On reflection, perhaps I’ve been a bit harsh on Tribune. Having got hold of a copy of the current issue, I find that it contains an excellent reply to Peter Tatchell by Kirsten Hearn of Regard (even if they manage to mis-spell her name).
Kirsten demolishes Tatchell’s article which rejected anti-fascist work with the Muslim Council of Britain on the grounds that the MCB is homophobic:
“To suggest we jettison the Muslim community from the anti-fascist movement at a time when the fascists are advancing by attacking Muslims is obscene. Today, in Europe, among the many communities being attacked by fascists and the extreme Right, it is possible to find many differences. We must instead seek the basis of common ground and effective opposition. Specifically, the MCB is an umbrella and mainstream body representing more than 450 Muslim organisations and therefore must be central to anti-fascist unity in this country.”
Discord cannot deal defeats to fascism
Demonising Muslims will only divide and defeat the anti-fascist movement, argues Kirsten Hearn
Tribune, 31 March 2006
PETER TATCHELL (Tribune March 17) made a number of claims about the British Left working with the Muslim community to the detriment of socially progressive struggles such as women’s liberation and lesbian and gay rights.
He wrote: “Human rights campaigners are claiming a victory after Sir Iqbal Sacranie failed to speak, as advertised, at the recent trade union-sponsored Unite Against Fascism (UAF) conference.” In fact, Iqbal Sacranie was not present because of another engagement and the Muslim Council of Britain’s assistant-secretary general spoke instead. However, Tatchell’s organisation, OutRage!, issued a press release stating that Sacranie’s “climbdown” was a “victory” as “the organisers realised they could not secure the acceptance of a homophobe at an anti-fascist conference, so they dumped him…. Sacranie’s attitude to gay people is similar to the homophobia of the BNP.”
I was not aware that anyone from OutRage! actually attended the conference, but whether they did or not, misrepresenting facts in this way is more about grabbing headlines than engaging in serious debate about how to establish an effective anti-fascist movement.
I addressed the UAF conference from Regard – the national organisation of disabled lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgendered people (LGBT) – together with a number of other lesbian and gay representatives including Stonewall Chief executive Ben Summerskill, Imaan, the LGBT Muslim support group, and the Lesbian and Gay Coalition Against Racism.
Tatchell’s article failed to mention any of us, perhaps because our presence demonstrated that he is unrepresentative of the lesbian and gay communities, while our support for Unite Against Fascism undermines his attempts to portray the Muslim and LGBT communities as polarised from each other.
Many within the LGBT community condemn homophobic views within faith communities, but support an alliance with all faiths in the face of the rise of the British National Party, which has received the largest vote for a fascist party in British history. Where the BNP hold council seats, racist attacks increase. The fascists have also targeted the LGBT communities with campaigns of homophobic hatred. They are making gains by attacking the Muslim community, calling the forthcoming elections a “referendum on Islam”. Therefore it is not merely “a good idea”, as Tatchell states, to have a broad alliance against the BNP, it is in the best interests of the LGBT community.
OutRage! targets the Muslim community as homophobic when leaders of most major religions have similar views on homosexuality. Why do so? Breaking an alliance with the main faith community leaders and organisations because of their negative attitude to homosexuality would destroy an effective anti-fascist movement capable of defeating the BNP.
It is grotesque to liken the homophobic views of Muslim and other religious leaders, to the fascists’ agenda. Fascism stands for the mass murder and destruction of entire groups of people, including the black and Jewish communities, lesbians, gay men and disabled people.
This was the mortal consequence of the Nazis’ rise to power, which the BNP admires. To suggest we jettison the Muslim community from the anti-fascist movement at a time when the fascists are advancing by attacking Muslims is obscene.
Today, in Europe, among the many communities being attacked by fascists and the extreme Right, it is possible to find many differences. We must instead seek the basis of common ground and effective opposition. Specifically, the MCB is an umbrella and mainstream body representing more than 450 Muslim organisations and therefore must be central to anti-fascist unity in this country.
It is important not to disproportionately single out black communities and Muslims in relation to homophobia, as this ignores the existence of LGBT Muslim and black organisations trying to maintain dialogue with the rest of their communities and leaves them unsupported in their struggle against racism and homophobia.
Doing so risks feeding a hostile climate against black and Muslim people, perpetuated by the reactionary press, which in turn fans the flames of racist hostilities, on which the BNP are growing. OutRage! has used the term “Islamo-fascism”. This phrase is extensively used by the BNP, arguing that fascism is not the real threat, Muslims are.
The result of the UAF conference extending an uncompromising welcome to gays and lesbians and the Muslim community was that both communities issued statements welcoming joint work against the fascists.
The press statement from the MCB about the conference read: “British Muslims welcome working with everyone including members of the lesbian and gay community against a common enemy, fascism”.
The threat of the BNP means serious community representatives on all sides are responding maturely to the need for new, broader alliances. Maintaining dialogue has achieved more results with the mainstream Muslim community than any amount of demonisation.
We must remember that the lesbian and gay community itself is diverse. We have seen the emergence of fascists within the gay community, with Dutch gay racist Pim Fortuyn, who promoted “zero tolerance” of Islam. Some voices within the lesbian and gay community failed to condemn him straightforwardly for the fascist he was.
The only effective way to stop the rise of fascism on all fronts is to oppose the racism and prejudice on which they are advancing.
This does not mean censoring opposition to homophobia, which also legitimises the growth of the far Right. It does mean arguing out our differences within a framework of united opposition to the BNP. This is precisely what happened at the UAF conference, where a robust range of views in opposition to Iqbal Sacranie’s statement were heard.
The emergence of Unite Against Fascism means the anti-fascist movement is calibrated to defend the common interests of different communities which would otherwise never work together. This can overcome prejudices and, in turn, has the potential to deal fascism significant defeats.
Kirsten Hearn is an executive member of Regard, the national organisation of disabled lesbian, gay men, bisexual and transgendered people