On the Multiculturalism/Zizek debate

I put off writing this because I had already got the subject out of my system, but it has returned and it’s very difficult to ignore: it is the question of multiculturalism, and more specifically what this means to anti-fascists.

Richard Seymour recently produced a blog entry about philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s attempts to critically analyse violence and provocation carried out against the Strojan family – an extended family of 31 Gypsies, 14 of them children.

Seymour’s beef is with two things: firstly the outcome of the events, which culminated in the police succumbing to pressure by violent mobs and forcing the family to leave, who, as he notes, had they not “driven the gypsies out, the racist mob would have done so with fire and blades.”

The second thing Seymour has beef about is Zizek’s poor research on the matter. Zizek has used this example to underline his own controversial view of multiculturalism (more of which in a moment) but what he has failed to do is properly understand what happened to the family. As Seymour says in a reply to critics of the aforementioned entry:

I find no evidence that the Strojan family are car thieves, and they didn’t murder anyone. It is true that locals blamed the Strojan family for a number of thefts, but it’s also true that they acknowledge when pressed that the Strojans have been scapegoated on this issue.

I’m with Seymour here; had Zizek done his homework, he would’ve seen that this is a case of scapegoating, or at best a heavy-handed response to petite-theft among some individuals of a family, perhaps spurred on because of the family’s racial background. Zizek here is not being racist, he has just erroneously placed this disgraceful event in the wrong context; by implication I feel that Zizek’s “apologia for anti-Roma racism” is due to a misjudgement by the Slovenian.

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As it happens I find Zizek’s critique of multiculturalism very useful (which is why one can agree with Seymour on this issue, and still be in defence of Slavoj Zizek, so to speak). I will attempt to place it in its correct context.

Multiculturalism, according to Kenan Malik, author of From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy, has come to be defined as a policy promoting diversity among a society of people with fixed identities, partly as a reaction to inharmonious feeling at a time of increased immigration into the UK. For Malik this has simultaneously become the problem and solution to intolerance. While it rather nobly aims to celebrate difference, it also rather crudely pigeon-holes people, on account of their racial or national heritage.

In trying to effect “respect for pluralism [and] avowal of identity politics” – which have come to be “hallmarks of a progressive, anti-racist outlook” – segregation has simply become institutionalised.

As a consequence to the respect agenda, all cultures have become of equal value, which may mean that in purely multicultural terms everything is permissible if it can be justified on the grounds of cultural heritage – which leads to the question who can authoritatively account for what a cultural trait is (for Malik, such policies in the eighties served only to strengthen conservative Muslim leaders in Birmingham, on the daft assumption that they alone could authoritatively account for what Islam is).

For Zizek, there is a bourgeois liberal variant of multiculturalism that is repulsed by (far) right wing populism of the Other (the immigrant for example) to the extent that it starts to fetishise the Other. Not content with opposing all racism directed at this Other, it starts to think the Other can do no wrong. Take as an example the song “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer” often sung by Julius Malema, President of the African National Congress Youth League; the real anti-racist would oppose this song in spite of its historical context, for whatever the white farmers’ crimes during the apartheid, this is a song that is derogatory towards a race. The bourgeois liberal fetishist, of the ilk to which Zizek refers, may justify singing the song on the grounds that such retaliation is historically justified (you could perhaps ascribe to this the notion of “white guilt”).

For Zizek, the bourgeois liberal justifying Malema singing the song is akin to expressing the belief that Melama knows no better, leading Zizek to assert that certain modes of politically correct tolerance of the Other is grounded upon the belief that certain groups can be judged differently (which is why the BNP for example are wrong for being racist populists, but Malema is clear on the grounds that he has experienced racism himself). This ends up being monoculturalism based upon a rather stereotypical ideal of how the Other should act – the point being that the bourgeois liberal, for Zizek, is deluding himself by thinking he is a mutliculturalist, since it is almost a colonial understanding of the foreign Other who he is identifying.

In short, this notion of multiculturalism masks a racist idea of the Other who needs to be “tolerated” (for more on this see Naadir Jeewa’s excellent analysis).

The confusion here lies in who we identify as this bourgeois liberal, naïve apologist? For many people who subscribe to multiculturalism this simply doesn’t resonate. For me, Zizek’s analysis is less a critique of multiculturalism, and more a critique of naïve, neo-colonial monoculturalism (which I assume he is well aware of, though if not, we ought to understand that the bourgeois liberal variant of multiculturalism is not necessarily inherent to multiculturalism proper). But maybe the word multiculturalism lends itself too easily to the idea that cultural relativism is appropriate– since we’re immediately in a struggle to identify what we can call culture (authority on which, as Malik explains, can often fall into the wrong hands).

When most people support multiculturalism, what they mean is that a country ought not to have a dominant national character immigrants are obliged to adopt as a guarantee of their debt to their new homeland. Instead a country should allow all to practice what they wish, as they wish, provided that it doesn’t harm anyone. Perhaps I’ll adopt the term socialist universalism?

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Anwar al-Awlaki is not a victim

Any counter-intuitive article suggesting Osama bin Laden was actually a nice young man once – before an important portion of his family died in plane crashes, possibly at the hands of American pilots, and his urge to author destruction was brought to the fore by an almost psychopathic desire to right these wrongs – is completely without justification unless the article includes a few details criticising him to the highest degree.

If this sounds like a good rule to you, then take a glance at an article by Nussaibah Younis on Comment is free today. In it, she describes Anwar al-Awlaki as one who has been “deeply hurt by the US response to the 9/11 attacks”. Indeed, he is not the only one. She quotes from the Washington Post something al-Awlaki was reported to have said about bin Laden and the US invasion of Afghanistan:

Muslims still see Bin Laden as a person with extremely radical ideas. But he has been able to take advantage of the sentiment that is out there regarding US foreign policy. We’re totally against what the terrorists had done. We want to bring those who had done this to justice. But we’re also against the killing of civilians in Afghanistan.

After reading that I was still expecting to see something about how deeply vile al-Awlaki’s views were then – in the days when he apparently “impressed” Younis – and how dreadful they are now. I was left waiting. Instead she describes him as someone who “lost confidence in the west’s commitment to its self-professed values [of, wait for it, freedom] and became convinced that the west was bent on destroying Islam”. Furthermore, the Obama administration, “[b]y effectively signing his death warrant before trial … has done little to prove Awlaki wrong”.

She may have a point with regards to a trial – however, such an event will testify what is already known; al-Awlaki is in close contact to – and has previously informed – many who we, without hyperbole, can call extremist terrorists.

His reported links include US Army Major Nidal Hassan (“gunman suspected of carrying out the 5 November 2009 attack on Fort Hood, Texas”) who attended the same mosque in Virginia Falls that al-Awlaki formerly preached in, and two of the three 9/11 hijackers and Omar Abdul Rehman, “who was convicted for his role in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.”

Al-Awlaki has also praised US designated Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab – the inspiration for the so-called Toronto 18 cell and supporters of armed jihad.

The real problem, however, with Younis’ article is that it excuses al-Awlaki’s views as simply a reaction of US foreign policy. He is not alone among people who do not favour US projects in the Middle East, though he is in the minority of those who believe the best response would be the killing of civilians – something the author of the Cif piece prefers to brush aside.

Indeed many have difficulty trying to justify the views of al-Awlaki since he was released from incarceration in Yemen between 2006-07. But before then – the period Younis describes – some felt he was just an informed scholar.

According to Shiraz Maher, Muhammad Amin, author of the “between the lines” blog – said “This new [post-incarceration] Anwar al-Awlaki is unrecognisable to every British Muslim organisation which invited him to give lectures in the past.”

It is taken as standard by some that al-Awlaki was good then, bad now. But Maher’s blog entry for Standpoint notes that three years before his arrest, al-Awlaki toured the UK (including a talk at the East London Mosque) urging Muslims not to report fellow Muslims, “under any circumstances”.

Al-Awlaki is in fact quoted as saying: “A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim, he does not oppress him, he does not betray him and he does not hand him over…You don’t hand over a Muslim to the enemies…” (a video transcript can be found here).

His promotion of the violent jihad against enemies – even in the early 2000’s – begs the question, posed by Maher, whether al-Awlaki was ever moderate at all?

And so the question remains; but whatever the answer, if one will insist on writing an article describing al-Awlaki as a victim of US foreign policy, and not an extremist who failed to qualify sensible criticism to the West’s Middle Eastern adventures, do make sure it concludes on a critical note.

My attempt to protest Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky

Recently I wrote:

An anti-Semite by the name of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky will be addressing an otherwise very respectable Mosque tonight in my local area of Kilburn.

He is the head of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the website of which has an article clearly demonstrating the extent to which he views Jews as plotters. An article on that website details a recent seminar given by a deeply dubious character Sheikh Yusuf Ali who talks about the Zionist plot against Muslims; then clearly details Zakzaky noting “the Jewish plot against Islam is manifested in Iraq as they sent Bush to capture Iraq for them”. There is of course the obligatory reference to the “protocols”.

According to his biography on the official website of the IMN:

The goal of the Islamic movement is to enlighten the Muslims as to their duties as individuals and as a community. The movement owns more than three hundred primary/secondary schools located in different places mainly in the northern part of the country. They are known by the name of Fudiyyah Schools. This is in addition to many Islamic centers and other institutions. The movement also owns the Nigeria’s most widely circulated newspaper, Al Mizan, in the Hausa language.

It also details Zakzaky’s arrests, which the site claims were “for his ideas”.

The Jerusalem Post – one of the few publications with details of Zakzaky’s visit – mentions details of the host of the conference, the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). They say:

The IHRC is a Hezbollah and Islamic Republic supporting organization. At an anti-Israel rally in Hyde Park during the Second Lebanon War, its chair Massoud Shadjareh wore a Hezbollah flag as did research director Reza Kazim, who was seen chanting phrases like “We are all Hezbollah” and “Bomb, bomb Tel Aviv.” At a pro- Israel rally in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2008, Kazim was ejected by the police for filming within the roped off area.

According to an article written by the Middle East Strategic Information written in 2009:

  • Zakzaky’s IMN is growing popular among impoverished Nigerian Muslims
  • He believes Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden do not exist, acts of terrorism in the west are organised by western intelligence services, and that Tony Blair was behind the 7/7 bombings
  • He claims Nigeria’s secularist leaders perform ritual sacrifices removing unborn babies from their Mother’s wombs by ripping them out
  • He believes Jews are “”dastardly infidels” and draws inspiration from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the deceased Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin

He has been and gone now, but came almost unnoticed.

I hate to come across all Eustonite or “decent” but if Geert Wilders or Le Pen or someone dreadful like that came to our town, we’d be all over them like a rash, but with figures such as Zakzaky – who is not small beer by the way, he is the head of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) – we give it a miss.

Some may say that Zakzaky has never committed terror himself, which is why it is not important, but this does not disprove his threat. Some may say, in his words, he does not cause terror. This is questionable, but I’m careful not to make claims I cannot substantiate. During the conference season, the Quilliam Foundation held an event on how non-violent extremism can be just as dangerous as violent extremism. Whether directly or indirectly, Zakzaky has sounded off to the tune of racial discrimination and religious violence, and this should not be sniffed at.

Some will perhaps accuse me, and have done before, of making straw man of whom to knock down. The point here is that I’m not accusing anyone of supporting Zakzaky – though there obviously are some who do – and I’m certainly not saying that in the absence of an anti-fascist picket of him, that I should therefore deduce the anti-fascists in fact support Islamic fascists. It is not true. But I have difficulty understanding why people like Zakzaky don’t wind them up to the point of protest, whereas smaller targets like David Irving, do.

Now let me quickly qualifiy this before I get myself into trouble. Of course Irving is bad news, and has dangerous ideas, but at least he is an army of one; him and maybe some idiots in the National Front or Combat 18. His words are largely ignored by the vast amount of thinking human beings, and are taken on board by a small group of twits that if they express their counterfactual opinions, land themselves in court. Zakzaky, on the other hand, is the head of a church, has many followers and is fiercely anti-Semitic – context, here, is all.

In my quest to get more airplay on Zakzaky, I wrote to three individuals/organisations that I thought could maybe help; Peter Tatchell, Hope not Hate and Unite Against Fascism.

I requested their help in numbers to picket the arrival of Zakzaky and ask questions of the mosque why they felt it responsible to invite someone with a evident history of anti-Semitism and crime.

I saw something on him at the Jerusalem Post and some bits on Harry’s Place blog here and here, as well as a cross-post on the Spittoon website, but when I read next to nothing about him in the mainstream press I wrote to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jewish Chronicle – as well as tweeting Martin Bright and Stephen Pollard – Hampstead and Highgate Express and the Kilburn Times.

The only response I got from any of these places was Peter Tatchell to tell me he was ill and had no campaign funds. Tatchell in his email recommended I contact the Board of Deputies of British Jews and contact local news sources – which I had done. It is a great credit to the man for at least writing back to me and taking my email seriously; there indeed is someone who will not allow sentimentalities affect his principles, and I can’t talk highly of him for doing so.

Tatchell’s first line said it all: “I share your anger about Mosques hosting extremist clerics and preachers. It is no better than having a right wing white racist speaking.”

There is no such thing as a “decent” left. There are leftwingers and rightwingers, with some mixing in the middle, and there are hypocrites and those who allow confused politics affect principles. I do not level this charge at anyone in particular, but in the fight against fascism in all its forms, we can’t just sit on our hands, we should be pulling our fingers out.

In the end I went down to the mosque by myself, and I was ineffective and nervous about getting on the wrong side of anyone. But were I backed up with the same level of energy certain organisations reserve for other far rightwingers, we could have told a number of people what we think about foul ideas infiltrating vulnerable communities.

Anti-Semite Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky in the UK

An anti-Semite by the name of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky will be addressing an otherwise very respectable Mosque tonight in my local area of Kilburn.

He is the head of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the website of which has an article clearly demonstrating the extent to which he views Jews as plotters. An article on that website details a recent seminar given by a deeply dubious character Sheikh Yusuf Ali who talks about the Zionist plot against Muslims; then clearly details Zakzaky noting “the Jewish plot against Islam is manifested in Iraq as they sent Bush to capture Iraq for them”. There is of course the obligatory reference to the “protocols”.

According to his biography on the official website of the IMN:

The goal of the Islamic movement is to enlighten the Muslims as to their duties as individuals and as a community. The movement owns more than three hundred primary/secondary schools located in different places mainly in the northern part of the country. They are known by the name of Fudiyyah Schools. This is in addition to many Islamic centers and other institutions. The movement also owns the Nigeria’s most widely circulated newspaper, Al Mizan, in the Hausa language.

It also details Zakzaky’s arrests, which the site claims were “for his ideas”.

The Jerusalem Post – one of the few publications with details of Zakzaky’s visit – mentions details of the host of the conference, the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). They say:

The IHRC is a Hezbollah and Islamic Republic supporting organization. At an anti-Israel rally in Hyde Park during the Second Lebanon War, its chair Massoud Shadjareh wore a Hezbollah flag as did research director Reza Kazim, who was seen chanting phrases like “We are all Hezbollah” and “Bomb, bomb Tel Aviv.” At a pro- Israel rally in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2008, Kazim was ejected by the police for filming within the roped off area.

According to an article written by the Middle East Strategic Information written in 2009:

  • Zakzaky’s IMN is growing popular among impoverished Nigerian Muslims
  • He believes Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden do not exist, acts of terrorism in the west are organised by western intelligence services, and that Tony Blair was behind the 7/7 bombings
  • He claims Nigeria’s secularist leaders perform ritual sacrifices removing unborn babies from their Mother’s wombs by ripping them out
  • He believes Jews are “”dastardly infidels” and draws inspiration from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the deceased Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin

A day of protest

In the Islamic Republic of Iran 150 people have been put to death by stoning in the last 31 years, according to Farshad Hosseini. Yesterday, a cohort of activists set up a stall in Trafalgar Square to protest the decision to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani at the hands of the Iranian judiciary – and to show their opposition to stonings full stop.

Stoning is not only inhumane, but is apparently disapporived of OFFICIALLY in Iran. Before his death in 2006, the then Minister of Justice and spokesman for the Judiciary, Mr. Jamal Karimi-Rad, became the first Iranian judicial authority to comment in reaction to the Stop Stoning Forever campaign – formed of various women’s rights organisations to see stoning as a form of punishment for adultery in Iran abolished. He denied that stoning took place in Iran, brushing aside examples where judge’s have sentenced it, often with little in the way of evidence.

Mr Jamal Karimi-Rad’s comments did demonstrate then an official disapproval of stoning, however flimsy it was, consistent with the ban on stoning ordered by the Head of Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, in December 2002.

It beggars belief. The thing that could knock some sense into Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran is that the execution case is making Iran look bad – not that justice is being perverted in such a foul way. But, of course, for Ashtiani’s family, this reason is better than none.

Unite against the regime of stoning and flogging

Shreen Ayob in her capacity as activist has called for opponents of stoning and flogging to gather to central London tomorrow to join support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

I have written a few items explaining why the case against Ashtiani is a perversion of justice, and how Iran is practising a judicial system contrary to Islamic teachings.

In my original piece on the case I speak about the exploited use of Article 105 of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran which states “The Shari’a Judge can act upon his own knowledge in the cases of [defending] the God’s Rights and People’s Rights and carry out the punishment constituted by the God and it is necessary that he documents his knowledge.”

Furthermore, I note how Iran, by exploiting a loophole in Islamic law, seems dubious measured against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory. Article 14, paragraph 1 of this convention states that everyone be equal before the law, and be entitled to a fair and public hearing by an impartial tribunal established by law.

In another piece I point out the intimidation felt by Mohammad Mostafaei, the lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, at the hands of Iranian authorities.

In a piece on the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan I mention the attempts by him and President Lula of Brazil to change Ahmadinejad’s opinion on the case, and their attempts to awaken the will in the Iran President to allow Ashtiani to be extradited to Brazil – an attempt which unfortunately failed.

And lastly, I mention Ashtiani as a reason why the UK left should forget George Galloway and question his support for the Iranian President.

For the pursuit of justice in Iran, I will give my support in Central London tomorrow.

The Rushdie affair and responsibility

Kenan Malik has been on my mind lately. I recently read his book From Fatwa to Jihad and I have learnt that he will be speaking at Westminster Skeptics early next year.

Today I thought I’d search his name on YouTube and was thrown up a video of a Newsnight episode on which he appeared with Tariq Modood, Ekow Eshun and Germaine Greer.

The latter guest, Germaine Greer, is often thought to be one of those annoying feminist, liberal, middle class bastards!

She once stood accused of asking Salman Rushdie to apologise for writing his book The Satanic Verses and offending. Though on Newsnight, she denied having done this, before explaining what she meant when she used “apology”, “Rushdie” and “The Satanic Verses” in the same sentence.

Below is the video of that episode of Newsnight where Greer says:

I don’t care if people burn books, my books have been burnt, as long as they pay for them they can do whatever they like with them, but I do think that nobody should die for a book, and that if you think you can prevent anymore people dying for the book – we all know how the book was manipulated – and all you have to do is apologise, go on your knees to Mashhad or whoever, then do it to save your life, you shouldn’t die for your book either

(09.56 – 10.29)

If you have had your head buried under rocks you may also have upset Iran, the most important part of the Rushdie affair occurred on February 14, 1989 when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims to execute all those involved in the publication of the novel.

At the time, an Iranian religious foundation called the 15 Khordad Foundation offered a reward of $US1 million or 200 million rials for the murder of Rushdie.

Greer in the above video, recognises some necessity in Rushdie apologising to Mashhad, a very holy city in Iran, but adds an important clause: to save his life and the lives of other publishers and people involved in the publication of the book in other countries.

The question becomes harder I feel at this point: should Rushdie have apologised to people who feel it justified to kill people on the grounds that they have offended them, or, since he knows these people will stop at nothing, should he have apologised to save the lives others?

Even more tricky: because to apologise, or not to, is a choice that Rushdie had to make, at what point would he have been responsible in the event of a death (Greer notes later in the programme that “the thing was Salman was the safest person around. It was everybody else who was at risk, and nothing was done about them”).

For me the answer is simple: Rushdie should not have apologised because to do so would be to give credibility to the idea that when someone is offended by something, the obvious reaction should be to kill that person – that is all it comes down to.

But not everyone agreed at the time. Tory tabloids pictured Rushdie as someone who purposely put national security in jeopardy; mainstream politicians talked about at what stage something should no longer be protected under the banner free speech.

I think when people believe Rushdie should have apologised because other people were in danger, they themselves are in danger of not recognising that those who call for the murder, or those whose desire it is to carry out the murder, are not making a choice, and that they are acting on some uninterruptible compulsion over which we can have no intervention.

Also I often wonder what motivates this view. Many people once felt that there was a causal link between poverty and terrorism, but this does two things: first, it doesn’t take note of the facts; people who have had otherwise stable backgrounds, university educations and decent jobs have committed terror acts (such as the 7/7 bombers), while not every person who experiences poverty commits terror, so it doesn’t follow ipso facto that terrorism is a determinant of poverty. Second, it assumes people of a certain class, or I dare say race or nationality, are simply automaton not able to think for themselves and act upon the sort of compulsion that Greer assumed those who wanted to kill Rushdie did.

Drawing this back to Rushdie, by blaming him for not apologising gives credibility to the murderous bastards that wanted to kill him or anyone involved with the book he had written on the grounds that they did not like what he’d written (or they’d heard from someone else that they wouldn’t like what had been written – Malik in his aforementioned book made note that Khomeini had definitely not read the book before forming an opinion on it).

By pretending certain people cannot form opinions or carry out actions without their being some obvious symptom is to allow the opinion that people are stupid. Since Muslims were involved in the Rushdie affair, I’ve little doubt that to blame Rushdie for the desire of certain Muslims to kill Rushdie is to assume Muslims are stupid.