In Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights, published recently by the Centre for Secular Space, Tax claims that a fierce struggle is underway worldwide between Islamic fundamentalists and secularists who favor the separation of religion and the state. (Tax is U.S. Director and head writer for the Centre, which she describes as a London-based think tank “formed to oppose fundamentalism, strengthen secular voices, and promote universality in human rights.”)
If this is true, it is a fairly well-guarded secret. The secularists haven’t won many battles in recent decades. Church-state separation remains as strange and foreign a concept in the Islamic world as shareholder dividends might be in Stalinist North Korea.
Even the military ouster of Mohammed Morsi on July 3 isn’t necessarily a sign that Egyptians are embracing secular democracy. Egyptians didn’t like Morsi for a host of reasons but that doesn’t mean they won’t remain largely supportive of Islamization and the imposition of Shariah law in their country. Islamists won’t sit still while Egypt slips from their grasp.
These secularists that Tax writes of are those unicorns that in the West the mainstream media call moderate Muslims. We keep hearing about these people, and occasionally a few surface for TV cameras, but in most of the Ummah they have no real political power. Islam is not known for embracing pluralism. There may be some secularists in the Islamic world who struggle heroically for freedoms Americans and Europeans taken for granted, and we may admire their bravery and perseverance, but unfortunately in the end they count for little.
As the totalitarian Islamic juggernaut sweeps across Africa and Islamism becomes even more solidly entrenched in the Middle East (thanks in part to Obama administration policies), those who endorse Western-style notions of human rights are increasingly marginalized, terrorized, and liquidated by the powers that be.
Criticizing the Left
Tax chastens her fellow leftists for making common cause with Islamists out of hatred of the U.S. Over the last decade “some groups on the far Left have allied with conservative Muslim organizations that stand for religious discrimination, advocate death for those they consider apostates, oppose gay rights, subordinate women, and seek to impose their views on others through violence,” Tax writes.
This is happening “in the current climate of increasing xenophobia, discrimination and violent attacks upon Muslims in both Europe and North America,” she writes.
We know that Islam is often maligned and misrepresented in the North. We agree that jihadis have the same rights to due process of law as anybody else, and should be defended against violations like rendition and torture. But that should not mean giving their ideas political support, as happens when human rights organizations endorse “defensive jihad” or antiwar coalitions allow sex-segregated seating at their meetings.
Actually, Islam isn’t maligned and misrepresented all that much in the so-called Global North. In the U.S., U.K., Canada and elsewhere the media-academic-entertainment complex largely sanitizes Islam, presenting it as a benign, misunderstood religion. Those who document the medieval brutality of Shariah law, the oppression of women, and the persecution of homosexuals under Islam are reflexively denounced as bigots.
To her credit, Tax acknowledges that hate crimes committed against Jews in the U.S. outnumber those committed against Muslims — by a ratio of 5 to 1 according to the FBI’s 2010 survey of hate crimes. “In short, the picture is complicated, and while persecution of Muslims must be fought, it should not blind us to continuing institutionalized racism against other groups.”
And while Tax shares many of the beliefs of the left-wing activists she criticizes, joining in their tedious America-bashing, she at least has the integrity to acknowledge that in their ill-conceived effort to promote human rights, American and British advocacy groups “have gone overboard” by embracing Islamism. This support for Islamic extremism “has spread from the far Left to feminists, the human rights movement, and progressive donors,” and has hurt the Left by undermining “struggles for secular democracy in the Global South.”
Tax tries to convince her fellow left-wingers to recognize the danger radical Islam poses and urges them to stop reflexively siding with brutal Islamist movements and regimes.
Ultimately, she concludes, it is suicidal to align with Islamists. Even if Muslim militants “were a reliable foe of US imperialism, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is a very poor strategy for left wing survival,” she writes. “Wherever Islamists have gained power, they have wiped out the left — see Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Sudan, and, of course, Afghanistan.”
Leftists have to stop accepting the premises of the Islamist argument, Tax argues. They have to stop downplaying the crimes of Islamists as a way of fighting racism in the so-called Global North.
The Left, in Tax’s view, has to reach out to pro-democracy activists, labor, religious and sexual minorities, and feminists in the Global South who are fighting “neo-liberalism” and religious fundamentalism.
Smearing the Right
In her own words, Double Bind is about what’s wrong with the Left’s approach to Islamic terrorism. It is about “what happens when the Left takes up the language and framing of the Muslim Right.”
But Tax’s own taxonomy is troubling.
She defines the Muslim Right as “a range of transnational political movements that mobilize identity politics towards the goal of a theocratic state.” This means that in Tax’s world, the Left is always on the side of the angels. Those who favor dictatorship, the death penalty for homosexuality, and the brutal subjugation of women — including forced female genital mutilation — are right-wingers.
In other words, “Muslim Right” is a synonym for Islamism.
She argues that there are three distinct factions — all of which are political Islamists — within the Muslim Right.
First, are so-called moderate Islamists who aspire to achieve their goals incrementally through the ballot box. Second, are extremist Salafi parties and groups that put up candidates for office “but also try to enforce some version of Sharia law through street violence.” Third, are what she considers the smallest faction, the militant Salafi-Jihadis “whose propaganda endorses military means and who practice violence against civilians.”
Ultimately, all three factions have the same objective. Their goal “is a state founded upon some version of Sharia law that systematically discriminates against women along with sexual and religious minorities.”
How convenient. In the U.S., United Kingdom, and many Western nations, the left-to-right political spectrum is of some use in discerning the social, economic, and political goals of those involved in politics, but in the world of Islam it is of little use.
Even if we look to the most basic, broad definition of left versus right, that definition doesn’t help us to understand the Muslim world. Harking back to the French Revolutionary origins of the left-right continuum, in the broadest sense “left” means supporting change, while “right” means supporting the status quo (or in some cases the status quo ante).
The still-authoritative 14th century work of Islamic jurisprudence, Reliance of the Traveller, for example, spells out what food is acceptable (Halal) for Muslims and how it should be prepared. If you favor the imposition of such rules on society are you taking a right-wing or a left-wing position? How would one even begin to analyze the rule in terms of the political spectrum and Western political philosophy? And are those trying to dramatically change Egypt by turning it into a religious theocracy like Iran really right-wingers in the way right-wing is used in the U.S. and the U.K.?
Tax is trying to force the world to fit into her simplistic socialist worldview and in the process smearing all on the right side of the political spectrum. Liberals and progressives in America do it all the time, absurdly lumping U.S. conservatives in with the Taliban.
Of course, in America it is only the Right that has stood up to Islamism and creeping Shariah. If a leftist like Michael Moore, whose views aren’t dramatically different from Tax’s, had been president on 9/11, there would have been no Global War on Terror. We would have suffered through an endless series of useless “police” actions.
In America it is only the Right that has carried on the battle for the rights of women and gays in Islamic countries. The Left, on the other hand, has largely been AWOL.
Nonetheless, boiled down to its essence, left-wing is good and right-wing is bad, according to Tax.
And Tax believes that leftists “have to oppose all varieties of right wing politics” and “must stand up to demagogues who characterize every Muslim as a potential terrorist and try to whip up violence against civilians.” She also claims “we have a problem with white fascists in the US or UK.” She doesn’t name any of these alleged demagogues or fascists in the United States, probably because there aren’t any of note.
The Left, “at least in principle,” has historically stood for “separation between religion and the state; social equality; an end to discrimination against women and minorities; economic justice; opposition to imperialist and racist wars.”
The 100 million or so human beings murdered by left-wing totalitarians in the 20th century apparently don’t figure in Tax’s calculus. Nor do the religious victims of the Red Terror during the Spanish Civil War in which leftists murdered Roman Catholic priests. The examples are endless.
Yet Tax insists on imposing this Western conceptual frame on Islamic countries, even though it doesn’t work well.
Islam is not merely a religion, but a complex, exhaustive code of conduct that prescribes rules covering everything from praying in the presence of food to acceptable clothing to sex to burial practices. Unlike some of the other major world religions, it is not introspective and does not lend itself to debate.
It is believed that the Koran (or Quran) is the verbatim word of Allah revealed to Mohammed through the angel Gabriel over more than two decades in the early 7th century A.D. Because all of it was handed down by the Supreme Being, the Koran must be literally true. In Islam edicts are issued by scholars on high, and obedience, to extents that vary in the various Muslim countries, are enforced. It is no coincidence that Islam means “submission” or “surrender.”
There is also no such thing as separation of religion and state in Islam. Trying to convince Muslims to embrace separation of mosque and state first requires teaching Muslims that mosque and state are in fact not the same thing and that separating them is actually possible.
Tax also doesn’t seem to know what the word neoconservative means, as she uses it in novel ways. She uncritically quotes a New York taxi worker organizer who describes al-Qaeda, Lashkar e Taiba, al Shabaab, and Jaish e Mohammed as “Islamic neoconservative insurgencies.”
How Islamists, who want to exterminate all Jews, could be considered neoconservative is too absurd to contemplate. Neoconservative is often used as an epithet by leftists to mean “Jewish right-winger” or to refer to a supporter of Israel.
Perhaps she is using the term as shorthand for “something I don’t like” — the way academics, even leftists, are branded as right-wing if they fail to observe politically correct pieties.
Also to her credit, Tax acknowledges that Islamists and their defenders smear their critics in an attempt to silence them. She notes that they hurl the word “Islamophobia” as a means of shutting down debate about the Muslim religion, whose leaders fairly uniformly reject democratic culture and the idea of separation of church and state.
Tax separates the two meanings behind the word.
In popular speech and the media, it is used to mean “discrimination, prejudice, hatred of, and violent attacks upon Muslims in the West.” Sometimes it also includes “[b]lanket police surveillance” of Muslims.
As “Islamophobia” is used by Islamists, the term includes “any criticism of their ideas and practices, or Muslim texts. It also includes invasions of ‘Muslim lands,’ which are attributed to a hatred of Islam rather than to geopolitical reasons like the desire to control territory, trade or oil.”
Tax criticizes Michael Ratner, the anti-American Marxist who serves as president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a notorious public interest law firm devoted to undermining America’s institutions. She calls him out for buying into Islamophobia.
“I am convinced that Gitmo and other places like Gitmo only exist because its detainees are Muslims,” Ratner said in 2012. “I can’t imagine a Christian Gitmo. I cannot imagine a Jewish Guantanamo. It exists because of Islamophobia.”
Tax disagrees. Uncritically adopting the concept of Islamophobia means accepting the false premises of the Muslim Right, thus granting it a propaganda victory. While the progressive movement should combat racism and prejudice against Muslims, it should not use a term that “does more to confuse the issues than clarify them” and that is used in “efforts to criminalize free expression and dissent.”
Incidentally, there is some disagreement over the origins of the term “Islamophobia.”
Tax states that British sources attribute the “popularization” of the expression to a 1997 report by the London-based Runnymede Trust, a left-wing think tank, while French sources “attribute it to Ayatollah Khomeini, who said Iranian women who rejected the veil were ‘Islamophobic.’”
French social critic Pascal Bruckner claims Iranian fundamentalists invented the term in the late 1970s “in analogy to ‘xenophobia,’” and “to silence those Muslims who question the Koran and who demand equality of the sexes.”
The purpose of the word “was to declare Islam inviolate,” Bruckner says. “Whoever crosses this border is deemed a racist. This term, which is worthy of totalitarian propaganda, is deliberately unspecific about whether it refers to a religion, a belief system or its faithful adherents around the world.”
According to DiscoverTheNetworks, “Islamophobia” was coined in the early 1990s by the International Institute for Islamic Thought, a Virginia-based front group for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Former IIIT member Abdur-Rahman Muhammad — who was with that organization when the word was formally created, and who has since rejected IIIT’s ideology — now reveals the original intent behind the concept of Islamophobia: “This loathsome term is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliche conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics.” In short, in its very origins, “Islamophobia” was a term designed as a weapon to advance a totalitarian cause by stigmatizing critics and silencing them.
Wherever it comes from, Tax counsels against using the word “when describing discriminatory acts or hate speech” because doing so plays into the hands of Islamists.
Glenn Greenwald and Other Useful Idiots
Tax criticizes American writer Glenn Greenwald, the journalist now best known for his ties to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, for functioning as a useful idiot. Like the Islamists, Greenwald sees the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mali as anti-Muslim actions. He has written:
As French war planes bomb Mali, there is one simple statistic that provides the key context: this west African nation of 15 million people is the eighth country in which western powers – over the last four years alone – have bombed and killed Muslims – after Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and the Philippines (that does not count the numerous lethal tyrannies propped up by the west in that region). For obvious reasons, the rhetoric that the west is not at war with the Islamic world grows increasingly hollow with each new expansion of this militarism.
By viewing those wars through the lens of religion, Tax argues that Greenwald is ignoring the fact that most of those conflicts are Muslims fighting other Muslims.
“Like people who see Taliban activity in Pakistan largely as a reaction against drones,” Tax writes, “leftists who frame the issues in Mali solely in terms of Western imperialism deny the agency of the people living there, who have been voting with their feet by fleeing jihadi-controlled areas in droves.”
Tax slams “sections of the international left” for continuing to support the murderous theocracy in Iran despite its brutal repression of the “Green Revolution” of 2009-2010 and its attacks on labor unions and student and women’s groups.
In 2010, for example, 150 self-styled American “progressive activists,” led by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), sat down for a meal with Iran’s president at the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during his visit to the United Nations. They did so to show their support for what Tax pointedly refers to as “his allegedly anti-imperialist stand.”
Left-wing supporters of Ahmadinejad are willing to overlook the fact that he is not only a dictator and fundamentalist but also a Holocaust denier; they also make other concessions to anti-Semitism.
Tax argues that the London-based group Cageprisoners, which has been embraced by elements of the Left, is a front group that serves as a public relations agency for Islamists.
She appears to be correct. Cageprisoners is less interested in protecting the rights of those detained as prisoners of war than in freeing them so they can kill again to advance jihad.
In the mission statement on its website the group states that the site “was launched in October 2003 during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by individual Muslim volunteers who came together for the reasons set out below.” The organization “exists solely to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror.”
Cageprisoners reveals its true goals in the choice of the prisoners it wants freed.
For example, the group’s website urges visitors to sign a petition for the release of convicted American terrorist enabler Lynne Stewart, the disbarred lawyer who helped the ringleader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Omar Abdel-Rahman, pass strategic messages to an Egyptian terrorist group.
Longtime activist Stewart, a Maoist who describes jihadists as freedom fighters, reportedly has advanced-stage cancer and her supporters are using her medical condition as an excuse to get her released early. If she were set free, the unrepentant Stewart would immediately get to work doing propaganda for America’s Islamist enemies. The irrepressible campaigner would arrange a press conference to denounce America during the trip home and would be barking orders to fellow community organizers over the phone during chemo treatments.
Tax too laments the long-term imprisonment at Guantanamo of terrorists by the U.S. “The continued use of the prison to keep some terrorist suspects in indefinite detention,” she writes, “is an everlasting blot on the human rights record of the US.”
Except that it’s not.
The author, like President Obama and almost all thinkers on the Left, foolishly treats the fight against Islamic terrorism as a law enforcement action. Tax won’t accept that it is perfectly moral and lawful under the internationally accepted laws of war for the U.S. to detain unlawful enemy combatants whose egregious conduct places them within in a special category of war criminals.
Despite Tax’s courage in taking a stand against Islamism and those on her own side who nurture and appease it, her thinking is flawed.
Tax believes the Islamic world is ripe for revolution and the Left can help nudge it into modernity. It’s going to take a lot more than pamphlets and pickets to free Muslims from their self-imposed chains. It’s going to require a sea change in thinking in the Ummah.
Good luck with that.
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