Letters

Gays attacked

Lesbians and gay men from Outrage and the Queer Youth Alliance joined the May 15 demonstration in London to support the human rights of the people of Palestine. But they also urged the Palestinian Authority to halt the arrest, torture and murder of homosexuals.

They marched with placards reading: "Israel: stop persecuting Palestine! Palestine: stop persecuting queers!" As soon as they arrived in Trafalgar Square to join the demonstration, the gay protesters were surrounded by an angry, screaming mob of islamic fundamentalists, Anglican clergymen, members of the SWP, the Stop the War Coalition, and officials from the protest organisers, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. They variously attacked the gay activists as "racists", "Zionists", "CIA and MI5 agents", "supporters of the Sharon government" and "dividing the 'free Palestine' movement".

PSC organisers asked the gay activists to "stand at the back of the demonstration" and, when they refused, blocked their placards with their own banners and shouted down the gay campaigners as they tried to speak to journalists and other protesters. Most people at the Palestine protest expressed no hostility towards Outrage and the Queer Youth Alliance. Some expressed positive support.

Gay Palestinians live in fear of arrest, detention without trial, torture and execution at the hands of Palestinian police and security services. They also risk abduction and so-called honour killing by vengeful family members and vigilante mobs, as well as punishment beatings and murder by Palestinian political groups such as Hamas and Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

These revelations come from the independent human rights watchdog, B'Tselem, and from the Israeli gay rights groups, Aguda and Open House, which help gay Palestinian refugees. The abuse of Palestinian gays has been confirmed by two senior Palestine Liberation Organisation officials. Both officials expressed personal regret concerning these abuses but said their liberal views were not shared by the majority of PLO officials and supporters.

For over 30 years I have supported the Palestinian struggle for national liberation, but it would be wrong to remain silent while the PLO, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are abducting, brutalising and murdering lesbian and gay Palestinians. Freedom for Palestine must be freedom for all Palestinians - straight and gay.

Unless we challenge the abuse of queer human rights now, this violent homophobia will become entrenched in a new Palestinian state and Palestinian leaders will be emboldened to abuse the rights of other Palestinian citizens.

Gays attacked
Gays attacked

MAB and BJP

Sacha Ismail compares the Muslim Association of Britain with the semi-fascist, hindu fundamentalist BJP (Letters, May 13). But this is just arrogantly asserted without any substantiation whatsoever. I also find this comparison just plain silly.

They say that you can judge people, to a degree, by the friends that they choose. I wonder if, like MAB, the BJP would place links on its website to the following: Stop The War Coalition, International Solidarity Movement, Amnesty International, Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament, Global Peace Campaign, Green Party, Greenpeace? I also note that (along with the promotion of islamic ideas) MAB includes in its stated objectives: "To assist in the endeavours being exerted towards protecting human rights in general and muslims in particular. To broaden the scope of dialogue between the different cultures and faiths in order to serve society and humanity. To improve the relationship between the muslim community and the British institutions on the one hand, and the muslim world on the other, so that their social, economic and political relationships shall be revived on sound basis."

This doesn't sound like the kind of extremely violent fundamentalism espoused by the BJP, which has included physically attacking other religious groups and the left. There are supporters of the BJP in Britain, but I have seen no sign of them affiliating in an organised way to the STWC or participating in Respect. Several leaders of MAB have agreed to the founding statement of Respect, which despite its numerous limitations has many points that any socialist can agree with. An end to all privatisation. A comprehensive education system that is not dependent on the ability to pay. A democratically controlled NHS, free to all users. Pensions that are linked to average earnings. Raising the minimum wage to £7.40 an hour. Tax the rich. Repeal the Tory anti-union laws.

Would the BJP sign up to this kind of radical platform? I think not.

MAB and BJP
MAB and BJP

Comparison

Sacha Ismail's attempt to equate MAB with the BJP is absurd. The BJP has a vicious record of violence against the working class and non-hindus in India. Only a fool would claim this about MAB, which has a record of campaigning against war and for the defence of human rights and civil liberties. Many of its leaders have signed up to Respect, which clearly opposes privatisation, the dismantling of the NHS and the Tory anti-union laws.

If Ismail wants a closer comparison to the BJP, then look no further than the AWL. This despotic, Zionist, Shachtmanite-fundamentalist cult has expelled more people over the years than the Labour Party ever did.

Comparison
Comparison

Another stick

Your website reviewer may have, inadvertently no doubt, given the impression that I have recently joined the executive council of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children ('Anti-abortion websites', May 13).

This absurd idea is of course false. I have never been a member of SPUC or any other anti-abortion organisation. I am against abortion (though not of course in all circumstances and Respect is not proposing any change to the current legal position; and the European parliament for which I am standing has no jurisdiction on the subject) not just for religious reasons, but for socialist reasons.

The unnecessary destruction of life, whether unborn or in the case of euthanasia of the old and chronically sick, seems to me the ultimate capitalist policy and an odd preoccupation for communists. Unless of course it is being hyped by you as just another stick with which to beat a political project your majority supports, though only in the way the rope supports the hanging man.

Another stick
Another stick

SWP fudge

I was amused to read about the SWP's reasoning for opposing Dave Landau's emergency motion on abortion at a meeting of Islington Respect ('SWP vote down women's rights', May 6). It is a telling sign of its current drift into populist politics that the SWP should fear 'excluding' catholics from the ranks of Respect over the issue.

I have to ask though, when it comes to the question of abortion, does the SWP have any particular catholic in mind? The reactionary catholic personified by, for example, Tory health spokesperson Liam Fox or the catholic who, not too long ago, militantly fought for democratic rights for the republican community in Northern Ireland against British imperialism?

Some catholics will, no doubt, be put off by a principled position on abortion, but many - particularly the more progressive-thinking individuals - will also be attracted to a programme which spearheads rights for all women and politics which are based on democratising society in general.

I trust the SWP would be somewhat more aggressive in defending asylum-seekers from attacks. It correctly appreciates the need to address the bigotry, prejudice and inaccuracies on that issue and does not, I hope, play down that defence for fear of putting people off!

Come on, comrades, stop fudging. Socialists appreciate the need to address prejudice head-on.

SWP fudge
SWP fudge

Who's left?

I thought your readers may be interested in what supporters of the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform are saying in their election campaigns. Steve Godward, victimised firefighter, is standing as an independent in the Erdington ward in the elections to Birmingham council. Steve has been a prominent critic of Respect, arguing that it is insufficiently socialist.

One would expect his leaflets to include support for open borders and free right of economic migrants to enter Britain. This was the position he supported in his and others' critique of Respect. Actually what he states in his leaflet could be repeated by New Labour ministers, as it summarises the UN convention on refugees.

He states: "Fighting for the right to safe refuge for those fleeing from oppression". Respect states in its platform: "The defence of the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. Opposition to the European Union's 'Fortress Europe' policies." A little more leftwing?

Steve does state he will only take a worker's wage, but, since only a small minority of Birmingham councillors receive £40,000 or so, it is rather a non-issue. Only cabinet members of the ruling political group receive £40,000 - others receive between £10,000 and £20,000, which is about the same as a worker's wage.

Another issue raised by critics has been republicanism. The leaflet is silent on this issue. His statement on discrimination is significantly weaker than the equivalent statement by Respect. It reads as follows: "Fighting for the right to be able to live and work without discrimination on the grounds of age, race, sex or disability." What is crucially missing from this statement is any defence of lesbians and gays.

The Respect statement opposes discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation" as well as "religious beliefs (or lack of them)". It states: "Opposition to all forms of discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs (or lack of them), sexual orientation, disabilities, national origin or citizenship."

But what is really amazing is that there is no mention of the brutal occupation of Iraq. I received the leaflet on Saturday May 8, which was after a week of horrible images in the press of tortured Iraqis. Where does Steve stand on the widespread torture of Iraqis by American and British soldiers? Where does Steve stand on the imperialist occupation of Iraq? We have silence when there is a crying need for firm opposition to torture and the immediate withdrawal of US-UK troops. The Liberal Democrats and the Greens are taking up the issue in their local election campaigns. Even the Tories are asking for a government explanation of when it knew about the use of torture by British soldiers. But from the very firmly socialist campaign of Steve Godward there is merely silence.

Many of the statements in the leaflet could be repeated by old Labour and even New Labour, but have no clear socialist content. An example is: "Fighting for the right to good schools in the community for all." Note the word 'comprehensive' is not used. The general theme of the leaflet is old Labour at best it is clearly more rightwing than the politics of Respect.

Steve is still fighting to regain his job as a firefighter after a blatant political victimisation. We have our political differences, but I would urge comrades to support his campaign for reinstatement and I offer my personal solidarity in that fight. Despite his politics being to the right of Respect on lesbians and gays, asylum-seekers and especially the war in Iraq, I urge a vote for him.

He is to the left of New Labour, but is he to the left of old Labour?

Who's left?
Who's left?

Respect abortion

Comrades Morgan, James and Kay take umbrage with the CPGB for defending women's right to abortion against the reactionary and politically backward anti-abortion position expressed by George Galloway and the MAB (Letters, May 6).

Respectively they argue that by doing so, the CPGB undermines Respect. Furthermore, their implicit argument is that electoral success for Respect translates into political gains for the working class. Conversely I would argue that, if Respect enjoys success at the ballot box by abandoning basic working class principles, or, as in the case of the abortion issue, by adopting a cowardly silence, then its success would not be any kind of victory for the working class.

Frankly, those of us in Respect need to decide what kind of organisation we want it to be. At the moment the majority within Respect seem content for it to be a lowest-common-denominator fusion of opposition to the war and the occupation, backed up with a social programme cribbed from old Labour. It seems content to be seen as merely a protest vote against the war and against Blairism. To avoid or to silence debate for fear that it would lead to highlighting political differences within Respect is a mistake. If Respect really wants to "make a difference", as its partisans claim, then by necessity it needs to become a democratic workers' party. This cannot happen overnight - Respect has a long way to go before it reaches that goal, but its political development must start now.

To suggest, as John Kay does, that Respect members should silence themselves and simply concentrate on building the coalition is disturbingly undemocratic itself. Debate should not be hushed up for the duration of the election campaign: it should be ongoing and comprehensive. The resolution passed by the Guildford branch of Respect is not indicative of anarchistic decentralisation, but rather was an expression of the democratic rights and responsibilities of members within a political organisation. It is right and proper that branches can submit resolutions that can be debated and voted on by the organisation as a whole.

In this instance the need for such a resolution was pressing, as it was in response to anti-abortion comments made publicly by prominent elements within Respect. If the purpose of Respect branches is simply to carry out electoral activity at the behest of the executive, then that is a deeply worrying indication of the democratic health of the organisation.

Respect abortion
Respect abortion

Lucy and Liz

Golly, ouch! I certainly seem to have got Martin Sullivan cross to the point of foaming at the mouth, if his response to my letter about New Labour candidate Lucy Anderson accurately reflects his state of mind (Letters, May 13).

In his first sentence he calls me a "brain-dead sectarian" and in his last sentence calls me a "scab". Clearly I should be ashamed of myself. I own up, I did not thoroughly search my archive of back copies of the Camden New Journal in order to scrape up examples of the New Labour candidate's selfless commitment to unpopular progressive causes. I did not, though, have to spend long in thinking of important local campaigns that she has not been involved in either - campaigns on which one would imagine any socialist councillor would feel obliged to take a public stand: the Camden tenants' campaign against the ALMO proposal, for example.

The point is, if a socialist is going to stand for office as a representative of New Labour, then he or she needs to be an unequivocal and public opponent of Blair and his despicable government - like Jeremy Corbyn, for example - if he or she is not to meet with suspicions of careerism or jeers of derision.

More serious than Martin's rage at my temerity in looking for clay feet beneath the robes of Camden's very own Joan of Arc is his ignorant and sectarian attack on the local Stop the War group. If he ever took part in its regular meetings he would know that this large and active group involves a broad cross-section of progressive opinion in the borough, including within its active membership local Green Party members, Quakers, members of Pax Christi, and many local Labour Party members, including officers. The group is quite definitely not a Socialist Workers Party front; indeed the only SWP member who takes a prominent part in it is the convenor, Liz Wheatley. Such irresponsible slurs only serve to give ammunition to our common enemies on the right.

It is inevitable that there will be disagreements, sometimes sharp and profound, on the right way to proceed in building a living and popular socialist movement in Britain, particularly on the central question of whether the locus of building that movement lies within or outside New Labour. However, Martin's rant is not a useful contribution to that discussion. Rather it is a sadly too common example of the sort of sectarian bile that has discredited the left for far too long.

Let us debate serious issues by all means, but let is do it as comrades in a common struggle (whatever our organisational involvements), free from cheap and demeaning insults.

Lucy and Liz
Lucy and Liz

Anti-democratic

I have received an email from someone calling themselves Ipswich Stop the War Coalition, announcing a public meeting on May 26. It is being held 'jointly' with Respect. Members of other political parties are invited to turn up.

I am a member of Ipswich Stop the War, and in fact one of the two signatories to its cheque book. I was also - need it be said - the person who had the original proposal to set up this group. Neither I nor the treasurer of this body have agreed to this meeting with Respect. Nor indeed have any of the comrades who actively worked for this campaign (which sent 10 coaches to London for the big demo) been asked for their opinion. There has in fact been no meeting whatsoever to decide this move.

When asked, the full-time secretary-agent of the local Labour Party, who lives about 50 metres from me, had not heard of any invite to this 'meeting'. This is one amongst many examples of the anti-democratic behaviour of the SWP - in this case an individual who has only been in the town for about year and obviously feels that as an SWP member she has the right to order people about.

Anti-democratic
Anti-democratic