By Joan Trevor
"The evil has landed" was the Sun's headline to describe the arrival of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Britain on 5 July. Qaradawi is the spiritual leader of the Egyptian Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Sun article said that Qaradawi supports suicide bombings by Palestinians in Israel, advocates killing homosexuals and condones wife-beating.
Since when did socialists believe anything they read in the Sun? However, whilst the Sun's new-found concern for homosexual human rights probably has most to do with them looking for a new stick to beat Islam with, they did report accurately some of Qaradawi's opinions.
A report about Qaradawi on BBC "Newsnight" included an interview with him in which he justified suicide bombings with Islamic texts. The gay rights campaign OutRage! has done the valuable work of finding out Qaradawi's opinions on homosexuality. On the website that he is associated with you can read his opinion:
"Almighty Allah has prohibited illegal sexual intercourse and homosexuality
".... Muslim jurists hold different opinions concerning the punishment for this abominable practice. Should it be the same as the punishment for fornication, or should both the active and passive participants be put to death? While such punishments may seem cruel, they have been suggested to maintain the purity of the Islamic society and to keep it clean of perverted elements."
Of course, there are very many influential individuals who hold similarly repugnant views. To their credit, OutRage!, who picketed al-Qaradawi during his visit, regularly mount protests at gatherings of adherents of any faith (and no faith) who discriminate against gays and lesbians. OutRage!, unlike the Sun, cannot be accused of "unfairly" targeting Islam when it criticises Qaradawi.
Qaradawi was greeted warmly by London mayor Ken Livingstone. The two main events that Qaradawi was in Britain to attend were hosted at City Hall.
Livingstone said that he long ago gave up believing anything he read in the papers, especially things written about himself. That doesn't excuse him from doing no research at all into people's views. (Or, more likely, not giving much of a damn what people think so long as they represent - or claim to represent - a "constituency".)
A few short days before welcoming al-Qaradawi he had spoken at the gay pride event: "I am proud that London continues to lead the way in moving towards lesbian and gay equality, but as the murder of Brian Williamson [gay rights campaigner in Jamaica] shows, homophobia continues to have tragic consequences all over the world."
There is plenty of liberal opinion about homosexuality among the huge and many Muslim communities around the world. I think it behoves leftists to promote that opinion, however minority an opinion it may be, above the opposite, however mainstream, opinion. I would certainly cheer the victories of the liberals.
The main injunction quoted in defence of the idea that a "good" Muslim woman wears a headscarf is: "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment "
This is an English translation of an Arabic text. A scholar of Arabic can tell me whether it is a just translation. Even taken as read, I think it is open to interpretation!
The above is the text quoted in their pamphlet "Hijab unveiled" by the organisers, in the first place, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), of the conference of the newly founded Assembly for the Protection of Hijab - shortened, note carefully, to ProHijab.
The conference - "Hijab: a woman's right to choose" - took place on Monday 12 July and Qaradawi was the keynote speaker.
Qaradawi's view which he iterated at the conference was that it is a religious duty of Muslim women to wear a headscarf, and that therefore banning a Muslim girl or woman from wearing a headscarf in a public place - in a school, at work - is an infringement of her right to practise her religion. I think an infringement of a girl's or a woman's right to practise her religion is indeed what is at stake when a headscarf ban is imposed, and for that reason I oppose headscarf bans.
Does that mean that I would join ProHijab? I wouldn't join ProHijab in a million years.
This stress on the importance of the headscarf in Muslim life underpinned the conference.
To promote this view was not ostensibly why the conference was called. It was called to organise against the headscarf ban in French schools, and similar bans in other countries.
The Alliance for Workers' Liberty opposes the French ban. But we, and the rest of the left, should not go from opposing headscarf bans to organising with MAB on the issue. We are not "ProHijab". They are.
Yet many on the left who would never have heard of Qaradawi by themselves will uncritically accept his views on hijab and join ProHijab and in so doing wittingly and carelessly or unwittingly and stupidly promote the headscarf - ProHijab.
Why wouldn't they? The left, in the first place the SWP, promoted the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) through the anti-war movement and helped it into a postion to win the franchise for organising protests against the headscarf bans.
I could write in more personal vein about the conference and will write a transcript of the main speeches - by Qaradawi, by Tariq Ramadan - for our website www.workersliberty.org. I will allow myself to finish with an anecdote: the audience for the conference "Hijab: a woman's right to choose" was composed three-quarters of young Muslim women wearing headscarves. The organisers ended the conference with a Muslim prayer. Among those who joined in were a few bareheaded Muslim women. I hope that they continue psychologically robust enough to resist the pressure to demonstrate more "modesty" and to demonstrate it by adopting a headscarf. I fear that in time and with more exposure to the sort of propaganda made at Monday's conference they won't be. I don't think I would be robust enough.