‘Alliance with bigots won’t halt fascists’

Another anti-Muslim diatribe from Peter Tatchell, who resurrects his campaign to get the MCB banned from February’s Unite Against Fascism conference. A phrase involving the words “dog” and “own vomit” immediately springs to mind. For coverage of this issue on our site, see here, here, here, here and here.

While the uncritical support given to Tatchell by Tribune may serve the personal political agenda of the magazine’s deputy editor, it is extremely damaging to the Labour Party’s relations with Muslim communities, which are already under severe strain following the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps readers of our site might like to point this out (in appropriately restrained language) to Tribune‘s editor, Chris McLaughlin?

Alliance with bigots won’t halt fascists 

By Peter Tatchell

Tribune, 17 March 2006

Human rights campaigners claiming victory after Sir lqbal Sacranie failed to speak, as advertised, at the recent trade union-sponsored Unite Against Fascism (UAF) conference in London. His no-show followed widespread protests against his participation. Sacranie has condemned gay people as immoral, harmful and diseased.

Supported by London Mayor Ken Livingstone, plus five trade unions and the South East Region of the TUC, the UAF conference theme was “Stop the BNP”. Why did UAF invite a speaker whose views on homosexuality echo the bigotry of the far Right?

A coalition of Left-wingers, trade unionists, gay activists and progressive Muslims accused Sacranie of parroting the homophobia of the British National Party and argued he was unfit to attend a conference dedicated to fighting neo-Nazi hatred.

Imagine the reaction if BNP leader Nick Griffin said black people were unacceptable and spread disease. The Left would demand his arrest. But when lqbal Saeranie, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, made similar intolerant remarks about gay people, most of the Left looked the other way.

Sacranie is a hypocrite. While demanding the right to say offensive things about homosexuals, he doesn’t want anyone to have the right to say offensive things about Islam. He demands the freedom to be homophobic but is lobbying to curtail the free speech of those who criticise or satirise his religion. The man is a bigot, yet some on the Left embrace him as an ally.

Labour MPs Michael Meacher and Sadiq Khan agreed to share a platform with Sacranie. So did a number of union leaders. All oppose homophobia, but saw no contradiction in boosting the credibility of a Muslim leader who campaigns to deny human rights to gay people.

The National Assembly Against Racism was another sponsor of the UAF conference. It would never share a platform with a racist, but its leader, Lee Jasper, seemed happy to line up with a homophobe. Do some on the Left believe some victims of oppression are more worthy than others? Race and religion are, it seems, at the top of their tainted hierarchy of oppression, while queers and women are at the bottom. They would rather appease homophobes in the Muslim community than defend gay people.

The conference organisers defend their decision to invite Sacranie on the grounds that they want to create the broadest possible alliance against the BNP. But would they argue that creating a broad alliance against climate change or the Iraq war justifies embracing racists?

A broad alliance against the BNP is a good idea. Solidarity with the Muslim community against Islamophobic discrimination is important. But why does most of the Left always chose to ally with reactionary Muslim leaders and never with liberal Muslims? Why didn’t the UAF invite progressive Muslim speakers, such as Ziauddin Sardar, Sheikh Dr Muhammad Yusuf or Munira Mirza?

Sacranie heads the Muslim Council of Britain. Many MCB members support Sharia law – a clerical form of fascism, where society is ruled by religious leaders and the death penalty is enforced against unchaste women and Muslims who embrace “unlslamic” ideologies such as socialism.

Unlike human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Liberty, the MCB is consulted by the Government on major policy issues. But it is a deeply reactionary organisation. Resorting to inflammatory language barely distinguishable from the homophobic tirades of the BNP, the MCB website demonises same-sex relationships as “offensive”, “immoral” and “repugnant”.

Trade unions would not sponsor a conference with a speaker who said that Jamaicans or Hindus are offensive, immoral and repugnant. Why were they willing to host a homophobe who says these things about gays and lesbians?

Sacranie’s views are not an isolated aberration. They are widely shared within the MCB. Another prominent official, Dr Abdul Maffid Katme, is quoted by the Muslim writer Anissa Helie as telling a conference in this country: “Lesbianism is spreading like fire in society. We must vaccinate our children against this curse”.

Sacranie and the MCB are guilty of more than stirring homophobic hatred. Working together with their fundamentalist allies in the Evangelical Alliance and the Christian Institute, they actively campaign in favour of legal discrimination against gays.

The MCB opposed an equal age of consent, same-sex civil partnerships and the outlawing of homophobic discrimination in the workplace. It backed the retention of Section 28 and a ban on gay couples fostering or adopting children.

Sacranie has led the MCB’s homophobic attacks on the lesbian and gay community. He put his name to an MCB news release condemning the repeal of Section 28 as “giving legitimacy to so-called ‘gay families’ and ‘gay marriage’ through the back door”, and paving the way for councils to “spend public money on homosexual youth groups, homosexual youth workers and homosexual festivals”.

One reason why the MCB refuses to participate in Holocaust Memorial Day is because it objects to the ceremony including a commemoration of what it dismisses as “the so-called gay genocide”. The MCB regards the murder of gay people in Nazi death camps as unworthy of remembrance.

This year’s Festival of Muslim Cultures is being funded by the Home Office and the British Council. Its aim is to showcase the “diversity and plurality” of Muslim communities. Nevertheless, the festival has banned gay Muslim events from its programme; allegedly at the insistence of the MCB.

Despite nearly 40 years of Leftwing activism, I am now persona non grata among the pro-Islamist Left, especially the Socialist Workers’ Party, Respect and the Stop The War Coalition. This is partly because I have challenged the MCB’s homophobia and misogyny and defended liberal Muslims against authoritarian Islamists.

Ken Livingstone and his friends in Socialist Action have condemned me as an Islamophobe. His allies run the Islamophobia Watch website.

They denounce me as anti-Muslim. My crime is exposing Right-wing Islamists like the cleric, Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who endorses female genital mutilation and the execution of apostates and gay people. Most of my hate mail used to come from supporters of the far Right. These days, much of it comes from people on the far Left and their Islamist friends.

By failing to tackle the prejudiced politics of Right-wing Muslim leaders, the Left is leaving the field wide open to the BNP. Islamophobic demagogues could easily exploit the vacuum created by the Left’s ambivalence towards Islamist intolerance. Most of the Left ignores the homophobic, sexist and anti-humanitarian agenda of the Muslim Right.

If socialists continue to remain silent, the fear is that the BNP will fill the void with a generalised, irresponsible and unjust anti-Muslim hate.