The Socialist 7 December 2006
NHS campaigns unite
Britain's Muslims under siege - which way forward?
The debate between Seyyed Ferjani of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and Jim Hensman from Coventry Socialist Party was one of the highlights of Socialism 2006. The discussion ranged from how to tackle racism and Islamaphobia to the importance of winning muslims to the Labour movement and socialist ideas.
Seyyed described the increasing attacks on muslims across the world. He explained that muslim families and young people felt under siege due to the demonisation of muslims in the media, the rise of the far right and the BNP and the international situation in which muslims are suffering in Palestine and Iraq.
He argued that the majority of muslims oppose methods of terrorism and that the solution for those who are angry and radicalised was to be part of the anti-war movement, where muslims and socialists work together for social justice and peace and against imperialism and racism.
Jim Hensman stressed the importance of socialists having a fighting programme in response to the wave of Islamaphobia and racism that has swept across Europe. Jim explained that socialists stand for the right of people to practice religion and that we are in the forefront of defending democratic rights, particularly as the recent attacks on civil liberties will also be used as a repressive tool against left activists and trade unionists.
Jim pointed out that many muslims not only faced Islamophobia but also economic oppression. He exposed the wealth gap that exists in the muslim community - 25% of muslim graduates are unemployed and 70% of muslims live below the poverty line, yet there are 500 muslim millionaires. This also applies to the political establishment where muslim MP's from the three main parties support war and attacks on public services.
Jim argued that this undermines the idea from some sections of the Left that there is a homogenous 'muslim bloc' that is anti-war and progressive. As class divisions apply also to the muslim community, muslims need to organise on a class basis through the trade unions and a new workers' party.
Jim then moved on to the international situation saying he could understand why many muslims, particularly youth, had been radicalised by the horrific conflicts in Iraq, Palestine and Chechnya and that this raised the question of how imperialism can be defeated. He pointed out that many Islamic organisations that had turned to armed resistance were incapable of solving the problems faced by the masses in these areas.
Jim used the example of organisations like Hamas, the Mujhadeen in Afghanistan and the Muslim Brotherhood. All these organisations have based struggle on a religious programme and the methods of individual terrorism without taking up class issues and often have the effect of dividing the working class and poor masses.
He also pointed out that there had been massive social movements that threatened imperialism's interests. the response of US imperialism was to back organisations that would divide these movements along sectarian and religious lines.
Jim drew out how the approach of socialists differed using the example of the Bolshevik party after the Russian Revolution whose programme granted the right of self determination to national minorities and the right to practice religion while mobilising the working class and poor masses on a socialist programme.
In this period many muslims became class fighters, joining workers' organisations and the Communist Parties. Jim concluded that winning muslim workers and youth on a class basis was a key task for socialists. A wide ranging discussion followed on the issues of defending the democratic rights of muslim students, the separation of religion and the state and the attitude of Islamic organisations towards socialists and trade unionists in the Middle East.
Greg Randall raised the issue of persecution of LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people in regimes like Iran and Afghanistan and that the MAB has never criticised this, he concluded that this was a key issue in uniting workers against racism.
Seyyed Ferjani responded that in his interpretation of Islam sexuality should be kept in the private sphere and not in the public domain leaving the position of the MAB unclear.
Jackie Grunsell a Save Huddersfield Councillor gave a concrete example of how muslim workers got behind an anti-NHS cuts and closures campaign and voted for her over muslim candidates from the main parties.
Overall this debate was extremely useful in making clear the approach of socialists to the issues facing the muslim community.
In this issue
War and terrorism
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis