The rise of Islamophobia post-9/11, and the need for a united response to the Bush government’s “war on terror”, have increased the importance of the labour movement engaging in dialogue with Muslim communities and co-operating on those issues where there is common ground.
There are, unfortunately, various pseudo-leftists who reject such dialogue and co-operation. The gay rights organisations Outrage!, whose most prominent figure is Peter Tatchell, are a particularly virulent example of this trend. They of course deny accusations of Islamophobia and try to cover themselves by arguing that they are in favour of dialogue and co-operation with progressive, liberal Muslim groups. But they define these terms so as to exclude the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country, and indeed internationally.
Here is Peter Tatchell, summarising Outrage!’s position in an article entitled “Criticising the Oppressed” (Weekly Worker, 16 September 2004):
“We want dialogue with progressive, liberal muslim organisations who support universal human rights, who support social justice…. If you take a mainstream organisation like the Muslim Council of Britain, which is the umbrella organisation of all muslim groups in this country, it has fought a tooth and nail battle, allied with the rightwing Christian Institute, to oppose every measure in favour of gay and lesbian human rights over the last decade. The MCB opposes an equal age of consent; it supported the retention of section 28; it has attacked employment protection in the workplace for lesbians and gays; and it says that gay people are unfit to care for children. If you read its website, there is plenty of homophobic invective, describing gay people in the most abusive, insulting and, some would say, threatening terms.
“This is the organisation that Tony Blair invites to Downing Street and gives privileged access to when it comes to consultation on social and moral issues. No gay rights organisation and no woman’s rights organisation gets invited to Downing Street for special consultations. The Muslim Council of Britain does, despite the fact that it does not believe in full human rights for women and it does not believe in any human rights for lesbians and gay men. Now, is it ‘islamophobic’ to say that? I do not think so.”
Well many of us do.
It is of course nonsense to suggest that the government fails to consult representative bodies on issues affecting the rights of women or gay men. As for the MCB, it is consulted by Downing Street on the same basis as other faith-based organisations, many of which have similar positions on homosexuality. Tony Blair did hold a special meeting with the MCB in September 2001, it is true, but the purpose that meeting was to discuss the impact the 9/11 atrocities would have on community relations in Britain.
The accusation that the MCB is being given preferential treatment over non-Muslim organisations carries distinct echoes of a bigot insisting that non-whites enjoy favours when it comes to the allocation of jobs and housing.
Tatchell resumed his denunciation of the MCB in the November issue of Labour Left Briefing:
“The objective of right-wing Muslim leaders … is to increase the political influence of fundamentalist Islam in the UK…. Organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain are actively homophobic. They lobbied MPs to oppose the repeal of Section 28 and to support the discriminatory gay age of consent of 18. This push for political influence by rightwing Islamists in Britain is only the beginning. Muslim feminists and socialists warn of the global threat of ‘Islamo-fascism’. They denounce fundamentalist Islam as the religious equivalent of the BNP – but more dangerous. The BNP is an insignificant fringe party, whereas the Islamists already rule many countries.”
It is clear from Tatchell’s diatribes that Outrage! quite explicitly excludes the MCB – an organisation that he himself admits is the most representative Muslim body in Britain – from those “liberal, progressive” Muslim organisations with whom it is acceptable to have a dialogue. Indeed, the MCB is accused of opening the door to “Islamo-fascism”!
But this is par for the course with Outrage! They are equally opposed to the left and the labour movement co-operating with the Muslim Association of Britain in the Stop the War Coalition. And this despite the active and positive role that MAB has played in the anti-war movement.
Of course, it is also the case that because of Outrage!’s Islamophobic stance Muslim organisations have no interest in co-operating with Outrage. That’s why not a single Muslim organisation has signed up to their campaign against Yusuf al-Qaradawi.