203 Winter 2011
Perhaps the most astonishing thing in Tietze’s essay is his dismissal of ‘a naïve adherence to secularism as a progressive force in the modern world’. It reminds me of Emma Goldman’s meeting with Lenin, during which he informed her that ‘free speech … is, of course, a bourgeois notion’.
Goldman reeled in horror: ‘Free Speech, free Press, the spiritual achievements of centuries, what were they to this man?’45
All I can say is: yes, Tad, secularism is a progressive force in the modern world, and has been for a long time. I would be amazed if he disputed that in Europe, or if he was willing to compromise secularist values in Australia.
At the time of writing, a Christian Pakistani politician has just been murdered by Islamist fanatics who think it’s blasphemy to reform the blasphemy laws (which impose the death penalty).46 In January, Salmaan Taseer was also murdered for standing in solidarity with a Christian accused of blasphemy. Christians make up under 4 per cent of Pakistan’s population. They are a vulnerable minority: precisely the sorts of people a courageous Left would stand up for. In response to Taseer’s assassination, the brave Pakistani dissident Pervez Hoodbhoy described how radio and TV producers begged him to come onto their programs because it was so difficult to get anyone to condemn the murder. And yet, on the TV debate, Hoodbhoy explained:
[There was not] a single clap for me. Thunderous applause whenever my opponents called for death for blasphemers … When I directly addressed Sialvi and said he had Salmaan Taseer’s blood on his hand, he exclaimed, ‘How I wish I had done it!’47
This is just one instance of an awful situation to which we in the West have contributed in no small part. We helped unleash the most vicious theocratic misogynists in the Muslim world, which is why we should fight to support what remains of the embattled secular Left in the region – people like Hoodbhoy. In Afghanistan, our ally and puppet Hamid Karzai imposed appallingly misogynistic legislation on Shii women.48 For this, and many other reasons, Malalai Joya has condemned the US habit of deciding which groups are ‘fundamentalist’ or otherwise evil according to ‘how useful they are to the goals of the US’.49 But Tietze seems to take the mirror image approach.
Tietze says ‘no serious Islamist currently seeks the destruction of modernity’, and even describes the ‘very modern … Saudi royalty’. Is he referring to their practice of public beheading and crucifixion?50 Whatever modernity means, there certainly are amazingly reactionary Islamist forces in the world today. Take, for example, Iraq’s most powerful man, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who hasn’t issued a fatwa against the occupation but has banned music and chess.51
Finally, I disagree with most of what Tietze says about the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt. Firstly, I’m not sure if his membership figures are correct – it may have no more than 100,000 adherents.52 Out of a population of 80 million, that’s not so impressive, especially since the statistics date from a time when political organising outside of mosques was very difficult. Secondly, he quotes an Egyptian describing the MB as adopting anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist positions inconsistently. The explanation is straightforward: political opportunism, with the MB embracing popular causes that have traditionally been left-wing and secular. It was never above Saudi funding, which effectively ensured its obedience to US interests.53 Which also explains what Fawaz Gerges calls the US ‘flirtation’ with them during the 1990s.54
Anyone who makes predictions about revolutions is prone to looking stupid. Nevertheless, at the time of writing, I suspect there is an emerging alliance between the Egyptian military, Islamists and the US.55 That is for the simple reason that Islamists do not threaten US interests: the Left does.
Furthermore, I consider it outrageous to describe the MB as anti-Zionist. They are anti-Jewish. MB founder Hassan al-Banna is apparently the only Arab leader who has ever called for throwing the Jews into the sea.56 When the MB were able to run a free paper in the 1970s, they railed against four archenemies: ‘Jewry’, the ‘Crusade’, ‘communism’ and ‘secularism’.57 Does this sound like a friend of the Left?
Finally, Tietze says we should ‘judge the progressive content of movements and parties on the basis of the social interests they represent’, not on ‘their stated ideas as the main measure’. Really, this is ridiculous, bordering on outrageous. Working-class supporters do not a progressive movement make, even if an organisation produces politically opportunist statements. The same argument could be made about the British National Party, which has working-class supporters and whose leader has railed against the ‘illegal war’ on Iraq, warned that the UK must ‘never go into Iran’ and denounced Labour for letting the ‘banks run riot’.58 How would Tietze judge them?
The Left should be anti-imperialist, and secularist and feminist.