Thursday, 17 April 2014

Prepare For Integrism!

Radical Jew Hatred & the Decolonial Shakedown

Left to Right: Trotskyite Guardian-scribe Richard Seymour; 
French Fascist Comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala performs his Quenelle;
Spokesperson for Le Parti des Indigènes de la République, Houria Bouteldja

Western critics of regressive values within minority communities tend to elicit one of two accusations.

The first is one of misrepresentation. That is to say, the critic in question has - either through ignorance or malice - traduced benign cultures as backward and barbaric. Hostility to views perceived to be, say, homophobic, misogynistic or anti-Semitic, result either from misunderstandings or, more likely, from irrational - and probably racist - scaremongering; an attempt to stigmatise the 'other'.

This argument was, for a while, most effectively advanced by the Swiss Ikhwanist Tariq Ramadan, and it finds an intuitively sympathetic audience on the Western secular Left. Not only is its intended effect ameliorative, but it also addresses a particular anxiety - that multiculturalism is incubating illiberal practices and ideas within free societies while they sleep.

The second accusation is one of intolerance. This represents a more radical view that, while values and practices with respect to women and gays may indeed be antithetical to those of the West, they are culturally authentic and therefore to be respected. Attempts by the West to universalise human rights and protections are in fact manifestations of an arrogant and moralising cultural colonialism.

This sort of nationalist rhetoric finds a (smaller) audience among the West's soi dissant radical Left, who are drawn to its uncompromising political zeal, its hostility to capitalism, and its anti-Imperialist sloganeering, all of which inform a pleasingly trenchant anti-Zionism.

A rather marvellous example of this marriage between radical Left and reactionary Right can be found cross-posted by Guardian and New Statesman contributor Richard Seymour at his Leninology blog. It's the transcript of a talk given in February of this year by Houria Bouteldja, an activist of Algerian heritage and a spokesperson for France's first "decolonial" political party, the Party of the Indigenous of the Republic [PIR].

Established in 2010, the PIR grew out of a five year-old grassroots movement of the same name, which was founded in the name of the 'indigènes' of France to campaign against "Eurocentrism, Islamophobia, anti-black racism, and..." (naturally) "...Zionism". 1 The group's 2005 foundational manifesto describes the indigènes in its opening paragraph as follows:
Discriminated in hiring, housing and health, at school and even at leisure, people from the colonies, former and current, and of postcolonial immigration are the first victims of social exclusion and precariousness. Independent of their actual origins, the inhabitants of the "quartiers"/popular neighborhoods are "indigenized", relegated to the margins of society.
Broadly speaking, the party's ideology is a politics of religious and ethnic pride, in which class warfare is replaced by its identitarian equivalent, the privilege of wealth is subordinated to the privilege of 'structural' racial power, and in which the prefix 'white' has replaced 'bourgeois' as the preferred term of abuse. Assimilation and compromise are signs of weakness to be avoided. Integration has failed; prepare for integrism.

Bouteldja's talk, ponderously entitled "Dieudonné Through the Prism of the White Left, or Conceptualizing a Domestic Internationalism", is basically a disquisition on why the PIR refused to take a position on the controversy surrounding the 'Quenelle' - an anti-Semitic salute pioneered by a fascist French comedian named Dieudonné M'bala M'bala.

Bouteldja introduces her address with a four point preamble, the first three of which can be summarised like this:
  • My decolonial discourse transcends crude Western notions of Right and Left.
  • My words are "rooted in the social and historical experience of a colonial subject" (ie: oppression).
  • I think "in terms of political stakes, power relations, and strategy . . . not abstract morality and principle."
We're not told why, for instance, it might be a good idea to discard morality and principle, but it's a forewarning: If what I say shocks you, it is because you are not ready to understand the experiences of people who look like me and think like me; a people created by your own criminal history.

Bouteldja then turns in her final point to the object of her scorn, citing the following words from the Tunisian activist, Sadri Khiari:
"Because it is the indigènes’ indispensable partner, the Left is their primary adversary."
Houria Bouteldja, we discover, has tired of the Western Left. In the 30 years since the March for Equality and Against Racism, nothing has changed. Watching a documentary to mark the protest's anniversary, she is horrified to hear an activist claim that the marchers would have eaten ham had it been demanded of them. Bouteldja recoils from such self-abasement, but France's failure to respond to even such total servility was the second, and greater, humiliation.

Bouteldja's charge is that the indigènes of France have been failed by the principles of the French Republic and by their erstwhile allies on the Left. The institutional Left has lost touch with ideology, she claims. On the one hand it thrashes about in "abstract humanism" and "moralistic anti-racism", and on the other it fails to address police brutality and the "plagues of drugs and AIDS", it moves against Islamic dress codes, and it pursues neoliberalism at home and neoconservatism abroad. 

Meanwhile, what she calls the 'radical Left' has ceased to think strategically, and instead succumbed to Islamophobia, paternalism, and chauvinistic Eurocentrism. "The worn-out moral anti-racism, in the style of [French NGO] SOS-Racism," she announces, "is at death's door."

It is this disaffection, she claims, which explains the indigènesre-emergence on the political stage in the person of Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, and in the company of far-right figures like Alain Soral and Marine Le Pen. 
[It] is a middle finger, a big “fuck you” to the Left. Or if you prefer, a quenelle. This pendulum swing to the right, contrary to appearances, is one of liberation.
Liberation, Bouteldja, is quick to emphasise, from the Left. The far-Right, with their history of white supremacism, are no permanent political home for France's indigènes.

But, for the time being, she takes no small amount of satisfaction in the appalled horror with which the spectacle of this alliance has been greeted by the Left, and in the overwhelming support Dieudonné received from indigène communities.

The Left's most intolerable and self-defeating betrayal, apparently, was to turn its back on Tariq Ramadan. In Bouteldja's telling, Ramadan was making an offer of unparalleled generosity; a kind of integration that respected cultural dignity. His rejection, she says, exposed the lie of integrationist aspirations and the hypocrisy of the French Republic once and for all. In its foundational document, her movement declared: "The Republic of Equality is a myth."
It is time that France interrogates its Enlightenment, the egalitarian universalism, affirmed during the French Revolution, repressed nationalism buttressed against the "chauvinism of the universal" that is supposed to "civilise" wild savages.
Which is one way of looking at it, I suppose. Another is that Tariq Ramadan was found out.

Leftists, initially inclined to take Ramadan's sermons about integration, secularism and human rights at face value, began to listen more closely and wonder if his occasionally impenetrable rhetoric didn't hide a reactionary, integrist agenda.

Their suspicions were duly confirmed when, in 2003, six million viewers watched him refuse to denounce the stoning of women during a televised exchange with Nicolas Sarkozy. "Mr Ramadan!" Sarkozy cried. "If it is regressive not to want to stone women, I avow that I am a regressive!" On an elementary moral question, progressives saw Ramadan outflanked on the Left by France's right-wing Minister of the Interior and concluded they'd been had.

It's unsurprising then that Bouteldja has had enough of SOS-Racisme. The French NGO's former president, Malek Boutih, is said to have concluded a long conversation with Ramadan by informing him that he is "a fascist". His successor, Dominique Sopo, accused Ramadan of promoting "radical anti-Semitism". It was on the basis of this latter charge that Ramadan was eventually excluded from the 2003 European Social Forum.

Bouteldja bitterly remarks that the radical Left's failure to support Ramadan in this instance was "an unpleasant, painful and heavily consequential event". And by "consequential" she means that, having rejected the March Against Racism's servility, and Tariq Ramadan's civility, the Left got Dieudonné's effrontery instead. What, Bouteldja wants to know, did they expect?

They might, of course, have expected Bouteldja and the PIR to openly deplore Dieudonné's racism, his Holocaust denial and his hatred of Jews. They are, after all, an anti-racist party, are they not? But Bouteldja will have none of this. And her refusal is not simply born of tribal loyalty or a perverse disinclination to do what the 'white Left' wants. Her reason can be found amongst the itemised sins of France's radical Left, in which she cites the following:
[F]ocusing on fascism at the expense of structural racism and a critique of white supremacy that cuts across the radical Left itself; the centrality of the Holocaust at the expense of the history of colonialism and slavery; . . .
Bouteldja's sympathy with Dieudonné extends to his anti-Semitism. Not only have the Left failed in their duty to embrace the dispossessed, but they have been complicit in defrauding others out of their rightful status as history’s most abject victims. The Holocaust's horrific legacy is now an object of ghoulish envy; a coveted mantle of suffering and entitlement, unjustly denied.

Bouteldja would have us understand that Dieudonné’s Quenelle, his racism, and his fearless audacity, are a symbolic blow against this historic injustice. The "political offer" he embodies...
. . . designates an enemy: the Jew as a Jew, and the Jew as a Zionist, as an embodiment of imperialism, but also because of the Jew’s privileged position. The one who occupies the best seat in the hearts of the White, a place for which many indigènes are fighting. Because they dream of becoming the Prince’s favourites, but without questioning that Prince’s legitimacy: the legitimacy of the White Man.
Dieudonné's error hasn't been his resentful hated of Jews, which Bouteldja evidently shares. It has been his failure to also question white legitimacy:
[W]e are not integrationists. And integration through anti-semitism horrifies us just as much as integration though White universalism and national-chauvinism. We abhor anything that seeks to integrate us into whiteness; anti-Semitism being a pure product of Europe and the West. As a decolonial movement, it is self-evident that we cannot support Dieudonné.
What all this means is that the PIR are both proud of Dieudonné and disappointed in him. Disappointed because his association with Soral and Le Pen's Front National has tarnished a more noble kind of racism.

This is the same logic which turned the 2001 World Conference on Racism in Durban into an orgy of anti-Semitism. Not, we must understand, the crude anti-Semitism of the Third Reich - a vulgar white supremacist doctrine, used by the strong to annihilate the weak - but the righteous anti-Semitism of the weak who seek emancipation from the strong. It is the bitter rage of the persecuted and the forsaken from the banlieues of France to the refugee camps of Palestine. For Bouteldja, indigène hatred of the Jew cannot be considered racism; it has the purity of resistance to injustice.

'White anti-Zionists', she complains, lack the radical political fibre to understand this distinction:
[Their's] is an anti-Zionism that is supportive of resistance movements that resemble the left (the PFLP for example) and that is contemptuous of those who do not resemble it (such as Hamas at the time of the attacks against Gaza).
But she understands the distinction. And Dieudonné’s supporters understand it, too. Which is why the PIR cannot condemn them. And it is why, despite her polite reservations about his “political choices”, Bouteldja and the PIR refused to denounce Dieudonné. On the contrary, we get this:
I love Dieudonné; I love him as the indigènes love him; that I understand why the indigènes love him. I love him because he has done an important action in terms of dignity, of indigène pride, of Black pride: he refused to be a domestic negro . . . When Diedonné stands up, he heals an identitarian wound. The wound that racism left, and which harms the indigènes' personality. Those who understand “Black is beautiful” cannot miss this dimension, and I emphasize, this particular dimension in Dieudonné.
Thus, by mawkish prose, is Dieudonné's crude racism elevated to the status of a romantic and revolutionary act. An act for which the Left is responsible, but which it lacks the political maturity to comprehend or appreciate. Then, having derided, indicted and shamed her audience, she ends with what I imagine she considers a conciliatory suggestion. The answer, she says, is the formation of new alliances that "respect mutual autonomies":
We should be considered allies . . . For this to be possible, we must be accepted as we are: a group that is racially and socially dominated, not necessarily clear-cut on several issues: not clear-cut on capitalism, not clear-cut on class struggle, not clear-cut on women, not clear-cut on homosexuality, not clear-cut on Jews.
I suppose we should be grateful that Bouteldja was honest enough to assert her moral nihilism upfront, because this is a shakedown. 

The Left's responsibility for Dieudonné, and the indigène shift to the extreme Right that he represents, she insists, is total. It is the "product of the White political milieu and more precisely of the Left and its renouncements"; the Left's callousness and cruelty; its Eurocentrism; its Islamophobia; its theft of the indigènes' rightful claims to historic victimhood; its favour for the Jew and his nation.

To make amends, the Left must denounce all the above and renounce the egalitarian universalism and moralistic anti-racism she despises. If they refuse, it is implied, they can expect more unrest of the kind that produced the 2005 riots, and further mortifying scenes like the Dieudonné fiasco.

Bouteldja's final move - the misuse of a quotation from C. L. R. James's 1943 essay The Historical Development of the Negro in the United States to imply endorsement of a talk from which he would have recoiled - only serves to confirm her ruthless opportunism.2

I can't see any particular reason why those who rejected Tariq Ramadan would want to embrace a more belligerent, openly racist alternative. But Richard Seymour, the Guardian columnist on whose blog it is cross-posted, introduces it with the following:
I have been given permission to publish this excellent paper from the Penser l’émancipation, closing plenary, Nanterre, on February 22, 2014. It was written and delivered by the excellent Houria Bouteldja, a member of Le Parti des indigènes de la République.
Publication of the post resulted in a bad-tempered twitter exchange with Marxist bloggers Andrew Coates and James Heartfield, during which Seymour repeatedly denied it was anti-Semitic. Bouteldja, he explained, "rejects Dieudonne's antisemitism outright in this talk." When this assertion was met with understandable resistance, he instructed them: "You're confusing description with prescription. [Her talk] takes a complex, ambiguous position on Dieudonne but not at all on antisemitism."

As I've argued before, Left-wing apologetics for the far-Right frequently rest on an appreciation of complexities, ambiguities and nuance the rest of us apparently lack. Either Seymour has not understood what he has posted and endorsed or he has accepted the sophistry of Bouteldja's meaningless distinction between malevolent and virtuous anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is what it is: a hatred of Jews, and whether it appears in the pages of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of ZionMein Kampf, the Hamas Charter, or on Richard Seymour's Leninology blog, it is always justified in the name of the same thing: the struggle against domination, oppression and conspiratorial power.

If Seymour believes that Bouteldja's narrow disavowal of an anti-Semitism "that seeks to integrate us into whiteness" inoculates her against charges of racism, he has missed something even more sinister and obvious: that while she demonstrates a bottomless capacity for self-pity, her solipsistic contempt for the Holocaust and its victims demonstrates a complete absence of 'out-group' compassion. It is in the pitilessness of this kind of chauvinism that we find the germ of fascism.

What does Seymour imagine would become of France's Jews were Bouteldja ever to be given the whip hand? I feel certain he doesn't care. As a "colonial subject", Bouteldja will never have the whip hand, ergo, he condescends to indulge the bitter hatreds with which she trashes the Enlightenment. And, as a magnanimous act of penitence for the historic crimes of the West and the contemporary betrayals of the feckless Left, he will forfeit his right to judge her values even as she condemns his.

At the level of gesture and abstraction at which Seymour appears to be operating, universal human rights - specifically the rights of Jews, but also women and gays - are mere ideas that may be casually traded away in the pursuit of radical chic. But within the communities he refuses to judge, the rhetoric Seymour endorses only emboldens those who would impose dress and honour codes, who would ostracise and persecute people for their sexuality, and those, like Mohammed Merah, who would murder French Jewish children in the name of justice for Palestine. 3

Undeterred, Seymour has accepted the challenge presented in Bouteldja's opening four-point preamble. He has opened up his Eurocentric mind and deferred to her experience "as a colonial subject"; he has prostrated himself before the scorn she has heaped on the hypocrisies of the white, radical Western Left, of which he is a privileged representative; and he has looked her prejudices in the eye and he has not flinched. She has dared the white Left to join her on the far-Right and Richard Seymour - persuaded by her rhetoric that to do so would be an act of radical political courage - has obliged.

I'm not entirely sure what he expects to get in return. If it's the respect of people like Houria Bouteldja, he can think again. She holds the politics of self-abasement to be beneath contempt. On this she could hardly be more clear. It is the virility of unapologetic fascists like Dieudonné M'bala M'bala that she values.

1. The specificity of this description, with which Bouteldja was introduced before her talk at the Islamic Human Rights Commission, ought to be an immediate red flag.

2. I find C. L. R. James's description of black chauvinism and nationalism as fundamentally "progressive" to be naive and unconvincing. But it doesn't matter because James was opposed to black nationalism and chauvinism either way. Unlike Bouteldja, James was a committed Marxist, integrationist and internationalist and, as such, he explicitly rejected the kind of provincial separatist demagogy that Houria Bouteldja's views typify. James did not endorse or celebrate the scapegoating of Jews; it was a regrettable reality he sought to (rather indulgently) explain. He plainly did not intend his words to "advise" anyone that, as Bouteldja says darkly, "one must necessarily accept to get one’s hands dirty". Furthermore, James was a partisan of the Enlightenment and the universalist revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and solidarity over which Bouteldja empties so much invective. As the writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik noted in his review of James's Black Jacobins:
Today, when Enlightenment ideas are often seen as racist or reactionary because they are the products of European culture, and when the line between anti-imperialist and anti-Western sentiment has become all too blurred, [C. L. R. James's] insistence . . . that the aim of anti-imperialism was not to reject Enlightenment ideas but to reclaim them for all of humanity has become all the more important.
3. The PIR's abysmal official statement in response to the shootings at Toulouse and Montauban can be read here.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Facts and Context Be Damned

Moazzam Begg & Philo-Salafism

Moazzam Begg - From Terror Suspect to Amnesty International Poster Boy and Back Again...
The arrest of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg has prompted a surly response from Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain over at the Intercept.

Begg was arrested - along with a woman and two other men - on the morning of 25 February on suspicion of attending jihadi training camps in Syria. Begg has since appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court and been formally charged with "providing instruction and training for terrorism and facilitating terrorism in Syria."

In a piece entitled "The Moazzam Begg Arrest: Part of the Effort to Criminalize Muslim Political Dissent" (published after Begg was arrested, but before he was charged), Greenwald and Hussain argue that this is part of a campaign on the part of Western governments and security services to harass, intimidate and silence Muslims engaged in what they describe as "aggressive political dissent".


To understand what this deliberately imprecise term actually means in relation to Begg, one would need to be aware of his views and activities to date, which the authors of the article nonetheless neglect to include.

The Intercept is a site which professes a dedication to disclosure, transparency and truth. In the spirit of which, then, a few redacted facts:

1. In 1993, Moazzam Begg flew to Pakistan where he crossed the border into Afghanistan. There he met Pakistani jihadis from the Islamist group Jamaat-i-Islami and was introduced to and, by his own admission, inspired by the notion of violent religious jihad. He describes this experience as "life-changing". Later that year, Begg travelled to Bosnia and was briefly a member of the Bosnian Army Foreign Volunteer Force. A subsequent attempt to travel to Chechnya in 1999 to take part in jihad there ended in failure.

2. Back in the UK in 1994, Begg was arrested and charged with Social Security Fraud. The charges were later dropped, but a search of his house by anti-terror police turned up a flak jacket, night-goggles and extremist Islamic literature. His friend and alleged co-conspirator, Shahid Akram Butt, did 18 months after pleading guilty to obtaining money by deception. Butt was later jailed in Yemen for his part in a bomb plot, along with Abu Hamza's son, Mustapha Kamil.

3. In 1998, Begg opened the Maktabah al Ansar bookshop in Birmingham, which soon became one of Europe's most notorious purveyors of Islamist and jihadi propaganda. It was raided twice by MI5, in 1999 and 2000, even before 9/11 had caused a spike in security service interest in bearded religious fanatics. An investigative report by Newsweek published in 2004 [and excerpted here] found that:
Anyone who believes the war on terror has shut down terrorist propaganda centers in US-friendly countries should visit the Maktabah al Ansar bookshop in Birmingham, England. Amid shelves of Qur’anic tomes and religious artifacts are bookshelves and CD racks piled with extreme Islamist propaganda: recordings of the last testaments of 9/11 hijackers, messages from Osama bin Laden and jihad pamphlets by Sheik Abdullah Azzam, the late Palestinian activist who was a bin Laden mentor and early apostle of suicide bombing.
4. Two months before 9/11, Begg moved his family from Birmingham to Kabul to live under Taliban rule:
I wanted to live in an Islamic state - one that was free from the corruption and despotism of the rest of the Muslim world . . . The Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past 25 years.
He remained an unapologetic Taliban supporter as recently as the publication of his memoir Enemy Combatant (2006), in which he reaffirmed his support for the pure Islamic society they hoped to build in Afghanistan and expressed his regret that this project was thwarted by the American invasion. This is, needless to say, an eccentric position for a soi-disant human rights activist to take.

(The Intercept article, by the way, refers to Begg as the author of "books", plural. He has to my knowledge only written this one. It's a small, petty exaggeration, but a telling one, nonetheless.)

5. The Beggs' relocation was at the suggestion of Moazzam's friend and associate Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a UK-based Palestinian and bagman for al-Qaeda. Rideh was arrested in 2001, accused of raising £100,000 for al-Qaeda and funnelling the money through two London-based bank accounts. Following a prison sentence Rideh was handed a control order in 2005 and forced to leave the UK in 2009. In 2010, he was finally despatched to the hereafter by an American drone whilst fighting with the insurgency in Afghanistan.

6. Following the terror attacks on New York and Washington, Begg and his family moved to Islamabad in Pakistan. Begg returned to Afghanistan intermittently, and recounts in his memoir how he was taken to see the front line by a group of Pakistani jihadis he had met. The fall of Kabul precipitated a collapse of Taliban positions, and Begg found himself joining the retreat of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters as they fled to Pakistan through the Tora Bora mountains. (Begg claims he only joined jihadi fighters on that route because he got lost.)

None of the above is disputed. I will return to the significance of these omissions later.


Moazzam Begg was arrested in Islamabad on 31 January 2002 and taken to Bagram Airbase for interrogation by the FBI. It is only now that Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain pick up his story. But they pass over what Begg was actually doing in Afghanistan and how his name first came to attention of American authorities there.

Begg claims that he travelled to Afghanistan, at Mahmoud Abu Rideh's suggestion, to help with a school-building project there. He likes to cite this as evidence of his humanitarianism. The details of this project, about which Begg is invariably evasive, belie his innocuous account.

The schools on which he and Rideh were working were exclusively for Arab speakers. And the enrolment of girls (which Begg and Rideh also liked to emphasise) was permitted at a time when the Taliban regime, for which both had professed much admiration, had closed all girls' schools. These facilities were in fact being purpose-built for the indoctrination of the children of foreign fighters stationed at nearby jihadi training camps. In a moment of unguarded candour, Abu Rideh admitted as much when he bragged that among the fathers of their pupils were "some of the world's most wanted men."

When Jalalabad fell on November 13 2001, Jack Kelly, a reporter with USA Today was allowed to inspect the al-Qaeda training camps nearby. He reported:
Plastic explosives, timing devices and sketches of the best places to hide a bomb on an airplane filled the files of Osama bin Laden's terrorist training camps near here. Gas masks, cyanide and recipes for biological agents lined the shelves of his chemical weapons laboratory. Kalashnikov rifles, silhouetted targets and lesson plans teaching children to shoot at their victims' faces lay among the toys and near the swing set at the elementary school bin Laden established. 
Elsewhere he describes:
The evidence shows that recruits at bin Laden's two main camps, at least those visited by USA TODAY, were trained in conventional, biological and even nuclear warfare, according to class manuals. They came from at least 21 countries, including Bosnia, Egypt, France, Great Britain, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other U.S. allies, enrolment records show. Nearly all the students were told to return to their countries after training and "await orders" to carry out attacks against the United States, class notes reveal.
At the Derunta camp, where Begg later confessed to acting as an "instructor", Kelly reports finding a wealth of terrorist training material detailing bomb-making techniques and identifying civilian targets in the West for attack; counterfeit passports, travel documents and...
. . . a photocopy of a money transfer requesting that a London branch of Pakistan's Habib Bank AG Zurich credit the account of an individual identified as Moazzam Begg in Karachi for an unspecified sum of money. U.S. and Pakistani officials say they do not know who Begg is but will try to find him.
Six weeks later, Begg was found and placed under immediate arrest.


While at Bagram, Greenwald and Hussain report that "[Begg] suffered torture". Even this is misleading. More accurate would be to report that Begg claims he suffered torture. These claims were repeatedly subject to detailed official investigation and review and no evidence was found to support them.

Begg's allegations were first made in July 2004 to the United States Forces Administration, and later the same month to the Combatant Status Review Tribunal. In December 2004, Begg was twice interviewed about his allegations by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, and again in May 2006, in the presence of his attorney, by the Office of the Inspector General [OIG] of the US Department of Justice as part of a wide-reaching review of detainee treatment.

The Department of Defence [DOD] conducted no less than three separate investigations into Begg's allegations and, in the absence of any evidence supporting his claims, concluded they were baseless.

The OIG Report entitled A Review of the FBI's Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq, published in May 2008, devoted a section of its findings exclusively to Begg's allegations [pp. 266-76]. It states:
The DOD provided the OIG with a Report of Investigation prepared by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command dated July 23, 2005. According to this report, the Army reviewed correspondence and statements by Begg and interviewed over 30 witnesses who were stationed at the facilities at which Begg claimed the abuse occurred. The report concluded that "the offences of Communicating a Threat, Maltreatment of a Person in US Custody, and Assault did not occur as alleged." Many of the witnesses interviewed by the Army investigators said that Begg co-operated with military investigators by assisting with translations, that Begg received comforts such as reading and writing materials, and that Begg never complained about mistreatment while at he was Bagram.
The Intercept article's additional claim that Begg actually witnessed the torture and subsequent death of innocent Afghan taxi driver Dilawar firsthand, while indubitably serving to make the account of his time at Bagram more harrowing and traumatic, is also unsubstantiated.

On 2 February 2003, Moazzam Begg was transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

Greenwald and Hussain report that Begg calls his time there "torturous". They neglect to mention that while there he signed an 8 page confession, countersigned by his Bagram interrogators FBI agent "Bell" and New York City Police Detective "Harrelson" (both names are pseudonyms) as well as two DOD CID agents. Inter alia, the OIG investigation (linked above) found that:
Begg’s signed statement indicates, among other things, that Begg sympathized with the cause of al-Qaeda, attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and England so that he could assist in waging global jihad against enemies of Islam, including Russia and India; associated with and assisted several prominent terrorists and supporters of terrorists and discussed potential terrorist acts with them; recruited young operatives for the global jihad; and provided financial support for terrorist training camps.
Every paragraph is initialled by Begg at the beginning and end to indicate his assent. Deletions and changes requested by Begg are noted on the document in his handwriting. For example, the OIG report notes that:
. . . [o]n page 3, Begg apparently changed the statement "I am unsure of the exact amount of money sent to terrorist training camps of the many years I helped fund the camps'" by replacing the word "many" with the words "couple of".
Begg now claims this confession was coerced. However, the OIG again found no evidence to support his claim, adding that the additions and deletions provided by Begg "support its voluntariness". Why, after all, request minor changes to a document which is a wholesale fabrication? Furthermore, "Begg even acknowledged that Bell and Harrelson had mentioned the possibility of a plea bargain, witness protection and cooperation with the government" which appeared to support Bell's professed strategy of "building rapport with Begg to obtain his cooperation with other prosecutions".

Greenwald and Hussain will of course dismiss such investigations as self-serving and worthless. But such a dismissal is itself of no value. If, on the other hand, they think they can prove the OIG and DOD investigations were not competent, they must do so.


And what of CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners), the organisation founded by Begg in 2005 upon his release from Camp Delta and return to the UK?

Greenwald and Hussain describe CAGE as a human rights organisation, and produce a handful of pithy quotes from its own website which testify to the nobility of its campaigning.

But CAGE is not a human rights organisation. An investigation by Meredith Tax and Gita Sahgal at the Centre for Secular Space found that...
[J]udging by the cases Cageprisoners highlights, its principle of selection has less to do with universal, indivisible human rights than with the desire to support activists in jihadi networks . . . And it does not distinguish between prisoners held at Guantanamo whose rights to habeas corpus and due process of law have been violated and prisoners who have been tried and found guilty in a normal courtroom setting.
In a post over at Left Foot Forward, Rupert Sutton protests what he describes as the contempt for due process displayed by Begg's supporters, many of whom are demanding his immediate and unconditional release. Sutton points out that:
Given CagePrisoners' repeated demands for due process, it is very revealing that when that process begins against one of their members it is reflexively portrayed as unjust, and as a government conspiracy to criminalise Muslim charitable work and political activism.
Alas, this contempt for due process is a feature not a bug. The Intercept article notes with approval that CAGE's describes itself as "one of the leading resources documenting the abuse of due process and the erosion of the rule of law in the context of the War on Terror."

Following the controversy surrounding Sahgal's dismissal from Amnesty International for publicly criticising their ties to Cageprisoners, the organisation overhauled its site's design and content, deleting controversial and inflammatory articles, statements, campaigns and interview materials. But until comparatively recently, their ostensible commitment to due process was qualified in the "About Us" section of the site with a declaration [cached here] that:
Cageprisoners relies on Islamic doctrines relating to due process. 
Which was, in turn, explained like this:
It is not only the right to a fair trial that Cageprisoners promotes, rather the morality of the law. Thus even though national legislation in various jurisdictions may be given a veneer of legality, in reality they go against the conscience of the law. Thus our understanding of due process goes to the very heart of the counter-terrorism policies that are implemented, whether legally or illegally.
What this awful prose means is that, in the eyes of CAGE and its activists, secular notions of justice are subordinate to their own perceived religious obligations. Given that Salafi-jihadi ideology sees jihad as a religious duty, it follows that anyone incarcerated as a result becomes a prisoner of conscience, irrespective of their criminality in the eyes of secular law.

Meredith Tax's assessment is blunt:
The whole structure of human rights is based on the rule of law . . . A group that explicitly disregards the rule of law cannot be considered a human rights group. 

Greenwald and Hussain's misrepresentation of Begg and CAGE, as a human rights advocate and organisation respectively, is an example of what I have decided to call 'philo-Salafism' - a hatred for the West so vehement, it leads the sufferer to become a partisan of Islamist fanatics; to rehearse, without embarrassment, the justifications and excuses they offer for their depredations, and to recycle their anti-Western propaganda.

Were the Intercept article protesting Begg's incarceration at Guantanamo, its authors could reasonably argue that his views and previous activities are irrelevant. And, although their account would still be one-sided, I'd have to agree. The indefinite detention of terror suspects and the denial of legal counsel and due process is a disgrace, unmitigated by the professed views and alleged actions of the accused.

But the article is not about the injustice of Begg's detention in Guantanamo in 2003. It is about the alleged injustice of Begg's detention in Belmarsh today. By omitting any mention of Begg's jihadi connections, sympathies and experience, its authors are attempting to both exonerate Begg of any taint of suspicion in the reader's perception, and to discredit counter-extremism operations and prosecutions in general by making them seem arbitrary, vindictive and racist.

I take no position on the validity of the new charges Begg is facing. How can I? I have no idea as to the nature or reliability of the evidence against him. The wisdom of this prosecution will stand or fall when he gets his day in court. But there doesn't seem to me to be anything particularly sinister or surprising about the arrest of someone with a long history of self-professed extremist beliefs and connections on charges relating to political and religious extremism.

Greenwald and Hussain, however, are scandalised. And they want us all to feel scandalised with them. So instead of truthfully recording his past associations and views, they reprint (and implicitly endorse) some conspiratorial speculation offered by CAGE's own spokesperson and a "human rights investigator" about the "timing" of the arrest, and they provide some conjecture of their own about attempts to silence critics of government wrongdoing. No actual evidence is provided for any of this because of course there isn't any, and all the rhetorical questions they ask about the basis for the arrest are thus moot until we get to trial.

That doesn't prevent Greenwald and Hussain from supporting Begg's claim to persecution without equivocation. And having established his innocence - at least to their own satisfaction - they then explain that this is all part of an authoritarian campaign of intimidation against what they call:
. . . Muslim political activists who have been arrested and detained for their public criticisms of the conduct of the War on Terror — usually under the guise of highly-tendentious terrorism charges.
The four examples of said 'political activists' then provided are:
  • Tarek Mehanna - Sentenced to 17 years in April 2012 by a Massachusetts court of conspiracy to kill American soldiers, providing material support to al-Qaeda by publishing propaganda online, and lying to the FBI.
  • Fahad Hashmi - Pled guilty to one count of abetting terrorism, for knowing assisting in the provision of supplies to al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. In April 2010 he was sentenced to 15 years by a Manhattan court. 
  • Jubair Ahmad - Sentenced to 12 years in December 2011 for making and publishing a propaganda video for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the foreign terrorist organisation responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 164 people lost their lives and over 300 were wounded.
  • Emerson Winfield Begolly - Pled guilty in August 2011 to soliciting others to carry out acts of jihadi terrorism within the United States. He was sentenced 102 months by a Pittsburg court.
Whether or not the incitement to kill American soldiers or the dissemination of bomb-making materials in jihadist web forums ought to constitute protected speech in post-9/11 America is a perfectly legitimate free expression debate. However, it is one that takes place at the absolutist end of the spectrum. The imprisoning of Muslims - and only Muslims - who happen to disagree with American foreign policy does not.

By misrepresenting the former as the latter, Greenwald and Hussain imply there is no meaningful difference between the two, thereby dissolving the distinction between democratic dissent and the incitement of hatred, terror and violence. Counter-extremism measures designed to protect citizens from the kinds of "Muslim political activists" who fly airliners into skyscrapers and blow men, women and children to bits in marketplaces and pizzerias, are then 'Islamophobic' by their very nature.

The authors confirm this when, in their most brazen profession of philo-Salafi sympathies, they complain:
[America]’s largest Muslim charity was prosecuted on terrorism charges for the crime of sending money to Palestinians deemed terrorists by the U.S. Government.
By this point, one doesn't have to follow the link to realise that the "Palestinians" being referred to here are Hamas.

Philo-Salafis never appear unduly troubled that their refusal to distinguish between Islamist jihadis and dissenting Muslims committed to democratic debate and activism only stokes the anti-Muslim bigotry and paranoia they claim to oppose.

Nor do they seem concerned that the vast majority of Salafi-jihadi victims are not Western at all. In her pamphlet on Cage Prisoners and Moazzam Begg, Meredith Tax cites a study by the Combatting Terrorism Centre which concluded "that between 2006 and 2008, the most recent period the study examined, fully 98% of al-Qaeda's victims were inhabitants of Muslim majority countries."

Tax concludes her pamphlet by expanding upon "5 Wrong Ideas" advanced by Salafis like Begg and those who indulge them:
  • The Muslim Right Is Anti-Imperialist
  • "Defence of Muslim Lands" Is Comparable To National Liberation Struggles
  • The Problem Is "Islamophobia"
  • Terrorism Is Justified By Revolutionary Necessity
  • Any Feminist Who Criticises The Muslim Right Is An Orientalist & Ally Of US Imperialism
What Tax has here summarised as a list of misapprehensions and errors of understanding that lead anti-Imperialist Westerners to support Islamofascism might also form the basis of a philo-Salafist manifesto.

Foreign and domestic terror atrocities, it is held, are caused by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and counter-insurgency drone warfare. Of the Middle East's many barbaric Islamic regimes, the philo-Salafi only ever criticises those with whom the West have formed economic and strategic alliances. They blame Orientalism and cultural imperialism for Muslim oppression. And neoliberalism, neocolonialism, and neoconservatism. They denounce Israel as an illegitimate ethnocratic colonial outpost and an intolerable affront to Muslim dignity, and they excuse even its most vicious, racist enemies in the name of resistance. They denigrate those who embrace and defend so-called 'Western values' as traitors - inauthentic "House" Muslims and "Uncle Toms".

And so on.

Conquest of Muslim Lands abroad; Islamophobia and bigotry at home. Grievance. Victimhood. Resistance. Moral equivalence. Every box on the Salafi's propaganda checklist gets a reassuring tick.

These philo-Salafis are the Imran Khans. The Judith Butlers. The George Galloways and Seumas Milnes. The people who insist that the West's democracies bring terror on themselves, but who have nothing to say about the daily slaughter of Muslims in the name of the same hideous supremacist ideology.

People, in other words, like Glenn Greenwald, who in April last year wrote this in defence of Tarek Mehanna:
He was found guilty of supporting al-Qaeda (by virtue of translating Terrorists’ documents into English and expressing “sympathetic views” to the group) as well as conspiring to “murder” U.S. soldiers in Iraq (i.e., to wage war against an invading army perpetrating an aggressive attack on a Muslim nation).
Greenwald valourises those who would murder him for his homosexuality, his Jewishness, and any number of his libertarian views were he ever to find himself at their mercy. It's all rather squalid and pitiful, really. Philo-Salafism at its most perverse, spiteful and masochistic.

Although Murtaza Hussain exhibits many of the symptoms associated with philo-Salafism, the condition is not, as in Greenwald's case, chronic. In the past, Hussain has at least shown himself capable of recognising the utter moral turpitude of the Taliban and its allies, and he is not in the habit of redescribing their cruelty and barbarism as a noble and defiant reply to American power.

However, the fact remains that, in this instance, he's jointly responsible a nasty piece of philo-Salafi propaganda. As editor at the Intercept, Greenwald has boasted that he has been promised complete autonomy to indulge his obsessions, unfettered by the hierarchical checks and balances on which good journalism tends to rely. So, in short, we can expect a lot more of this garbage.

I'll close this long piece by quoting Greenwald and Hussain's comically inept grasp of the Syrian conflict, which they offer as evidence yet more Western hypocrisy:
[T]he bizarre spectacle of charging [Moazzam Begg] with “terrorism” offenses for allegedly helping rebels which the U.S. government itself is aiding and for whom intervention was advocated by the U.S. president as recently as last year. Indeed, in 2012, the year Begg made his trip, the widespread view in the West of Syrian rebels was that they were noble freedom-fighters who deserved as much help as possible, not “terrorists” whom the law made it a crime to assist. In the same year another major visiting supporter to the opposition movement was John McCain – an indication of how much mainstream Western support the uprising enjoyed at the time.
I'm afraid that this kind of confusion is inevitable if one refuses to distinguish between different kinds of Muslim "dissent". But hey ho. It's all grist to the West-hating mill, so facts and context be damned.

The pamphlet "Double Bind" by Meredith Tax, which includes a detailed case study on Moazzam Begg and CAGE and expands on much of the above, may be purchased here. It is not only a valuable polemic about the embrace of the Muslim Right, but its text & footnotes provide a useful resource of links and information relating to the Begg controversy for which I was very grateful whilst drafting this post.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Isolating Dissent

Maajid Nawaz and the 'Jesus & Mo' Controversy

The most recent controversy over an image depicting the Prophet Muhammad has differed from its predecessors in one important respect. In this instance it was not the artist who was targeted - it was a Muslim who shared the image (above) on twitter. So while the vicious Islamic backlash was reminiscent of those that followed the publication of the Danish cartoons in 2005 or the Innocence of Muslims video in 2012, the complexion of the rage was different. As was the complexion of the hesitancy displayed by the British media in covering the story.

Maajid Nawaz is an ex-member of the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Now he runs the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, which he founded in 2007 with fellow former Hizb member Ed Husain. He is also a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Hampstead and Kilburn. The image he tweeted is taken from the online satirical comic strip Jesus and Mo and, as far as I can tell, Nawaz posted it for two reasons.

  • As a point of liberal principle he objected to the treatment of two LSE students who were told to cover their Jesus and Mo t-shirts or face ejection from their Freshers' Fair.
  • As a reminder of the plurality of views amongst Muslims on matters like these. This was mainly for the benefit of those who use a literalist interpretation of Islam's texts to justify the stigmatisation of all Muslims as indiscriminately backward and savage.

Two of the self-appointed leaders of the Muslim community, however, announced with predictable solipsism that Nawaz's tweet was all about them. It was, they claimed, a deliberate act of self-serving provocation for the benefit of the liberal, secular Establishment with whom Nawaz sought to ingratiate himself. A petition, started by Mohammed Shafiq of The Ramadan Foundation and enthusiastically promoted by vapid media personality Mohammed Ansar, was posted online calling on the Liberal Democrats to deselect Nawaz as a PPC.

Since Nawaz is a Muslim of Pakistani heritage, their complaint could not be framed as one of racism or even 'Islamophobia'. Nor could it easily be framed as one of free expression, since the cartoonist's right to draw the cartoon - which has been freely available online since it first appeared in November 2005 - was not at issue. So instead the case made by the petition was that Nawaz had engaged in behaviour unbefitting a PPC (Shafiq is also - improbably - a member of the Liberal Democrats).

But the sheer venom of the campaign against Maajid Nawaz, and the inflammatory language used by its leaders, speaks to an even more prosaic reason for the outrage: personal animosity. Mohammed Shafiq and the thousands of Muslims who signed his petition share a visceral dislike of Nawaz which long predates this outcry. Nawaz's crime is that he is a secularist who - as I have explained previously - refuses to abide by the identitarian rules of the multicultural game. In other words, this is less a theological quarrel than a political one.

In the eyes of Shafiq and his supporters, Nawaz is something worse than a white racist; he's a traitor to the 'Muslim Community'. It is to this community's tribal values - apparently defined by reactionaries like Shafiq - that he is expected to show loyalty, and not to his own freedom of conscience. He is - to use an epithet appropriated by cultural chauvinists - "an Uncle Tom".

When Nawaz tweeted the cartoon, his enemies immediately saw an opportunity to remind him and anyone else listening that it was the traditionalist, totalitarian tendency which spoke for Muslims, and not the moderate secularists. So, with a demagogue's cynicism and ruthless dishonesty, Mohammed Shafiq set about drumming up a pogrom.

The Urdu phrase "Ghustaki Rasool" translates as "Defamer of the Prophet" - a religious charge tantamount to apostasy and punishable by death in Pakistan, where Nawaz travels to work and where he has family. In a sinister echo of the Danish cartoons controversy, Shafiq then declared his intention to "notify Islamic countries" of Nawaz's crime (which knocks apart the idea that this was simply a provincial question of whether of not Nawaz had contravened the Liberal Democrats' code of conduct).

Not content with the available facts, Shafiq circulated the additional rumour that Nawaz had tweeted a link to the Jesus and Mo website. It would hardly make any difference if he had but, as it happens, this is simply false. Shafiq also alleged that the Jesus and Mo series depicted the two protagonists having sex. This is also false, and a homophobic dogwhistle into the bargain.

Nawaz began receiving anonymous phone calls and death threats, some of which were so lurid and elaborate they're better described as torture fantasies. All very regrettable, Shafiq explained when called upon to account for himself, but Maajid Nawaz ought to have known better. Like Rushdie before him, Nawaz had brought this on himself.

Shaken by the ferocity of the backlash from his co-religionists, Nawaz responded with a calm OpEd piece in the Guardian in which he used his prophet's egalitarian legacy to make the following appeal for tolerance:
Muslims are not one homogenous tribe requiring representation through a Citizen Khan-like community leader. Neither are we still colonial subjects who must speak through our Brown Sahibs. We Muslims are free. Our prophet left no heir. We have never had a pope or a clergy. We are commanded to worship God alone, and for our sins we are answerable to no one but Him.
This didn't go down at all well at all at the 5Pillarz website ("What are Muslims thinking?"). In response its editor Roshan M Salih (who moonlights as a documentarian for the Iranian theocracy's propaganda channel Press TV) demeaned himself more than his subject when he denounced Nawaz in racialized language as "a sellout and a coconut".

Then Nawaz Hanif replied to Nawaz's piece with a particularly spiteful post in the Guardian. Hanif declared himself uninterested in the matter of offence and instead offered his readers ad hominems, innuendo and a portrait of Nawaz as a vain self-promoter and a traitor:
The Quilliam Foundation has a reputation for secretly smearing pluralist Muslim organisations. In 2010 it prepared a list for security officials, linking peaceful groups such as the Muslim Safety Forum, which works with the police to improve community relations, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and even the Islam Channel, a TV broadcaster, to the ideology of terrorists. The idea that Quilliam's founder will be regarded as a saviour of Muslims in Britain is therefore laughable.
What's laughable - not to mention revealing of Hanif's own regressive relio-political views - is the idea that the Islam Channel, the Khomeinist IHRC or the Muslim Safety Forum, co-founded by a fanatic named Azad Ali (now vice-chair of Unite Against Fascism), are best described as "pluralist" or " improve community relations". (Notice, by the way, the slipperiness of the formulation "Nawaz has a reputation for...")

Much is made by both men of the unrepresentative nature of Nawaz's views amongst Muslims. To be sure, the petition posted in his support has received far fewer signatories than the one denouncing him. And it would be safe to assume, I think, that a good number of signatories to the former would be ex-Muslims and non-Muslims.

But so what? The argument being thrashed out here is one of ideas and it is intra-religious as well as secular. The value of dissent in any such battle depends only on the worth of the arguments, not their popularity. How else do societies evolve and progress without dissidents courageous enough to attack religious and political orthodoxy?

The controversy over the Jesus and Mo cartoon is part of a struggle within Islam for the right of individuals to unchain themselves from a traditionalist, authoritarian Islamic identity and to embrace liberty, equality and modernity. There are secularist Muslims across Britain and Europe and the Islamic world who agree with Nawaz. They share his anti-totalitarian, universalist impulse and they are tired of being told that political and religious reactionaries like Ansar and Shafiq speak for them. Many others who would like to voice their support are unable to do so due to the penalties dissent may incur. The smaller they are in number, the greater their persecution, the more they require our support.

But the significance of this aspect of the debate seemed to get lost in the confused coverage of the row by much of the media. On the one hand, Shafiq's campaign was robustly challenged, on television and radio and in print. But not one OpEd piece defending Nawaz's right to share the cartoon, nor one television report covering the controversy, actually accompanied their story with a picture of the cartoon in question.

Jesus and Mo's anonymous cartoonist had the honesty to admit he feared for his life, which is why when he appeared on Newsnight, he asked for his name to be withheld, for his face to be fogged and for his voice to be disguised. Newsnight's editor Ian Katz was perhaps rather less forthcoming when asked to justify his refusal to use the image at the centre of their story:

Katz went on to accuse his critics of "journalistic machismo" and "liberal virility", thereby casting himself as the reasonable-minded party. But if it is tolerant and responsible for Newsnight to censor the cartoon, the clear implication is that Maajid Nawaz behaved intolerantly and irresponsibly when he tweeted it. By affecting a position of spurious neutrality, the media establishment has taken a de facto position alongside the religious reactionaries calling for Nawaz's head and left him looking dangerously isolated.

This message was not lost on Nawaz. After Channel 4 News obscured Mohammad's face in their report while leaving Jesus's face exposed (irrespective of the offence such a decision might cause Christians), he tweeted:

It's interesting to note that secular and progressive Muslims also seem to be those who complain least about 'Islamophobia'. What drives them to distraction is the refusal of Western relativists to offer them support in their own confrontations with the Islamic far-right. Meanwhile those identitarians who complain most often and most noisily about 'Islamophobia' are often the same people doing their utmost to confirm the bigot's view that all Muslims are childish and intolerant. Not only do they behave in a childish and intolerant way, but they insist that it is they who really represent Islam.

And yet, perversely, we insist on indulging these tantrums. Shafiq and Ansar have made themselves look petty, vindictive and ridiculous in the eyes of many, but they have every reason to feel pleased with themselves. Maajid Nawaz will not be deselected as PPC but nor does it look like Mohammed Shafiq will face any disciplinary action from his party for his cynical incitement of violence.

Nawaz has been advised by the police to keep a low profile. Moderate Muslims have been put on notice: step out of line and you could be next. And the absurd and infantilising idea that these pictures pose an objective danger, due to the peculiar power they hold over Muslim men and women, has been reinforced by the media's complicity in their unnecessary censorship.

It is astonishing how quickly a deeply-entrenched taboo can collapse in a free society once it has been violated. Had the reporting of the Jesus and Mo row been universally accompanied by the cartoon in question (as it would have been in any other context), it would have demonstrated at a stroke how stupid the debate about Islam has become. Shafiq and Ansar understand this perfectly, which is precisely why they have kicked up such a racket over such an innocuous image. If sharing a gently satirical comic strip can attract such outrage, vituperation and hatred, what are the chances of a genuinely provocative, transgressive and iconoclastic satire of Islamic beliefs and ideas emerging?

The internalised fear of violent reprisal is an effective tool, and explains the uniformity of self-censorship right across a media establishment not known for its tactful avoidance of sensationalism. But religious zealots know they are aiming at a soft target. Ian Katz and others like him genuinely do seem to be embarrassed to take their own side in this quarrel.

This is not simply an error, but a betrayal. A betrayal of the need to defend free conscience, expression and inquiry from religious obscurantists, and a betrayal of Muslim dissidents, like Maajid Nawaz, who believe in these principles and are fighting to uphold them.

Note: In light of the above, I will now be blogging under my own name and photograph. My blogger profile can be found here.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Racism; Censorship; Disunity

On the Hounding of Adele Wilde-Blavatsky

There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that - like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought - urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power.

The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction - from the powerful to the powerless - and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it - often, it is claimed, unconsciously - to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be 'other'. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world's wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.

Furthermore, racism exists independently of individual prejudice and cultural mores - like the power systems of which it is a part, it is abstract; metaphysical; unavoidable; unchanging. It is all-pervasive, 'structural', endemic, systemic, and internalised to such a degree that even (or especially) white liberal Westerners who perceive themselves to be broad-minded and non-prejudicial are not even aware of it. It is therefore incumbent on every white person, male or female, to 'check their white privilege' before venturing to comment on matters pertaining to minority cultures, lest they allow their unconscious ethnocentricity to reinforce oppressive power structures. Instead, moral judgement of minorities by universal standards should - no, must - be replaced by a willingness to indulge and uncritically accept difference.

In the view of this layman, this kind of thinking is wrong, both morally and in point of fact.

Postmodernism is notoriously unhappy with anything as concrete as a dictionary definition. However, the inconvenient fact is that racism remains clearly defined in the OED, and by the common usage its entries are intended to reflect, as follows:
Racism, n:
The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Hence: prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races, esp. those felt to be a threat to one's cultural or racial integrity or economic well-being; the expression of such prejudice in words or actions. Also occas. in extended use, with reference to people of other nationalities.
That the effects of this prejudice and antagonism are aggravated, perpetuated and sometimes institutionalized by the effects of power is undeniable, but this is a separate issue. Many unpleasant aspects of human nature and behaviour (greed, for instance) are also exacerbated by power, but that doesn't change the ugly nature of the behaviour itself, nor allow us to infer that the powerless are incapable of making it manifest.

Efforts to effect an official change to this definition should be strongly resisted on grounds of egalitarianism (an idea the Left once cared about deeply). The difficulty with the power + prejudice formulation lies, not just in its dilution of what makes racism so toxic, but in a consequent moral relativism which holds people to different standards. It is manifestly unjust to hold some people to a higher standard of thought and behaviour based on their unalterable characteristics. However, it is far worse to hold others to a respectively lower standard based on those same characteristics, which insists on the indulgence of viewpoints and behaviour by some that would not be tolerated from others.

This separatist thinking has given rise to identity politics, moral equivalence, cultural relativism and what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others have called "a racism of low expectations". As Hirsi Ali remarked in her memoir-cum-polemic Nomad (excerpted here):
This Western attitude is based on the idea that people of colour must be exempted from "normal" standards of behaviour. There are many good men and women in the West who try to resettle refugees and strive to eliminate discrimination. They lobby governments to exempt minorities from the standards of behaviour of western societies; they fight to help minorities preserve their cultures, and excuse their religion from critical scrutiny. These people mean well, but their activism is now a part of the very problem they seek to solve.
Identity politics reinforces the racist argument that people can and should be judged according to their skin colour. It rests on the same crude, illiberal determinism, and results in what the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner has described as a "racism of the anti-racists". This, as we shall see, leaves those vulnerable to oppression within 'subaltern' groups without a voice and mutes criticism of chauvinism and out-group hatred when expressed by minorities.

The alternative to this, now routinely derided as 'Enlightenment Fundamentalism', is a principled commitment to egalitarianism and universalism - the notion that what separates us (culture) is taught and learned, but that what unites us is far more important and fundamental: that is, our common humanity. On this basis, the same rights and protections should be afforded to all people.

This is what underpinned the idealism of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence, two of the most noble documents produced by Enlightenment thought. It was the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and adopted in the wake of the carnage of the Second World War. And it is the basis upon which civil rights groups and human rights organisations have sought to advance the laws and actions of nations and their peoples.

The answer to prejudice, and to the division and inequality it inevitably produces, is not exceptionalism based on a hierarchy of grievance, but to strive for greater equality on the basis that we belong to a common species, divided only by our ideas. As Martin Luther King declared on the steps of the Lincoln memorial:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

*    *    *

On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky's post was a rebuke to those - on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left - who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West.

Wilde-Blavatsky's decision to use a paragraph in an otherwise banal review of Beyonce's latest album by Mikki Kendall as the starting point for her argument was, in my view, unfortunate. Not simply because there are better examples of the divisive effect that identity politics has on debate (the quarrel over gender segregation being only the most recent), but because the comparatively unimportant matter of the politics of Beyonce's music risked trivialising what followed. Nor did the provocative decision to announce a twitter hashtag #stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity strike me as especially wise.

Nonetheless, such grumbles aside, Wilde-Blavatsky's substantive quarrel with the malignant effects of identity politics and the cultural relativists who espouse it is one with which regular readers of this blog will be familiar.

She argued, first of all, that Kendall's casual suggestion that "white feminism" is uniformly anti-male and hostile to the self-empowering feminism Beyonce's music represents was an unjustifiable extrapolation from the comments of only a few white feminists. This, she said, ignored the pluralism of experience and opinion amongst white feminists and "literally 'whitewash[es]' me and all other white women to a flesh colour." This was predictably interpreted as special pleading on Wilde-Blavatsky's part, who it was claimed wanted to muscle in on subaltern victimhood. But what she was objecting to here is in fact the straightforward logical fallacy I've addressed above.

More importantly, she argued that this pointed to a broader tendency to essentialise 'white feminism' as elitist, arrogant, out-of-touch and coddled by privilege, all of which was being used to disqualify white feminists of all stripes from commenting on vital issues of women's rights within minority groups:
The clear message [is] that if you're white you cannot criticise anything that is done or said by non-white people unless it follows a certain kind of left liberal 'post-colonial' strain of thought.
In support of this claim, she linked to an article by the feminist academic Swati Parashar entitled Where Are the Feminists to Defend Indian Women? in which Parashar wrote:
Those who are quick to condemn governments which kill women and children in drone attacks in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or who are quick to point out that Western policies have endangered lives of civilians in many parts of the world, find no words to speak out against the violence women in the Global South face repeatedly and every day. Violence against women that is routinely normalised in certain cultures, in certain societies, in certain countries, and violence that cannot be traced to Western militarism or Western foreign policy does not find easy critics. That would not be politically correct nor would it reflect commitment to anti-racism, perhaps.
To which Wilde-Blavatsky added:
[T]o 'blacken' the name of the work and efforts of white women in the feminist movement and to portray them as the 'enemy' of women of colour is a great disservice not only to white women but also to women in general. In addition, it only serves to further divide women and empower patriarchy and misogyny [...] It is no accident that right-wing, religious, misogynist patriarchs are all too happy to recite post-colonial theory and cultural relativism to justify and perpetuate their power and cultural practices that restrict and oppress women of all colours races and cultures [...] Issues such as marriage, physical safety and autonomy, access to good family planning and health care, pregnancy, abortion, rape, domestic violence, slut shaming, denial of opportunities in work and education and so on still effect women across all cultures, races and nations (albeit in differing ways). If we allow race and 'culture' to divide rather than unite women then the patriarchs have won.
The response to this argument from the bien pensant Left ranged from the incredulous to the vitriolic.

In the comment thread below her article and in a storm which overwhelmed her twitter handle and her hashtag, Wilde-Blavatsky (who tweets as @lionfaceddakini) was derided with accusations of arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, racism and cultural supremacism. She was advised that she had not listened sufficiently closely to authentic voices of women of colour.  Others declared her to be beneath contempt and an object example of white feminism's irrelevance. She was accused of using a fraudulent call for unity as a way of advancing an argument from white victimhood. It was demanded that she immediately re-educate herself by reading various academic texts on the subject. Her "white woman's tears" were repeatedly mocked, as were her protestations that her own family is mixed-race. And, of course, there were the predictable demands for retraction, penitence and prostration.

The rhetoric of anti-racism has come a long way since Martin Luther King's passionate call for egalitarian unity, and I submit that it has not been traveling in the right direction. Wilde-Blavatsky retains a faith in King's idealism her critics appear to have lost. And, to their fury, she won't budge. But she knew what to expect. After all, as she points out in the piece itself, she's been here before.

*     *     *

On 21 March 2012, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year old married Iraqi mother of five living in El Cajon in Southern California, was murdered in her own home. Her skull had been smashed in four places (with a tyre-iron or similar) and she was discovered "drowning in her own blood" by her 17 year old daughter Fatima, who was in the house at the time but claimed not to have heard the assault. Alawadi was rushed to hospital in a coma but on 24 March her life support was switched off and she died. Pictures were circulated of her bereaved husband holding his dead wife's photograph (below, left) and the day after her death, it was reported that a note had been found by her unconscious body which read: "Go back to your own country. You're a terrorist." Speculation was rife that Alawadi was the victim of a racist or Islamophobic hate crime.

Barely a month earlier, on 21 February, in a case which received far more attention, a young black teenager, Trayvon Martin (above, right) was shot and killed in Sanford Florida by George Zimmerman a mixed-race Hispanic.

Anti-racist campaigners and bloggers were quick to draw a connection - if not a direct equivalence - between the two crimes and to claim they exposed the lie of a supposedly 'post-racial' America under Barack Obama. What clearer evidence could there be of America's endemic racism and that people of colour there live in a state of siege? Martin had been killed for wearing his hoodie. Alawadi had been targeted for her hijab (headscarf). A 1m Hoodie March was organised in solidarity with Martin, and those campaigning on behalf of Alawadi responded by announcing a 1m Hijab March. Further protest marches were organised in cities and on campuses across America, uniting the two causes under one banner. Most were well-intended gestures of solidarity but others were promoted using language that was positively inflammatory:

At the time Adele Wilde-Blavatsky was a member of the editorial collective for a website called The Feminist Wire (TFW). She decided that the equivalence between hoodie and hijab was absurd and dangerous, and on April 13 2012, she published an article on TFW's site explaining why entitled To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals (cross-posted at the Shiraz Socialist blog here).
What I take issue with here is the equating of the hoodie and the hijab as sources of ethnic identity and pride. The hijab, which is discriminatory and rooted in men's desire to control women's appearance and sexuality, is not a choice for the majority of women who wear it. The hoodie, on the other hand, is a choice for everyone who wears it. The history and origin of these two items of clothing and what they represent could not be more different; like comparing the crippling footbindings of Chinese women with a `Made in China' Nike trainer.
She accused those making the equivalence of cultural relativism and a misplaced respect for the sanctity of culture, a charge she also used to indict Germaine Greer's notorious claim that attempts to outlaw Female Genital Mutilation represent "an attack on cultural identity" because "one man's beautification was another man's mutilation" (Greer's use of the male pronoun is revealing here). 

Wilde-Blavatsky insisted that her instincts were libertarian, and that she would not recommend banning practices unless, as with FGM, they resulted in physical harm. But nor would she be compelled to suspend her moral judgement or forfeit the right to challenge the degree to which women's choices to conform with patriarchal religious dress codes were meaningfully free. And even if they were free, she reserved the right as a feminist to challenge regressive choices - whether they be to wear the hijab or to work in pornography - and what those choices represent.

She warned that respect for cultural difference and a fear of being accused of racism was preventing feminists from addressing issues of misogyny and patriarchal violence within minority communities and ended with an ominous reminder of the folly of seeing oppression and violence as something primarily across cultural divides:
[W]hy has there been centuries of caste discrimination and violence in countries like India? Why are Muslim women beaten and murdered by Muslim men for refusing to wear the hijab? How did both these deaths occur in a country that is led by a black male President? How does it explain the fact that about 150 black men are killed every week in the U.S. - and 94 percent of them by other black men?
What was needed, she argued, was a reframing of the whole conversation about the defence of women's rights and the need for a feminism that was, if not blind to cultural difference, then at least not subordinate to it.

TFW opened the article to unmoderated comments and the initial reaction was indistinguishable from that which greeted her HuffPo piece (which rather emphasises the reluctance of many of her critics to engage with the argument at hand). Wilde-Blavatsky later wrote that:
[My article] generated not only a huge amount of online debate but also abuse in terms of my skin colour (white), character (non-Muslim) and motivation (imperialism). I was called a "racist" and "white imperialist" and was even accused of using the 'ties' of my mixed-race family to "obfuscate my whiteness."
There was a brief confusion over the extent to which TFW endorsed the contents of the article when Wilde-Blavatsky posted it on their facebook page and then began to field responses using TFW's account rather than her own. But while invective was rained down on their colleague, TFW's official response remained a pusillanimous silence. Considering what came next, Wilde-Blavatsky might be forgiven for looking back on this brief interlude with something like nostalgia.

Two days later TFW published a scathing open letter (cross-posted here) in response to Wilde-Blavatsky's piece, organised by Dr. Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb and co-signed by no less than 77 feminist activists and academics. The letter - a masterwork of condescension, pompous jargon and passive-aggressive bullying - was addressed to "Our friends and allies at The Feminist Wire". And it began:
It is with loving concern with which we, the undersigned feminist writers, activists and academics from diverse racial, religious, economic, and political backgrounds, write to this brilliant collective today.
It went on to accuse Wilde-Blavatsky of being "[o]blivious to the important cross-racial and cross-ethnic connections and solidarities made in light of the tragic murders of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi", of "revealing her own [white Western] biases" and "showcasing a lack of knowledge of the history and function of the hijab." She was ignorant. She was patronising. She was not cognizant of her own privilege. "In writing this [article]" the letter's 77 signatories averred...
...the author has all but stripped women of colour of an intersectional understanding of violence against women, one that is attuned to both patriarchal and racist violence. Instead, Muslim women and women of colour feminists are reduced to a piece of cloth and the experiences of people of colour and practioners of an increasingly racialized and demonized religion are repeatedly questioned and denied.
Having dealt with Wilde-Blavatsky, the letter then moved onto shaming TFW, the collective of which she was a member and which had agreed to publish her work:
As feminists deeply committed to challenging racism and Islamophobia and how it differentially impacts black and Muslim (and black Muslim) communities, we wish to open up a dialogue about how to build solidarities across complex histories of subjugation and survival. This space is precisely what is shut down in this article. In writing this letter, we emphasize that our concern is not solely with Adele Wilde-Blavatsky's article but with the broader systemic issues revealed in the publication of a work that prevents us from challenging hierarchies of privilege and building solidarity. We hope The Feminist Wire will take our concerns to heart and initiate an honest conversation about privilege, racism, and Islamophobia within feminist collectives and movements.
Watching this unfold, the veteran free speech campaigner and US Director for the think tank The Centre for Secular Space, Meredith Tax, decided that she was witnessing a campaign to intimidate and censor.
Why should a group of—count them—77 “feminist writers, activists, and academics” have thought it necessary to write a blistering critique of a blog by a young writer of whom they had probably never heard? Was their purpose to make sure this young woman never wrote anything again? Or to prevent the Feminist Wire from publishing anything in future that might contravene the orthodoxy of identity politics?
Quite. It is not as if the letter's signatories are simply concerned laypersons of the kind who might sign an online petition. Every one of the 77 names at the foot of the letter carries with it a title which testifies to the signatory's expertise in these matters, and which carries with it the implied weight  of their scholarship, experience and pedagogic authority. To describe its effect as merely intimidating is to do its authors a disservice. It was intended to destroy Wilde-Blavatsky and to disqualify her views from legitimate conversation. As Tax pointed out:
Say the seventy-seven:
“Adele Wilde-Blavatsky attempts to address the important question of what it means to be an anti-racist feminist in the 21st century. Her article, however, serves to assert white feminist privilege and power by producing a reductive understanding of racial and gendered violence and by denying Muslim women their agency.”
Clearly this is meant to end the discussion. Why discuss anything with someone who is racism incarnate—as is shown by her “questioning of women's choice to wear the niqab.[sic]”
She concluded:
Feminists should be encouraging discussion of such questions rather than trying to shut it down. Congratulations to the editors of the Feminist Wire for having had the guts to publish something controversial.
Alas, Meredith Tax and anyone else inclined to put any faith in TFW's courage were to be disappointed. Paralysed by the intensity of the initial response, the letter and the subsequent renewal of criticism finally galvanised TFW into releasing a public statement on behalf of the collective.

On 19 April, 4 days after the publication of the letter and 6 days after the publication of the original article, TFW published an unsigned and positively craven article, of which its unnamed authors ought to be thoroughly ashamed. There was much agonising about the unintended offence that had been caused and the catastrophic damage that had been done to TFW's reputation. Noticeable in its absence was a single mention of Adele Wilde-Blavatsky by name or any words of explicit support at all. Instead, affecting a spurious balance, the article's authors declared:
Not all of us agreed with the argument expressed in the original article, nor did all of us agree with the statements expressed in the Collective Response on April 14th. We are diverse, and we absolutely support different viewpoints. But collectively, we all recognize that the author of the original article and especially her Facebook responses failed to advance TFW’s mission. And, more corrosively, the incident eroded trust among the Collective and among our readership, and we have taken, are taking steps to reinstitute that trust.
TFW's profession of an "absolute" support for different viewpoints could hardly have been made in worse faith. Earlier that day both Wilde-Blavatsky's article and the letter from the 77 had been removed from TFW's website and their respective comment threads deleted.

And, although their statement makes no mention of the fact, one of the steps taken by TFW had been to dismiss Wilde-Blavatsky from the editorial collective, a decision of which she was informed by email. Prior to the publication of the Letter from the 77, TFW's founder Tamura Lomax had assured Wilde-Blavatsky that space would be cleared for her to offer a "refereed response". Her detailed reply to the 77 which she submitted to TFW in her own defence was never published there.

Accounts of the events leading up to the removal of her article differ. Wilde-Blavatsky claims she was informed that should she repeat her claim that three members of the collective had read her article and cleared it for publication - and that two of them had described it as "excellent" - she would find herself on the end of a lawsuit. She says that it was her threat to counter-sue that led to the deletions.

TFW, meanwhile, dispute this account, improbably claiming that Wilde-Blavatsky's article had been seen and cleared by no-one prior to publication and insisting that it was she who had first threatened legal action.

Email correspondence between Lomax, editorial board member Darnell Moore, and Wilde-Blavatsky, in which Lomax thanked Wilde-Blavatsky warmly for her submission, does seem to bear out the latter's version of events. Certainly neither Lomax nor Moore expressed any reservations about the article's content during the exchange as they discussed possible publication dates.

In any event, what is not in dispute is that TFW had now tossed their colleague to the wolves. The only question that remained was whether or not they had been right to do so.

For many, TFW had done the right thing. They had committed a terrible error of judgement, but they had listened indulgently to the mob's demands and had cleaned house accordingly. Adele Wilde-Blavatsky had sinned and, unrepentant, been swiftly excommunicated. In a move of Stalinist absolution, TFW then purged their site of all her previous writing. It was a defeat for racism and a victory for intersectional tolerance and empathy.

But a small number of feminists dedicated to combatting regressive cultural traditionalism and the political influence of the Islamic far-right refused to see it that way. They were aghast at Wilde-Blavatsky's treatment and on 22 April they co-signed the following statement declaring their unequivocal support for the embattled writer. The full statement which was posted on the blog of the ex-Muslim and Iranian dissident Maryam Namazie, read:
We extend our full solidarity to Adele Wilde-Blavatsky for such a clear and rare analysis from feminists in Europe and North America, in which women’s resistance to the Muslim Right - including by resisting all forms of fundamentalist veiling - is made visible and honoured, rather than sacrificed on the altar of anti-racism and anti-imperialism. 
[Signed by]
  • Marieme Helie Lucas, sociologist, Algeria, founder and former international coordinator of the international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), coordinator Secularism Is A Women’s Issue
  • Fatou Sow, Researcher, Senegal, international coordinator, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
  • Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/UK
  • Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, Rutgers University, USA
  • Khawar Mumtaz, Shirkat Gah, Pakistan
The same day over at her Butterflies and Wheels blog, the feminist and secularist writer Ophelia Benson posted her own furious reply to the Letter from the 77 entitled You Know What You Can Do With Your Collective Response. And in a personal note, later made public, Fatou Sow reaffirmed her support to Wilde-Blavatsky as follows:
Dear Adele,
I again congratulate you on your wonderful courage. You are absolutely right: the hoodie is not the hijab. As an African Muslim woman, no one can convince me that the headscarf and the Islamic veil are signs of my female or Muslim identities. I am sorry that such brilliant women have taken up their pens to condemn your arguments as white supremacy. That is facile, when so many women in the world fight against these injustices. I urge you to continue writing to express your anger against all of these alienations that mark us in body and spirit. Please be assured of my support and my friendship.
This rather moving and dignified gesture of solidarity might have been the end of it.

However, as 2012 drew to a close, long after TFW had consigned Wilde-Blavatsky's article to post-colonial feminism's dustbin, the investigation into the murder of Shaima Alawadi developed in a way that many of the more level-headed commentators, feminists and activists had always feared it might.

*    *    *

On November 9, 2012, police announced they had arrested Kassim Alhimidi, Alawadi's 48-year old husband, and charged him with her murder. His four youngest children had been taken into protective custody. The racist note, according to court reports seen by UT San Diego, turned out to be a copy not an original (although a copy of what exactly was not specified).

Muslim and feminist campaigners unencumbered by the politically correct demands of intersectional feminism and post colonial politics, and who had shared Wilde-Blavatsky's dismay at the hoodies and hijabs campaigns, were incensed. On learning of the arrest, Raquel Evita Saraswati, a practicing Muslim and a feminist campaigner of courage and integrity, tweeted the following:

Aside from Alawadi's divorce, it transpired that Fatima, the couple's eldest daughter who contacted police to report the crime, was distressed at an impending forced marriage to her cousin and had attempted suicide. Those able to count backwards had also figured out that Alawadi must have married her husband when she was only 11 years old and given birth to their first child when she was just 13. This was not, in short, a family environment in which women were afforded the luxury of choice and agency, still less what the 77 had called "an intersectional understanding of violence against women, one that is attuned to both patriarchal and racist violence."

By the time Kassim Alhimidi was arrested, no-one much cared about Adele Wilde-Blavatsky's arguments anymore. But the uncomfortable truth is that they had been vindicated. The Trayvon Martin shooting and the Alawadi murder were not remotely similar or equivalent, and while debate continues about whether or not the jury were right to acquit George Zimmerman of Martin's murder, there is no longer any question that Alawadi's killing has anything to say about racism or 'Islamophobia' in America.

But this points to an interesting blind spot in Wilde-Blavatsky's analysis of the crime. For while she understood that undue respect for culture was blinding Western feminists (of all skin colours) to the misogyny and violence against women, she did not apply her reasoning to the facts of the case at hand. Despite the plausible doubts already circulating about the hate crime theory at the time she wrote her article, it did not countenance that Alawadi might have been the victim of an 'honour' killing and instead affirmed that the assailant was a white male.

A clue as to why she did this might be found in her recent Huffington Post piece in which she writes:
The irony of [judging the opinions of feminists by the colour of their white skin] is the whole point of post-colonial theory was to expose such non-inclusiveness and encourage people to recognise and celebrate their differences not to suggest white feminism is a 'one size fits all' for white women either.
Wilde-Blavatsky is engaged in an attempt to rescue post-colonialism from the excesses of its misguided new prophets. It was this - I suspect - that enraged her critics more than anything else. But it may also be that in trying to reconcile her arguments with the post-colonial notion that the West is unavoidably racist and xenophobic, she derailed her own analysis. A case, perhaps, of privilege-checking clouding judgement. Or a brief relapse from a writer in post-colonial recovery.

I have to wonder if her struggle is worth the effort. The determinism of the identity politics to which post-colonial theory is wedded is not readily reconcilable with universalism. Nor do her intended audience strike me as an especially reflective or receptive bunch. They do not even bother to follow their own rules. They instruct others to listen to the experiences of people of colour, but that experience, it transpires, is only valuable if it confirms their pre-existing ideology. What is actually being sought here is conformity of thought.

Those people of colour who dissent are declared outcasts. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is dismissed as a bitter Islamophobe. Mona Eltahawy's essay for Foreign Policy on Arab misogyny was greeted with accusations that she is a 'native informant' reinforcing racist stereotypes. Ed Husain has been described the same way. The Iranian Wall Street Journal critic Sohrab Ahmari was recently described as an "Uncle Tom" by a compatriot. The counter-extremism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation are routinely derided as government stooges and sell-outs, as is Sara Khan, head of counter-extremism think-tank Inspire. The list goes on and on.

Just as post-colonial guilt is a cudgel used to shame and silence white men and women, so accusations of  'inauthenticity', 'Westernisation' and betrayal of their tribe are used to shame and silence people of colour who will not fall into line and accept their ascribed position as the wretched of the earth.

The Feminist Wire and their fellow travellers do not have a monopoly on women of colour’s experiences which, as they are happy to point out when it suits them, are not homogeneous. Adele Wilde-Blavatsky speaks for herself. But in upholding universal human rights, standards and values, she aligns herself with those progressive activists in the Global South and the West bravely striving for reform of their cultures. Identity politicians and cultural relativists, meanwhile, who insist on respect for cultural difference above all else find themselves aligned with reactionaries and cultural chauvinists in whose interest it is to preserve tradition. This is, to say the least, an odd position for any progressive to take, let alone one espoused in the name of fighting racism.

When, towards the end of her HuffPo piece, Wilde-Blavatsky states that "It is not acceptable anymore to ignore white privilege and intersectionality in feminist discourse" I think she concedes too much to her enemies. For how is one to quantify the awareness of this privilege? And who will judge that a sufficient level of awareness has been attained before an opinion is offered?

To accept that one's unalterable characteristics can play any part in the validity of an opinion is to submit to the tyranny of identity politics and endorse an affront to reason. Arguments about rights and ethics must be advanced and defended on their merits, irrespective of who is making them. There is no other way.

Following the deletion of The Feminist Wire article and the subsequent Letter from the 77, WLUML archived the whole saga here, including Meredith Tax's full comment. 

Adele Wilde-Blavatsky's reply to the Letter from the 77, which The Feminist Wire refused to publish, was posted at Ophelia Benson's Butterflies and Wheels blog here on May 1.

The Feminist Wire responded to an approach for comment with this public statement.