Fundamentalism, feminism and anti-fascism.
Some more reflections on that Sunday in Whitechapel.
June saw the fascist and undeniably opportunistic English Defence League (EDL) announce plans to march through Whitechapel in apparent protest at a planned United Kingdom – Islamic Conference (UK-IC) at the Troxy Centre, a conference which would see extreme Islamic fundamentalist speakers espousing their hate of Jews, women and homosexuals. Past years have witnessed the growth of Saudi-funded political Islam in Tower Hamlets, oppressing local Muslim communities and destroying Asian cultures, promoting repression of women, and beginning to dominate the local authority.
The rise in religious fundamentalism, whatever the religion may be, poses a serious and very real threat to women, who are seen as crucial in representing and transmitting the supposedly unchanging morals and traditions of the whole community. Women who fail to conform to so-called traditional family values are portrayed as placing the honour, well-being and future of the whole society or community at risk. The control of women’s minds and bodies is, therefore, at the heart of fundamentalist agendas everywhere and is something that must be challenged.
In the run up to that Sunday in Whitechapel, women’s bodies became a battleground on which both sides fought. “They (Muslims) want all women in burqhas” proclaimed the EDL and “we’re not fascist, we’ve got a LGBT division, we just care about the wimmin”. Anti-EDL groups and individuals also used women in their ideological battle; rumours were circulated that local Muslim women had been attacked and raped by the EDL, resulting in a large angry turn-out when the EDL youth division came for a “quiet” drink in Whitechapel.
A group called Women Against Fascism in their call-out on Indymedia for the mobilisation against the EDL, recognised how women are used in this battle without challenging these pervasive paternalistic attitudes to women. “The women who are against fascism are the friends, girlfriends, wives, sisters, aunties, grandmothers and mothers of young men who feel that they are being provoked into violence by the EDL. Boys of school age feel that they have to defend their mothers and sisters etc from the EDL who want to demonstrate in Whitechapel.” Their call-out made no mention of the UK- IC speakers.
Unite Against Fascism also concentrated solely on the EDL in their mobilisations against the far-right, ignoring the woman-hating, homophobic ideology of the right-wing Islamists and calling all those who pointed out the bigotry of the UK-IC speakers, and the need to oppose both sides equally, including anarchists, as islamaphobic and racist.
The UK-IC conference was thankfully cancelled and the EDL called off their planned demonstration in the area. The UAF still marched, unsurprisingly refusing to critique or even acknowledge the fundamentalism of the UK-IC or the right-wing islamist ideology of some of those who marched with them.
The EDL are a serious threat. Fascism must be challenged and stopped, but we cannot do this at the expense of challenging those with fundamentalist agendas. Fundamentalism and fascism both deserve our contempt, and this is the position that anarchists must take.
Class struggle, community cohesion and militant physical opposition are the only effective means to repel fascism and the conditions in which it flourishes and this may mean making political alliances with those who we consider to be religious moderates or even conservative secularists. But how do we as feminists/ anarchists navigate the awkward space between our secular views and those of even moderate religious persuasion? Paternalistic, misogynistic attitudes to women and homophobia are not just confined to realm of religious fundamentalism, it is unfortunately prevalent across all sections of society, including among those who consider themselves moderates, progressives or secular. Can we really, as anarchist women, work with and ally ourselves with those who have anti-woman, anti-queer attitudes, traditions and practices even if it is with the purpose of coming together as working class people to fight fascism?
Perhaps we need to use these times when we do connect with our neighbours over a common enemy despite religious, cultural or political differences, to raise our concerns about and contempt of misogyny, racism and homophobia, as well as pushing an anti-capitalist class-based critique of the state. In this battle against fascism, we must take care that we do not reinforce or accommodate patriarchal attitudes and so must confidently encourage dialogue that confronts and challenges the sometimes anti-women, anti-queer attitudes of even moderate people of faith and secularists.
Now is the time for discussion on fundamentalism and fascism and how we can organise and oppose both in an anti-sexist, inclusive way. Feminists must, while fighting all forms of religious fundamentalism, develop targeted feminist campaigns to take on the growth of political Islam and its misogyny, authoritarianism and distortion of the genuine variety of Muslim cultures. We must provide young people with alternatives–feminist, anarchist, secular and participatory–to the great big reactionary mosques and synagogues and churches. In our fight against fascism, we’ve got to be prepared to take on all forms of religious fundamentalism and manifestations of misogyny in everyday life.
London anarcha feminist kolektiv