Racists in secularist clothing

GHQAs regular readers of Islamophobia Watch will be aware, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association recently underwent a crisis and split as a result of a controversy provoked by the publication of a disgustingly Islamophobic issue of its now defunct journal Gay and Lesbian Humanist (see here, here, here, here, here and here).

The upshot was that G&LH editor Andy Armitage who had been accused by the GALHA committee of commissioning a racist article resigned, and our dear friend Brett Lock took over the editorship of a revamped journal, now bearing the title Gay Humanist Quarterly. (Available online in pdf format here.)

Clearly the split was a severe embarrassment to GALHA. Up to then they had staunchly denied that anyone in their ranks was tinged with racism. When Andy Armitage was criticised over an article in G&LH  in 2002, which referred approvingly to the late Dutch racist Pim Fortuyn and his warnings against the supposed threat posed by Muslim immigrants, GALHA rallied to Armitage’s defence.

It would therefore be too much to expect an honest accounting by GALHA of the recent split, since any serious assessment would involve some pretty rigorous self-criticism. Instead, in the new issue of Gay Humanist Quarterly we are offered an article by David T from the “left-wing” (in fact, on many issues, very right-wing) blog Harry’s Place. Under the title “Racists in Secularist Clothing”, David T takes on the job of producing a critique of the Armitage wing of GALHA – without actually mentioning them by name or making the slightest reference to the recent split.

Anyone who reads his posts at Harry’s Place will know that David T has two faces. He tries to maintain the appearance of being a sensible, rational and liberal sort of chap (after all, the bloggers at Harry’s Place are the self-proclaimed defenders of Enlightenment values) but sometimes he seems to lose control, and this frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Muslim bigot bursts out – a sort of Islamophobic version of the Incredible Hulk.

Anyway, in David T’s Gay Humanist Quarterly article we are treated to his Mr Reasonable persona. He writes:

“In recent years, racists have found a new disguise. Islam-baiting has become a proxy for racism. At its most sophisticated, instead of focussing openly on cultural groups, the focus of racists has shifted to Islamism: a political movement which draws on aspects of Islamic theology. Familiar arguments about non-white immigrants have been recast as critiques of ‘Islamism’, complete with conspiracist fantasies – usually about something called ‘Eurabia’ – which bear more than a superficial resemblance to traditional antisemitism. In its purest form, Muslims are thought to be engaged, either consciously or unwittingly, in a demographic and cultural plot to destroy western society generally.”

Though I think it’s untrue that racists, sophisticated or otherwise, concentrate their attacks on political Islamism rather than Islam – as the last issue of G&LH magazine itself demonstrated – in other respects this almost sounds like something you might read at Islamophobia Watch. After that, however, though the tone of sweet reasonableness is maintained, things go downhill fast.

“Secularists in particular will unavoidably find themselves in conflict with Islamism”, we are told, “because they challenge all forms of religious politics.” Really? I can’t remember secularists (or at least any with remotely progressive views) opposing political engagement by radical Catholic priests influenced by liberation theology. And how many secularists today are calling for Bruce Kent’s expulsion from CND? In the case of Christianity, most people would make a distinction between progressive political interventions and those of, say, Pat Robertson or Ian Paisley. But Muslims involved in faith-based political activity are often all lumped together irrespective of their actual political aims. As Tariq Ramadan has pointed out: “In the case of Islam, engaging in the defence of the poor or carrying the most reactionary ideas does not make any difference. Judgement here falls like a chopper: ‘fundamentalists’.”

David T goes on to distinguish his and GALHA’s position from that of “racists masquerading as secularists” (presumably a coded reference to Andy Armitage et al). The latter, we are told, claim “that there is no distinction to be made between the private faith of Islam, and the public political programme of Islamism”. So that seems clear enough. Those secularists who refuse to make a distinction between Islam as a religion and Islamism as a political movement are racists. Yet a few pages later in this same issue of GHQ we find an article by Houzan Mahmoud of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq who tells us:

“The brutal truth is that for the last two decades Islam – in the contemporary Middle East – has justified people killing, stoning, imprisoning, veiling and forcing women into burqas. Women are imprisoned in the name of political Islam – a crime against all of humanity.”

This obliteration of the distinction between Islam and political Islamism is no slip of the pen. Such formulations appear repeatedly in the writings of the Worker Communist Parties of Iraq and Iran and their fragments. Of course, given her own ethnic origins, Mahmoud can hardly be accused of racism – which is no doubt why Brett Lock commissioned the article from her in the first place. The role she and her co-thinkers in fact play is to give credibility to the real racists by echoing and endorsing their arguments.

This was the effect of the campaign against faith-based arbitration tribunals in Ontario organised by Mahmoud’s former comrades in the Worker Communist Party of Iran, who aligned themselves with the anti-Muslim Right in whipping up hysteria about the supposed importation of sharia law into Canada. David T may argue that “secularists need to be particularly alive to the danger that they will find themselves fellow travelling with racists”, but that is evidently of little concern to the “Worker Communists”.

David T may claim to distinguish between the personal and political expressions of Islam, but he refuses to recognise that there are deep differences between the various tendencies within the broad category of political Islamism. He goes on to refer to “the falangists of the Al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood strains of Islamism”. Thus a mass-based reformist organisation like the Brotherhood is bracketed with the terrorist groupuscules of Al-Qaida – and both are defined as variants of fascism. Given that the Muslim Association of Britain identifies with the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood, one can only conclude that they are fascists too. In David T’s eyes, this is indeed the case.

When Osama Saeed, a leading figure in MAB in Scotland, wrote an article for the Guardian in November this year presenting a reasoned case for an updated caliphate as a sort of Islamic version of the European Union, David T denounced this as “another piece of Milne-commissioned advocacy for clerical fascism from his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood”. (The reference is to Seumas Milne, the Guardian’s comment editor.)

Mild objections by Harry’s Place readers that Saeed had not in fact advocated any form of fascism reduced David T to apoplexy. He denounced the Guardian article as the product of an “extreme right-wing fascist” ideology and insisted that allowing a member of MAB to present a moderate-sounding argument for the caliphate was no different from the Guardian publishing an article by BNP leader Nick Griffin which argued that Britain would be a much better place for all people if the BNP were in power.

Osama Saeed is in fact a member of the Scottish National Party and stood as an SNP candidate in East Renfrewshire in the 2005 general election. He runs a blog called Rolled Up Trousers which recently applauded Peter Tatchell’s stance on asylum rights. To compare Saeed to fascist leader Nick Griffin is not only a disgrace but an indication that David T’s hatred of MAB in particular and Islamism in general is so extreme as to deprive him of the capacity for intelligent thought.

But then, that’s the trouble with being a frothing-at-the-mouth Islamophobe who wears the mask of an enlightened, rational liberal. Once in a while the mask slips.