Our tolerance of extremism will do for us

July 4, 2011 11:39 am

Raed Salah.jpgFreethinking with Rob Marchant

Let me tell you about Raed Salah. Or, rather, let him tell you about himself in the following quote:

“You Jews are criminal bombers of mosques,
Slaughterers of pregnant women and babies.
Robbers and germs in all times,
The Creator sentenced you to be loser monkeys,
Victory belongs to Muslims, from the Nile to the Euphrates.”

Yes, he is a racist, hate preacher and, as the BBC reports, leading 9/11 conspiracy theorist. He is a leader of the Islamic Movement, closely aligned to the terrorist group Hamas and recently notorious for mourning the death of Osama Bin Laden. If you need any further examples of his being a thoroughly nasty piece of work, you need go no further than this piece.

That is, naturally, why he is being excluded from Britain: how much more evidence do you need? What possible excuse is there for engaging with this man? But in our time-honoured, support-the-underdog way, parts of the British left are doing just that.

Three – count ‘em, three – Labour MPs decided it was ok to invite him to speak at the mother of all Parliaments, before the authorities intervened and put a stop to it. The Evening Standard reported Jeremy Corbyn’s surreal explanation:

“We checked him out and he denied completely that he was an anti-Semite so we thought it was appropriate to bring him over.”

Of course! Salah said “I’m not a racist”, so he must not be a racist. Well, that’s cleared that up, then.

These same MPs are still, extraordinarily, fighting his deportation. Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Director Sarah Colborne is on film denying the racism of a man whose clearly racist statements are a matter of public record. And this, as George Readings pointed out in his excellent Left Foot Forward piece, is only one example of this trend.

Now, we on the left rightly condemn EDL and BNP racists. Or George Galloway – lest we forget, not that long ago a Labour MP – as an extremist, over his own 9/11 conspiracy theories, or his denial of the Tiananmen Square massacre. But, at the same time, we condone other extremism on our doorstep, because it’s somehow ok if that extremism is from Muslims and not from white racists. We may not hold the same views exactly, but we are happy to tolerate, in our “broad church”, others who do so, without challenge.

Well, perhaps the time has come to challenge. We should be happy to debate with colleagues whose views we wildly disagree, on issues of policy. What we should not do is be content to condone extremism: particularly those which are easier to detect, such as racism or racist apologia, because there exist formal definitions (although some people try and change these too).

In contrast, our political opponents have become highly intolerant of racism and racist apologia in their ranks – they learned, the hard way, how toxic it was in the Sixties and Seventies. We, seemingly, felt it unnecessary: after all, we are the anti-racist party. But our movement is now the target of entirely reasonable criticism from them: who could have imagined that, forty years ago? You can see where this is leading.

Perhaps you need more examples of how the labour movement cuddles up to extremists. How about the undeniable links between the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), Tower Hamlets Leader Lutfur Rahman and entryism in Tower Hamlets Labour Party; or recent shenanigans at the SWP-infested UCU union (to be fair, not affiliated to the party but containing many Labour members) – where one member is now suing them for alleged institutional racism.

It is simply not necessary to see the complex tensions between the Muslim world, Israel and the West as a legitimate argument for racist extremism in the UK: logically, that is an entirely separate evil to be condemned on all sides. It is perfectly possible to be pro-Palestine, for example, but against extremism. But by deliberately confusing the two, the extremists have a perfect alibi against criticism: any critics are in league with the other side.

In other words, this is not about Israel versus Palestine (where many of us have some finely-balanced feelings about who is right and wrong). It is about liberal versus illiberal: illiberal and racist Jews deserve condemnation like illiberal, racist Muslims or illiberal, racist BNP supporters. It is about normal people versus those who indulge racists and terrorists. It is about what’s accepted in our party, and, finally, it’s about electability.

Because the issue, for those of us old enough to still have it engraved on our hearts, is this: last time, we didn’t wake up to the threat of extremism within until it was too late. Militant arguably cost us between five and ten years in the wilderness, during which time we let the British people down when they most needed us. The two, as MP Jim Fitzpatrick warned last February, are not dissimilar.

And this is not just a moral, but a practical imperative. As we saw with the hijacking of the March 26th demo, there are external political forces which would-be governing parties must simply steer clear of, for their own safety.

Think this isn’t a problem? Think again. Nick Cohen relates here a wonderful vignette of a reported meeting between Ed Miliband and London Jewish community leaders around the mayoral elections. Simply, they told him to expect no support from their community for a candidate that they see – rightly or wrongly – as anti-Semitic. Questions: first, are we even aware this polarisation is happening? And second, are we fully comfortable that this is merely the reaction of an over-sensitive community, or should we be more concerned?

We should. We most despise the Galloways and the Griffins of this world – for they are, in the end, the same ­- when they hold a mirror up to ourselves. Their twisted reasoning shines a light in the darkest corners of the body politic, showing us vulnerable to the same disease.

We condemn Galloway, or we laugh and point: unaware that, for observers out in the big, wide world, this is merely left criticising left, each pointing at the other as the face of the unacceptable. Ah, they sigh, it was ever thus. As if we were all characters in the Life Of Brian, the Judean People’s Front berating the People’s Front of Judea.

We have the choice now to act, or not to act. What’s clear is how our enemies will aim to take us down. It won’t be “loony left” councils bankrupting themselves like it was in the 80s. It’ll be our connections with extremists that will one day be jumped on by the media. Cohen makes the astute observation that the only reason they are not doing so already is because the fever hasn’t gripped them yet:

“Just because mainstream commentators are paying no attention to [the Labour] Party’s manoeuvres, does not mean that they will do so forever. Journalists are pack animals. They disregard stories that seem to cry to high heaven for coverage for years, and then turn as one and savage their prey.”

But, oh, their day will come. Count on it: this story of extremism and the Britsh left will, someday soon, become a big one for our media. Just as they were suddenly jolted last week by the fact that a platform was almost given to a racist – and not one of the white ones they are used to – in parliament.

And, by then, it is likely to be far too late.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left.

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