12 July 2010

Better than God's law

When the Ummah of Muhammad claim that democracy should be replaced, the attraction of the position to its members is clear: what we call democracy in Britain fails minority groups now just as it has failed anyone but its owners throughout history. Bourgeois democracy is always going to be a system for the ruling faction; I've proposed as a principle before that the solution to a problem of democracy is never less democracy and I will apply it here. What is a call for theocracy? It is a call for the replacement of one bourgeois rule with another; this is easy for all of us to reject. The pursuit of a more complete democracy, a consensual, workers' democracy, is the only progressive path.

The call for sharia is answered similarly. While religion, including religious courts, can occasionally be progressive, the institutions of organised religion are still solidly in the hands of the ruling class. Imposing sharia law, regardless of any moderation of interpretation would again be the substitution of one bourgeois faction's state for another. Some on the left have asserted that the Bolsheviks endorsed sharia as a kind of workers' law but such an assertion is an opportunistic misrepresentation of the facts; when the early USSR recognised sharia1 it was clearly a transitional measure, more akin to Labour's allowing of traditional religious courts to act as arbitrators than to any claim that sharia was in any way shape or form proletarian. Labour's own actions underscores the role of sharia as bourgeois law: factions within the ruling class will gladly make any deal with one another in order to avoid giving the working class power. Again, the victory of the workers will be built, not in pursuit of the victory of the middle class, but in pursuit of the victory of the workers.

An understanding of the nature of sharia allows us to take up the question of the veil. It is easy to answer because it is not really a question: as socialists we oppose laws which tell people what they can do with their bodies, whether this is on the question of drugs or abortion or dress. Any person should be free to make the choice to wear niqab or not to wear niqab, as their own decision. On this subject the Qu'ran, which requires only "modesty", is clear, and furthermore this is endorsed in practice. Does the Ummah of Muhammad, which already has the temerity to claim to speak for all Muslims, also declare that the vast majority of the world's Muslims are not Muslim at all, echoing the EDL's chants of "you're not English anymore"?

When I was an undergraduate, I knew a Bahraini woman, a practicing Muslim whose dress was, to say the least, immodest; I didn't pay attention during large sections of multi-variable calculus lectures when she sat in front of me because I kept catching glimpses of her thong. Albania ended legal mandatory veiling in 1923 and few Bosniak women covered their hair even before Tito's regime. Meanwhile, veiling has made a resurgence in Egypt and Iraq...and then there's Afghanistan and Somalia. These figures might provide a bit of explanation:

CountryGross domestic product per capita
Bosnia and Herzegovina$7,361

Where Muslims are richer, Islam is more liberal. Theocratic Islamism has asserted itself in countries with collapsing economies and takes power in failed states — always following the economic breakdown, by the way. The influence of the state is important but secondary: states push Islamism as a way of shoring up weak regimes, as we've seen by the recent turn to the right in the United Arab Emirates and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's moves to step up the work of the Basij as a religious police early in his rule in Iran. The way forward is clear: if you really want to fight radical, totalitarian, theocratic Islam, the material conditions of the average Muslim, that is the Muslim working class, must be improved. This improvement cannot be equitably achieved through some special state bonus for Muslims; to attempt this would only be to play the Muslim working class off against the non-Muslim working class to the distraction of both and the benefit of the state. As always, the solution to the needs of the working class will not come from religion nor from the bourgeois state; to categorically defeat Islamism today, the solution can only be socialism in Afghanistan, socialism in Bahrain, socialism in Britain, and socialism now.

1: Crouch, in "The Bolsheviks and Islam", commits a grave act of intellectual dishonesty in the course of supporting his thesis. Crouch's argument, in essence, is: "Lenin supported sharia, Stalin opposed it, ergo we as Leninists opposed to Stalinism should support sharia". But he wilfully neglects a key fact. Look at the paragraph beginning "Sharia law had been a central demand of Muslims...", between footnotes 26 and 27. The entire paragraph, the keystone of Crouch's article, describing how the Bolsheviks implemented sharia courts, itself contains no citations. This is because the decision to allow sharia to operate as the common law in Muslim parts of the Soviet Union came from Stalin himself — a complication Crouch would prefer to ignore.


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