Monday, August 06, 2007

Don't let's be beastly to the Muslims (again)

From this week's Craccum, a piece I wrote about George Galloway's speech at Auckland University:

Recently, I was reading about the bakers of Baghdad. For centuries, Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq had lived together peacefully. The bakers were usually Shiites, even in predominately Sunni districts. But in 2005 the bakers became targets. One by one, bakeries closed as their staff were murdered. In Iraq, where sectarian conflict was unknown, it seemed unthinkable, but a civil war was beginning.

George Galloway did not mention the bakers when he spoke about Islam at the University. He didn't speak of any of the conflicts or differences within Islam. Listening to him, you might think that Islam is a united and universal religion, with a singular purpose and a common enemy, the West. Which is an odd state of affairs, considering that he came to New Zealand to condemn those who believe that Islam is united in enmity of the West, the fundamentalists of the Christian Right.

Galloway is the sole Member of Parliament for the Respect Party, which he founded after he was expelled from the Scottish Labour Party for his criticisms of the Labour Government in Britain and its support for the occupation of Iraq. In 2005, he won the seat of Bethnal Green and Bow in London, which has a large Muslim population, defeating the sitting Labour MP. He is no stranger, as they say, to controversy. Shortly before visiting New Zealand, Galloway was suspended from the House of Commons because of his use of Parliamentary resources to support his charity, the Mariam Appeal.

He is no stranger to Iraq, either. His critics say he supported Saddam Hussein, although he claims he was misquoted. The Mariam Appeal has been under investigation by both the British Parliament and the US Senate over allegations that it was funded by Hussein through the UN Oil for Food Programme, as a propaganda tool to have sanctions against Iraq lifted. Galloway won a libel action against the Daily Telegraph in Britain about similar allegations made by the newspaper.

However, Galloway came to New Zealand not to escape his critics but to bury them. He was invited here by the Residents Action Movement to talk about Islamophobia. RAM, a left wing coalition which holds a single seat on the Auckland Regional Council, has not previously involved itself in the Clash of Civilisations; its main policies are advocating free public transport and reducing rates for home owners. RAM has recently discovered that New Zealand is in danger of being contaminated by Islamophobia which, like the Possum and the Gum Leaf Skeletoniser Moth, comes from Australia.

The main agent of the spread of Islamophobia is a group of fundamentalist Christians who had organised their own tour, of two Australian Christians. Stuart Robinson, senior Pastor of Crossway Baptist Church in Melbourne, wrote Mosques and Miracles, a book which argues that Islam is trying to take over the world. Daniel Shayesteh is a former radical Muslim who converted to Christianity and is now Director of an organisation called Exodus from Darkness. Both are keen to convert Muslims to the own version of Christianity, before it is too late. They also want to warn Christians about the true intentions of Muslims.

Although they have some celebrity and notoriety at home, Pastor Robinson and Mr Shayesteh have yet to make much of an impact in New Zealand. They spoke at a couple of meetings in Auckland and Wellington. RAM believes they are spreading a message of hatred towards Muslims, which will destroy the social fabric of this country if it is not nipped in the bud. RAM would have us believe that their bringing Mr George Galloway MP to New Zealand was our last best hope of stopping this sort of thing before it gets out of hand. In the rest of the West, Islamophobia is rife, so we must heed his warnings.

Perhaps I am a little cynical about these matters but I could not help thinking, as I listened to the support acts who preceded Mr Galloway's speech, that this is all a little hysterical. After all, nobody really listens to the Christian fundamentalists who, not so long ago, were telling us that Civil Unions would lead to the collapse of everything we apparently hold dear, as would banning the smacking of children and legalising prostitution. The threat of Islam is the latest of their preoccupations which, like the threat of Homosexualism and the threat of Evolution, are imported wholesale from the United States of Anxiety. They always have something to be scared about. In this respect, the fundies of the religious Right are not so different from the fundies of the political Left. Right now, Islamophobia is the Left's concern; tomorrow it will be something else (dates and venue to be announced).

But tomorrow's problems are another concern. On the night, Mr Galloway delivered what everybody expected of him, a rousing speech. He was given his just reward, a standing ovation by all present (except the small group of flinching cowards and sneering traitors of which I was part). His message was clear. Islamophobia is being propagated by the very forces that created the bloodbath of Iraq. It is the work of the West and it will not succeed.

In fact, he had little to say about New Zealand, other than warning us that we were particularly at risk because we lack a law which criminalises incitement to religious hatred. If we let it take hold here, we will face the horrors that now afflict Britain. Angry young Muslim men will be roused to anger when their sisters are mocked in the streets and when their mosques are vandalised by Islamophobes. These men will take out their justified resentments with acts of violence against innocent people, as they have done in Britain and elsewhere.

At this point in his rhetoric, I thought of the angry young Muslim men who had plotted, unsuccessfully, to blow up the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London. When they came to trial, their emails were presented as evidence for the prosecution. They spoke of killing "sluts" and "slags," whose deaths would be regretted by nobody. I thought also of the recent and almost successful plot to bomb the Tiger Tiger night club, on Ladies Night. Somehow, I think these angry young Muslim men were concerned with something more, something much more dark, than the mocking of their sisters.

I thought also of those bakers in Baghdad, particularly when Mr Galloway spoke about the "resistance" in Iraq. The differences between Shiite and Sunni were not part of his discourse. Acts of violence perpetrated by Muslims were attributable to the West, to the Islamophobia propagated by the Governments of Bush and Blair. The conflicts within Islam and the conflicts with the modern world where women are free to go to Ladies Night were not Mr Galloway's concern.

Every Muslim, he told us, carries the name "Palestine" in his heart. If the West does not solve the problem of Palestine, then the violence will continue. The West must solve other problems as well: the occupation of Muslim countries by outsiders and the repression of corrupt Muslim governments. These concerns of Mr Galloway, incidentally, are shared by Osama Bin Laden, whose struggle is as much with the ruling family in Saudi Arabia as they are with the Great Satan of America.

For Mr Galloway, as for Mr Bin Laden, Islam is a monolith. All Muslims are as one and Islam has a single enemy, the West. Mr Galloway described Mr Bin Laden as an "obscurantist," but it seems they share the same clear vision of Islam. Curiously enough, it is the same vision as that of Pastor Robinson and Mr Shayesteh, seen from the other side: an army of millions, united as one.

For Mr Galloway, his audience on that night were soldiers in another army: "an army of justice." For his sponsors in RAM, they may be another army still: an army of voters. RAM will go into the next local body elections on a platform which will include combating Islamophobia alongside its more local concerns.


Craig Ranapia said...

Well, I've got a suggestion - let's be very beastly indeed to religious fundamentalists of all stripes. And if that's 'Islamophobic' in Galloway's warped, and ever so slightly racist, view so be it.

I'm perfectly comfortable paying more attention to magnificent, inspirational women like Irshad Manji & Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Anonymous said...

"I think these angry young Muslim men were concerned with something more, something much more dark, than the mocking of their sisters."

Like killing her if she went with someone the family didn't like.

It really is hard to understand the lunacy of Galloway and his supporters. It's disappointing to see we will have that sort of poison in local politics with RAM.

"For centuries, Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq had lived together peacefully."

I'm not sure if you're being ironic here, but Iraqi history has been one long sequence of events that have conspired to produce quite a deep seated and complex animosity between these two communities. It's similar in many ways to the former Yugoslavia.

I'm a bit pessimistic about human nature but I really doubt that the day after Saddam fell Sunni's just all of a sudden woke up and thought it would be a great idea to bomb Shiite mosques and that Shiites just woke up and thought it would be great to form death squads. Those sorts of actions can only come from pre-existing tensions.

Anonymous said...

"I thought also of the recent and almost successful plot to bomb the Tiger Tiger night club, on Ladies Night"

'almost successful' huh? not according to simple physics it wasn't. The most that might possibly have been expected was a simple and not very explosive fireball. I commend to you this excellent article from the people that also debunked 'liquid explosives':

The UK's would be islamic terrorists have been becoming steadily less and less competent. Seems all the good ones are dead, legacy of blowing up their expertise along with themselves.

Not feeling very scared in Dundee

Anonymous said...

Yes, but it has to be said that NZ Muslims are much more civil and restrained than their overseas diaspora counterparts.

And quite frankly, elements of the fundamentalist Christian anti-Islamic fraternity are probably in bed with the British National Party, Australian League of Rights and other pond scum.

And yet, too, there are obvious social injustices in Islamic societies.

Nuance and caution are neccessary in this whole area.

Craig Y

A. J. Chesswas said...

You're right, it's all hysteria. You talk about fundy anxiety towards gays, moslems, etc., but even more hysterical is the anxiety of the likes of RAM about "fundies". Mosques & Miracles is not at all like what they describe, it is merely an organisation of Christians amazed by stories of Moslems who have become Christians, and who want to help those Moslems and other Moslems on the journey of Christian living. Look up Robinson, look up the churches hosting them - they are just another group of missionary-minded evangelicals. I can't believe the public, the media and groups like RAM are willing to swallow all this hypoe so uncritically without doing their research...

Anonymous said...

At the same time, let's not forget Serbian war atrocities against Bosnian Muslims in the nineties, or Russian war crimes in Chechnya.

As I said, it's an area of nuance and complexity. Islam is no more homogenous than Christianity, and Shia and Sunni Islamist fundamentalists are only a segment of that faith.

As for Mosques and Miracles, why is it that Challenge Weekly's comments on same seemed to support certain US right-wing hack journos and their daft "Eurabia" theory?

Craig Y

Craig Ranapia said...

Yes, but it has to be said that NZ Muslims are much more civil and restrained than their overseas diaspora counterparts.

And to get all Chris Rock for a moment (and apologies for liberal quotation of various naughty words):

"Niggers always want credit for some shit they're supposed to do. They'll brag about stuff a normal man just does. They'll say something like, “Yeah, well I take care of my kids.” You're supposed to, you dumb motherfucker. “I ain't never been to jail.” Whaddya want? A cookie? You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherfucker!"

You know, Craig, like I don't give SPUC any brownie points for not bombing abortion clinics - 'cause you're just not supposed to do shit like that, period and full stop. Good on the Catholic Church for legitimately and lawfully protesting against the broadcast of the so-called 'Bloody Mary' episode of South Park rather than getting all Torquemada on C4's arse -- because you're just not supposed to do that shit, full stop.

geofrey hamlin rainey said...

"Islamophobia is being propagated by the very forces that created the bloodbath of Iraq. It is the work of the West and it will not succeed."

There exists a phobia of Islam because violent retaliation against infidels is justified according to many Imams and Clerics, based on their interpretation of the Quran. Are you saying they have arrived at this interpretation due to the actions of Western governments?

Apart from discussing the real dangers of Islamic extremism, I don't know of any Christian fundamentalists preaching about blowing up infidels.

I think you're ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Well, there is the branch of fundamentalist Calvinist Christian Reconstructionists in the nineties who went around blowing up abortion clinics in the United States...

Craig Y

Paul said...

Geofrey, I was paraphrasing George Galloway. It is not a view I hold. I think people would be much more friendly to Islam if some Muslims were not committing appalling acts of violence in the name of their faith.

Christianity is no stranger to violence, as Craig points out. I am opposed to all acts of inhumanity, especially those done in the name of religion.