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Reverse extremism
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 phobia".

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 clutch 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 of their 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 will 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 secularists 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 concept which 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, "Hatred 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 in 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 to civilisation.

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 detestable entity.

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 about Islam and 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 of Britain (two 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 is a vital and formidable movement that has made the bombing of Iran for the time being unthinkable. (Besides, who if not this coalition would stick up for the rights of Guantanamo Bay prisoners or Palestinians?)

Namazie 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 that would require both political parties to listen. Now wouldn't that be an ideal world.

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