Imagine at a synagogue somewhere in London. Jews are working together to send out £1m worth of books, DVDs and videos about Judaism and the Torah as an act of 'self-defence' against anti-Semitism and 'Judaism-phobia'.
Or imagine black South Africans during Apartheid sending out mass mailings of Steve Biko's books on Black Nationalism in order to combat racism, Apartheid and 'Black Nationalism-phobia'.
Or imagine the Stephen Lawrence Campaign sending out Bibles in order to combat his racist killing and Christianity-phobia.
Hard to imagine? Of course it is hard to imagine such responses because we know they are irrelevant to fighting racism, discrimination, and racist killings. That is of course unless you're a 'Muslim'. In that case, then, Vikram Dodd can matter-of-factly state in The Guardian that volunteers are working together at a Finsbury Park mosque packing the first of £1m worth of books, DVDs and videos about Islam to send to 300 public libraries across the country as an act of self-defence and to combat racism and prejudice! (“Muslims put faith in written word to fight prejudice, A mosque in Finsbury Park confronts Islamophobia head on”, August 9, 2004.)
Someone should inform Vikram Dodd (though this is well-known to the volunteers at Finsbury Park mosque) that he and many like him have been duped into thinking there is actually a connection between handing out books on Islam and fighting racism.
The fight against racism and discrimination has always and rightly focused on the causes and reasons behind the racism and not on the victims' beliefs. This is because the victims' beliefs are irrelevant when combating racism or discrimination. When The Scotsman reports on the terrifying racist attack on Runbi Musunhe and Nonkululeko Khawula, it doesn't delve into their beliefs and it shouldn't.
When two asylum seekers hang themselves as a result of state racism towards asylum seekers in the UK, their beliefs aren't discussed. When the BBC reports on a black man losing his sight in one eye after being attacked by a schoolboy gang in a racist attack in Rotherhithe, south-east London, it does not delve into the victim's beliefs. Because it is irrelevant what the victim believes, what s/he thinks, whether you agree with her or him or not. It doesn't matter.
What matters is that human beings have been attacked or targeted by racism and responding to that means targeting the cause of the racism whether it's institutionalised racism or by ensuring that those who commit racist acts and killings are prosecuted or by promoting a society in which the human being is sacred and is treated equally as a citizen with universal rights and is not forever a minority with different rights or or or…
I don't think though that one of the responses of the 'Defend Runbi Musunhe and Nonkululeko Khawula Campaign', if there were one, would be to send out Bibles and Korans if relevant and if not, then maybe books on Mugabe and Zimbabwe since one of the women was originally born there! You have to agree that it would be ridiculous to do so.
Another problem with this response is that it assumes that everyone attributed to a group have the same beliefs, which is racist in itself given that beliefs attributed to the entire group are often that of the dominant class and the most reactionary segment of it. People are more complex than that.
And most importantly, this sort of response equates racism against human beings as one and the same with a critique of or opposition to belief systems. Come on, Vikram Dodd, you know this is not the case, don't you? Criticising Islam is not racism just as a criticism of FGM is not racism against women and girls who have been mutilated and 'believe' in mutilation; just as a critique and opposition to child smacking is not racism against parents who smack their children out of a belief that it is an act of love; just as a critique or opposition to Zionism is not anti-Semitism…
You cannot be racist against an idea or belief or ideology. Racism is distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin of individuals – of human beings.
Of course the Finsbury Park mosque wants us to think otherwise. Fadi Itani, an organiser of the project says in the Guardian article: “There is a real sense of our communities being under attack.” “The attack is on everything, our institutions, scholars, individuals, and the religion itself.” Itani and his cohorts put an attack on beliefs and institutions on a par with an attack on individuals by deeming it all equally racist.
They do this because they want us to stop criticising their 'institutions' – the likes of the Muslim Association of Britain, which by the way is linked to the reactionary political Islamic Muslim Brotherhood tradition with the stated aim of “the widespread implementation of Islam as a way of life; no longer to be sidelined as merely a religion”.
They want us to sit quietly by when London Mayor Ken Livingston invites their 'scholars' – the likes of Al Qaradawi who by the way is a misogynist homophobe. They want us to believe that a criticism of Al Qaradawi's beliefs is an attack on his person or racism. They want us to stop critiquing 'the religion itself' – Islam, which like all religions is anti-woman, anti-human and calls for the death of apostates and non-believers with one important difference – that it is a religion in power or vying for power in this century. They do this by calling it racism!
Well I am sorry but no can do.
You cannot attribute human qualities to a belief system and institutions in order to rule out and deem racist any opposition or critique. You cannot take advantage of a strong anti-racist movement in the West to strengthen your political power here in the West. The Finsbury Park mosque, the Muslim Association of Britain, Al Qaradawi and Islam itself are part and parcel of a reactionary movement that has wreaked havoc in the Middle East and North Africa and aims to do so here as well.
We, its first hand victims, have been pushing it back for years in Iran now. Fortunately for the West and civilised humanity, and unfortunately for the likes of the Finsbury Park mosque, we will do the same here as well.
About Maryam Namazie is the host of TV International English, is a Central Council Member of the Organisation of Women's Liberation and Director of the International Relations Committee of the Worker-communist Party of Iran.