Politics makes strange bedfellows. Stranger still when the odd couple are fundamentalist Islam and the secular Left. The evolving Black–Red alliance is growing in France, Germany and Belgium. But, based on the successful British model, it is now going global to declare war on the war on terror.
No fewer than three international conferences have been convened in Cairo, presided over by the former president of Algeria, Ahmed Ben Bella, under the auspices of the International Campaign Against US and Zionist Occupations. One outcome is ‘The Cairo Declaration Against US Hegemony, War on Iraq and Solidarity with Palestine.’ British signatories included Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn and, of course, the indefatigable George Galloway, whose ‘fiery’ participation won honourable mention in Egypt’s semi-official newspaper, Al-Ahram.
If Iraq was the catalyst for the Black–Red alliance, the Stop the War coalition provided the cauldron in which the union was consummated. The result is a pure gestalt: the coalition allows its constituent parts to pack a far greater collective punch than they could have dreamt of on their own. Putting a million people on to the streets of London is not, after all, small potatoes. The steering committee of the Marxist–Islamist alliance consists of 33 members — 18 from myriad hard-Left groups, three from the radical wing of the Labour party, eight from the ranks of the radical Islamists and four leftist ecologists (also known as ‘Watermelons’ —green outside, red inside). The chairman is Andrew Murray, a leading light in the British Communist party; co-chair is Muhammad Aslam Ijaz, of the London Council of Mosques. Among the major players from the Left are Lindsey German, who resigned as editor of the Socialist Workers’ party newspaper to become convenor of the Stop the War coalition; John Rees, also of the SWP, and, of course, George Galloway. Indeed, the first proud progeny of the alliance is Galloway’s Respect party, which fought and won the London seat of Bethnal Green and Bow, with its substantial Muslim electorate.
Points of potential disagreement between the hard Left and radical Islam — democracy, human rights, xenophobia, free-expression, feminism, homosexuality, abortion, among many others — would seem to pose insuperable barriers to the union. Not so. The hurdles have been neatly vaulted in the interest of mutual hatreds: America, Israel, globalisation, capitalism and imperialism. Anti-Semitism is never far from the surface. True, there is some squeamishness within the ‘house of horrors’. Dissent is evident in the Socialist Workers’ party but not in the Muslim Association of Britain, which was inspired by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood and now shelters under the umbrella of Sir Iqbal Sacranie’s Muslim Council of Britain (it was, let it not be forgotten, the good Sir Iqbal who, before being scrubbed up and knighted, declared that ‘death is perhaps too easy’ for the allegedly blasphemous Salman Rushdie; it was Sir Iqbal, too, who refused to participate in this year’s Holocaust memorial events because they did not refer to the supposed genocide of the Palestinians).
Those on the Left who support the alliance have found not only a revitalising cause but also an unexpected and deep hinterland from which to draw support. ‘The practical benefits of working together are enough to compensate for the differences,’ I was told. ‘And success tends to win the argument.’ Such opportunism exposes a strain of pernicious racism that allows the Left to indulge outrageous bigotry as long as it is espoused by brown people. ‘The far Left will always support Third World peoples against what they view as an imperialist West,’ notes one analyst who has closely followed the phenomenon. Another says, ‘Islamists in the West have skilfully used the tools of intellectual intimidation to build an inviolate wall around Islam, giving it a sacred status that brooks no criticism.’ The French Leftist leader Olivier Besan
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated August 20, 2005