I've been given permission to reproduce two articles about the International Socialists (US). The first is a 'gendered' study of IS politics in the Seventies, and the second is a rebuttal from those IS members who participated in the interviews which provided the basis for the original study. As the articles are in pdf format, I've posted them to Scribd.
Martin Smith's original article about "the gendered turn to party-building" in the IS is here
. The response of IS members is here
As an attempt to resist negative stereotyping, this has to be deemed a failure.
I can see why it might appeal. I like the song, and I enjoy the view of people arsing about to an infectiously cheerful tune as much as anyone. And if this weren't an attempted intervention on the terrain of cultural politics, it would be sweetly enjoyable. However, it's a problem, or rather it's illustrative of a problem, a wider strategic dilemma. Because this looks like an attempt to undermine 'scary' representations of Islam by showing a happy, smiling, dancing face. It's sweet, but it's also pandering
. It is also indicative of a wider approach that I think is divisive and plays into the well-known 'good' Muslim/'bad' Muslim dichotomy. How?
Well, just take some examples from recent news headlines. We learned: That there has been a sharp increase in the Muslim population in prisons over the last decade, with Muslims now making up 27% of all prisoners in London
. That Moazzam Begg has been locked up again
. And that the government is spreading Daily Express-style rumours of an 'Islamic schools plot'
and has put 'counter-terrorism' apparatuses behind an investigation into the allegations. One could go on, but the point is there are quite a large number of Muslims who have no particular reason to smile and dance - whether because they're poor, or because they are politicised, or because they have been criminalised. For one reason or another, they've been brought under the grid of state surveillance and sanction for reasons which bear directly on their being Muslim.
Now, if the problem of Islamophobia is construed as being purely or primarily a public relations battle, and if stereotyping is understood as the main form of racist oppression faced by Muslims, then of course this strategy is comprehensible. Combat the negative images, demonstrate how much we heart things that other people heart, how normal we are, and people will stop hating us, discrimination will wind down, tabloid frenzies will stop working, aggressive policing will abate, and politicians will lose their power to divide and control us. If the main problem was public opinion, all this would make sense. However, I think that's a perspective that can only really make sense for a segment of relatively middle class or bourgeois Muslims (who seem, on appearance, to make up the majority of those featured in the video). If you are among those who are surveilled in universities and estates, or stopped by police, or dragged into Paddington Green, or 'rendered', then it's hard to see public opinion as anything but a subsidiary element of a struggle for political empowerment.
It seems almost pedantic to say so, but I think that a) public opinion is not the main problem, and b) insofar as opinion means ideology, and I take the terrain of ideology very seriously, it can't be engaged in on a short-term public relations basis. I think you win ideological battles by changing the underlying coordinates within which popular judgments about issues are formed, which is a long-term strategy that requires taking and holding unpopular positions until they become popular - in other words being disagreeable, not happy, not amenable, making a fuss, and so on. Not only that, but there are clearly issues which cannot be addressed in any but a contentious manner. As such, ingratiating oneself on the basis that one isn't like 'them', the 'bad' Muslims, is surely a divisive strategy that not only does not serve the interests of those most likely to be villainised as 'bad' Muslims, but is also limiting for those who might expect to benefit from being classed as 'good' Muslims, who might themselves have to be disagreeable from time to time.
The French fascists are buoyant. Brimming with energy after recent electoral success, the leader of the Front national (FN) Marine Le Pen has come up with a new way of punishing the Mohammedan interlopers. Their children should be made to eat pork or starve
. And in towns that the FN have taken control of, this will be policy.
There are three points of immediate interest here.
First, the invocation of 'secularism'
. Of all the the possible forms of ascriptive humiliation that could be targeted against Muslims, Le Pen chose one that is based on the French ideology of laïcité. This is a typical example of how the far right cannily exploits contradictions in the dominant ideology, imbricating itself into the 'mainstream' by operating on racist canards already popularised by the state, the ascendant parties, and the mass media. After all, why make allowances for replacement meals if we're banning headscarves? Of course, the fact that it also by definition targets Jewish pupils is a bonus for an organisation that, while trying to efface the most egregious manifestations of antisemitic ideology from its public image, likes to keep the hardcore happy.
Le Pen's provocation poses a challenge to the bourgeois parties. Either they accede, and grant her point as a logic extension of their own avowed commitments, or they rationalise, prevaricate and obfuscate. Neither option is good for them; both are great for the FN. The only possible way out would be to break with the ideology of laïcité and republicanism, which isn't going to happen.
Second, the palpable punitive violence of the suggestion. This is, of course, veiled in layers of plausible deniability, and mantled in the civilising discourse of the state. It isn't as though a bunch of school bullies or a gang of fascists was randomly targeting Muslim kids and trying to force-feed them chunks of bacon. It is instead a form of racialised biopolitics, which amounts to the state taking hold of the bodies of Muslim and Jewish children, and compelling them on pain of going hungry to ingest something which is - if they are devout - proscribed for them.
It is one thing to regulate apparel, to tell Muslims how they might dress in school, or work. But to regulate their diet, to compel them to ingest and assimilate into their body, on pain of not eating, something that is haraam, that is considered the filthiest meat, from what is considered the dirtiest animal in existence; and then to routinise it, as a matter of bureaucratic course, to regularly mark out as excluded those who cannot eat the meal or as capitulating those who do; this is a remarkably efficient way to make a symbolic act of humiliation both recurrent and ongoing, and effective at a deep, somatic level.
Third, this is social sadism, but it is sadism predicated upon resentment. The cause of resentment in this case is deviance from the dominant culture. It is the idea that Muslims (and Jews), by being different and getting away with it, are getting something special. It is the idea that this is just one of the many little extras and allowances given to the foreigner, the immigrant, the Muslim by the treacherous cosmopolitan elites in flagrant disregard for France's traditional secularism.
This is not to say that difference as such is the cause of resentment. Certainly, Muslim dietary habits might offend the parochial universalism that is integral to imperialist culture, but the question then is why don't all such deviations cause social resentment. There is nothing particularly controversial about the 'veggie option', for example; it would be more controversial if it wasn't there. Even airlines supply a range of meals for people with different dietary requirements: you can have Kosher, Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Vegan vegetarian, Lacto ovo vegetarian, Asian vegetarian, seafood only, bland, diabetic, gluten intolerant, low fat, low salt, low lactose, and so on and so on. People are different; they have different needs: hardly news. Most such differences don't generate social resentment. They have to be connotatively linked to suffering and loss for that to happen.
And of course, there has been for some time a project on the Right to popularise the notion that white people are being cheated and oppressed. Whether it is UKIP's Farage claiming to speak for the 'white working class', or the UMP's Jean-François Copé bemoaning 'anti-white racism', there has been a persistent project of linking the experiences of material decline on the part of certain social classes and strata with the spectre of national decline. Nor is this practice restricted to the Right. The fantasy of Majorité Opprimée
was that the free rein given to North African immigrants, and particularly Muslims, menaced the material well-being, comfort and freedom of the French middle class, by undermining the 'values' upon which France was based - and that a particular form of nationalist feminism could save both France and its embattled middle class.
The cumulative effect of this is that significant layers of the population link their grievance, their injury and their loss to the freedoms and allowances made for Muslims, and want evidently something more than a simple material restitution whatever that could consist of: they want punishment, denigration and humiliation. They want their accumulated rage to be efficacious, for once; to be channelled in a terrible, cruel revenge. They want 'payback'. And to those, the FN offers a tantalising foretaste of what real 'payback' might feel like.