27 Sep 2006

Neither Geras nor Galloway: Green thoughts on the Middle East

Very happy to be invited to talk to LINE, the London Islamic environmental network and I am off to a Muslim ecology event tonight at Birkbeck! So reposting these thoughts!

The Euston Manifesto, written primarily by Norman Geras and others, is a manifesto of Centre-Left intellectuals who are hostile to opponents of 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 Iraq war, which has led to huge destruction and facilitated the growth of the most destructive tendencies in Islam, and while I work closely 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 view of politics. There has to be a middle position between Islamphobia and uncritical tolerance of fundamentalist Salifism. Lets face it: there are many Muslim political activists with sound politics, as well as Muslim groups like the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES) who do a good job, and the Left have long worked with religious people and organisations, including Christians (think of the history of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). The old slogan 'Neither Washington nor Moscow' should be changed to 'Neither Geras nor Galloway'.



I think some tough talking towards Muslims is necessary, especially around sexual politics; OutRage! (the LGBT campaigning NGO) have campaigned strongly against attacks by some Muslim leaders on homosexuality. Nonetheless, the recent statement against homophobia from the Muslim Council of Britain is a small step in the right direction.

The Manifesto is the usual centre ground mush and does not go far enough. Take their comments on 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."

While I welcome such comments on Open Source, Open Source is about a new world based on the commons - it isn't just about Guardian-esque intellectuals having the freedom to publish.

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 really deliver true sustainability? I think Islam, despite its reactionary 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, whereas the Geras generation of socialists seem to be forgetting their Marx (which is odd considering that Geras is a renowned Marxist scholar!).


Ecological crises are likely to accelerate global conflict and demand not just a manifesto but also some serious action through building links, while rejecting intolerance, with faith communities. None of this is going to be easy but the task of building links between people like Peter Tatchell (pictured above) and Muslim activists is going to be difficult, exciting and necessary!

Ultimately, 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

Link to the Euston Manifesto: http://eustonmanifesto.org/joomla/content/view/12/41/

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sensible stuff - but I can't help feeling that you are slightly ducking the issue, whereas the Euston people, however much one might disagree with their conclusions, have taken the plunge and
The majority of British Muslims may be moderate, socially tolerant even, but is this true in Iraq or Palestine? Democratic elections suggest not? If you were gay or a secular woman in southern Iraq, would you prefer a 'free' country with an Islamicist government - probably what will happen anyway, in the end, I guess - or to have an occupation imposing a flawed modicom of tolerance. Perhaps you could get Peter Tatchell to blog on this one ...