Equally as ill-conceived was human rights charity Amnesty International’s partnership with Moazzam Begg and his ‘Cageprisoners’ organisation. Begg, aside from being an ex-Guantanamo inmate, has also written that the Taliban regime ‘made some modest progress … in upholding pure, old style Islamic values forgotten in many Islamic countries’.
Given that the left has traditionally been the defender of minorities’ rights, such partnerships may seem extraordinary. After all, as the traditional upholders of equality, partnership with Islamists undermines the very values upon which the left are founded. However, such associations are part of a worrying tendency to confuse defending the rights of minorities with defending extremists within minority communities.
In promoting Islamists, the left undermines their credibility as defenders of women’s and gay rights. Islamists believe in creating a totalitarian ‘Islamic state’ in which an interpretation of the Islamic moral code, the shari’ah, would be enforced as law. Most often, this would entail making women unequal politically. Furthermore, women would suffer disproportionately from the punishments of the hudud (codified ‘religious’ penalties for certain crimes). Moreover, in most Islamists’ vision of an ‘Islamic state’, homosexuality would be a crime requiring legal punishment by the state. Livingstone’s friend, al-Qaradawi, for example, has openly questioned what the legal punishment should be for gay sex: ‘Should it be the same as the punishment for fornication [ie. lashing], or should both the active and passive participants be put to death?’ One needs only to look at the human rights abuses in places like Iran, Sudan and Somalia, to understand that Islamists attack the very principles for which the left stand.
And so it is imperative that the left do not confuse support for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in the UK (in this instance British Muslims) with the promotion of Islamists. As Nick Griffin wouldn’t be presented as the representative of the white working class, nor should Islamists be pushed forward as representatives of British Muslims.
How, then, should the left engage with Islamists? Not, as Labour too often did when in power, by giving them public funds. Now in opposition, Labour should also avoid bestowing Islamists with any form of political legitimacy. They should not be partnered with. Nor should Labour politicians uncritically share public platforms with them.
Instead, as bastions of equality and justice, the left should be proactively undermining the Islamist ideology, taking their ideas to task and publically exposing their illiberal agenda. Working with Islamists is not progressively aiding the rights of religious minorities. It is regressively promoting an ideology that is the antithesis of the left’s liberal and equalitarian agenda.
Moreover, to promote Islamism is to patronise the very minorities that the left is trying to defend. The majority of Muslims both in the UK and abroad do not subscribe to such a dystopian vision of an ‘Islamic state’. Instead, Muslims can (and many do) share the left’s convictions and belief in equality, justice and democracy. It is with these Muslims – the overwhelming majority- with whom the left can, and must, work and defend.
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