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Anti-War Movement's Strange Allies: Hard Line Islamists

Canada's progressive Muslims wonder why left would embrace theocrats.

Terry Glavin 22 Nov

Terry Glavin writes his column 'Dissent' for The Tyee twice a month. Find the previous ones here.

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Khomeini: admirers in the ranks.

This is what it's come to: a disgraced, dictator-praising British MP who dances around in red tights on reality-television shows is visiting Canada to commemorate the founding of a fascist movement known for its own distinctive swastika and Nazi-style uniforms and an anthem that's sung to the tune of Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles.

And it's just another otherwise unremarkable day in the life of Canada's "anti-war" movement.

Just how things degenerated so badly, and so fast, is a long and sad story.

The upshot is that Canada's anti-war movement has become not only the primary vehicle for an obscure, formerly left-wing group that attacks anyone who opposes Shariah courts in Canada, it's also now the main source of public respectability for a Toronto think-tank that advocates for the establishment of theocracies that hang gay people.

It's also a story that has left Canada's progressive Muslims in despair, in disarray, and sometimes in fear for their lives.

British MP George Galloway

We might as well begin the story with that British MP, the bombastic George Galloway, because it was only earlier this week that Galloway, the vice-president of Britain's Stop the War Coalition and the darling of Canada's "anti-war" left, was on a whirlwind run of speaking engagements in Ontario -- one of which was a celebration to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the founding of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

The SSNP is devoted to the creation of a "Greater Syria" that would engulf Israel and Lebanon along with several other countries that lie between the Euphrates and the Nile. For decades, the SSNP was known mainly as a shadowy terrorist organization distinguished by its practice of turning emotionally-disturbed young women into suicide bombers. But last year, right around the time Galloway was visiting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and praising him to the skies as "the fortress of the remaining dignity of the Arabs," the SSNP was absorbed within Syria's ruling Baathist coalition.

If you're already wondering how any of this could possibly have anything to do with being opposed to war, just hang on. You're not alone. There's a reason, and it's directly related to what the historian Taj Hashmi, a former vice-president of the Canadian Muslim Congress, calls a "curtain of fear" that has fallen upon Canada's writers and intellectuals in the matter of addressing political currents at work in Canada's Muslim communities.

It's mainly a fear of being called Islamophobic, and because of it, too many people on the left in Canada have been reluctant to openly side with progressive Canadian Muslims in their struggle against elements that Hashmi says are "ultra-conservative and really, really reactionary," and which have found a particularly comfortable home for themselves in Canada's anti-war coalition.

'Enemy of my enemy'

"My personal view is that we should crush fascism wherever it comes up," Hashmi told me, "but many people on the left don't even see it when it's there. And one of the most dangerous things that is happening is that the left and the Islamists have found common cause, and it's very frightening."

Islamist doctrine -- as opposed to Islam, the religion-- rejects modernity and the separation of church and state, and counsels theocratic government based on interpretations of Islamic law. Earlier this year, a group of well-known progressive Muslims such as the novelist Salman Rusdhdie, Toronto's Irshad Manji and the Netherlands' Hirsi Ali authored a widely-distributed summation that described Islamism as "a new totalitarian global threat...a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others."

But are Islamists really the same as fascists? Fred Halliday, the Middle East scholar and professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, says he doesn't think so, but writing in the online journal Open Democracy, Halliday argues that it hardly matters, because just like fascism, Islamism is antithetical to everything the left has ever stood for. It is the sworn enemy of the left, "that is, the left that has existed on the principles founded on and descended from classical socialism, the Enlightenment, the values of the revolutions of 1798 and 1848, and generations of experience."

But if you regard the United States as a greater enemy of the left than even Islamism, "what you end up with," says Hashmi, "is 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.'" And that brings us back to the degeneracy of the "anti-war" activism represented by Galloway and his followers in Britain and in Canada, in their alliance with Islamists.

International Socialists

After several years of providing outspoken and unapologetic support for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Galloway was finally expelled from the British Labour Party in 2003 for inciting Arabs to take up arms against British troops. But Galloway soon found his way back into the British House of Commons (and onto the British television show Celebrity Big Brother, where last January he performed a "robot dance" in red tights, and lapped cream from the cupped hands of actress Rula Lenska). Galloway was returned to parliament for the London riding of Bethnal Green and Bow as an MP for the "Respect" coalition -- which is an open collaboration between British Islamists and the Socialist Workers Party.

The Socialist Workers Party has developed its own tortured logic for collaboration with Islamist reactionaries, and in Canada, the SWP's affiliate, the "International Socialist" group, has followed the same path.

You probably haven't heard of the International Socialists. They tend not to attract too much attention to themselves -- the last time IS activists were noticed by the general public was last year when they openly waged a campaign on behalf of ultra-conservative Muslim groups and against progressive Muslims, feminists and secularists who the IS accused of Islamophobia for opposing an Ontario proposal to incorporate Sharia tribunals into religious-arbitration courts for family disputes.

What's less widely known is that the key co-ordinator positions for the Canadian Peace Alliance, the Toronto Stop the War Coalition, and Canada's War Resisters Support Group are now all filled by members of the IS national steering committee.

One leading Canadian Islamist who regularly shows up in fawning IS propaganda, and who now routinely shows up in Canada's mainstream press as a leading spokesman for the Toronto Stop The War Coalition, is Zafar Bangash.

Bangash is not just some random, disaffected Muslim youth. A widely-published advocate of the form of theocracy embodied by the gay-lynching Khomeinist regime in Iran, Bangash heads up the Institute for Contemporary Islamic Thought, an Islamist think-tank formerly headquartered in London, and now based in Toronto, with centres in several cities around the world.

Khomeini supporters

Bangash is a disciple of Kalim Siddiqui -- the British Islamist most famous for supporting the Ayatollah Khomeini's death-sentence fatwa against Salman Rushdie. His institute describes itself as being dedicated to breaking the "stranglehold" of western ideas among Muslims, and coming to the aid of Islamic movements fighting for "Islamic revolutions and the establishment of Islamic states in other Muslim countries of the world."

Earlier this year, Hashmi and ten other prominent and progressive Canadian Muslims issued a warning, which first appeared in the Toronto Star, calling on all Canadians to reject the Islamist agenda and to stand shoulder to shoulder with Canadian Muslims to reject both Islamophobia and Islamism. "Islamism is not the new revolutionary movement against global forces of oppression, as a section of the left in this country erroneously perceives," Hashmi's declaration pointed out.

But Sohail Raza, communications director for the Muslim Canadian Congress, says far too many Canadian progressives have not heeded that warning, or are simply unaware of just how successfully the Islamists and their supporters in Canada have insinuated themselves into the Canada's "anti-war" left.

"We can't try to hide this anymore, and people should know what is going on," Raza told me the other day. "All this is making it very, very hard for us to do our work. There are leaders of the Canadian Islamic Congress, too, that are just as bigoted as the rest of them. These people are idiots, and as Muslims, we need to say it. And many of these people are very dangerous."

Threats alleged

Raza only recently took up the post as the MCC's communications co-ordinator. Two months ago, Tarek Fatah, the MCC's founder and previous communications director, resigned from the job, saying he was in fear for his life, and the lives of his wife and two daughters. Fatah's resignation came after Mohamed Elmasry, the national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, accused Fatah of "smearing Islam and bashing Muslims." Fatah said Elmasry's allegations amounted to a death sentence.

Three weeks ago, the home of Farzana Hassan, the newly elected president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, was vandalized. Hassan says she's convinced that it was because she had spoken out about the niqab, the face-covering veil worn by women in some Muslim cultures. All Hassan said was that wearing the niqab was not in the best interests of Muslim women.

Last month, Elmasry's Canadian Islamic Congress joined the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Canadian Labour Congress, along with some of the most reactionary Muslim clerics in Canada, in a nationwide protest against Canada's UN-authorized military engagement in Afghanistan. The Muslim Canadian Congress was nowhere in sight.

"No, we would not participate in that," Raza said. "It is necessary for our troops to be there. You just have to look at who they are fighting against. The Taliban was the biggest setback for Muslims in our history, and if we were going to have a demonstration about Afghanistan, I would rather see a rally in support of our Canadian troops there."

Instead, the Muslim Canadian Congress is readying plans for a fateha, a traditional Muslim prayer for the dead, to commemorate the Canadian soldiers who have lost their lives fighting to defend Afghanistan against the Pakistan-aided Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan's southern provinces.

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