From Solidarity 3/12, 12 September 2002
On 28 September, and in the run-up to it, socialists have three tasks. First, to build the broadest possible mobilisation.
Second, to establish on the demonstration a visible internationalist and democratic counter-presence to the Islamists and their "left" allies.
Third, to work for a strong "Unions against War" movement.
The demonstration on 28 September against war on Iraq will be huge. Supported by ten national trade unions and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, it should outstrip the demonstrations last year against the USA's war in Afghanistan, which themselves drew larger numbers of people fresh to politics, or returning to politics after many years' absence, than any other mobilisation for a long time.
We detest Saddam Hussein's regime. But that makes us solidarise with the working people and oppressed minorities of Iraq against the regime - not support US militarism. If the USA gets rid of Saddam, it will do so in its own way and in its own interests, killing many Iraqi civilians and conscripts on the way, to install its "own" Saddam in place of the present one rather than help the Iraqi people win freedom.
Socialists and consistent democrats should be at the forefront of the mobilisation against war - the best builders of the anti-war movement.
For the 28 September demonstration, the publicity most people will see comes from the Stop the War Coalition. It highlights a simple message, "Don't Attack Iraq". "It will be the ordinary people of Iraq that suffer from the attack, not Saddam".
Behind a small subtext on the leaflet, which many readers probably won't notice, there is however a major problem for the demonstration and the building of an effective anti-war movement.
The demonstration was originally called by CND. Soon after CND's call, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) called another demonstration for the same date, not on Iraq but on Israel-Palestine. The clash has been resolved, wrongly, by merging the two demonstrations.
The big labour movement and democratic protest against war on Iraq has been spatchcocked together with an Islamic demonstration on Israel/Palestine.
On the Stop the War leaflet, this fact is indicated modestly by a subsidiary slogan, without explanation: Freedom for Palestine. On the march itself the peculiar hybrid nature of the protest will be much more visible.
It is wrong and sectarian to link the anti-war movement with any particular viewpoint on Israel/Palestine. It is even worse to link it with a specifically Islamist viewpoint on Israel/Palestine.
The 28 September demonstration will draw many people who find Israel-Palestine just too complicated to figure out, who tend to sympathise more with Israel, or who (like the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Israeli left, *Solidarity*, and many British trade unions) support "two states" in Israel-Palestine. But will they come back to future demonstrations? Unless they are (like us around *Solidarity*) hard-bitten politicos used to arguing their views in the most hostile environments so long as there are sizeable numbers of people ready to listen, probably not.
Ah, but to lose a few "Zionists" is a price worth paying for getting the Muslims that the MAB can bring along? The horrors of the 20th century should warn us against that facile thought. So often socialists went along with anti-semitism, chauvinism, or Stalinism, with their reservations inaudible and private, in the name of keeping in with "the masses" or "the revolutionary process" - and in the end it was the reactionaries using the socialists, not the socialists using the reactionaries. Principle is principle. Opportunism can bring showy short-term gratification, but not solid success.
The organised working class is the decisive force for building a solid anti-war movement. It can be mobilised solidly only on the basis of principles of internationalism and democracy, not on Islamist rhetoric.
We should want to mobilise Muslim workers and youth in Britain - but to mobilise them as workers and youth, not as Muslims. It is condescending, patronising, indeed "Islamophobic", to think that those Muslim workers and youth will not respond to the clear principles of internationalism and democracy, and can only be mobilised by deferring to the most reactionary forces in their community.
The Muslim Association came onto the political scene in April this year, when it organised a big march in London "for Palestine". The march was much more Islamist and anti-Israeli than pro-Palestinian. The call for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories was nowhere in the main banners, placards, and chants. The dominant message was: Zionism = Nazism, Star of David = swastika, God is great (Allah-o-Akhbar).
The Muslim Association is not a tight-knit fundamentalist sect. Lots of people on the demonstration had evidently come along just because they had heard about a protest "for Palestine" through their mosque. Some were keen to take "Two nations, two states" placards which *Solidarity* supporters distributed at the demonstration.
But the Muslim Association has fundamentalist connections. Its website highlights a link to Jamaat-e Islami, the main Islamic-fundamentalist ultra-right party in Pakistan. Highly vocal fundamentalist groups set the tone on the MAB's demonstrations. Although the MAB's "headline" demands are studiedly vague - "a just and ethical solution for the Palestinians" - its official, published marching chants make its message clear:
"Stop the killing, stop the crime
Zionists out of Palestine";
"Zionists, Zionists, you should know
Back to Palestine we'll go";
"1,2,3,4, occupation, no more
5,6,7,8, we don't want your racist state";
"Sharon, Hitler are the same
The only difference is the name".
These chants demand a Muslim conquest of Israel and the expulsion or subjugation of "the Zionists".
That call is reactionary, and no help to the Palestinians. It is also highly unrealistic - no Muslim state is going to conquer Israel any time soon - and thus serves only as rationalisation for supporting the suicide-bombing attacks on Israeli civilians (and Iraqi attacks on Israel, if they are provoked by a US assault on Baghdad, as they probably will be). But the unrealism does not make it less reactionary.
The "Zionist=Nazi" agitation is not just exaggeration in denouncing the crimes of the Israeli state. The choice of the "Nazi" epithet - not used for the USA's crimes against many peoples, or Russia's in Chechnya, or Iraq's against the Kurds - signifies (1) minimising the Holocaust; (2) justifying extreme and even murderous hostility to all "Zionists", i.e. all Jews who identify instinctively with Israel.
All this is much more of a problem than it would otherwise be, because most of the left - the SWP and its allies - deliberately chime in with the Islamists (in the name, so they imagine, of reaching the "radicalised Muslim youth"). Privately the SWP will assure you that they are for a "secular democratic state" in Palestine. Publicly, on the demonstrations, they shout "No compromise with Zionism". Relatively small groups of fundamentalists can thus hegemonise very large demonstrations.
On 28 September, and in the run-up to it, socialists therefore have three tasks. First, to build the broadest possible mobilisation from workplaces, trade union branches, and working-class communities.
Second, to establish on the demonstration a visible political counter-presence to the Islamists and their "left" allies, so that it can be seen that genuine socialists do not go along with "Zionist"-baiting. We stand in solidarity with the Palestinians against Israeli militarism, but also in friendship with the Israeli Jewish people and its national rights: two nations, two states.
Third, to argue in the trade unions for them to go beyond resolution-passing and organise a strong "Unions against War" movement, based on simple internationalist and democratic principle and free from all taint of Islamism.