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Proletarian issue 19 (August 2007)
Free speech under serious threat
The victimisation of Islamic supporters of the Iraqi resistance
The reality of this country’s terroristic ‘anti-terror’ laws and the harsh realisation that they exist not to protect us all from terror but to protect imperialism from criticism in the short term and national liberation in the subject countries and revolution at home in the long term is starting to dawn on people.

Following on from the seven-year sentence handed down to muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri after his conviction for ‘incitement to murder’ (basically for advising muslims, albeit in colourful language, to defend themselves from those who wish to destroy them – not unusual or out of place advice considering events in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon etc and the verbal and physical attacks on anyone in Britain perceived as ‘not British’), another muslim has now been convicted of this ‘one size fits all’ crime, and sentenced to a draconian three-year sentence.

He has not stolen, he has not defrauded, he has not killed, he has not maimed. He has simply expressed his views – anti-imperialist views that British imperialism is determined to suppress. Today it seeks to do so by mobilising non-muslims against muslim anti-imperialists, but if it is victorious in that endeavour, tomorrow everyone else who expresses anti-imperialist views or opposes any aspect of imperialist policy can expect similar treatment.

Twenty-four-year old Mizanur Rahman took part in a demonstration outside the Danish Embassy to protest about cartoons offensive to muslims depicting the prophet as a mass murderer and which were duly printed in bourgeois papers around the world – in the name of free speech, of course.

‘Free speech’, however, has a class content. It was a slogan put forward during the struggle of the bourgeoisie against feudalism as a fundamental ‘human right’. The reality is, however, that once feudalism was defeated, and the bourgeoisie had taken power and therefore acquired the right to say what it liked, it ceased to be so keen to defend the right to free speech of the class that is destined to overthrow it – the proletariat.

There is, therefore, in bourgeois society, a constant struggle between the proletariat seeking to preserve its right to free speech, while limiting such extremes of ‘free speech’ of the bourgeoisie that actually cause physical or psychological injury to proletarians (eg, ‘free speech’ of a racist nature), and the bourgeoisie seeking to preserve its rights to say anything at all while limiting the right of the proletariat to say anything critical of bourgeois rule and the ideologies through which it controls the proletariat. At times when the proletariat is relatively quiescent it is allowed far greater access to freedom of speech than when it is fighting back against its exploiters.

We must at this point briefly make comment on those cartoons themselves. Good political cartoonists do, of necessity, offend some people: they are, after all, part of the political battle that is going on between the oppressors and those resisting oppression. We insist on the right for our good political cartoonists to offend and enrage imperialism and its followers while defending those who resist the brutality of imperialism, and of necessity accept that the opposition will do its worst with the good political cartoonists at its disposal.

The Danish cartoons, however, could not by the wildest stretch of the imagination be described as the products of a good bourgeois cartoonist. They presented a crude and vulgar racist stereotype of Arabs as backward and cruel people. They would certainly never had been published had they denigrated jewish people in a similar manner, and would normally have been totally unacceptable in a western bourgeois newspaper.

However, at this time when, because the desperate imperialist drive to monopolise oil supplies has brought it to wage war against countries with muslim populations, the resistance to these wars is to a considerable extent carried on in the name of Islam, the bourgeoisie is always looking at ways of defaming its followers and isolating them from other anti-imperialist elements. So when muslims reacted angrily to the provocation that was offered them, the bourgeoisie used the occasion to try to isolate Islamic anti-imperialists from non-Islamic anti-imperialists by portraying the former as desirous of curtailing free discussion of religion, which is certainly an aspect of free speech that the proletariat is not willing to forfeit.

To the extent that there are certain muslim leaders who see the non-muslim anti-imperialists as enemies, and certainly would baulk at any attempt by muslims to seek to ally themselves with the vast mass of non-muslim people who are also victims of imperialism and need to be mobilised for its defeat, those muslims of course also leapt at the opportunity of trying to turn the anti-imperialist struggle of muslims into a religious war against all non-muslims, regardless of their anti-imperialist stand.

We must not allow our own view of anti-imperialist muslims to be tainted by the fact that such elements try to leech onto their cause. One has only to see the close alliance developing between Iran's Islamic leadership and Venezuela's secular anti-imperialist leadership (see elsewhere in this issue) to realise that being a muslim of itself does not prevent you from entering into a most effective anti-imperialist alliance – and this must be encouraged!

At the demo, Mizanur had held one of the placards calling for the annihilation of those who offend Islam. This is a politically backward slogan, but if holding a placard with a politically backward slogan on it is a crime then many hundreds of thousands of news vendors, shops selling papers, advertisers and religious gatherings of all persuasions are equally guilty. We could at this point drag out numerous examples of people saying and writing things far worse against immigrants and foreigners in general and muslims in particular with little or no notice taken by the law. We could cite the leaders of the ‘civilised’ West who don’t just call for the murder of thousands and millions in other countries but have actually given the orders for that slaughter to be carried out. It is enough, however, merely to point out that, in the bourgeois dictatorship (falsely represented as some kind of ‘perfect’ or ‘pure’ abstract democracy sitting above classes and the class struggle) that we live in, ‘freedom of speech’ needs to be strenuously defended against attempts by the bourgeoisie to restrict it to those who speak in favour of imperialism and the present system.

If Mizanur played into imperialism's hands by appearing to deny anybody the right to criticise Islam in any way, he nevertheless expressed admirable anti-imperialist sentiments at the same time – and it was these anti-imperialist sentiments that got him hauled into court, not his politically backward slogans.

Mizanur was recorded on video speaking through a microphone calling for imperialism’s soldiers in Iraq to be brought home in body bags, and for British and US warplanes to be shot down and their tanks to be burned with the blood of British and US troops running in the streets of Baghdad. This is not incitement to murder. The Iraqi resistance was not waiting for the words of Mizanur to inspire them; they had already taken the path of resistance and Mizanur was making statements of support for their struggle and acknowledging the fact that the resistance are winning in their just war against the US and British invaders and occupiers.

The time to speak up against the victimisation of this man, and those who will undoubtedly follow, is now. Our efforts in this country to expose imperialism and ally the working class in support of those who are resisting invasion and occupation at the sharp end must be redoubled, and it is high time that the opportunist ‘heroes’ of the Stop the War Coalition Steering Committee stopped avoiding the issue and joined with us and Mizanur in declaring our support for the Iraqi resistance, for nothing short of that victory will ‘stop the war’ or ‘bring the troops home’.

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