Thursday, November 23, 2006

People's Assembly tackles new anti-Muslim racism

by Karen Dabrowska

STOP THE WAR Coalition last Saturday convened a people’s assembly in central London to help tackle the new racism in the United Kingdom which targets the Muslim community.
The aim of the assembly is to bring people together to discuss the relationship between Islamophobia and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to organise a campaign in response to war and racism.
It was convened after the head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, said that more than 200 Al-Qaeda cells were plotting at least 30 major attacks in Britain. The police are working to contend with some 200 networks, totalling over 1,600 identified individuals actively engaged in plotting terrorist acts here and overseas.
She said: “Killing oneself and others is an attractive option for some citizens. The threat is serious, is growing and will be with us for a generation.”
Opening the assembly, Stop the War Coalition chairperson Andrew Murray, described Islamophobia as the last resort of the warmongers to make up for their failure. “George Bush said he was getting ready for one last push. We too are ready for one last push to get the get the troops out of Iraq.”
Stop the War Coalition widened its aims to opposition to the racist backlash against Muslims and the defence of civil liberties.
Veteran leftist politician and president of Stop the War Coalition Tony Benn said there was no war on terror. There is a war on Iraq, Afghanistan and a threat to Iran. If the war was a war on terror, the British government would have called for a ceasefire when Israel invaded Lebanon.
“There is a war for power and oil which is being presented as a war on terror,” he said.
Tony Benn drew the assembly’s attention to invasions by the US marines: four invasions of Cuba, four of Nicaragua, seven of Honduras, two of the Dominican Republic, one of Guatemala, two of Panama and four of Columbia.
He criticised attempts to present Islam as a threat to the British way of life. All the great religions preach that we should live together. Now the definition of a moderate Muslim is one who doesn’t mind his country being invaded. Every hospital that has been closed could have remained open if there was no war against Iraq.
“The problem with Great Britain is that is cannot win the war on Iraq. But this presents us with a supreme opportunity to build a world where human rights are respected and we deal with environmental problems and poverty”, Benn concluded.
A second generation British Muslim of Pakistani origin detained at Guantanamo Bay, Moazzam Begg, received a standing ovation when he addressed the assembly. Begg described Belmarsh Prison in south-east London as “Britain’s Guantanamo”, where terrorist suspects are held without charge or trial.
On his return from Guantanamo, Begg said his greatest difficulty was seeing “the people I come from demonised in a way which has never happened before. I expected Britain would welcome people who had been persecuted but all the intrinsic values of this country which made me British are being eroded.
“Iraq and Afghanistan have a direct link to what happens in Britain but only Tony Blair does not understand this.”
Begg described the ordeal of Ibn Al Shaikh Al Libi, a Libyan captured during Operation Enduring Freedom, who was sent to a torture centre in Cairo. After he was raped and electrodes were applied to his testicles, he allegedly confessed that he worked on obtaining weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein.
This confession was used by Colin Powell to create a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and a justification for entering Iraq.
Sumiya Hensi, a fourth year law student at Dundee University, and Esther Sassaman, a Jewish American working as a secretary in the university’s social work department, addressed the assembly together with their arms around each other, about a Special Branch pilot scheme monitoring Muslim students on campus.
“They come to our events, they question students and intimidate them,” Hensi said. “My parents have worked hard in this country, the pay their taxes, this is a real slap in the face.”
Sassaman described a petition organised by the students to defend liberty. “This is a pilot project which needs to be stopped before it spreads across Britain.”
Green Party MEP Jean Lambert warned that the collective right to protest is deeply restricted, freedom of speech is deeply compromised, passionate speech is now an incitement to terrorism and the British government is compromising its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, while remaining shamefully silent about Guantanamo Bay. “We need to defend our right to act against an illegal and unjust war.”
Tongue in cheek comedian Mark Steele ridiculed the Muslim threat referring to sawn-off veils and veils with serrated edges. “The British government is brilliant at opposing the racism of the past against the Irish, the black people in America and the Spanish Inquisition, but racism is on our doorstep and it is harder to oppose when it is on our doorstep.”
“What kind of society asks parents to rat on their children, lecturers to rat on their students?” asked Anas Al-Tikriti former president of the Muslim Association of Britain. His 20 years of work with Muslim youth forced him to conclude that British society faces a much greater risk from fraudsters, rapists, and paedophiles than from Muslim extremists.
Terrorists and extremists are driven by the state of politics (the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and the oppression of the Palestinians) not verses from the Qur’an.
The convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey German, said that the Jews were fully integrated into German society yet this did not prevent their persecution. “Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett have told the Muslims to stand up and be counted. They have stood against the war. The people who are being attacked are being demonised and we have to fight attempts to make racism acceptable.”
The assembly was also addressed by trade unionists, Sami Ranadani a political refugee from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, playwright David Edgar, Yvonne Ridley of the Islam Channel, Rose Gentle from Military Families Against the War, Craig Murray the ex British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Ismael Patel of Friends of Al-Aqsa.
The assembly’s closing statement declared its solidarity with all the Muslims peoples in Britain facing a hurricane of official and unofficial legal, political and physical attacks in a climate of Islamophobic hysteria. It recognises these attacks as being essentially racist and anti-democratic.
It said: “They are driven by the same political agenda as has inspired the criminal and disastrous ‘war on terror’, which has laid waste Iraq and Afghanistan and presently threatens Iran and elsewhere.
“In particular we condemn the statement made by government ministers designed to isolate, demonise and even criminalise Islamic religious practices, choice of dress and cultural expression. We affirm that such diversity in fact makes an important contribution to the overall development of our society.
“We condemn terrorist atrocities such as the London bombings last year, which are in all circumstances, indefensible. However the assembly believes in common with the majority of the British people, that the key to tackling the treat of such atrocities is a change in the foreign policy of the government.
“It has subordinated this country to the aggressive foreign policy of the Bush government in its invasion of Iraq, its treats to Iran and its support for Israel’s aggression against Lebanon.”