Workers Hammer No. 197
Anti-Muslim witch hunt on universities
Down with SOAS "English-only" gag on societies!
The racist Labour government, with its hands soaked in the blood of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, is ratchetting up the war on terror on university campuses. An article in the Guardian (16 October 2006) revealed leaked government plans, according to which lecturers and university staff across Britain are to be asked to spy on Asian-looking and Muslim students, while admitting that universities will be anxious about passing information to special branch, for fear it amounts to collaborating with the secret police. A month later Bill Rammell, minister of state for higher education, issued a widely-publicised report on universities, stating that there is a real, credible and sustained threat to the UK from violent extremism in the name of Islam and issuing guidelines on tackling extremism in the name of Islam (Promoting Good Campus Relations, 17 November 2006). These guidelines amount to a state-sponsored witch hunt of Muslim societies. Make no mistake, this is an attempt to silence or purge any student, campus organisation or lecturer who speaks out against the brutal colonial occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or defends the Palestinians against murderous assault by the Zionist state, by branding them as potential terrorists.
Paul Mackney, joint general secretary of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) has stated that UCU members will not be police informers and warned that lecturers may be sucked into anti-Muslim McCarthyism. State repression is a daily fact of life for Muslims, blacks, Asians and other minorities. For supposedly looking Asian, Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was executed by the cops in July 2005; the war on terror targets Muslims in the first instance but it will also be used to regiment the whole population and to repress social struggle. It is essential for students and most importantly the university unions to oppose this witch hunt of Muslim students. We say: Down with Labours racist war on terror!
SOAS student union bureaucrats enlist in war on terror
Ominously connecting foreign-language leaflets with suspected extremist literature on campus, the guidelines give a scenario in which some leaflets were written in English, and others appeared to be in Arabic and suggest that such material could constitute a criminal offence. However, well before these guidelines were issued, a crackdown on campus societies distributing foreign-language material was underway at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and is being enforced by student union bureaucrats and the ostensible leftists of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). At the 30 September 2006 freshers fair, Spartacus Youth Group (SYG) members were informed that all information/leaflets/handouts must be in English. This was specified in an e-mail sent by Jack Footitt (SOAS Student Union, Co-President: Sports and Societies) to all SOAS societies. Our comrades were promptly informed by all three student union Co-Presidents, including Lauren Evans and Clare Solomon (a prominent representative of the SWP on campus) that we would have to remove foreign-language material from our literature table or leave. This included a Chinese-language placard defending the 1949 Chinese Revolution as well as literature in Arabic, Tagalog, Japanese, Polish and other languages. We vigorously protested this anti-communist censorship, an outrageous attempt to prevent the multilingual student population from reading communist propaganda. On this occasion these bureaucrats backed down.
The chauvinist English-only rule for societies literature is the thin end of the wedge of the governments war on terror on universities. Zionists on campus have been acting as auxiliaries of the US, British imperialists and the state of Israel, targeting the lecturers union, Muslim students and Palestinian activists. Some months ago, the UCU faced a vitriolic Zionist backlash when the union adopted various resolutions calling for a boycott of Israel in protest against Israeli repression of the Palestinians. We defend the UCU against this witch hunt, while disagreeing with open-ended boycotts of Israel (see Zionist backlash over boycott Israel, Workers Hammer no 196, Autumn 2006).
Defend Nasser Amin!
Nasser Amin, a Muslim student at SOAS was viciously witch-hunted for an article he wrote in the March 2005 soasspirit entitled When Only Violence Will Do, advocating the Palestinian peoples right to defend themselves with violence against murderous Israeli terrorism. In an exchange with Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, Amin wrote:
those peoples who are being denied a right to self-determination in their native soil by foreign colonialist occupations — a right their tormentors take for granted with respect to themselves — and suffer as a result, have a right to armed resistance, if no other way is available. By contrast, there is no right to violence if the objective is ultimately to exploit further, conquer even more and steal more land, as is the case with Israeli violence.
This sent the handful of Zionists at SOAS into a frenzy, while revealing their well-placed connections to the right-wing gutter press in Britain and to forces connected to the Bush administration. In Parliament, Labour MP David Winnick howled for Amin to be prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred while rabidly reactionary Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips called for Amins article to be brought to the attention of the police. Amin says he received death threats and was slurred as an Islamofascist and anti-Semite. Equating criticism of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism is a standard smear of the Zionists; Melanie Phillips brands SOAS itself as the School of Orchestrated Anti Semitism.
Gavin Gross, a prominent Zionist at SOAS who was instrumental in the witch hunt of Amin, was sympathetically interviewed in FrontPage Magazine on 27 June 2005. FrontPage is the mouthpiece of racist ideologue David Horowitz who is part of a reactionary cabal in the US that includes Daniel Pipes and his Campus Watch website and has orchestrated witch hunts against Middle Eastern studies departments and pro-Palestinian professors such as Joseph Massad at Columbia University. Horowitz is high in the councils of the Republican Party and Pipes is part of the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century, which has even included Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Describing the intimidation he faced as an opponent of Zionism at SOAS, in a 29 January 2006 interview with the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, Nasser Amin said:
There has been a feeling of extreme fear and trepidation amongst all students critical of Israel at SOAS, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. People are terrified of being defamed in the media, threatened in Parliament with arrest, bullied by the British Board of Deputies with a lawsuit or being sent death threats.
For a socialist federation of the Near East!
Key to defeating this campaign on campuses is forthrightly taking up the defence of the Palestinian people. The SYG intransigently defends the Palestinian people in their just struggle against Zionist state terror. However, as Marxists we insist that as long as the conflict remains one of nation against nation, the Palestinians can only lose out to the far wealthier, heavily armed Zionist state. The Palestinian nationalist PLO have tried nearly everything to beat the Israeli garrison state: from fighting to negotiating to appealing to the UN and Western imperialists, and it has all been futile. Despair amongst the Palestinian population has led to growing support for reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Whilst we defend Nasser Amin against the right-wing backlash, we have fundamental disagreements with his outlook. We vehemently oppose Amins equation of the Israeli civilian population with the armed forces. He states that all Israelis benefit from the immoral actions of a colonial state in which they have chosen to reside and therefore, according to Amin, Israeli civilians cannot be considered as innocent. This amounts to a denial of the Hebrew-speaking peoples very right to exist as a nation. It is a mirror-image of the Zionists denial of the national rights of the Palestinians and illustrates the genocidal logic of all nationalism.
What drives the bloody cycle of Zionist slaughter and Palestinian defiance and despair is the root cause of this conflict: two peoples lay claim to the same land. There can be no equitable resolution to the conflicting national claims of the Palestinian Arab and Hebrew-speaking peoples under capitalism. So long as the national axis is emphasised, the situation will always be bleak and hopeless. But if the class axis is emphasised there is at least a chance of a just solution. Against all variants of nationalism, we counterpose a programme of proletarian revolutionary internationalism. The road to the social and national liberation of the Palestinian people lies through common class struggle by the Hebrew-speaking and Arab workers against both the Israeli and Arab ruling classes, who likewise are oppressors of the Palestinians. Only within a socialist federation of the Near East can the right to national self-determination for both the Palestinian and the Hebrew-speaking peoples be equitably realised. This requires the revolutionary overthrow of the Zionist state and all capitalist regimes in the region. For a socialist federation of the Near East! Down with the US/British occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan! All Israeli troops and settlers out of the Occupied Territories! UN troops out of Lebanon now!
Protest the war on terror at SOAS
The extent to which the Blair government can succeed in enforcing the war on terror depends on the amount of class struggle opposing it; that is whether the multiethnic working class is mobilised to defend itself, including immigrants and minorities who are in the cross-hairs of increased state repression. At the same time, racism and violent repression of workers and minorities is intrinsic to the capitalist state and cannot be eradicated short of proletarian revolution. Those students who still make it to university in this racist, capitalist society, despite tuition fees, high living costs and enormous debts, are being threatened that if you oppose the occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan or defend the Palestinians, you do not belong there. But the Achilles heel of this racist Labour government and all its armoury of state repression and violence is the exploited multiethnic working class, on which this flexible economy depends. Militant protest by students against the latest proposals for spying on Muslim students and political societies could be the spark for a protest by workers against the Labour governments racist war on terror more generally. On 13 March 2002, the SYG held a united-front protest at SOAS against the war on terror in defence of Fahim Ahmed, a member of the Socialist Labour Party Youth who was detained and tortured under the Terrorism Act. The protest demanded: Down with the Labour governments anti-terrorist laws and anti-immigrant witch hunt!. We also emphasised that Anti-terrorist laws target immigrants, minorities, the working class and the left!. This is amply proven by the fact that the English-only rule for societies literature was used against us communists at SOAS.
Through our protest in 2002 we sought to explain to youth and students that the working class must take up the fight against the war on terror and anti-immigrant hysteria because only the working class has the social power and historic interest to lead the struggle to smash the capitalist system through proletarian revolution and the establishment of a socialist society. This forthright revolutionary perspective is counterposed to that being offered by the reformist left. At a 15 November 2006 SOAS student union general meeting, the SWPs Clare Solomon put a motion to oppose the current racist and Islamophobic backlash and to defend the right for Islamic societies and other groups to organise politically on campuses. Not surprisingly, Solomons motion neglected to oppose the chauvinist English-only rule for societies literature, since Solomon herself is enforcing the ban! A separate motion at the same meeting opposed the ban, not because it augments the war on terror, but because it infringes on the schools image, and it proposed to allow banners containing any language that we have the resources to translate. Translate for whom, Special Branch? In fact, this mere amendment to the foreign-language gag, facilitating the work of the secret police, is entirely within the framework of the new government guidelines.
Central to Solomons motion was a call to back the Stop the War Coalitions (StWC) Islamophobia and the War on Terror peoples assembly on 18 November 2006. The SWP opposes Islamophobia but this goes hand-in-hand with a wholesale capitulation to Islam and religious obscurantism. This is nothing new: during the 1980s the SWP stood with the imperialists in their anti-Soviet crusade. In response to the December 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, we said Hail Red Army! and Extend the gains of the October Revolution to Afghan peoples! whilst the SWP along with most of the left supported the reactionary, imperialist-backed mujahedin cut-throats who threw acid in the faces of unveiled women and shot school teachers who dared to teach girls to read.
Against the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan today, the StWCs strategy is to echo bourgeois-defeatist voices that it is in British imperialisms best interest to get out of Iraq and to be less slavish to the Bush White House, including General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, whom the StWC even invited to join their platforms. The open letter for the Peoples Assembly complained that the disastrous war on terror, of which this government has been such a prominent supporter
has made Britain more vulnerable not less to terrorist attack and argues that the government should abandon its support for the foreign policy of the US administration, including the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Such craven appeals to the Blair government, butchers of Iraq and Afghanistan to introduce a kinder, gentler imperialism is what reformism boils down to. British imperialism is no less savage and brutal than US imperialism, simply weaker and more decrepit.
In contrast to the reformists and opportunists of all shades, we stand in the tradition of the Bolsheviks who led the working class to power in Russia in October 1917, taking proletarian revolution out of the realm of theory and into flesh and blood reality. As the SYG speaker at our March 2002 protest made clear:
British imperialism is not a policy that can be changed; Blair cannot be pressured to be kinder to workers and minorities. For us imperialism is a system that must be replaced by a socialist society where all those who work, who produce the wealth of this country, must rule!
If you want to fight against imperialist war and to see a world free from racism and oppression, join us!