Strange Bedfellows


Four months have passed since the terror attacks in London. It is now possible to begin to discern the contours of the British response, and the new forces which are assembling against one another in the political debate. Notable among the latter is the growing crystallization, coherence and visibility of an alliance of Islamist organizations and apologists with influential elements of the British left. This alliance has as its primary goal the emasculation and frustration of all attempts to build an effective response to the Islamist threat.

In the weeks that followed the July 7 bombings, a steady drumbeat of opinion articles written by representatives of radical Islam began to appear in the U.K.’s left-of-center broadsheet newspapers. The comment pages of The Guardian newspaper were particularly noted for their willingness to provide space for both supporters and members of Islamist organizations to express their views. The articles consisted of attempts to “contextualize” and explain the grievances felt by young British Muslims and Muslims worldwide, which were held to have led to the bombings, and hence to argue against any confrontational response.

Thus, Saad al-Faqih, a Guardian column-writer of the last months, bylined as a “Saudi dissident,” appealed to British traditions of liberty and fair play in making his case against proposed anti-terror legislation: “The harsher the measures adopted by Britain and other western societies,” he wrote, “the nearer we will get to fulfilling Bin Laden’s strategic aim.”

In the days that followed the publication of Faqih’s article, interesting additional information regarding the dissident/columnist’s own biography emerged. Saad al-Faqih, on December 23, 2004, was listed on the UN 1267 Committee’s list of “individuals belonging to or associated with the Al-Qaida organization.” A veteran Islamist activist, he is suspected of involvement in the Al-Qaida bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, in 1998.

That an individual such as Al-Faqih should be opposed to the planned legislation – which would allow for the deportation from the U.K. of radical Islamist preachers, and the outlawing of organizations promoting Islamist terror – is no surprise. That major and respected British publications should choose to afford a platform to a man of his type, however, deserves closer attention. Observation of statements by prominent spokespeople of the British left offers some explanation.

Natasha Walter, a well-known British left-wing and feminist columnist, party Hizb ut Tahrir. Walter identified similarities between these two young women and the idealistic youth of the 1930s, who turned to communism: “These women were impatient about the powerlessness of their people; although those people were not the international working class but the international Muslim community. They believed that human society was perfectible, even if it was to be perfected not by following the precepts of Marx but those of Mohammed.” Elsewhere she described Hizb ut Tahrir as espousing “decent things, such as women’s rights.”

Hizb ut Tahrir is an organization whose goal is Islamic revolution toward the reinstatement of the caliphate, and the imposition of Sharia law as the law of the state. The party, illegal in France, Germany, Holland and most Mideast countries, espouses an ultra-conservative, openly anti-Semitic version of Sunni Islamism.

The increasing, astonishing appeal of such organizations to parts of the British and wider European left is a product, it seems, of two elements. The first is the disappearance for the radical left of any real constituency within European societies. The old unionized industrial working class is long gone. The Third World “national liberation” movements that replaced it in the affections of the left-wing intelligentsia are themselves largely defunct. A position is available, and radical Islam, it seems, is being invited to fill it. The fact that radical Islam is, by any measure, a phenomenon of the radical right complete with idealized past, repression of women and a psychotic cult of violence is not allowed to disturb the mix.

This leads to the second element. The leftist intelligentsia in Britain and Europe has for the most part long since abandoned Marxism. Yet that once-dominant system of thought has left behind a host of remnants. One of these is the tendency to disregard the actual ideas professed by individuals or movements in search of the supposed “interests” lying behind their statements. These, the observed individual may be unaware of, even hostile to. But the left-intellectual will assess according to his own system, and draw his own conclusions. In the 1930s, this approach enabled European communists to see Western liberal democracies as “objectively” no better than Hitler. Today, it is leading to the unedifying sight of Guardian-reading feminists rushing to embrace the likes of Saad al-Faqih.

As the former Labor MP George Galloway summed it up: “Movements against oppression and exploitation have fought under many different banners. For many it has been a version of socialism or radical nationalism. For many others today it is through radical interpretations of religion.” Islamist movements whose professed aim is a return to the Middle Ages re imagined as a force against oppression and exploitation. Satire bows its head before such an achievement.
The proponents of such views, with their influential platforms in the media, intellectual life and extra-parliamentary organizations, are coming to form a hinterland for radical Islam in the West. The presence of a common enemy provides the cement for the alliance. That enemy is Western liberal democracy, whose proponents would do well to pay close attention to this emerging challenge.

About jonathanspyer

Jonathan Spyer is a Middle East analyst, author and journalist specializing in the areas of Israel, Syria and broader issues of regional strategy. He is the director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and analysis (MECRA), a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for strategy and Security (JISS) and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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