Johnson's bans are an attack on us all
Oppose the ban on Islam4UK, writes Eddie Ford
In yet another attack on democratic rights, as from January 14 membership of the reactionary Islamist group, Islam4UK, became a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail. Announcing the ban, home secretary Alan Johnson declared that Islam4UK's 'parent' group, al-Muhajiroun, had also been proscribed under legislation introduced in 2000 outlawing the (supposed) "glorification" of terrorism, and the two were effectively one and the same organisation.
Two previous incarnations of this rather unpleasant grouplet had already been banned - al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect (or Saviour Sect). Islam4UK/al-Muhajiroun had also operated under the names, Call to Submission, Islamic Path and London School of Sharia - all of which are now banned as well under the home secretary's edict. Justifying his action, Johnson claimed that the order was "not a course we take lightly", but was a "tough but necessary power to tackle terrorism" - adding that organisations should not be able to "circumvent proscription" simply by changing their names.
Islam4UK first achieved a certain degree of media prominence in October 2009 when it organised protests against the visit to London of the Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, the pro-Israeli leader of the rightwing and explicitly Islamophobic Party of Freedom - which amongst many obnoxious things calls for a five-year ban on immigration for those coming from "non-western" countries, annulling the right of "foreign residents" to vote in municipal elections and a five-year suspension on the founding and building of any new mosques or Islamic schools (slightly crazily, Wilders also subscribes to the revanchist dream of "reuniting" Flanders and the Netherlands). In a clash of reactionary opposites, Islam4UK supporters waved banners containing attractive slogans such as "Sharia is the solution - freedom, go to hell" and "Geert Wilders deserves Islamic punishment".
However, it was Islam4UK's plans - first announced at the beginning of this month on its (now archived) website - to stage a "peaceful" protest march in Wootton Bassett that was the final straw for the authorities, or so it seems. This Wiltshire town is the site of 'informal', though increasingly semi-institutionalised, public mourning, as the funeral corteges of military personnel killed in active service (ie, Afghanistan) make their way from RAF Lyneham to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
Islam4UK leader Anjem Choudary openly admitted that the proposed demonstration was a publicity stunt, as Wootton Bassett would attract "maximum attention" from the media and said that 500 supporters Islam4UK would carry "symbolic coffins" in memory of the Muslim civilians "murdered by merciless" coalition forces in Afghanistan. As Choudary explained in an open letter to the "families of British soldiers who have fallen" on the Islam4UK website, Afghanistan "is not a British town near Wootton Bassett, but rather Muslim land which no-one has the right to occupy" - and denounced the "greedy interests of the oppressive US and UK regimes".
Naturally, that was enough to ignite patriotic outage - even if Choudary did insist, perhaps not too convincingly, that any putative demonstration would not coincide with the return of a dead soldier's body. Gordon Brown immediately pronounced that the very idea of mounting an anti-war protest in Wootton Bassett was "disgusting" and "completely inappropriate". The ex-mayor of Wootton Bassett, Chris Wannell, pitched in with the view that "we are a Christian country" and this is a "traditional old English market town who honour very much our queen and country" - while James Gray, the local MP, reminded us that the "people of Wootton Bassett are decent, quiet, pragmatic people" who would rather "stay at home" than react to these "foolish people making a silly point".
By January 5, over 400,000 had joined a "non-political" Facebook group opposing Islam4UK "extremists" - stating that the "wonderful people" of Wootton Bassett "do not deserve this march to happen". The group is campaigning to get the route from RAF Lyneham to the Sir John Radcliffe Hospital "officially known as the 'Highway For Heroes'" by having "milestones or plaques" placed along the path in "recognition of the fallen".
As for the Muslim Council of Britain, it too was horrified by the prospects of anti-war demonstrations in Wootton Bassett: indeed, mortified by the thought - "Like other Britons," the MCB asserted, "Muslims are not opposed to Britain's armed forces." Meanwhile, the obviously upset Wiltshire Islamic Cultural Centre militantly announced that if necessary they, alongside the Call Islam Centre and Masjid al-Ghurabah, would "counter-demonstrate" against Islam4UK/al-Muhajiroun. Furthermore, and no doubt treacherously as far as Islam4UK is concerned, the WICC called upon the Wiltshire police to ban the proposed march in the "interests of public order, public safety and community cohesion" - a call strongly echoed by CIC, which classifies al-Muhajiroun as one of the "deviated sects" alongside "evil" people and organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Sufis.
Well, the MCB, WICC, CIC, etc certainly got their wishes - and far more besides. So Johnson initially indicated he would agree to "any request" from the Wiltshire police or local government to ban the "hate march", as the Daily Mail called it (January 13), under section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986. In turn, clearly feeling the heat, Islam4UK decided to beat a tactical retreat and said on January 10 said it had abandoned its Wootton Bassett plans - though, apparently, the polices had not actually received any request from the organisation for permission to march. However, in the end, Islam4UK's climbdown made no difference, as it was duly banned anyway - Wootton Bassett march or no Wootton Bassett march.
Not that Islam4UK was particular fazed by the banning, of course - quite the opposite, if anything. It issued a defiant press statement declaring that the proscription order was a "victory for Islam and Muslims" and asserted that "if you differ with the Brown regime" - and those who "advocate freedom and democracy" for countries like Afghanistan - then "freedom quickly dissipates to be replaced by dictatorship". Hence, it continues, Johnson's banning order is a "clear case of the oppressor and tyrant blaming the oppressed" and an example of how Britain has "become an apartheid state - where Muslims are treated as second-class citizens". The banning was yet "another nail in the coffin of capitalism" and Islam4UK members confidently look forward to the day when they "liberate our land from occupation and implement the sharia not just in Muslim countries, but also right here in Great Britain".
For communists the banning of Islam4UK represents a disturbing attack on fundamental democratic rights - such as the right to free speech and freedom of association. By all accounts, there is absolutely no evidence or even serious suspicion that Islam4UK was involved in - or was planning - any violent or terrorist activity. No, rather, it is self-evident that Islam4UK was effectively banned for being unpatriotic and stridently 'anti-war' - no more, no less.
If so, this has obvious and worrying implications for the left in this country - especially for the consistent anti-imperialist or revolutionary left. Were not our extremely militant and very loud protests against imperialist occupation and brutality in Suez, Aden, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc also clear-cut examples of unpatriotic disloyalty to the existing British state? More bluntly still, if Islamist groups like Islam4UK can be prohibited on the grounds that they are 'treasonous' - then what about explicitly communist ones?
After all, we in the CPGB are unambiguously committed to the positive, democratic overthrow of the current system of government. To the likes of Gordon Brown and David Cameron that must sound unmistakably like a clarion call to sedition or 'treason' - perhaps, with the right sort of lawyers giving the right sort of advice, even a bit like the "glorification" of 'terrorism'. First Islam4UK/al-Muhajiroun, then the CPGB/Weekly Worker or the Socialist Workers Party?
Of course, communists find the world view of Islam4UK/al-Muhajiroun foul and repugnant - as a very quick perusal of its history and origins amply confirms. Al-Muhajiroun was founded by the Syrian-born Omar Bakri Muhammad, previously the "spiritual" leader, or amir, of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) - whose avowed ultimate goal is to merge all the Muslim countries into a single, unitary Islamic state ruled by Islamic/sharia law and with a caliph head of state elected solely by Muslims. Hizb ut-Tahrir flatly rejects democracy as a "western system" and "un-Islamic".
As a more zealous offshoot of Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Muhajiroun gained notoriety when Bakri held a press conference praising the "magnificent 19" - that is, he lauded those responsible for the September 11 2001 terrorist atrocities. Subsequently, Bakri was banned from the UK in August 2005 - eventually ending up domiciled in the Lebanon - by the then home secretary, Charles Clarke, on the grounds that his presence was "not conducive to the public good".
Self-evidently, Bakri and al- Muhajiroun - including his devoted disciple, Anjem Choudary - are inveterate enemies of democracy and socialism, promoting a backward-looking 'anti-capitalism'. So in an interview with the Christianity Today magazine, Bakri outlined his "ideal" Islamic state: "No private schools will be allowed, and there will be an Islamically influenced national curriculum. No new churches will be permitted, but existing ones will be allowed. Private consumption of alcohol will be permitted, but not its public sale. All state officials must be Muslims, save for the caliph's assistants to advise him about relations with non-Muslim citizens. Muslims could not convert to Christianity on pain of execution. Evangelistic campaigns would be forbidden, but people would be free to present Christianity on TV, in debates, etc."
Such ideas are totally unrealisable - a reactionary utopia. Indeed, it is quite fair to say that virulent anti-communists and bigots like Omar Bakri Muhammad engage in a crazed rhetoric which promulgates a violent hatred of anything and anybody deemed inimical to the 'laws of Allah' - like Jews, homosexuals, democracy, women's liberation, "deviant" or heretical Islamic sects/traditions, rock music and so on almost endlessly. Such people yearn for a theocratic dictatorship ("freedom, go to hell") that would crush all those who demur from their leaders' harsh and anti-human interpretation of what constitutes a model Islamic state. So, yes, in that sense communists do indeed find the politics and message of Islam4UK/al-Muhajiroun 'hateful' and 'extremist'.
But as militant defenders of free speech we oppose all measures which give the authorities the right to decide what can and cannot be said, or to adjudicate as to what is 'correct' or not, or to decree what is 'hateful' or not. Communists have long argued that backward and reactionary ideas - whether they come from Islam4UK, the British National Party or the English Defence League - are generally best fought in the open, where they have no room to hide and fester: least of all by state bans and proscriptions.
Cardinally, by opposing Alan Johnson's ban on Islam4UK/al-Muhajiroun we in the CPGB are defending the democratic rights of our class and its fight for socialism and revolution
2. The Daily Telegraph January 4.