Another Respect-bashing article!
Another week, another Respect-bashing piece from a centre-left journo in the British press. The usual culprits are Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch. (You can read the latest Aaronovitch piece here at the Guardian’s site.) The latest is in the New Statesman, a Labour-supporting weekly, by Nick Cohen, who has continually attacked the anti-war movement. His contention is that it is an alliance of the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Muslim Association of Britain, which he alleges is the British arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. While I agree that Respect has its faults (I don’t intend to vote for Lindsey German - in fact, even the MAB has now announced its support for Ken Livingstone), I don’t see why there should be objection to the involvement of a Muslim organisation in a political party. The only alternative is Muslims supporting one of the three main parties, all of which are no good; Labour has had most of the Muslim vote for as long as they have been in the country, but has persistently let us down.
A favourite accusation of theirs is that the MAB support the Shari’ah. The fact is, Shari’ah is part of Islam. There is no separating the two, but on the other hand, representing the Muslims in the UK is largely unconnected from how the MAB favours running a Muslim country. In the UK, we promote traditional family values (rather than talking about such values for political advantage, and then allowing them to go to rot, as the so-called Conservative party has done), but without the chauvinism and racism that typifies right-wing politics in the west. Cohen also attacks the coalition’s apparent hostility to gay rights and Galloway’s opposition to abortion. The fact is that both Islam and Christianity oppose both, and the MAB are Muslims and Galloway is a Christian. And rejecting bortion has nothing to do with any “downgrading of the aspirations of women” - it’s a matter of moral judgement. Not everyone agrees with abortion, or with the feminist position that a man’s view on the subject is not valid (unless he is “pro-choice”, that is). It involves killing a human being, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. It is worth noting that abortion was common under most of the Communist régimes of the “Iron Curtain” era except in Romania, which may explain why the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty has published this critique.
In his column (“Without Prejudice”) in today’s Observer, Cohen draws attention to the AWL’s position and calls them “a small group of honest Marxists”. In reality this faction is not averse to a bit of front group politics - in my student union days the biggest group apart from the Labour students had a number of AWL members in its leadership and was accused of being a front for “Socialist Organiser” and/or AWL. When I signed up for membership of this group, I later received some unsolicited mail from the AWL, which included contributions from the NUS’s women’s officer who was a member of this opposition group. The Labour Students’ group was at that time trying to force through changes to the NUS’s policy at the 1996 national conference in Blackpool, dropping the NUS’s demands for a return to grants and basically replacing it with something much less specific. They were accused of various types of corruption, and a delegate on the other side of the hall proposed removing all the visitors from the conference as they were telling people how to vote! Not long after the NUS changed its policy in 1996, Labour announced its plans for tuition fees.
I have no brief for these Communists - they are superficially effective at organising marches and rallies, but they leave their imprint all over them, which is what happened in the group I was involved in in 1996, and is what is now threatening Respect. Currently it is a broad coalition of groups opposing the war and occupation in Iraq, and has the support of a major Muslim organisation, and is an opportunity for Muslims (and anyone else who wants to) to vote for an emphatically anti-war candidate. If it subsequently becomes purely a front for the SWP, it’s likely that the Muslim element will break off anyway.
(By the way, please read Saraji’s post, Who Are Your Friends? - it has another exposition of Communist infiltration of anti-war groups.)
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