New major Islamophobic attacks demand a response from the anti-war movement, the left and anti-racists says John Rees
A major, often government inspired, series of attacks on Muslims within a few weeks should put us all on alert. Let’s list them:
- 31 March: the BBC’s Panorama attacks the Muslim Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman.
- 1 April: David Cameron announces a major MI5 driven inquiry into whether the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK should be banned as a ‘terrorist organisation’.
- 15 April: after a hoax letter claiming that one Birmingham school is being influenced by ‘Islamicist’ ideas, Michael Gove sets up a full scale inquiry led by Peter Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard.
- 20 April: William Shawcross, the hard right, neo-con head of the Charities Commission launches an investigation of Islamic subversion of charity organisations.
- 23 April: Tony Blair makes a widely reported speech demanding more international action against ‘Islamism’.
- 24 April: Guardian headlines ‘Stop your sons joining Syria war, urges Met’, part of an ongoing campaign that has seen former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg charged with terrorism offences.
In all but one of these cases, the attack by the BBC on Lutfur Rahman, these initiatives are driven from the heart of the state machine and are intimately connected with the ideology of the war on terror.
David Cameron ordered the inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood and it is directly linked to the UK’s alliance with Saudi Arabia; indeed the head of the inquiry is going to be the current Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins. Saudi Arabia has long been critical to UK foreign policy. It is the largest purchaser of UK arms and has just completed a multi-million pound deal with BAe Systems. Saudi is also the organising centre of counter-revolution in the Middle East and the central backer of Field Marshall El Sisi, the leader of the coup in Egypt. Cameron’s inquiry into whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be banned as a terrorist organisation comes hot on the heels of the Saudi monarchy making exactly this same decision. The whole of El Sisi’s coup rests on his banning of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. In fact the modern Egyptian Brotherhood’s history is predicated on its rejection of terrorist methods of struggle.
The arrest of Moazzam Begg is part revenge for the legal case that he won against the UK government for his wrongful imprisonment in Guantanamo and partly another episode in the government’s attempt to control the blow-back from Syria. The government spent months ramping up the support for rebels in Syria and preparing the ideological atmosphere for an attack on Assad’s regime. This project fell apart last year when the government lost the vote to attack Syria. They were left with a situation in which some British Muslims had taken seriously the government’s propaganda and gone to Syria for aid purposes or to fight with the now out-of-favour Islamic rebels. The security services are now in overdrive attempting to contain a problem of the government’s own creation.
This is the frame in which to understand the intervention of William Shawcross, the head of the Charities Commission. Shawcross is a neo-con supporter of the Iraq War who should never have been made head of the Charities Commission. He had to resign from the far-right Henry Jackson society in order to take up his new post. In a Guardian readers’ poll some 77 percent thought that Shawcross shouldn’t be head of the Charities Commission. It was always likely that he would use the post for political purposes. His outburst at the Islamic influence in Charities shows how little he understands, or wishes to understand, about the Muslim community. Charity is a massive part of most Muslim’s lives in the UK, certainly if they are at all observant. An attack on this front will be deeply disquieting and will further alienate this community from the political establishment in the UK.
The Michael Gove initiated investigation into Islamic influence in schools is one of the most serious attacks on Muslims to date. It will politicise and poison the atmosphere in schools in a wholly unacceptable manner.
The original complaint against Park View School in Alum Rock, Birmingham was bad enough. It came in a letter now widely acknowledged to be a hoax. It was only promoted by the baleful influence of establishment toady and Birmingham Labour MP, Khalid Mahmood. This then became an Ofsted investigation of 25 schools in Birmingham, and the accusations have spread to Bradford and Manchester. Then Gove appointed Peter Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism to investigate, and report directly to him. The deliberate and provocative decision to turn a minor education tiff into a full-blown anti-terror investigation is one of the most outrageous examples of Islamophobia since the war on terror began.
Gove is himself a neo-con extremist. His book Celsius 7/7 is a sustained attack on the threat Islamism poses to the West, a defence of Israel and an attack on the left who have fought Islamophobia. It is given away free to every new member of the Conservative Friends of Israel.
But the man that he has appointed to investigate 25 Birmingham schools is the really representative figure in this sorry tale. Not only is Peter Clarke the former head of counter-terrorism, he is also a current member of the board of the Charities Commission under William Shawcross. More than this he is Senior Advisor to Kellogg, Brown and Root an offshoot of Dick Cheney’s notorious Halliburton Corporation that profited so extensively from the Iraq War. He is also a non-executive Director of Knightsbridge Guarding Ltd., which specialises in protection of banks and City institutions. He is part of the neo-con take over at the Charities Commission.
At the end of this litany of attacks on the Muslim community, all designed to re-enforce the idea that this is a suspect group riddled with terrorists, comes Tony Blair’s speech to Bloomberg news corporation tying the whole thing together in his now trade mark Crusader pitch for a great war of civilisation against the Mohammedan hordes.
Two conclusions should be absolutely clear from these developments.
Firstly, Islamophobia remains very closely related to the war on terror and the ideologies developed to justify it. It is state and establishment driven to an unusual degree. Some on the left who are critical of the Stop the War Coalition’s argument have tried to move this debate elsewhere, claiming that Islamophobia predates the war on terror and is driven by the far right. Now, while it is true that some elements of Islamophobia existed before the war on terror, around the Rushdie affair for instance, there can be no doubt that these were qualitatively transformed from a minor thread in racist ideology to a dominant discourse by the war on terror. Before 9\11 racists used colour or country of origin as the dominant element in their account of what was wrong with ‘the other’. After 9\11 it was the Muslim religion and the connection with terrorism that has been the hugely dominant element. And to a far greater extent than previous waves of racism and chauvinism this has been continually and systematically driven right from the heart of the state machine.
Secondly, we now need to redouble our efforts to counter this new wave of Islamophobia. It can be done. Many Muslims in this country know exactly what the problem is and who causes it. The Stop the War movement has forged lasting ties with this community. It has correctly identified the cause of Islamophobia and integrated campaigning against it into the wider campaign to eradicate the war on terror from which it arose. It is time to renew that resistance.
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.