The Socialist Workers’ Party organise an annual festival, “Marxism”. Although somewhat reduced in size after the SWP split in 2013 over an alleged cover-up of sexual assault committed by a leading member, the Marxism festival is still one of the largest regular events of the UK far left.
Unfortunately, the event showcases everything that is wrong, un-Marxist, and self-defeating about the politics of much of the far left in the UK.
This year’s opening rally for Marxism festival is entitled “The fight against racism, austerity and war”. Some may baulk at being lectured on anti-racism by a group which campaigned for a Leave vote in the European referendum. But that’s not the worst problem with the session. One of the headline speakers is Moazzam Begg: an outspoken supporter of the Taliban.
Moazzam Begg was born in Birmingham in 1968. In 2001, he moved his family to Afghanistan. He has said that he did this because he supported the Taliban and their regime. In his autobiography, he writes: “I wanted to live in an Islamic state — one that was free from the corruption and despotism of the rest of the Muslim world… The Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past 25 years.”
He also writes that he thought that the Taliban had made “modest progress — in social justice and in upholding pure, old-style Islamic values forgotten in many Islamic countries”.
Before he moved to Afghanistan, however, Begg had been an activist for extreme-right religious movements for nearly a decade. In his autobiography, he recounts how he attended a jihadist training camp in 1993. This camp was run, in part, by the Pakistani organisation Jamaat-i-Islami, an extreme right group, some of whose leaders are on trial for war crimes committed against Bangladeshis in the Bangladesh War of Independence. Begg’s autobiography recounts how, after an unsuccessful attempt to become a jihadist fighter in Chechnya, Begg opened and ran the Maktabah al Ansar bookshop in Birmingham. This bookshop was an important centre for the distribution of jihadist literature in the UK, in particular selling books by the al-Qaeda leaders Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
Although Begg claims subsequent, limited, criticism of the Taliban, he has never renounced his jihadist past. In what universe is a person so implicated with religious fascism a good representative of “the fight against racism, austerity and war”?
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