Open up dialogue

Jemal, a young supporter of the Muslim Association of Britain, spoke at the Stop the War Coalition conference against the AWL's call to sever relations with his group. Mark Fischer spoke to him afterwards

I think it's fair to say that the audience found the first half of your speech less controversial than the second. Could you clarify your attitude to attacks on civilians and islamic terrorist groups? Our religion clearly states that you cannot kill women, you mustn't kill old men and children. We can only fight on a battlefield - you can't target civilians. But these laws were formed at a time when armies would fight, face to face, on a battlefield. Today, we have the same general attitude, although things have changed, obviously. The atrocities you are talking about have nothing to do with our organisation. We have no links and no sympathy with the people and organisations that carried these actions out. We have never supported such attacks; we condemned September 11 outright - no question. We were even invited to the US embassy to have lunch with the ambassador in the aftermath of the attacks in America. In Mombasa, there was a different situation. Money comes into the Israeli state from three sources - first, American subsidies; second, tourism; third, exports of, for example, food grown on illegally occupied Palestinian land. If you are a Palestinian, you have a duty to actively resist the Israeli state. We don't condemn attacks like Mombasa, but at the same time we don't actively support them - the reason for this is if we condemn them, we are condemning the right of the Palestinian people to resist. For example, there has never been an attack on a school or a synagogue. But in Palestine, schools have been bombed, mosques bombed "¦ But Hezbollah militants have got on school buses and detonated suicide bombs. OK, there have been three instances when the British media have reported that 'school buses' have been blown up. Actually, on one of these there were eight children; on the other two, six children. But a bus capacity is about 50 people "¦ And who were these other people? These other people were normal people - or rather, what we see in Britain as 'normal people'. In Israel, the idea of a 'normal person' is more difficult. For everyone in Israel - man or woman above the age of 18 - it is law that you must have three years' military training. Where I come from, this doesn't mean much. You have three years training: that's it. In Israel, they will be called up every month to go in for a weekend of training and they carry their weapons around - they don't give them back: they keep them at home. They parade through the streets with their guns and grenades. So if we kill someone who is an accountant, he is not an innocent person. First, he is in a land that does not belong to him. Second, he is a soldier. Whether he is in a uniform or not is irrelevant. If I killed someone from Mossad, just because he's out of uniform doesn't mean he's a civilian. Outside Palestine we generally condemn such attacks - September 11 was in no way a battlefield, for example. But Mombasa we cannot condemn, because if we condemn it we risk condemning the right of resistance of the Palestinian people altogether. But what about the position of ordinary working class Israeli people? Conscription exists. They have no choice but to be soldiers. OK, here's an analogy. I take over your house. You are reduced to living in a corner of the house. I walk in, day in, day out, I don't do anything else. But does that make me an 'ordinary person'? A 'normal' accountant or a 'normal' civil servant? Just because I am not wearing an army uniform? Israeli civilians are not civilians. They are in a land that does not belong to them. But you can apply the same logic all the way around the world. Look at America. As it was formed, the indigenous people were suppressed and actually annihilated. Are all Americans legitimate military targets? This is a very different situation. First, the indigenous peoples were not living all over America; they were geographically concentrated in very specific areas in a huge land mass. Second, we have condemned what the white settlers did. But there are only tiny levels of resistance to this. The indigenous peoples have been wiped out. Palestine is totally different. It was systematically planned, unlike America. And this is not just history. This is happening right now, in front of our eyes. So where should the Israeli jews go? First, there must be the right to return for all displaced Palestinians "¦ You think most will want to return? We don't force anybody, but they have the right. If they don't want to go, fair enough. But I personally believe that the majority will want to. Then, if a Palestinian comes back and sees an Israeli-Zionist living in his house, it is still the Palestinian's house - so he will have to find somewhere else to go. There are many options. For example, Sharon is originally Latvian. Netanyahu is originally Russian. They can either go back to these countries, or they can live and have citizenship in a Palestinian country. We have never, ever said there should not be a jewish homeland. But why should there be a jewish state at the expense of another people? Their homeland will be within our state. For example, 12% of the Israeli population are Coptic christians. January 7 is when they celebrate Christmas - and it's a national holiday in Israel! They have full rights, despite the fact that they are a minority. (This is a big contrast with the attitude of the Egyptian state to the Muslim Brotherhood!) We say that the people who now live in Israel should leave or stay and live side by side with us and not try to deny rights to other people. OK, so you are aiming to create some sort of theocratic/islamic state in Palestine? Yes. Since 1650 AD, it was a muslim state. The majority of the people living there are muslim. However, look at Andalusia. It was under the muslims for 700 years. The christians and jews lived side by side with us. When the crusaders came to Palestine, the muslims and the jews fought against them together. Under a muslim state, the christian has full rights. They have the right to vote, to organise their churches and Sunday schools, etc. However, because the majority of the population are muslim, that means a muslim state. We see no genuine muslim states in the world today - Saudi Arabia and places like that profess to be muslim states, but this is untrue. As the Muslim Brotherhood, we have never seen a muslim state. For 200 years now, there has not been a genuine muslim state. A muslim state would give rights to every religion - even to the secularists and the atheists. They all have rights. But if the majority are muslim, it follows that they should have sovereignty in the state. As a communist and a democrat, I am against religious states, whatever religion we are talking about. OK, you talk about protecting the rights of all in your state. But surely, if your religion, for example, denies certain rights to women, or proscribes homosexuality, then by definition it must be a repressive state. Women's rights have never been a problem in the islamic religion. A woman got the right to vote in islam 1,450 years ago; she only got that right in Britain in the 20th century. With us, women got the right to inheritance 1,450 years ago; in this country, only in the late 1800s. The right to divorce, the right to accept or refuse a marriage: all these exist in islam. These rights have all been given to women - no, actually not 'given'. They are a woman's rights. They have a right to these things: to education, to their own lives. For example, one of the foremost leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood was a woman. We have never questioned women's rights or their abilities. On homosexuality, I speak personally. As long as it is not propagated, people should be free to make their own choices. By the same token, heterosexuality should not be propagated. We see sex everywhere, on every billboard. This is wrong. Whether homosexual or heterosexual, it should remain a private matter. By making it a public thing, sex in general is animalised. Lastly, is the MAB growing? And has co-sponsoring events such as the forthcoming February 15 anti-war demonstrations with secular 'lefties' caused any dissent in your ranks? Officially, we emerged in the mid-1990s. Every single muslim organisation in Britain - apart from three - was set up under the influence of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. We have gone from strength to strength. Working with the 'lefties' - as you call yourself! - is a manifestation of our attitude to our religion. We are not isolationists. We work with anyone, religious or not. We deal with people as human beings - just as we expect them to deal with us. Working with the Stop the War Coalition gave us great pride. It was a chance to show people that we are real human beings, to get rid of some of the stereotypes that we are rightwing or reactionary. We are willing to work with everyone, whatever our criticisms of them, whatever their criticisms of us. It is about time we started to open up a true dialogue, instead of either ignoring each other or having false ideas about each other's beliefs.