Article paru dans Wildcat, no. 13, Summer/Autumn 1989, p. 5-6
And it shall come to pass that I will put thee in the cleft of the rock, and I shall take away my hand, and thou shalt see my back parts.(God, Exodus XXXIII).
Left Wing Reaction in Britain.
The anti-racist theme of the Satanic Verses gives the lie to those who say that Muslim reaction to the book in Britain is a reaction against racism. It goes without saying that people who call for the banning of an anti-religious and anti-racist novel are as reactionary and dangerous as right-wing Christian scum who prosecute gay newspapers. This includes Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz and other Labour MPs. These people are the allies of the Islamic leaders, who defend a reactionary set of social relations which oppress women, divide the working class, and imprison children who happen to be born of Asian parents in a cultural ghetto, when their interests are in breaking out and becoming integrated into the rest of the working class. Multiculturalism is just another racist ideology.
The lefties who use anti-racism to apologise for Muslim reaction forget that Islamic fundamentalism is itself a racist ideology. Witness the history of the oppression of Jews, Armenians and Baha’is in Khomeini’s Iran and the racist persecution of Kurds. The « Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion », an anti-semitic forgery, is distributed by the Islamic Republic.
Islam, though a minority religion in Europe, is a dangerous enemy of the working class everywhere. The left has tried to divert people from this obvious conclusion by talking about a « racist backlash » over the Rushdie affair. There hasn’t been one , racists are no more racist because of Rushdie. The Socialist Workers Party even condemned people who left a blood stained typewriter in a Bradford mosque as racists!
The role of the left in supporting Islamic fundamentalism is already clear from the example of Iran, where the support of the left enabled one of the most barbaric fascist regimes in the world to seize power and suppress the class struggle.
Alliances of the left with Muslims who are fighting oppression (and replacing it with even worse oppression) go back a long way. In 1920 the Communist International organised a « Congress of Peoples of the East » in Baku, Azerbaijan. Muslim beliefs and institutions were treated with respect, and Muslim participants were urged to join a holy war against English imperialism. Some of the speeches were written by communists, like the American John Reed. Comintern translators did a magnificent job with Azerbaijani/Turkish and Persian. However they made a few mistakes, for example translating « class war » as « jihad ». This was very effective at getting Muslim support for the Comintern and the Bolshevik government.
People who ally themselves with something they know is reactionary against the supposedly greater evil are not communists. We do not defend the right of people to practice their religion, like the left do. Exactly how to attack religion is a tactical question. But there can be no fudging of our total opposition to it. Blasphemy is an important part of this opposition. Blasphemy originally meant publishing any matter which contradicted the teaching of the church. As late as 1922, people were imprisoned in Britain for publishing jokes about Christianity. Taking the piss out of religion is an important part of the struggle to abolish it. Its not surprising that the Vatican has joined the holy alliance against the Satanic Verses, and that Britain’s leaders have grovelled on about Islam being a great religion and how they « understand » the offence the book has caused Muslims. Of course its caused offence. Anyone who believes in Allah and archangels deserves to be offended! Since the demise of Humanism, anti clericalism has gone out of fashion. Atheists are far too polite to religious nutters, who are not entitled to their ridiculous beliefs. Still less are they entitled to spread them.
Rushdie says « the true conservatives in Britain are now the Labour Party » and « it’s very sad to see this alliance of the left and the mullahs for heaven’s sake ». (Sunday Times 22.1.89). It may be sad, but its not surprising. By lining up with the mullahs, the left have once again shown their true colours.
The International Dimension.
In the past there have been numerous books published which take a critical look at some of the more absurd inconsistencies of Islam. For example, Mahfouz’s Children of Gebelawi, which is banned in bis native Egypt. But at least he has the comforting knowledge that his head is not worth the £3 million at which Salman Rushdie’s has been evaluated. Then there is a whole host of Iranian writers, both before and after the revolution, whose scholarly critique of Islam is only matched, by their contemptuous disrespect for the mullahs.
The creation of doubt in the divinity of the Koranic verses and Mohammed’s all-too-human weaknesses are indeed the most challenging aspects of Rushdie’s bitter polemic against religion. But there have been numerous other modernist critiques of Islam. In the past they have all been dealt with locally, diplomatically and quietly. So what’s the big deal this time?
A first clue can be discerned from the timing of Khomeini’s decree. The book was published on 26 September 1988. On 5 November 1988 India banned it. Pakistan followed suit. At the beginning of 1989 the ritual book burning ceremony took place in Bradford. And then on the 6 February six were killed and 100 injured in riots over the book in Pakistan. It was only at this juncture, five months after publication, that Khomeini decided ta jump on the bandwagon of Islamic public opinion by sending Rushdie a one-way Iran Air ticket to hell. His motivations were manifold. Firstly the affair would be portrayed as an external imperialist threat against the « honour » of Islam that would lead to the unification of the country. Rafsanjani rapidly abandoned pragmatism and declared:
« Imperialism’s recent conspiracy to insult the honour of Islam is more dangerous than an official war. » (Ettela’t 15.2.89).
Iranian black humour got to work. There was no shortage of volunteers who would put on a gas mask and dive for caver at the mention of Rushdie’s name, as they once did during Hussein’s bombing raids.
Secondly the faction flight inside Iran has reached a critical stage. A new and bloody purge of anti-Khomeini mullahs is on the Cards.
Thirdly the decree was intended to give Khomeini a last opportunity to become the spiritual leader of the Islamic world. The contradictory elements of nationalism and internationalism have been mixed in his ideology since the beginning. The Muslims of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan who demonstrated against Rushdie have found their xenophobic champion. A xenophobia that is routinely mistaken for anti-imperialism.
Iran and the Rest of the World.
One of the most interesting aspects of the affair has been the way the EC acted with one voice in denouncing Tehran. West Germany, the European country with the highest stake in Iran, led the attack by postponing a $2 billion loan. Subsequently, some of the EC governments have broken ranks. Japan, under pressure from the EC, has ordered Japanese companies to reduce their oil imports from Iran by two thirds.
In response Iran has moved its trading offices from Britain and West Germany to China, whilst the Soviet bloc will probably be offered the chance to rearm the army. Russia has, not for the first time, shown more understanding of Islamic sentiments than the West. For this, she will receive from Iran not only cheap gas but a guarantee to bring the recalcitrant Iran-based Afghans to heel, It is hard to see, though, how this shift of policy towards the East can be maintained. The Iranian economy is too heavily integrated into the West. Khomeini’s balancing act is reminiscent of the tactics used by both Mossadeg and the Shah, and smells of desperation.
We do not want to give the impression that we « defend » Rushdie’s freedom to publish. We do not believe in freedom ‘of speech, because we are against such freedom for reactionaries.
However we like Rushdie’s book because it is a well written anti-religious novel. Religion of course will finally disappear when its material conditions, the misery which drives people to need an opiate, have given way to communism. Yet the Middle Eastern working class would do well to learn from the actions of the Spanish proletariat in the 1930’s. There the church was rightly viewed as an inseparable part of the system and attacked accordingly. Workers and poor peasants massacred priests and burned churches. As Red Menace put it:
« Humanity will never be free until the last priest (and mullah) is hanged with the guts of the last capitalist. »