Workers Hammer No. 204

Autumn 2008


Down with chauvinist compulsory English policy!

SOAS enforces racist "war on terror"

The British state’s racist “war on terror” is the domestic face of the bloody colonial occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and an excuse to further curtail civil liberties and introduce yet more draconian “anti-terror” laws. In June, Gordon Brown’s Labour government narrowly pushed through a vote extending to 42 days the time that “terror suspects” can be interned and interrogated without charge. Labour’s “war on terror” targets Muslims in the first instance but is also aimed at regimenting the whole population and repressing social struggle. The deadly reality of the “anti-terror” crusade was brutally demonstrated by the police killing of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes on a Tube train in London in July 2005, and the near-killing of postal worker Mohammed Abdul Kahar during a June 2006 raid by hundreds of cops in Forest Gate, London. We say: Down with Labour’s racist “war on terror”!

“Anti-terror” witch hunts on campus

Government “guidelines” for “tackling violent extremism” on university campuses place students and workers squarely in the crosshairs of police repression. Exactly what this means was seen in frightening reality on 14 May when Hicham Yezza — an employee of the University of Nottingham, president and co-founder of the Arabic Society and editor of a political magazine — and Rizwaan Sabir, a post-graduate student at the university, were arrested and detained after Sabir downloaded and sent to Yezza a document entitled “The Al Qaeda Training Manual” that he was using as part of a PhD proposal. The document is freely available from the US Department of Justice website as well as for sale on Amazon! Both Sabir and Yezza were held and interrogated for six days before being released without charge. Yezza was then re-arrested for unspecified “visa irregularities”, threatened with deportation to Algeria and held at numerous immigration detention centres for a month before being released on bail to await further proceedings. Yezza powerfully described the harrowing effects of his treatment in an 18 August Guardian article entitled “Britain’s terror laws have left me and my family shattered.” No deportation of Hicham Yezza! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!

Yezza and Sabir are just two of a number of victims of the anti-Muslim witch hunt who are either students or workers on campus. In August 2004, Babar Ahmad, then an IT technician working at Imperial College London was arrested under the Extradition Act 2003 and accused of running a website supporting “terrorism” in Chechnya and Afganistan. He awaits a European court decision which could be followed by his immediate extradition to the US. The previous year, in December 2003 Ahmad was savagely beaten by police, arrested and detained for six days and then released. Also facing extradition in connection with the same alleged “conspiracy” is Syed Talha Ahsan, a former student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London who was arrested in July 2006. It is an outrage that under the conditions of the Extradition Act 2003 between the US and Britain, no prima facie evidence is required for any “terror suspect” to be extradited, only that the US government provide documentation of the appearance of guilt. Hands off Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan!

Revolutionaries fight “English-only” gag at SOAS

It is in the vital interests of students, lecturers and campus workers to oppose the “war on terror” on campuses. At SOAS this means fighting to overturn the chauvinist campaign that has been waged for two years by the SOAS Student Union, targeting clubs and societies who publish materials in languages other than English. At the September 2006 Freshers Fair there was an unsuccessful attempt by student union bureaucrats — spearheaded by former vice president and prominent Socialist Workers Party (SWP) spokesman Clare Solomon — to impose an “English-only” rule on student societies, with the outrageous and ludicrous demand that “All publicity must be in English”.

The Spartacus Youth Group (SYG) was targeted by Solomon for refusing to abide by this witch-hunting “rule”, which the student bureaucracy ludicrously sought to pass off as part of its “Equal Opportunities Policy”. We vehemently opposed this attempt at anti-communist censorship at the time and have campaigned against the policy ever since, noting that it is aimed primarily at Muslims and will be used to target anyone who opposes British imperialism. SYG members have intervened into campus events and held regular sales of our literature (including in Arabic, Chinese, Turkish, Tagalog and other languages) and fought to overturn this threat to all students. A motion drafted by the SYG, submitted to a 2007 SOAS Union General Meeting read:

“That this ‘English-only’ rule has nothing to do with ‘equal opportunities’ and everything to do with enforcing the so-called ‘war on terror’ on campus. All students and staff should be allowed to read and distribute material in any language regardless of whether it is translated. The ‘war on terror’ is a classic ‘divide and rule’ ploy, stigmatizing Muslims as an excuse for a sweeping reduction in the legal rights of the entire population and a racist, imperialist ‘war’ of military adventures abroad. The ‘war on terror’ targets immigrants, minorities and ultimately the working class.”

It speaks volumes to the SWP’s claim to be a defender of the oppressed Muslim population that while the SYG campaigned to expose and defeat the “war on terror” witch hunt at SOAS, Clare Solomon et al actually helped to enforce it! Faced with the determined opposition of the SYG comrades, Solomon took a step back before eventually abstaining on our motion, thus aiding those who want the policy to remain.

It is clear that the student union intends to continue to enforce its chauvinist policy in the new academic year, albeit in a slightly modified form. An 11 August e-mail to the SYG from Ben Sellers, current Vice President for Sports and Societies states, “any materials you have in foreign languages must have a direct english [sic] translation available”. We will continue to oppose the “war on terror” witch hunt for what it is and demand: Down with the chauvinist compulsory English policy for student societies at SOAS!

Reform v revolution

It is scandalous that the student union bureaucracy, including the so-called “socialists” of the SWP, colludes with the university administration and the forces of state repression to enforce a policy that augments the “war on terror” and aids government attempts to brand Muslim students and leftists alike as “violent extremists”. In the case of the SWP this flows from its reformist worldview and programme, which has always amounted to pressuring the capitalist state, especially when administered by a Labour government, to act in the interest of working people. But the capitalist state cannot be reformed to serve workers and the oppressed and those who administer it must inevitably implement the attacks and state repression of the capitalist class. In its own small way, at the level of campus politics, the SWP proves the reactionary bankruptcy of reformism. The programme of the revolutionary Marxist SYG stands in complete counterposition to this reformist claptrap: we seek to win youth and students to the understanding that racism, war, poverty and oppression are inherent to the capitalist system and cannot be eliminated short of socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism here in Britain and internationally and replace it with a society where those who make the wealth — the working class — rule.

Our model is the 1917 October Revolution where the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky led the working class to power and ripped Russia from the rule of tsars, priests and capitalists. If you want to see an end to poverty, starvation, imperialist war and racism, only a revolutionary party with a record of standing on a genuinely Marxist programme is capable of providing the way forward — join us!