His porcine cheeks ruddy with the burst veins of the long-haul serious whisky drinker, looking like an overfed pork butcher on a spree, Nick Griffin, Führer of the fascist British National Party, emerged from the Crown Court in Leeds spluttering with triumph and vindication. He praised the jury. He denounced the politicians. He told people how wonderful the BNP is.
Indeed he had reason to be triumphant.
It was the second time he’d been tried on the same charge. Last February, Griffin and Mark Collett, publicity director of the BNP, had been acquitted of five charges, and the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on three others. The Leeds jury had now found them not guilty of “words and behaviour which were either intended or likely to stir up racial hatred”.
Griffin said his acquittal by the jury showed “the huge gulf between ordinary real people and the fantasy world, the multi-cultural fantasy world, our masters live in.”
The jury had been shown a film of Griffin and Collett at a private meeting of BNP members and supporters in which Griffin described Islam as a “wicked, vicious faith” and Collett repeatedly referred to asylum-seekers as “cockroaches”.
Evidently, the jury felt that these words, said to like-minded racists, were a too flimsy basis on which to base the charge which the Crown Prosecution Service had laid against the BNP leaders.
For certain, fomenting race hatred against Muslims of Asian extraction or origin was exactly was Griffin and Collett were doing that evening. They were not discussing religion but psyching up their audience to go out and agitate against the “cockroaches” and the believers in the “wicked, vicious faith”, to go out and foment white racist violence against them.
Inciting racial hatred and racist violence against brown-skinned people and especially against brown-skinned British Muslims is what the BNP does. What it exists to do. What it will go on doing as long as it is allowed to.
Yet to prosecute Griffin and Collett on that charge and present only that evidence was an extraordinary thing for the CPS to do.
The racist agitators in court were able to take refuge in the claim that they are entitled to speak their minds freely about religion and about immigration. They are, they claimed, merely critics of Islam and of government immigration policy.
How much the jury was swayed by appeals to the right of free speech, and how much by sympathy with what they must have known that the BNP leaders and the BNP meeting they regaled were doing that evening, is of course unknown to us.
Griffin and Collett were not charged under the recent legislation against incitement to religious hatred. Socialist and secularists critics of Islam and all the other reactionary and, yes, vile, religions may well in the future be so charged. And the government may now try to strengthen that legislation and outlaw all but inane and anodyne criticism of religion.
Gordon Brown’s comments after the Leeds trial should set the alarm bells ringing again:
“Mainstream opinion in the country will be offended by some of the statements they have heard made. If there is something that needs to be done to look at the law, then I think we will have to do that.”
Or listen to Lord Falconer: “What is being said to young Muslim people in this country is that we as a country are anti-Islam, and we have got to demonstrate without compromising freedom that we are not.”
Home Secretary John Reid says he will take “soundings” from cabinet ministers about changing the laws. Reid and Brown are, of course, jockeying to succeed Tony Blair.
How might they amend the recent legislation? Even “moderate” religiously committed Muslims regard any criticism of their religion that strikes home as intolerable, an insult, outrage, blasphemy. They cannot be satisfied without “compromising freedom”.
The change in the law Brown talked about would have to be such as to so clearly rule out the expression of sharply critical and hostile opinions about religion, that the government would be sure of a conviction by merely quoting adverse opinions and “insulting” words about Islam, or Anglicanism, Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism etc.
The recent legislation was a blatant attempt to satisfy and placate Muslim bigotry — backed by Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and Jewish bigotry - by curbing disrespectful and hostile criticism or outright denunciation of Islam.
Falconer evidently still thinks that the way to compete for influence in the Muslim communities with Islamic bigots is to do as much of what they want as possible. It isn’t.
The fact is that a great deal of the prejudice against Islam — as of the prejudice against other religions — in British society is the prejudice of people raised in a largely, though imperfectly, secular society and cherishing secular traditions, against superstition and old-style, socially-all-pervading religion and the practices associated with it. Against things — the burqa will do as an example — that they rightly see as barbarous and inimical to freedom, reason and equality. Full equality for women in Britain may still have a long way to go, but the conception of a woman’s place in the world epitomised in the burqa is many centuries behind, and culturally very alien, to the norm in Britain.
There is no way a society, steeped in its own de facto secularist traditions, could satisfy demands for preferential treatment from even “moderate” religiously committed Muslims without radically changing and transforming itself.
There is no way that most reasonable people brought up in secular traditions can be got to agree that the social practices associated with Islam are as good as or better than their own.
To satisfy even “moderate” religiously committed Muslims would require radical subordination of secular and quasi-secular British society to a hostile religious tradition. (Religiously committed Muslims, as distinct from those who are lapsing, falling away, to some extent accepting of the values of liberal and bourgeois society.)
It would be impossible to do even a small part of what would make mainstream British society acceptable to religiously committed Muslims without generating tremendous conflict, resistance and the growth of movements like the BNP, gleefully clothing themselves in the ill-fitting garb of liberalism and democracy, and claiming, as Griffin and Collett did at the Leeds Crown Court, that they were the guardians of progressive traditions.
What can be done, and what the government may try to do, is to further curtail free speech, in a vain and hopeless attempt to placate militant Muslim opinion.
Even if what could be done would placate Muslim opinion, socialists, consistent democrats and secularists should not do it, or peacefully tolerate it being done.
Nor should we accept the existence of two parallel societies, with Muslims living mainly in ghettos. Something like that has happened over three or four decades, with the result that many Muslims are outside and feel themselves outside mainstream British society — in jobs etc — and alienated from it to the extent that some of them at the very extreme are ready to join in holy war, an Islamic jihad, against the broader society in which they live.
The undesirability, but also the untenability of such a “parallel” co-existence is now self-evident.
And the nature of religiously committed Muslim hostility to the broader society should not be misunderstood. Certainly, international politics is a part of it, especially for the most extreme elements. Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, are part of the aetiology of the Islamist terrorism that arises in the ghettos of London, Paris, Brussels etc.
More than that, it is a hostility rooted in the committed Muslim’s religious approach to daily life — an approach that bourgeois-democratic societies like Britain have been moving away from for centuries.
The alienation is profound and all-pervasive. The willingness of some British Muslims to set off bombs in London’s streets and Underground railways is, apart from politics, also rooted in a conviction of the sinfulness and abominations of modern bourgeois life and, to some extent, in the conviction that the people in these societies deserve punishment — the retaliation of Allah, of whose vengence they themselves are an instrument.
These Muslim zealots look on those societies as the self-righteous God-botherers in the Bible looked on Sodom and Gomorrah and on the God who rained down fire and brimstone to wipe out the sinful citizens and their debauched, contaminated cities…
Paradoxically, perhaps, socialists can understand and even sympathise with some Muslim criticism of western bourgeois society. Our is a society whose morality is shaped by a commercialism that reduces it to abject spiritual poverty. Its norms and ideals are cramped and horizoned by consumerism and exploitation. But socialism proposes rational, human, revolutionary working class, ways to alter these things.
If it is said that some of that criticism of bourgeois democratic society is “socialistic”, then it is “reactionary socialism”. The Muslim zealots aspire to create — in their heads, recreate — a medieval minded Muslim theocracy, in place of what exists.
What socialists, consistent democrats and secularists cannot agree on with the Islamist critics of western bourgeois society, is their typical attitude to individual freedom — to all the freedoms which we have won in centuries of effort and struggle. Freedom of religion, speech, movement, assembly, press, and of sexuality.
On all these things, the vociferous zealots within the Muslim communities in western Europe who claim to speak for those communities, are to one degree or another a force for religious, social and intellectual reaction.
They also spur and encourage Christian reaction. They give the forces of religious reaction in all western societies, forces that we had defeated and forced to the margins, a new impetus and combativity.
Even partial successes, such as the legislation against religious hatred enacted by Blairprimarily to placate Muslims, cannot but encourage militant Islam and militant Christianity.
What is absent alike in both the Blair-Brown-Reid-Falconer approach and that of the kitsch left who accommodate to political Islam, is any sort of a working class viewpoint on these issues.
Racism isn’t an original sin, endemic in all white people. Each specific racism has its own roots.
One of the most poisonous roots of racism in Britain now is the fact that large number of badly beaten down white working-class people are made to feel that they have to compete with “immigrants” and “refugees” and indigenous people of identifiable “outsider” origin, for basic social amenities such as housing and healthcare. It is that which transforms consciousness of cultural and other differences into poisonous animosity in otherwise reasonable people.
There are vast numbers of people in this country suffering from serious poverty. There is serious class oppression on every level — the result of a quarter of a century of nakedly brutal capitalist government, openly ruling for the rich. Openly, as Blair and Brown do, helping the rich and the super-rich get richer.
Occasional sops to the poor from New Labour have not changed this. The already tremendous gap between the better off and the poor is growing.
The people who are responsible for this situation — for organising it and fighting to sustain it — are also the people who, as “good liberals”, claim to oppose racism. They denounce racism, treat it virtually as a sin, while they work at maintaining the conditions that give racism in Britain today its poisonous potency.
In fact, though class is everything in British society, class has been more or less completely banished from political discourse. And not only by New Labour. The “far left”, the kitsch left, the “sharia socialists” — allies of Islamic reaction at home and abroad — do it too, though they do it in a different way from the Blairites.
The softer Labour left, the local government left of the early 80s whose leaders, so to speak, evolved into the present day Ken Livingstone, Margaret Hodge and David Blunkett, refused even when they were “left-wingers” to concern themselves with class, with the working class.
The trade unions, led by a collection of right wing sell-out merchants, collaborated with the Blairites in “moving away from” class when they founded “New Labour”. The new generation of trade union leaders are hesitant and unclear about pushing it to the fore.
Mainstream politics has moved away from class they insist. But class has not “moved away” from society and from politics. It still dominates.
The alarming obscenity in British politics now is that racist hate-mongers like Griffin and the BNP are able, as in Barking and the South East and some of the northern towns, to appeal to alienated working-class people who feel politically disposessed and disenfranchised by the emergence of New Labour.
The truth is that this banishing of class from mainstream political discourse is itself one result of the victory in the class struggle of the dominant class of British society, the bourgeoisie. It registers their victory in the "ideological class struggle".
The fact that the most vociferous liberal “anti-racists” are also the most militant warriors on behalf of bourgeois rule and bourgeois interests is one of the factors that combine to make racism the powerful and poisonous force it is now in British society.
We need a class approach to such things as the reactionary radicalisation of layers of the Muslim population.
The Muslim communities in Britain are, like the rest of British society, divided into classes. The labour movement can and must reach across the communal divides to organise Muslim working class people as part of itself.
The labour movement has done that in Britain many times over the last 150 years — for example with masses of Irish Catholic immigrants.
Riots between Irish Catholics and longer-settled British workers were commonplace in British cities throughout much of the 19th century, and to an extent that is now forgotten.
The extent to which the Irish were thought of, and thought of themselves, as alien “in race and creed” is also now almost forgotten (you can get some idea of it in old cartoons portraying wild Irish people with brutish simian features).
Irish workers coming from starvation conditions very often did undermine the conditions of the British workers, in a way, and to a degree with which there is no parallel in 20th century Britain.
Yet some Irish people were also involved in the trade union movement from the beginning, as some Asian workers are now and have been for decades past. For example: on the docks at the end of the 19th century, after the great strike for the "dockers' tanner" in 1889, the new union movement socialised and integrated the masses of Irish workers. They built a magnificent class solidarity amongst workers amongst whom there were at the start tremendous differences in culture, religion, background and outlook.
The labour movement in Britain after World War Two did something similar with a sizeable number of Polish immigrants, with people from the West Indies and with large numbers of Indian and other — some of them Muslim — Asian workers.
One of the fundamental reasons for the present marked polarisation between Muslims and others is that the labour movement has not been able to do this work nearly as thoroughly as it once did.
Nevertheless, labour movement action to recruit and integrate into our movement workers from the Muslim communities (as well as workers from Eastern Europe, Africa and elsewhere); to champion their legitimate interests; to give rational, secular expression to their desires and needs and to the rational part of their alienation from capitalist society; to fight the racist would-be pogromists like Griffin, Collett and their followers and drive them off the streets — that is the way forward.
The work of socialists is to split the Muslim communities along class lines, to draw the working class and the young people, women and men, away from the backwards-looking outlook of Islam into the labour and socialist movement.
The rejection by non-Muslim workers of unity on the basis of kow-towing to political Islam is rationally and politically right and necessary. In any case it is inevitable and unavoidable.
The collapse of the kitsch left into vicarious Muslim communalism disqualifies it from being able to play the part of a positive force in the fight for working-class unity, Muslim and non-Muslim, black and white. For the left's proper role, that of advocate of working class unity and its organiser, the kitsch-left substitutes the role of idological and political skivvy to Islamic reaction. It makes it impossible for that “left” to take the role of a tribune of the oppressed, able to win alienated and frustrated Muslim workers and young people to a socialist world view.
The pseudo-left’s adaptive Muslim communalism is and cannot but be a force for working-class disunity.
What the kitsch-left is doing cannot but work to help Griffin and the BNP falsely to be able to present themselves to white workers as defenders of reason and liberty.
We repeat: on the basis of mimicry of political Islam, no working class unity can be built.
The only basis on which Muslim and non-Muslim workers in Britain can be united is that of a rational, secular commitment to working class self-betterment, to the labour movement and to working class freedom in religion, thought, opinion and sexuality.