France, it seems, has adopted an opposite extreme
of intolerance to that enforced by the mullahs in Iran
February 16, 2003
Response to Maryam Namazie's "False
In an ideal world there would be no religious symbols in schools
and the need for religion itself would be supplanted by drugs that
neither addict nor propel you to 7-Eleven at 3am for chocolate
and Arizona green tea.
Last week, in one fell swoop, the mighty sword of secularism
tamed the threat to separation of religion and state posed by a
of schoolgirls wearing headscarves in France.
The mini terrors
have been dealt the blow to ensure that none ever bombs the Paris
metro, that the Eiffel tower escapes the fate of
the twin towers in New York, and that the French republic will
never become an Islamic one.
Something of a da Vinci among these proponents of Taliban rule
had apparently designed a chopper to transport both herself and
a classmate to the deuxième étage of la Tour, from
which point they could blast tourists waiting to complete the third
leg of their elevator-ride to its summit.
Japanese squeezed into the armpits of Americans knotted with
Canadians touching base with their European roots, boom, put out
misery, was the plan.
Drafts of the device were reportedly based on plastic souvenir
pigeons sold by African vendors at ground level (twist a rear handle
which coils an elastic band linked to wings that flutter as you
let go, seeing the 'bird' airborne for a good few metres).
All you need, as the French government has been quick to realise,
is a vertical rendition of this device - and two Muslim schoolgirls
- before you have the sort of threat to Paris faced by Christopher
Reeve in Superman II.
France, it seems, has adopted an opposite extreme of intolerance
to that enforced by the mullahs in Iran.
Of course, French girls who flout the ban are unlikely to be
flogged or worse as might happen in Iran, but European governments
evidently stop at nothing to stem the rise of neo-Nazi parties
such as Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front Nationale (short of becoming
Nazis themselves) while giving their old foe Islam a good bash,
trampling the rights of Muslim citizens in the process.
The law against 'conspicuous religious symbols', while
ostensibly targeted at all religions, was in fact trained primarily
at France's significant Muslim minority -- a fact few dispute.
An ideal world, perhaps, would indeed see French Muslim schoolgirls
reading in secular harmony about the terror their country has inflicted
upon the people of Algeria and other nations.
In fact, in an ideal world there would be no school. No ritualised
instruction, no squeezing children into 'ability' levels,
no restraining creativity and caging childhood in institutions
filled by underpaid teachers who are wont to favour front-row swots,
with others left to believe they are intellectually stunted compared
to the genius-kid from India, placed in a grade two years ahead
of his age because he memorised Hamlet aged eight and taught himself
Cantonese at nine.
Schools are highly overrated institutions that serve to reinforce
class divisions and need no more power to harass and terrorise
students on a daily basis than they already have.
Why would anyone equip these workplace automaton dispensers with
any more authority against children than they already wield, especially
in a racist country such as France.
If students are carrying guns, frisk them, to be sure. Hejabs
in France, however, are not weapons. (Unless, that is, zealous
decide to use them to lynch law-breakers.)
Many Muslims with no
use for the garment have wasted no time in coming forth to defend
their veiled cousins. This law, they say,
smashes all their civil rights.
Political Islam -- like the gangster capitalism which stokes
it - is unacceptable. But it is no more acceptable to politicise
Islam when it is minding its own business and to antagonise Muslims
who might also believe in the separation of religion and state,
by banding them with fanatics who carry out 'honour' killings
and other such monstrosities (note how all hejab-wearers are presumed
to prefer Islamic to secular rule).
As Greville Janner, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress
put it last week: the French law has "disgracefully punished
the entire Muslim population and other religious communities".
Hejab imposed by the state, before I am accused of defending it,
is of course an abomination that must be engaged tooth and nail;
by women detained and imprisoned in Iran often it literally is.
None of us need Maryam Namazie to remind us of that.
In these pages, she has responded to my criticism of
the Worker-communist party of Iran's flagrant Islamophobia -- a
she had claimed not to know the meaning of -- as if it were
some sort of defence of terrorism or an appeal for the WPI to
lay off its native territory.
This is not true.
I had, in fact, commended the WPI's dedication to highlighting
the Islamic government's crimes and campaigning for the rights
of people facing torture and death in Iran.
It is disingenuous, at best, of Namazie to say that my words
echoed those of the Islamic republic's ministry of information.
Also, Namazie responds to an accusation of racism that I never
made (if I did she will no doubt point out where). In my piece,
for all things Islamic", I pointed to the WPI's language as one increasingly aligned to
the neo-liberal and Zionist cause.
Asking why you reserve so little venom for Sharon and Israel
is not to condone the equally despicable Islamic republic.
In an attempt to dig a moat around the moral high ground she
thinks she has birthright to, Namazie regularly invokes the suffering
of women and children at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists
countries such as Nigeria and Iran, to justify branding Islam's
one billion or so faithful across the world as a weak, retarded
and barbaric mass.
Such emotive appeals in fact serve -- if unwittingly -- only
to further exploit the people whose suffering she describes,
just as we have seen Bush administration use the tragedy of September
2001 to justify its 'crusade' against the largely Muslim
peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Predictably, however, to question Namazie's self-congratulatory
wisdom is to be a stone-thrower, to be a torturer and to be a
child molester, an attitude reminiscent of President Bush's "with
us or against us" cowboy-think.
Islamophobia -- the demonisation of Muslims and Islam -- translates
into racism when it is associated with a particular ethnic group
such as Arabs, as the BBC TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk showed
last month. In a column for the right-wing Sunday Express he wrote
of Arabs as "suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors",
and questioned whether they had made any worthwhile contribution
Namazie's Islamaphobia (a tag she seems comfortable with
so long as it is not confused with racism) feeds into a wider
racist discourse that bands Muslim, Iranian and Arab into a single
This is lamentable given the degree to which racism against Arabs
is becoming acceptable in the public sphere in the United States.
As for my judging Namazie's incisive critical thinking as
Islamophobia, a glance at WPI literature shows it can only
be kidding itself to believe that its sweeping conclusions
Muslims are penned by modern-day Byrons.
Namazie goes on to imply that I am in some way connected
with the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association
backers of the UK's influential Stop the War coalition.
This, again, is not true. While not signed up, I am opposed
to SWP's deep ties with an organisation whose members
wouldn't be seen dead having a pint after a march. But not so much
as to deny that Stop the War with its current make-up
formidable movement that has made the bombing of Iran
for the time being unthinkable. (Besides, who if not this coalition
up for the rights of Guantanamo Bay prisoners or Palestinians?)
and the WPI may wish to consider that one reason why British
socialists are so in bed with an Islamic
organisation might be
that the Iranian left appears so reactionary towards
Islam. Then, the SWP might consider the reverse. But
political parties to listen. Now wouldn't that be an