14 Apr 2006

Neither Geras nor Galloway: Why I wont sign the Euston manifesto.

This is a manifesto of centre left intellectuals who are hostile to opposition to the war in Iraq and critical of the construction of political links between the left and Islam.

While I am a strong opponent of the war which has led to huge destruction and facilitated the growth of the most destructive tendancies in Islam and while I work with Muslim activists, I find much of it unobjectionable.

However I think it fails to build the case for involvement with the majority of Muslims who have a tolerant politics. There has to be a middle position between Islamphobia and uncritical tolerance of fundamentalist Salifism. Lets face it there are many political activists who are Muslims with sound politics, there are muslim groups like the Islamic Foundation for the Environment and Ecology who do a good job and the left have long worked with Christians (think of the history of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). The slogan neither Washington nor Moscow should be changed to 'neither Geras nor Galloway'.

I think some tough talking is necessary especially around sexual politics, Outrage have campaigned strongly against attacks by some Muslim leaders on homosexuality but the recent statement against homophobia from the Muslim Council of Britain is a small step in the right direction.

The manifesto is usual centre ground mush, I liked the open source statement but open source is about a new world based on the commons, it isn't just about Guardianesque intellectuals having the freedom to publish.

Open source.
As part of the free exchange of ideas and in the interests of encouraging joint intellectual endeavour, we support the open development of software and other creative works and oppose the patenting of genes, algorithms and facts of nature. We oppose the retrospective extension of intellectual property laws in the financial interests of corporate copyright holders. The open source model is collective and competitive, collaborative and meritocratic. It is not a theoretical ideal, but a tested reality that has created common goods whose power and robustness have been proved over decades. Indeed, the best collegiate ideals of the scientific research community that gave rise to open source collaboration have served human progress for centuries.

Environmental sustainability gets a mention along with a call for nice globalisation but the difficult issue of the ecology is ignored. Can a growing capitalist economy deliver sustainability...well I think Islam despite its reactionery fringes and my problems with some aspects of the faith has a lot more to say than Norman Geras and friends.

Environmental problems pretty firmly put socialism back on the agenda when the Geras generation of socialists seem to be forgetting their Marx.

Ecological crisis is likely to accelerate global conflict and demands not just a manifesto but some serious action, building links, while rejecting intolerance, with faith communities is going to be part of the process. None of this is going to be easy but the task of building links between people like Peter Tatchell and Muslim activists is going to be difficult, exciting and necessary!

Ultimately I guess people (at least in the UK) are going to be hearing more from the 1,294 green party candidates in the local elections than from Norman and friends.

Derek Wall

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