Lutfur Rahman is no socialist

Submitted by Matthew on 4 November, 2010 - 10:19 Author: Stuart Jordan

Lutfur Rahman’s election as the first ever mayor of Tower Hamlets on 21 October — on a record low turnout — is a bad result for the working-class population of this deprived East London borough.

Rahman is not, as the SWP and others claim, a socialist. His supporters include wealthy Brick Lane restaurateurs, George Galloway’s Respect party and political Islamists of the Islamic Forum of Europe.

Cynical manipulation of race, religion and cults of personality — all that is rotton in a national politics devoid of a working-class political voice — were all present during this local election.

Rahman won the mayoralty as an independent but originally wanted to be the Labour candidate. He won the poll of Labour Party members convincingly.

The third placed candidate, Helal Abbas, presented a dossier to the Labour Party Executive, accusing Rahman, among other things, of organising an Islamist entryist project. Without having time to read the dossier, Labour imposed Helal Abbas as their candidate. The second placed candidate, John Biggs, was ignored.

The Islamic Forum of Europe, based at the East London Mosque, is a big player in local politics and is probably sending people into the Labour Party. However, this does not make Labour’s decision democratic. It is simply a sad fact that Islamist organisations can organise 200 people to join the Labour Party at a time when the local trade union movement would struggle to organise 10. We should oppose the Executive decision, but we need to rally the trade unions for a fight to reclaim the Labour Party from right-wing political opponents (including Islamists).

The injustice of his expulsion from Labour gathered Rahman some support, but his victory also points to powerful forces working behind the scenes. During the campaign, a free sheet called Bangla News was delivered to every door in Tower Hamlets with the unsubstantiated claim that Abbas was a “wife-beater” and a “racist”. A mysterious organisation called the Domestic Violence Forum East advertised a demo outside Labour Party offices to protest at Abbas’ crimes against his wife (and then failed to turn up). A meeting of the local Muslim clerics (except the moderates in the Brick Lane mosque) endorsed Rahman and denounced Abbas.

Rahman’s election has split the Labour Party and the broader left. Eight Labour councillors (some ex-Respect) have been expelled for supporting Rahman and forming his cabinet.

In another twist Ken Livingstone’s supporters joined Rahman on the campaign trail and denounced Labour’s decision. Livingstone is a longtime friend of Islamist personalities and groups, though of course here it is also a democratic stance. Labour Party activists should should oppose any punishment Livingstone might get from Labour.

This story is made still worse by the stance of the local anti-cuts campaign, Tower Hamlets Hands Off Our Public Services. THHOOPS is controlled by the SWP, who have argued against placing any demands on Tower Hamlets councillors because they want to “involve them in the campaign”. They hope that diplomacy and unctiousness will stop the cuts, rather than class struggle.

During the election THHOOPS remained quiet and inactive but Socialist Worker positively supported Rahman. Unite Against Fascism has acquired a new affiliate — the Islamic Forum of Europe — making it even more of a politics-means-nothing “popular front”.

Tower Hamlets, the borough of Cable Street, Brick Lane and the Poplar Council, was once a bastion of working-class self-assertion. Now politics has descended into bad farce. Leftwingers inside and outside of the Labour Party are right to feel concerned about rising anti-Muslim racism. But the would-be-left often treats Muslims as a homogenous mass of passive victims who if offered a bit of token support for any old “militant sounding” political project, as Islamism often is, will embrace “the revolutionary party”. And the left often ignores many other political voices and socially conscious people in Muslim communities.

Now more than ever we need to unite Muslim and non-Muslim workers on a common programme based in working-class politics.

And, whatever happens, trade unionists and community activists cannot put faith in either Rahman or the Labour group to take a principled stance and refuse to pass on the Tory cuts. We need to build a working-class force to assert some rational politics and slough off the bourgeois scum.


Submitted by stuartjordan on Tue, 09/11/2010 - 17:28

Even if we reject all the right-wing hysteria about the IFE spread by Andrew Gilligan et al, we still oppose their involvement in politics simply because we are secularists. Even if we reject the claims of Bengali leftists that IFE thugs beat up a young Bengali for smoking during Ramadan, then we must admit that their preachers spread messages that pose a threat to women, gays and apostates. Even if we accept that there are no formal links between the IFE and clerical fascists in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh, then their tacit, informal support should ring alarm bells.

The IFE wants to suggest that the entire Bengali community is muslim and they represent the entire community. They claim that the division in the community is between people who think getting involved in politics is haraam (forbidden by Islamic law) and those, like the IFE, who think it is important that Muslims get involved in politics. However, the real division in Bangladeshi politics is between secularism and political Islam. This goes back to 1971 War of Independence when secular nationalist forces fought fascistic Bengali Islamists who lined up behind the genocidal West Pakistan military. This division is still present both within and outside the Muslim community. For example, the Brick Lane Mosque is secular in that it does not organise Muslims to enter politics as Muslims. This is not because its clerics believe that it is haraam for muslims to get involved in politics; many members of the Brick Lane mosque are involved in politics. The difference is that they are involved as citizens of a secular state, not as muslims with a religious-political agenda.

By refusing to acknowledge these real dynamics, the would-be-left becomes cheerleaders and subordinate partners for political Islam backed by the local bourgeoisie whilst alienating secular, working-class Bengalis.

Submitted by Bruce on Wed, 10/11/2010 - 10:35

I didn't know this and would be interested to know more about it and where you read it.

Submitted by Mark on Wed, 10/11/2010 - 20:56

There's a reasonable account in Tariq Ali's book, 'Can Pakistan Survive?'(1983).
The main collaborators in the East with the West Pakistani military included sections of the Maoists (following China's pro-Pakistan position) and "members and supporters of the fanatical, semi-fascist Jamaat-i-Islami, who supplied the bulk of the recruits for a volunteer force that fought alongside the army and specialised in burning books and killing nationalist or left-wing professors, lawyers, teachers, journalists and writers... the election results had already revealed the isolation of these groups.' (p94). Note the description of Jamaat...

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