Judged even by its own inane standards, Guardian Australia has published a splendidly stupid essay by Irfan Yusuf, in which he likens radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir to Andrew Bolt and modern conservatism. This comparison is apt, apparently, because of a common sense of yearning: Hizb ut-Tahrir longs for the return of the Caliphate, and Bolt for the return of Abbott.
No doubt Yusuf and the Guardian heartily congratulated themselves for their daring, but I think the essay is interesting for reasons that Yusuf certainly didn’t intend. He writes
Perhaps another reason groups like HT have some traction is because, for all their silly rhetoric, they are actually doing something.
Doing what, exactly? He has warm words for the group’s efforts to educate everybody on counterterrorism, surveillance and radicalisation. He admonishes what he evidently regards as lazy Muslim moderates and concludes
You don’t have to believe in Hizb ut-Tahrir’s caliphate to appreciate their effort.
There you have it. The intellectual clumsiness is staggering. You watch transfixed as some mild criticism of Hizb ut-Tahrir wobbles into an endorsement. I mention, only in passing, that Hizb ut-Tahrir has also made an effort to justify the actions of jihadists going to fight in Syria, as well as the murder of Australian troops and the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. None of this invalidates Hizb ut-Tahrir’s credibility. For all his loose talk about the group’s undeserved media attention, the worst Yusuf can offer is modest applause.
Hizb ut-Tahrir does invite a comparison, but not with conservatism. Its positions and grievances closely resemble those of the political and cultural left. In October, the group’s media representative, Uthman Badar, published an article in The Australian, in which he criticised the ‘politics of condemnation’ in the aftermath of events like the Parramatta murder of a NSW Police IT specialist. What he condemns, however, is the rather sensible plea that Muslim communities take a stand against extremism. Instead, Badar states that
the primary cause of violence against Western interests is Western foreign policy. Everyone knows this.
Now, you probably missed it, but another article appeared a few days earlier in Red Flag, the publication of Socialist Alternative. Author Josh Lees takes on the question of why Australian Muslims radicalise, answers with another question and arrives at the same conclusion as Badar.
Could it perhaps be the entire history of Western imperialism in the Muslim world?
Here we see a theocratic movement and a leftist political movement coalescing, with each excusing Islamist terror while simultaneously blaming it on the West. Spare me any comments about the limited influence of Socialist Alternative. While it is a small but noisily annoying presence on the university campus, its anti-Western masochism and agreement with the Islamist movement are hardly out of place in the more mainstream journals, magazines and university departments of the intellectual and cultural left.
Take, for example, University of California gender theorist Judith Butler, whose normal specialty is pretentious incoherence. One of her insights, however, is uncharacteristically coherent:
Understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.
This sentiment is undoubtedly an accurate reflection of the left’s mindset. The Islamist movement, despite its myriad differences, opposes the West, so the anti-imperialist left can’t help but find itself in intellectual and practical agreement. The anti-imperialist left has gained political power to the extent that it has now taken hold of the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, who has gone a step further even than Butler in declaring Hamas and Hezbollah to be his friends. Moreover, he is decidedly chummy with the Russian gangster state, the geriatric leadership in Havana, and the authoritarians in Caracas. As epitomized by Britain’s alternate, if unlikely, prime minister, seldom has the left been so morally and intellectually confused.
There is another comparison that merits attention: the left and Hizb ut-Tahrir have a fuzzy relationship with violence. Even though the Caliphate is its ultimate goal, Hizb ut-Tahrir differs from other Islamist movements, such as Hamas and the Islamic State, in eschewing violence; it wants to arrive at its goal through political and intellectual channels. To say, however, that Hizb ut-Tahrir has a complicated relationship with violence would be to put it charitably. Two examples will serve. On an infamous ABC Lateline interview in 2014, activist Wassim Doureihi was unable to muster a word of criticism against the Islamic State. Meanwhile, Uthman Badar bestowed his approval on those leaving Australia to fight in Syria:
Any Muslim who sacrifices his time, wealth and life to assist his fellow Muslims engages in a deed beloved to Allah, and worthy of only praise.
I would argue, however, that much of the political left has taken a stance on these questions even more contemptible than its theocratic fellow travellers. Take, for example, the tragedy of Iraq. Only a moral cretin would argue that barbarism is preferable to giving Iraqis the opportunity to be free of Saddam Hussein and make what subsequent events have shown to be a deeply flawed pluralist and democratic state. Nevwertheless, the goal was worthy. What a pity that so many leftist intellectuals, journalists and politicians failed this test. Hordes of leftists, including Corbyn, marched in support of Stop The War, a loathsome ‘anti-war’ movement that found solidarity with ‘the resistance’ of ex-Baathist thugs and al Qaeda jihadists who sought to immiserate and destroy Iraqi civil society. The remnants of the resistance went on to other projects, principally the founding of the Islamic State.
The Australian left, in particular, has come uneasily to terms with its practical and ideological alliance with Islamism. Here is John Pilger, as quoted by Green Left Weekly in 2004, pledging his leftist loyalty to Iraq’s insurgents:
We cannot afford to be choosy. While we abhor and condemn the continuing loss of innocent life in Iraq, we have no choice now but to support the resistance.
I cite Pilger because he is one of the left’s pseudo-intellectual rock stars, amongst whose groupies are the journalists and columnists of Australia’s leftist and independent media. The alleged news site, New Matilda, which serves up hard-left orthodoxy in job lots, fetes Pilger with the sort of reverence devout Catholics reserve for the Pope. In this regard, New Matilda and Hizb ut-Tahrir share a common operating principle: blame everything on the West while pointedly refraining from condemning Islamism. When the Islamic State burned alive a captured Jordanian pilot, New Matilda responded with an essay titled ‘Yes, ISIS Burned A Man Alive: White America Did The Same Thing To Black People By The Thousands.’ The obscenity of that comparison is so sweeping, so tendentious, so absolutely breath-taking as to make the skin crawl.
Let me pose a question to the Guardian, Irfan Yusuf, and the left in general: How do we counter Hizb ut-Tahrir and defeat the Islamist movement? Uthman Badar has some insight on this question. Writing in The Guardian in February, he argued against the federal government’s proposed ban of Hizb ut-Tahrir because the group is ‘nothing but its ideas.’ He is absolutely right about this. The task of those who value the West’s traditional values is to meet those ideas with better ones, to argue that secular democracy is preferable to the theological despotism of the Islamist alternative. It needs to be stressed that , and that our position on human rights, especially women’s rights and free speech, is non-negotiable.
What a pity that the left continually discredits itself in this debate. It is the left that aligns with Islamist intolerance. It is the liberals who sneer at the bravery of reformist dissidents, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz. It is the left that has knowingly positioned itself on the wrong side of history and decency, whining incessantly in support of the unspeakable.