It seems that – one way or another – some people on this campus are intent on launching a sometimes overt, sometimes covert campaign against the Muslim members of our community. That is what I see in common between the attempt to ban Azzam Tamimi from speaking on campus after he was invited to do so by the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestine Society, the article in The Badger from four weeks ago telling us how Hamas is a horrible terrorist organisation and last week’s article in The Badger entitled ‘Freedom for criticism’.

This last article takes issue with probably the single commendable act of the British government for years. In effect, the Dutch parliamentarian and extreme right-winger (not that dissimilar to Nick Griffin and the BNP in this country) Geert Wilders was denied access to the country. This man has said that his film ‘Fitna’ aims to expose the intrinsically violent nature of Islam and how this religion constitutes a threat to ‘Western civilisation’. He has also argued that the Qu’uran is a ‘fascist’ book and should be banned. Now curiously enough, all this doesn’t make its way into an article entitled ‘freedom for criticism’. And to say that ‘the film shows some of the more vicious passages of the Qu’uran’ implies that the book is full of other less ‘vicious passages’, but nonetheless vicious and violent.

That’s not all though. To say that ‘our government’ is bowing ‘to pressure from a potentially violent minority’ is somehow suggesting that the people who are opposed to racism against Muslims are a minority and that this minority is ‘violent’ (read terrorist between the lines), thus anti-democratic and thus hostile to our so cherished Western value of freedom of expression.

Not for a second do I want to assume that the author of this article shares Geert Wilders’s views about Muslims. That’s why I want to focus on the way he presents the reaction of the Muslim community to such disgraceful and racist attacks as the Danish cartoons (which portrayed the Prophet Muhammed having a head which resembled a bomb, the association being that Muslims are terrorists). To start with, it wasn’t a minority which violently objected to it. It was the entire Muslim world, from the Maghreb to Indonesia which took to the streets in their millions. And they didn’t target Christian symbols, as someone who believes that there is today a clash of civilizations in the world would expect. They targeted the Danish and American embassies.

Why would they do that? Because they understand the Danish cartoons for what they are: a racist portrayal of what Islam is about coming from the countries which have sent their troops in the Middle East and have humiliated that region’s peoples. In other words, they see the cartoons as another manifestation of imperialism, and they are perfectly right.

‘The question then is not what to do about our so dear value of freedom of criticism, but what to do about racism’

For this is not about ‘being offended’ or not accepting criticism. Ever since the US’s war on terror begun, there has been a mounting wave of islamophobia in the West. Everywhere in Europe Muslims are viewed as potential terrorists. Muslim communities face aggression in all its different forms: from the odd look in the street, to openly racist remarks, to attacks on women wearing the hijab, to even attacks on mosques and properties owned by Muslims. Some European states have gone as far as banning the hijab from schools, the case of France. This is not offensive, it is purely racist, in the same way that Jews were targeted in the twenties and the thirties by Europe’s fascists and Nazis.

The question then is not what to do about our so dear value of freedom of criticism, but what to do about racism, or rather against it. Should we allow all those, like the BNP and the other fascist organisations of Europe such as Wilders’s Party For Freedom (PVV), Le Pen’s Front National in France or the Lega del Nord in Italy, to ‘freely express their views’? Or should we, if we are not the victims of this racism ourselves, stand by those who are, defend them and strike back together with them? It seems clear to me that this is the choice we are faced with and that for once the British government went the right way, albeit for reasons other than the ones I’ve just put forward.

For there has been a change in mood since last December and Israel’s atrocities in Gaza. The national demonstrations in London against the war in Gaza and the wave of occupations across the country have been full of anger and renewed anti-war militancy, especially on the part of the members of the Muslim community.

It is this renewed strength of the anti-war movement that has forced the government’s hand in refusing Wilders entrance to the country. But unfortunately, the government didn’t only react in that way. This renewed strength has also prompted the government to have the police arrest nine Muslims on board a mini-convoy and on their way from Blackburn to London to join George Galloway’s Viva Palestina humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza. They were arrested under anti-terror legislation. Their van had posters reading ‘Stop killing children, free Palestine’.

As Galloway commented, the timing of the operation suggests its aim was to intimidate the Muslim community and to clamp down on its renewed sense of anger and revolt. Why would the government want to do that, one might ask? Well, because a stronger anti-war movement means less room for maneuver for the British government in its efforts to assist the US in its war on terror – especially now that Obama has announced another 17 000 troops being sent to Afghanistan and that pressure is mounting on the US’s European allies to do the same. Pushing back the anti-war movement is the government’s aim, and it wants to do that by first attacking the most vulnerable of its members.

That’s why this is not an issue of ‘freedom for criticism’, but an issue of racism and imperialist war in the Middle-East. When Stop the War Coalition (StWC), of which I am proud to be a member, was launched in 2001/2, it had three slogans: No to War, No to attacks on civil liberties and No to the racist backlash against Muslims. The war on terror and the rise in islamophobia are intrinsically linked. We have to fight both. We’ve done that brilliantly on this campus with last month’s occupation. We need to keep it up. And we have a chance of doing that once again on 2nd April, in London. That’s where the G20 summit of the world’s leaders will take place. We all have to be there, taking part in the demonstration organised by various groups including StWC and CND, to say that we want the wars in the Middle-East to stop and that we want the racism against our Muslim brothers and sisters to end.

Categories: News


Freedom to criticise, or racism?

  1. Greg, the society I am part of (StWC) and myself would certainly be happy to confront anyone on the issue of islamophobia and the war on terror. We need a proposal and the participation of those who have criticised my views (although it must be made clear that those views were my own and I alone am responsible for them).
    Dorian, I disagree with you about the mood on campus. The turnout to elections is not 5% to start with, but somewhere around 25% if my math is still good (2700 voters in the recent sabbatical elections out of a student population of around 12000). But elections are not the main thing. I have studied in France and taken part in huge student mobilisations. Election turnout at the university I studied at was around 4% and then went up to around 8%, hardly indicative of the mood among students. Now the UK doesn’t compare to France in terms of student militancy, but Sussex is quite radical. The occupation was the second biggest in terms of participation out of the 30 or so across the country, and the Tamimi meeting which triggered it was huge by national standards (around 300 to 350 people – elsewhere meetings with around 100 led to occupations).

  2. If you read my comment properly Christakis, you will notice that I applied the figure of 5% to turnout at the AGM, not the elections. I will concede that I underestimated the electoral turnout (or rather, I overestimated the total number of students studying here), although 2700 still seems a little high compared to the figures I have in front of me.

    Secondly, you and I seem to have been talking to very different groups of people concerning the general mood on campus. How you consider 350 people to be indicative of anything in a group of 12000 is anyone’s guess, but taking the definition of majority (i.e. more than half), I can state as fact that the vast majority of students did not turn out to the AGM, did not take part in the occupation and did not vote in the sabbatical elections. Even adding the turnout of all these three events together, you are still left with the majority of students having no apparent political interest.

    Sussex may be “quite radical” and have a good electoral turnout when compared to other institutions, but by the same argument China has a good human rights record when compared to other countries. Comparisons don’t prove anything – the point still stands that over half the students on Sussex campus are not having their voices heard, and in this there is vast room for improvement. Please, prove me wrong.

  3. “Ruthie,
    Did you come to the Tamimi meeting (remember I invited everyone to come assuring that any anti-semitism would be immediately put down)? If you did, would you dare say that anything Tamimi said was anti-semitic (particularly when he mentioned the support he is getting from his Jewish friends and anti-zionist rabbis in New York)?
    I never said there was no trace of anti-semitism in Hamas. I said the organisation’s political line was in no way anti-semitic, hence the quotes from prominent Hamas members in my article.
    It is true that there is a rise in anti-semitism. This has to be countered. But have you asked yourself why this rise in anti-semitism? Why every time Israel commits acts of atrocity more and more people turn against t Jews? Israel kills and destroys and justifies this in the name of Judaism. It seems to me then that the best way to fight anti-semitism is to fight Israel itself for this is not what Judaism is about.
    I never said that being pro-Palestine meant supporting Hamas. I wrote an article with my opinion about Hamas.”

    1) No, I didn’t attend the meeting because I was sick of putting myself in situations which I knew would upset me, purely to stand up for my principles. However – Several friends of mine went and found the whole experience extremely upsetting. Not just Dr Tamimi’s speech – the whole sentiment of the meeting was pro-Hamas. Obviously I didn’t expect Dr Tamimi to come in and say “I hate Jews!”, if he did have any anti-semitic sentiment, which I have absolutely no idea if he does, he wouldn’t exactly express it in public! So he has Jewish friends! It’s the oldest, weakest excuse in the book. I used to have a Jewish friend who told me that she didn’t like Jews. She thought it was ok because her dad is Jewish, I think, and because I’m not ‘the kind of Jew’ she was referring to. It wasn’t ok. But – I do think it is racist to place the value of certain people’s lives as less than other peoples lives just because those people are Israeli, and that he is certainly guilty of.

    2) You define their ‘political line’ according to what you want it to be. An impartial way to define an organisation’s political line might be by their charter and their spokespeople, perhaps. What do you think the BNP’s ‘political line’ is? When was the last time Nick Griffin admitted that his party is racist?

    3) The Israeli government does not go to war in the name of Judiasm – it’s justifications are self-defence. I find it really deplorable that you are basically saying that if a guy gets beaten up because he’s wearing a Kippah, that’s the fault of Israel for going to war and making everyone hate it, and hate everyone from the religion it affiliates with. I actually find that argument almost apologist of the attacks.

    4) The best way to fight anti-semitism is to fight Israel? Rather than, maybe, anti-semites?? There are people who would hate Jews whatever Israel does. The holocaust happened before Israel existed as a state – anti-semitic people still managed to find reasons to hate Jews! Israel attacking Gaza just pushes people who are already anti-semitic, and makes it easier for some people and forms of media to spread lies about Jews and Israelis.

    I’m sick of explaining to people the nature of anti-semitism. Can’t people just use their sense of empathy, notice when fellow students are upset, intimidated etc, and refrain from being downright disrespectful (e.g. flyers given out on campus with cross running over the Israeli flag including the star of david, which is the Jewish religion’s symbol).

    I didn’t want this thread to turn into a discussion about anti-semitism, because Islamaphobia is definitely a problem which deserves discussion as well, but I really feel that it is hypocritical to bring up Islamaphobia and accuse me of it on absolutely no basis, when Jews and Israelis recently have been going through all this stuff and keeping relatively quiet about some of it (like the flyers).

  4. 1) I think what you are saying about Tamimi is really dangerous. Basically you are telling people that the man is anti-semitic but that he won’t say so and that we have to take your word for it. This is not enough. There was one contribution during the meeting which was anti-semitic (by a guy who was clearly not a student and who put forward the conspiracy theory) and I personally intervened a bit later to argue against that and to say that what he said was anti-semitic. So the meeting, you say, was pro-Hamas. Is that a crime? Are people not allowed to express their support for that particular organisation? On what grounds would you argue that?
    About Tamimi’s jewish friends. The point here is that prominent members of both the Muslim and Jewish community have personal links which goes a long way to proving that any accusation whatsoever of anti-semitism (or of Islamophobia against the New-Yorkean rabbis and Tamimi’s friends for that matter) against Tamimi is ridiculous. How could then prominent Jews maintain links with the man?

    2) About Hamas’s line. You are the one who defines it in the way you want Ruthie. In your article you mentioned nothing about when suicide bombings begun or ended/renounced, nor about Hamas’s offer of a long-term truce, nor that all of Hamas’s leaders have made it plainly clear – in articles such as the one I quoted or in statements in the Palestinian parliament – that they are not fighting the Jews but Zionism (nor of course did you mention that some dozens of Hamas MPs are detained in Israeli prisons). And you quote ‘spokespeople’ for Hamas without telling us who they are or what they said exactly, when, where and so on (or where you found their words, remember that translation is a tricky business). Every time I’ve written about Hamas, I’ve presented the facts and nothing more. That’s why I don’t deny the suicide bombings by the way – read my article again if you need proof.
    On the Hamas charter, Wikipedia tells me that according to a translation stored at a Yale University website, the charter states that the organization’s goal is to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned.” It further asserts that “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a humanistic movement. It takes care of human rights and is guided by Islamic tolerance when dealing with the followers of other religions. It does not antagonize anyone of them except if it is antagonized by it or stands in its way to hamper its moves and waste its efforts. Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that.” Yale university translation….

    3) See, we won’t agree on this one. Israel according to me is a terrorist and racist state founded on the dispossession and permanent persecution of the Palestinians. It has broken international law and UN resolutions repeatedly and has never respected the Oslo agreement which it signed, not to mention its attitude concerning the refugees. And not to mention the massacres it has perpetrated during all these years (too numerous to be enumerated here). The argument about self-defence is ludicrous.
    About anti-semitism and Israel. I said in my comments that in recent years (emphasis on this), the rise in anti-semitism is strongly correlated with Israel’s atrocities. I never said anti-semitism doesn’t have a long history in Europe, nor that we should excuse anti-semites (that’s one of the reasons why I support te ban on the BNP). I know many Jews who stand up and say ‘not in my name’ (see the thread on the article ‘Double Standards’). Their argument is that Zionism contributes to anti-semitism because it accepts the racist argument that Jews can’t live with others in Europe. That might also explain why the leaders of the Zionist movement protested against the British governement’s decision in 1938 to allow Jews to come to the UK from the continent. They wanted them to have only one choice – Palestine, a choice which most Jews turned down before 1945.

    I am really and honestly sorry that this is proving difficult for you or other Jewish members of our community. This has never been nor is my intention. But the problem lies with the fact that you identify with Israel (incidentally, a cross over the Israeli flag is not anti-semitic but anti-Israel). You have no reason to do that. The interests of the State of Israel are not those of Jews across the world (or of most Jews living in Israel by the way). The more we contribute to discredit and isolate Zionism, the less will Jews be asked to justify Israel’s crimes and the more it will be proven that this is not about religious conflict but about oppressors (Israel) and oppressed (Palestinians).

    P.S I never thought that you are a racist person yourself Ruthie. My point was that the general picture that your article presented of Hamas played into the hands of those who try to vehiculate islamophobic ideas so as to disarm the Muslim community.

  5. 1) I am not implying that Dr Tamimi is personally anti-semitic – I’m saying that it’s irrelevant, and more importantly, he’s specifically xenophobic against Israelis, all Israelis, and member of an organisation which has a far greater history of anti-semitism than the BNP.

    2) You don’t deny the suicide bombings, but you call them freedom fighting if I recall rightly! I don’t actually know how to argue with someone who thinks targeting innocent people is an acceptable form of warfare. It goes against basic morals. Re the Hamas Charter, I’ve been over this in my article, there are many anti-semitic statements, ranging from accusing the Jews of conspiracy with the freemasons and the Rotary Club (a charity) right to the more explicit, “The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! ” article 7. Look it up if you don’t trust my sources.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by quoting other parts of the charter. Yes, I’m aware that Hamas has goals and ideas other than ‘kill all the Jews’! They do some good humanitarian stuff in Gaza. For an organisation to be anti-semitic, by your definition, do all its members have to only, ever say “kill the jews jews are bad bad bad jews” on repeat, same the with the charter?

    Here is the source for the quote “They have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people”:

    3) Well, yeah, you would think that if you get your information from Hamas propaganda. Israel has committed crimes over the years, but that’s unsurprising considering that it was founded surrounded by countries bent on its destruction, and its done many, many good things including taking in thousands of Ethiopian refugees, and has a Muslim Israeli population who have equal rights to Jews. England has a history of attacking other countries which is worse if anything. Didn’t see many demoes on campus berating about its Pakistani bombing of India, or China’s various human rights issues. Actually, I don’t think there should be, because it’s fine to protest the action, but to stand in library square slagging off a foreign country is downright arrogant and disrespectful in most contexts.

    However, I wasn’t saying that attacking Gaza was legitimate self-defence, just that Israel do NOT attack in the name of Judaism as you claimed – therefore the idea that they are automatically tainting the reputation of Jews worldwide is ridiculous.

    “So the meeting, you say, was pro-Hamas. Is that a crime? Are people not allowed to express their support for that particular organisation?” –

    Do you think I implied that is a crime or should be banned? I thought the whole point of my article was to outline why supporting Hamas on campus is basically misguided, hypocritical and offensive to Jews who know what Hamas represent. You’re perfectly free to support whoever you want to support. You should just be aware that people will rightly be judging you for it, and some people might be upset and intimidated as well. Especially if you go about defacing their religious symbol.

    4)”But the problem lies with the fact that you identify with Israel (incidentally, a cross over the Israeli flag is not anti-semitic but anti-Israel). You have no reason to do that.”

    Oh really? So I’m being ridiculous in identifying with a country I’ve been to around 7 times since I was a baby, where my grandfather and his family were raised, where I have four first cousins, many second cousins, and where my elderly great Aunt (who looked after me while she was ill with Hepititus) was born? Also where my best friend lives, incidentally living in an area which she described as “quite safe, because it’s so close to the Lebanese border that the rockets go straight over”.

    There are quite a few Israelis at Sussex, so obviously they identify with their own country, even if its mostly on an emotional level.

    I think that you’ve got too caught up in political theory and forgotten that the country you’re condemning is full of millions of living, breathing human beings.

    Back to the defaced flag. It’s not just a flag, it’s a flag with a religious symbol on it. I’m not sure if any formal complaints are being made, but I know that people noticed and were angry and upset. Did you have anything to do with the choice of picture on that flyer?

    5)”P.S I never thought that you are a racist person yourself Ruthie. My point was that the general picture that your article presented of Hamas played into the hands of those who try to vehiculate islamophobic ideas so as to disarm the Muslim community.”

    Right, charming little post-script there. Phew, I’m so relieved that you don’t think I’m a racist! merely “intent on launching a sometimes overt, sometimes covert campaign against the Muslim members of our community”! Just to clarify: No I am not attacking or criticising and have not criticised the Muslim community in any way.

  6. Why the heck would people support Hamas? As far as I’m concerned, Hamas would KILL ME if I went over there for being gay.

    Mahmoud Zahar (Co-founder of Hamas) said that gays are “morally sick” and “perverts” – and this guy was elected by the Palestinians. If the Palestinian people elected these people and think this is good then I don’t give a damn about them or their welfare.

    How come the political left usually supports gay rights, but then attacks the *only* country in the middle east (Turkey is not in the M.E.) which protects gay rights and other civil liberties?

    Why would I support somewhere like Palestine which hangs gays? I’m so sick of this campus for praising places like Palestine, Iran, etc. when they HANG HOMOSEXUALS. Out of the whole damn middle east israel is the only place where i could live without being persecuted. Why wouldn’t I side with it when people are firing rockets into it, and it wouldn’t imprison me for who I am???

  7. “The interests of the State of Israel are not those of Jews across the world (or of most Jews living in Israel by the way). ”

    Hear hear!

  8. “How come the political left usually supports gay rights, but then attacks the *only* country in the middle east (Turkey is not in the M.E.) which protects gay rights and other civil liberties”

    Same complaint with the SWP and StWC, Supports anyone regardless of ideology just so long as their actions can vaguely be interpreted Anti-West / Capitalism

    Who cares about Socialist values, lets support hardline islam – just so long as it’s America bashing.

    Bit like the Truman Doctrine in reverse I guess.

  9. Christakis is wrong on so many levels. Hamas are NOT freedom fighters- this idealistic vision from parts of the far left is frankly disgusting. Hamas is not a national liberation movement. It is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamist organisation which wants to unite the Islamic world in submission to its own, austere and totalitarian, view of Islam. Hamas has never changed its charter either. “‘The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out, ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him’.” It amazes me how the far left has united itself with far right organisations in the middle east. No wonder Christakis is a galloway supporter- galloway fronts press tv, an Iranian state tv channel. He was mates with saddam hussein.

  10. The problem with Hamas is simple: it won’t recognise any kind of Israel, ever. All some Hamas leaders have intimated is that they might be prepared to instigate a truce, a hunda. A hudna is not peace. it is a temporary lull in an ongoing jihad whose goal is the extinction of any kind of Israel.

    All Hamas had to do in 2006 was sign up, like the P.A., to the principles of the Quartet and the Road Map. It prefers to reserve the right to jihad until the extinction of any kind of Israel (a bit like George Galloway, who recently insisted on a single and not a two state solution. Azzam Tamimi is even more extreme).

    Israel isn’t obliged to not take that threat seriously. Israel isn’t obliged to let Hamas import whatever it needs or wants to prosecute that jihad.

    “Free Gaza”? From what? The obligation to not prosecute jihad until the extinction of any kind of Israel? To sign up to the principles of the Quartet and the Road Map.

    Had it done so, there might have been a functioning Palestinian state by now.

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