of al-Qaeda. Not least by al-Qaeda themselves, who are using their rivals’ brutality to reposition themselves as more ‘principled’. A Jordanian al-Qaeda cleric was released following the recent murder of Muath al-Kasasbeh. He went on national television to say that ISIS’s actions had nothing to do with Islam, which was quoted approvingly on Twitter by the US state department.

The US government even attempted to use him to reason with ISIS clerics. The catastrophic policy of encouraging jihadi groups in order to stave off what is seen as a greater danger, whether it is ISIS or ‘reds under the bed’ threatens to repeat itself.  In fact al-Qaeda’s leadership were always acutely aware of the danger of alienating ‘soft’ support in the Muslim world. Zarqawi’s relentless bombing of Shia targets was seen as a distraction from the main jihad.

But the exit from al-Qaeda left the organisation free to concentrate on ‘remaining and expanding’. Rather than building a caliphate at some point in the future, they could take advantage of the chaos in Iraq and start building one now. ISIS leaders such as al-Baghdadi were imprisoned by the Americans in Camp Bucca, but continued building the organisation in jail right under their noses. Prisoners’ experiences of places such as Camp Bucca and the notorious Abu Ghraib, and being constantly surrounded by jihadist ideas and the likes of al-Baghdadi who prisoners were expected to show “respect” to, helped ISIS to gain many followers inside, unchallenged.

The extreme violence ISIS uses has to some extent become normalised in many parts of the Middle East, and part of many people’s everyday reality. There is still significant sympathy for the organisation in Jordan, particularly in poorer towns.

The years since 9/11, and the years since the global economic crisis began especially, have seen a catastrophic decline in the living standards of millions across the world. We live in a world where people are increasingly disconnected from each other, which makes it difficult to empathise or understand each other’s lives. Capitalism has taught many people that human life is worthless and given sadists and the power hungry the ability to control life and death.

As one Kurdish organisation warned, ISIS’s twisted version of Islam can appeal to those whose lives are out of control and are “looking for a leader“. The attraction of this ideology is no longer purely based on religious fundamentalism, if it ever was. The strict rules and righteous anger of jihadi organisations, based on an identity that unites people across the world, that transcends racial and class barriers, that seems to fight injustice, can seem an attractive alternative to the hypocrisy and violence of modern capitalism. We should not assume this is a purely Islamic issue. It affects everyone.

Note: For more on deterritorialism and jihadism please read Frazer Egerton’s book ‘Jihad and the West’. I also used the book ‘Eurojihad: Patterns of Islamist Radicalisation and Terrorism in Europe’ to research this piece.

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