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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Manning the Firewalls

I refuse to join an army of automatons in the name of Allah. Many Muslims applaud Jewish Refuseniks - those soldiers who protest the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In the same spirit of conscientious dissent, we've got to protest the ideological occupation of Muslim minds. An occupation perpetrated by our own mullahs, imams and civic leaders - Irshad Manji

Anthony McIntyre • 4 April 2006

When I was first asked to profile Irshad Manji, I recoiled after reading one of her articles in the New York Times. Abhorrent as her position seemed to be I struggled with myself to defend on principle her right to hold it. It seemed she had committed an act of profanity against one of those sacred ideas that rests inside a tabernacle deep within our minds. With a little more diligence I could have spared myself the angst. The problem was basic: I had allowed myself to be influenced more by the title, which she did not write, than the article which she did. The title left little room for ambiguity - Irshad Manji had come to love the Israeli apartheid wall. Despite having experienced shoddy sub-editing, on this occasion leaving me without any recourse to the fool's pardon, I was taken in and subsequently called Manji to account for a position she did not in fact hold. Nothing in what she wrote remotely suggested she was having a love affair with the apartheid wall.

No, she made no claim whatsoever to love the apartheid wall, merely saying that she had reluctantly come to see it as a necessary measure to protect Israeli civilian life. While there seems no reason to object to the sentiment of protecting civilian life, Israeli or otherwise, this is not, it seems to me, the primary purpose of the apartheid wall. For that reason it is still a source of irritation to find that Irshad Manji, who demands the right to be free from what she calls Islamic totalitarianism, can endorse, albeit in qualified terms, the fiendish construction that is the Israeli wall. While I have difficulty trying to reconcile her admirable belief in universal human rights with her perspective on that diabolical wall, I can find no intellectual or ethical reason for seeking to deny her the right to air the view that it protects civilian life.

For freedom of political expression - which means something other than freedom to agree with 'us' - is a vital ingredient within any democratic culture. It is even more vital when forced to operate as part of a democratic subculture within a wider societal apparatus that seeks to close down space to any perspective that is not its own. Here such expression is at the heart of any democratic and enlightened challenge to authoritarian and obscurantist systems that try to impose draconian regimes on the people they seek to rule over. There are enough reactionaries working 24/7 to invent new forms of censorship without those supposedly progressives complementing them by seeking to corral free speech in accordance with some doctrinaire formula, for which they have developed an addiction.

This is why the debate about the Danish anti-theocratic cartoons has seen the left divide on opposing sides of the dispute. Fragmenting, admittedly, is hardly a new phenomenon for the followers of Trotsky, as well as fellow travellers. Some of them, sensing with orgasmic pleasure yet another golden opportunity to split and scream 'deviationist', have rushed the breach with gusto. All quite normal behaviour for the residents of Trot town.

Some on the left have remained faithful to the values of the enlightenment, out of which the Marxist tradition grew. Others have opted for the absolutism of the pre-enlightenment world, where faith rather than reason prevails, because it holds out the possibility, if only in their own minds, that they might yet become the new priesthood leading the one true church of the party faithful. That true church has been historically ordained by the immutable iron laws of class struggle to rule over the 'uneducated' proletarian masses who labour under the burden of false consciousness, until such times as the second coming of Trotsky heralds a Marxist renaissance which in turn will pave the way for a Nirvana Commune.

All tripe and they alone profess not to know it. When they tell us they find the publication of the cartoons inexplicable, the only response is to laugh and think, 'well, it would be inexplicable to them, wouldn't it.' Yet, thankfully, we live in a world that still allows all types, and if your goal is to be inconsequential the irrelevant left can chalk up at least one unmitigated success. Most who know the type prefer to give them a wide berth, comparing their ability to impact on events to that of the French cow standing in a field with its 'blank stricken stare … watching a train go by.' The cow directs the train in the same way the irrelevant left direct events. By logical extension what position they take on the debate is hardly going to matter one way or the other. By siding with the obscurantists and theocrats against women demanding universal human rights they are trapped in a dilemma of their own making which exudes both hypocrisy and latent racism. Abandoning the modernism of Marxism they have slipped into a postmodernist vortex in common cause with so many Western liberals. Their sole response was best summed up by Martin Hollis: pursued to its conclusion the only terminus awaiting them is an intellectual quagmire, signposted, 'liberalism for the liberals and cannibalism for the cannibals!' Racism, how are you?

For those still eager to protect free speech, on this occasion in the face of those who think women should traipse around as veiled second class citizens - allowing its opponents rather than its advocates to find the boundaries - there is awareness that to encroach upon it is a double edged sword. To decommission the one weapon in the armoury of those opposed to war, poverty, injustice - our freedom to critique the systems responsible for perpetrating such inhumane practices - hands to those who wish to bomb the Iraqis to smithereens, who contemplate making Iran the new killings fields, who never rest in their wicked support for a repressive framework that unceasingly abuses the human rights of Palestinians, who coordinate and synchronise torture on a global basis, a lever with which they can joyously tighten the thumbscrews. And those of us who speak out will be silenced and reminded that free speech only means free speech 'but'? As one of Irshad Manji's co-signatory to the Manifesto Against Totalitarianism, Maryam Namazie, so forcefully argues, 'that is why the defence of free speech and expression are so intrinsically linked to the defence of other rights. You cannot defend one without the others.'

Irshad Manji believes passionately in protecting the speech that allows us to go on criticising those who wage war on Iraq and oversee global inequality, while her so called anti-war critics would have the founds of that critique unearthed below us all in order that they may remain true to their own bizarre interpretation of some obscure Marxist tenet. At a time when Donald Rumsfeld is determined to muzzle the media in order to allow the war on Iraq to be prosecuted more vigorously she, not the Trotiban, firewalls the intellectual space in which critique and opposition flourishes, without which the powerful and the unjust shall remain unaccountable.









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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent




There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

4 April 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Interview with Michael McKevitt
Forum Magazine

Catching the Monkey
Anthony McIntyre

Policing the Status Quo
Mick Hall

John Kennedy

T.W.A.T and the problem with Leopard spots
Eamon Sweeney

Bigotry Imperils the Union
David Adams

'Fury over British PM bigot remarks'
Michaél MhaDonnáin

Then Why Is My Colour On Your Flag?
Derick Perry

Exorcise the Ghosts to Revive the Party
Dr John Coulter

How the Irish Screwed Up Civilisation?
Seaghan O Murchu

Play Ball
John Kennedy

Cumann Frithdheighilte Na h-Eireann - An outline
Fionnbarra O'Dochartaigh

Irish Prisoner Suffering Extreme Medical Neglect in English Prison
Paul Doyle

Profile: Maryam Namazie
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Expression: No Ifs and Buts
Maryam Namazie

Manning the Firewalls
Anthony McIntyre

Ulster Muslims' Fury at Web Cartoons
Elham Asaad Buaras

Freedom of Speech index

26 March 2006

Profile: Taslima Nasrin
Anthony McIntyre

For Freedom of Expression
Taslima Nasrin

Muslim News Interviews The Blanket

Who Fears to Speak
Richard O'Rawe

Dr John Coulter

Cartoons and Caricatures: An anarchist take on the cartoon row
Jack White

Taslima Nasrin (2000)
Anthony McIntyre

Who Said
John Kennedy

The Key
John Kennedy

Getting Away With Murder
Mick Hall

Will the Real Army Council Please Stand Up
Geoffrey Cooling

Upcoming New York Events
Cathleen O'Brien

The Letters page has been updated:

Freedom of Speech index



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